Tony Kofi

“The seed was laid in the 90s when I rediscovered Cannonball, and some of the stuff he did pre-Miles.” – Tony Kofi

Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw

As with all artists from all genres of music, award-winning UK based alto saxophonist Tony Kofi and his fellow jazz musicians have been in limbo with regard to live performances since March 2020. How fitting it was then that shortly after live venue restrictions were lifted that Tony Kofi and his band should return to the Bear Club, Luton, where they recorded a live album, ‘A Portrait of Cannonball Adderley/Another Kind of Soul’ towards the end of 2019. The joy and relief to be back in the groove was evident in the demeanour of both the performing artists and the audience. UK vibe’s Michael J Edwards caught up with a visually still buzzing Tony Kofi shortly afterwards for a post-gig interview to inquire as to what inspired him to pay tribute to the late saxophonist Julian Cannonball Adderley and also congratulate him on his recent awarding of an Honorary Professorship at Nottingham University.

Michael J Edwards: Tony Kofi, here we are on Saturday, 14 August 2021. In Mill Yard outside the Bear Club in Luton after an absolutely phenomenal, stunning and exhilarating gig of the year if I may be so bold.

Tony Kofi: Thank you! Thank you so much!

Michael J Edwards: How was that for you, but you playing selected tracks from your ‘Portrait of Cannonball Adderley’ album and being in such as close proximity to a live and most appreciative audience after such a long hiatus?

Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw

Tony Kofi: It was good! We’ve not played together for almost two years and the last time we played together was here at the Bear Club on November 30th and December 1st, 2019, which was the recording of our live album. The album has now come out and this was our first gig. It was like coming back to old familiar ground; which is great, but we’ve developed since then, and we’ve gotten to know each other better. I was a little jaded and nervous in some ways, because we’ve not played together for almost two years and we just got on the bandstand and just really let that emotion come out. And sometimes that emotion breads vulnerability, which is great for the music. Because I always say vulnerability in music is always good, because it makes you play a different way; so that was good and I tapped into that. I loved that!

Michael J Edwards: The analogy I would make is like when someone has to give an after dinner speech or suchlike and although they have it written in advance they decide to freestyle and make the speech from their heart. And that’s the vibe that came across this evening from you guys on stage.

Tony Kofi: Oh, I’m so glad!

Michael J Edwards: You’ve got to name-check the rest of the band for us, please?

Tony Kofi: Okay, on the drum Alfonso Vitale, on double bass Andrew Cleyndert, on piano Alex Webb and on trumpet Andy Davis and myself Tony Kofi on Alto saxophone.

Michael J Edwards: When did the seed germinate of you wanting to pay tribute as it were, in musical form to Julian Cannonball Adderley. Is it something that had been festering for a while?

Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw

Tony Kofi: The seed was laid in the 90s when I rediscovered Cannonball, and some of the stuff he did pre-Miles (Davis). It just really really took me by surprise and I started studying it. Just like I did with (Thelonious) Monk. What happened is that it took another decade to get into it. Actually, it was almost two decades as Alex Webb (piano) and myself didn’t start putting the band together until around early 2018. Then we started rehearsing the music and we decided to pick the musicians that were right for the project.

Michael J Edwards: Talking of picking, I had a brief word with drummer Alfonso Vitale post-gig and I asked him how he got into your band. He said you saw him playing in Ronnie Scott’s and it developed from there. Correct?

Tony Kofi: Yeah, it must have been 2014/15, I saw him playing and he wasn’t even living here at that time. And I was like, “Wow! This guy reminds me of Louis Hayes“. He’s got that spirit of Louis Hayes; he is so on point. So when this band started to come together, I thought to myself, I’m going to pick someone like him because he’s just like phenomenal – awesome!

Michael J Edwards: With regard to the album release, which is available on vinyl and CD, with the CD only available in Japan unless you attend a live gig I believe; how many tracks are on the album and how did you decide on their inclusion?

Tony Kofi: Well, there are seven tracks on the album, if I remember correctly. But we recorded over two days, so we’ve recorded enough material for two albums.

Michael J Edwards: So it’s a live album recorded here at the Bear Club, Luton?

Tony Kofi: It’s a live album, completely live, no second takes! The album was released in April 2020. So I think maybe when we’ve had a good run of this album, then we’ll give the world Part Two.

Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw

Michael J Edwards: So you have enough material in the can from the two nights to spread over two albums?

Tony Kofi: I think we recorded about 15 to 16 tracks. So we’ve only used seven on this album; so you’ve got a Part Two of seven or eight different tunes. And it’s just as good!

Michael J Edwards: Which tune or tunes on the album jumped out at you straight away for definite inclusion on the album?

