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Tony Kofi

Another Kind Of Soul: A Portrait Of Cannonball

by Howard Lawes

 

 

 

Tony Kofi

 

 

Here is a video introduction to A Portrait Of Cannonball, a show staged by Alex Webb and Tony Kofi as a tribute to the late saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, and from which Tony Kofi's new album has emerged. As A Portrait Of Cannonball is the title of an album by Adderley himself, Tony's album is named Another Kind Of Soul.

 

 

 

 

There are many great musicians who seem to be under-appreciated and Julian 'Cannonball' Adderley (originally 'Cannibal' due to his healthy appetite) is perhaps one of those who, although compared with Charlie Parker and described as "the new Bird", did not receive the universal acclaim that he deserved.  Adderley had developed his alto saxophone technique through school and in the army and rose to be leader of two military bands before qualifying for a Master's degree at a New York college in 1955.

Just before commencing his studies Cannonball and his cornet playing brother Nat were in a jazz club called Cafe Bohemia where Charlie Parker would have played had Parker's lifestyle not led to a tragically premature death.  On stage that night were the Oscar Pettiford band but lacking their normal saxophonist, and as luck would have it Adderley just happened to have his alto with him and the rest as they say is history.  (There is more background on this page about Cafe Bohemia - click here).

"The new Bird" tag may well have been a little unfortunate; it was probably used by publicists to sell records and whereas Parker was the implacable, intellectual inventor of be-bop, a style of music that many jazz fans struggled with, Adderley's music was far more accessible yet still retaining a sophistication that betrayed the influence of Parker and other progressives. Adderley never got to college after his performance in the Cafe Bohemia, signing deals with record companies eager to replace Parker with a new maestro. 

Nat and Cannonball Adderley

To facilitate their professional career the Adderley brothers formed a quintet with Junior Mance on piano, Sam Jones on double bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums but unfortunately, although they produced some great music such as Nat Adderley's Another Kind of Soul, the band were not a commercial success and disbanded in 1957.  There then followed a couple of years when Cannonball Adderley's potential was truly recognised, his one and only Blue Note album Somethin' Else was released in 1958 featuring Miles Davis and Art Blakey. Also in 1958, but this time on the Riverside label, Things Are Getting Better featured Milt Jackson on vibes.  Things got better still in 1959 starting with a Mercury album called The Cannonball Adderley Quintet In Chicago featuring John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on double bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums that included the wonderful tune by Mitchell Parish and Frank Perkins, Stars Fell On Alabama.

 

Nat and Cannonball Adderley

 

The year ended with another great album in the style that came to be known as 'soul jazz', The Cannonball Adderley Quintet In San Francisco was released on Riverside and with a completely different band of Nat Adderley on cornet, Bobby Timmons on piano, Sam Jones on double bass and Louis Hayes on drums.  In between the two live albums Adderley was part of the Miles Davis sextet that recorded one of the greatest jazz studio albums of all time, A Kind Of Blue

In 1960 Nat composed his most famous tune, Work Song, which Cannonball featured on his Them Dirty Blues album, while Cannonball's tune Sack O' Woe on The Cannonball Adderley Quintet At The Lighthouse highlighted a new pianist to join the quintet, Englishman Victor Feldman.  These live albums, overwhelmingly upbeat, funky crowd-pleasers really cemented the Cannonball Adderley Quintet and soul jazz in the minds of the record buying public, reaching a zenith in terms of record sales with Mercy Mercy Mercy! Live At "The Club" in 1967 with the title track written and performed by pianist Joe Zawinul. Very sadly Julian Cannonball Adderley died at the age of 46 in 1975.

 

Here is the Cannonball Adderley Quintet playing Bohemia After Dark in 1962
with Cannonball Adderley (alto sax); Nat Adderley (cornet); Victor Feldman (piano); Sam Jones (bass) and Louis Hayes (drums).

 

 

 

 

 

Cannonball Adderley was still alive when Tony Kofi was born in Nottingham to Ghanaian parents and along with Thelonius Monk was an inspiration for the young alto saxophonist as he honed his craft with local teachers.  As mothers do, Tony's mother Ama was equally influential, encouraging him to practice and not to give up when things get difficult.  Ama's faith and Tony's persistence paid off when Tony was accepted to study at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA where he received some of the best jazz education available. 

Returning to the UK, Kofi became part of Gary Crosby's Nu Troop, a band of young up and coming jazz musicians which paved the way for Crosby (and Janine Irons) to establish the hugely successful Tomorrows Warriors educational model.  Nu Troop released an album on Dune Records in 1997 called Migrations that includes a track composed by Tony Kofi called Ode To Ama dedicated to his mother.  Kofi branched out on his own in 1998 dividing his time between studying the music of the great American jazz musicians, particularly Thelonius Monk, and the Afro-Jazz Family which on one occasion brought Ghanaian highlife and South African township music to London's Purcell Room in 2002. 