Tony Kofi: Well, for me, the track that really jumped out from the was Another Kind of Soul give me. That’s why the title of the album ‘Another kind of Soul’ because it was really, really different to play this music. For me, it took a different kind of Soul to interpret this music. We had to really dig deep. We had to dig deep for the blues in this album. And on some of the tunes like a ‘Sack of Woe’, it’s like going to church. It’s like a sermon, we’re preaching, we’re preaching this music! It’s not really about technique or anything like that; it’s a feeling, it’s a real feeling. This is what we really decided to tap into – the feeling. And that’s what we brought this evening, the feeling, that’s what the audience felt. The feeling is so important! I think it’s so much more important than giving the audience some technical acrobatics. It’s really, really important… If you give feeling, people can’t hide it, they show you that appreciation.

Michael J Edwards: As an audience participant, with two couples on either side of me, and they were so ecstatic. It was like the cobwebs had been blown away. You don’t appreciate live music until you’ve had it taken away. It was a pure case of you don’t miss what you have until you lose it.

Tony Kofi: Definitely! And that’s how I felt. I felt that coming back to do this live was absolutely amazing. It was absolutely amazing! It was emotional as well, but I just give thanks that we are allowed to come back. It’s about building and building and building, and giving more, and giving that feeling of this music. Because it’s all about the feeling.

Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw

Michael J Edwards: So a similar vibe as we experienced tonight here at the Bear club has been encapsulated on a live recording, which was fittingly recorded at the same venue.

Tony Kofi: There’s something about recording live, you know that it’s going to be on an album forever, so you have to really dig deep and let go. You can’t think to yourself, “Oh, we’re in a studio, so if we do a false start we can start again.” Here there were no false starts, there were no second takes; everything is first! The sense of urgency was there. The sense of urgency was like, Okay, I’m not thinking about that, I’m just thinking about I’m on a real gig – yes it’s being recorded live, we’ve got microphones all around us, and we’ve got the audience (and the audience participation was beautiful) – but really grounding yourself so firmly… This is a must because this is going to outlive us all. It’s done, it’s gone in the air. We cannot take it back.

Michael J Edwards: Oftentimes in the studio, an artist can do four or five takes, but the one that goes on the album is the first take.

Tony Kofi: Yeah, the first take is the best. Everything here on the album was the first take.

Michael J Edwards: So the mission no doubt now is to spread the word and get the album into as many people’s hands as possible?

Tony Kofi: Yes, Yes

Michael J Edwards: What’s the state of play re: upcoming tour dates?

Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw

Tony Kofi: Gosh, we’ve got Peggy’s Skylight in Nottingham; we’ve got Ronnie Scott’s; we’ve got the Scarborough Jazz Festival; we’ve got the Vortex Jazz Club coming up. We’ve got quite a few, and we’ve got some going into next year as well.

Michael J Edwards: On a personal note, regarding your new position or post in Nottingham University. Can you expound on exactly what that is, how it came about, and what your feelings are?

Tony Kofi: It’s a beautiful thing. I think, they are recognising what I’ve been doing on the scene and that my helping other young musicians and trying to inspire other young musicians can be expanded a lot more if I am awarded an Honorary Professorship. So I’m going to tap into my roots, my Ghanaian roots and lecture about that. I’m going to lecture about jazz; I think they’re especially intrigued about me being completely self-taught and not having a teacher and teaching myself to this level. Hopefully, I can help other young musicians tap into the source that is within us. You have to remember, you don’t just go out and pick a style like an apple off a tree. I’m referencing a Dale Turner/Dexter Gordon quote (Round Midnight film). It’s within you, and it needs to be nurtured. Hopefully, I can be a nurturer for a lot of these young and upcoming musicians. Because I love to teach, I think it’s really, really important for the next generation definitely.

Michael J Edwards: When are you scheduled to take up the post?

Tony Kofi: I’m teaching at Trinity (College)Music | Trinity College London, I’m teaching at the Julian Joseph Jazz Academy The Julian Joseph Jazz Academy (JJJA) | HMDT Saturday Programme , I’m teaching at the World Heartbeat Academy, so I’ve got to try and fit it in between my gigs as well (laughs). I believe the post starts in late September 2021 for three years.

Michael J Edwards: Can we officially say then exciting times are ahead?

Tony Kofi: Very Exciting

*Essential Album: A Portrait of Cannonball Adderley/Another Kind of Soul

*Essential ‘A Portrait of Cannonball Tour/Another Kind of Soul’ Tour dates:
Jazz at the Fleece – 11.08.2021
The Bear Club – 14.08.2021
Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club – 22.08.2021
Peggy’s Skylight – 25.09.2021
Scarborough Jazz Festival – 26.09.2021
Toulette Lautrec – 08.10.2021
Cheltenham Jazz Club – 11.10.2021
Sib Jazz Festival Siberia/Russia – 13.10.2021
Vortex Jazz Club – 10.12.2021

While we have you, why not revisit our interview with Tony Kofi from 2016 here Use the search tool for all Tony Kofi related reviews on ukvibe.