In 2003, the London Jazz Festival directed by John Cumming commissioned a special performance of all 70 pieces composed by Thelonius Monk and performed on the festival free stage by the Monk Liberation Front led by Kofi and pianist Jonothan Gee.  Following the recent sad death of John Cumming, Tony Kofi paid a moving tribute to the man whose faith in him brought the opportunity to perform the music of Monk and then to release his first album as band leader in 2004 called Tony Kofi Quartet: Plays Monk (All Is Know).  The album was widely praised, winning a 2005 BBC Jazz Award with John Fordham of the Guardian saying "few Monk tributes are played with more passionate affection and sympathy".  Kofi's next album, Future Passed, featured tracks composed by Kofi himself but the inclusion of Anders Olinder's Hammond organ turned the spotlight on the classic organ trio style, this was followed by The Silent Truth in 2008 for which won Kofi another BBC Jazz Award, this time for Best Instrumentalist.  More recently Kofi has participated in tribute albums to Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy and played baritone saxophone on a 1970s inspired collection of tunes called Point Blank.  

 

 

Listen to Monk's Mood from the All Is Know album.

 

 

 

About two years ago Tony Kofi joined forces with pianist and composer Alex Webb who specialises in documentary style shows relating stories and performing the music of jazz icons such as Billie Holiday in The Last Bohemians or the famous New York venue, Café Society in Café Society Swing, commissioned by the EFG London Jazz Festival. 

The Portrait Of Cannonball show was born out of this collaboration with one of the first performances at London's 606 Club during the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival. It has continued to tour the UK ever since with Kofi on alto saxophone and narration, Alex Webb on piano and narration, Andy Davies on trumpet, Andrew Cleyndert on double bass and Alfonso Vitale on drums. 

 

Here is a video of Things Are Getting Better from the show at the Hideaway Club in London.

 

 

 

 

Both Kofi and Webb agree that Cannonball Adderley has not received the recognition he deserves despite moving in the same circles as some of the greatest of all jazz musicians and for Kofi, Adderley has long been an inspiration as an alto saxophonist.  The title of the album, Another Kind Of Soul, clearly relates to Nat Adderley's tune and the soul jazz style, but Kofi also highlights the fact that soul is present in all kinds of music and is just as prevalent today as it has always been.

 

 

Tony Kofi A Portrait Of Cannonball

 

 

The album is released on vinyl only by The Last Music Company, distributed by Proper Music and it was chairman Malcolm Mills, having seen the Portrait Of Cannonball show a few times who offered Kofi the chance to record the performance live at the Bear Club in Luton over two consecutive nights. The decision to record live in a jazz club and release on vinyl was made as this was the way in which many of Cannonball Adderley's most famous tunes were recorded for his live albums in Chicago, San Francisco and at the Lighthouse, but it does mean that only five of Adderley's tunes plus a couple of short pieces by Webb and Kofi can be fitted on each disc; however there will be a double CD release next year with a lot more material.

 

The track listing is

1. A Portrait of Cannonball (Alex Webb)
2. Operation Breadbasket (Tony Kofi)
3. Another Kind Of Soul (Nat Adderley)
4. Stars Fell On Alabam (Frank Perkins / Mitchell Parish)
5. Things Are Getting Better (Julian Adderley)
6. Sack O' Woe (Julian Adderley)
7. Work Song (Nat Adderley)

 

 

 

 

Given the lack of space there isn't room for the narrative from the show as well as the music, but the enthusiastic reception from the audience at the Bear Club confirms the excellence of the music.  The stand out track must surely be Stars Fell On Alabama with Kofi providing a masterly performance and confirming once again that, as is so sadly lacking in this age of Coronavirus, a live performance with audience is certainly the best way to enjoy great jazz. 

 

 

A video of Stars Fell On Alabama.

 

 

 

A nationwide tour was planned to launch the album but this has has to be put on hold until the end of 2020; Tony Kofi is philosophical, "Having a new album which you can’t promote via touring is pretty tough but I’m grateful to be alive when so many have not been so lucky; I’m grateful that I can pick up my saxophone every day, breathe life into it and still be creative. I will be back on the world stage with some fresh ideas and a bigger enthusiasm than before, there will be no holding back, I’m definitely on a mission. We will give true meaning to the words, Another Kind Of Soul, I feel as hungry about music like when I first started playing".

 

 

Listen to Work Song from the album.

 

 

 

While Cannonball Adderley and Tony Kofi clearly prioritised their university educations differently there are some interesting parallels between them and with many jazz musicians. The most obvious is to grab the opportunity when it is offered, even if at the outset it seems daunting. Adderley must have needed every last bit of musicianship to step into Charlie Parker's shoes and spar with Miles Davis while Kofi really made a name for himself through his marathon performance with the Monk Liberation Front.  Both of them are considered great saxophonists and hearing one play the outstanding music of the other, bringing a new sparkle to the material is marvellous listening.

 

Click here for details of the album. Click here for Tony Kofi's website.

 

Tony Kofi Stars Fell On Alabama

 

 

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