Moe Koffmann this weekend – a name that may not ring many bells unless you a: remember his “Swinging Shepherd Blues” from the 1950s or b: Are Canadian.
Koffmann was one of the bright lights on the Jazz scene in the 1950s, having released several albums both here in the States and in Canada. He toured extensively and his above mentioned Swinging Shepherd Blues was a huge crossover hit for him; riding high on the Jazz as well as Pop charts at the time.
But the opportunities from up North beckoned and Koffmann wound up back in Toronto, where he became a much in-demand session musician, as well as composer/performer on a countless number of TV and film projects in Canada. Logic dictates; you go where the bread is and you get to do what you love at the same time. And that’s what happened for Moe Koffmann. So, he may have fallen off the radar in the U.S. he was blazing trails in the land up North, and this appearance at the Artpark festival in New York from 1979 marked his first Stateside gig in years. It became something of a homecoming for him, and clearly the crowd were welcoming him back with open arms.
Koffman was inspired by Rahsaan Roland Kirk to play multiple instruments at once; and had a modified set of straps to hold a tenor and an alto saxophone so that he could put forward incredible chords and improvise at the same time. One of the more famous session musicians in Toronto, he appeared in countless commercials, background music, as well as film and TV soundtracks. Most work on bass flute in Canadian soundtracks from 1950 to 1990 in Toronto sessions was done by Koffman on this rare instrument. Koffman was also an exponent of circular breathing techniques for his large volumes of sound, and joined fellow Canadian Maynard Ferguson and new age multi-instrumentalist musician Ron Allen in this talent.
During the 1970s, Koffman recorded several popular albums with arrangements of works by classical composers including Bach, Mozart and Vivaldi. He also was a guest performer with a number of symphony orchestras across Canada.
He performed with Dizzy Gillespie and Peter Appleyard during the 1980s. He often performed with Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass. From 1956 to 1990, Koffman booked performers for George’s Spaghetti House in Toronto, where he performed weekly. His compositions “Curried Soul” and “Koff Drops” have been used as the opening and closing themes respectively for the CBC radio show As It Happens for over 30 years, and are consequently probably his best-known recordings.
Koffman died of cancer in Orangeville, Ontario in 2001 at the age of 72. He had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma about a year earlier. Some of his music for Duke Street Records remains unreleased; however Music for the Night was released and re-issued in 2007, and Devil’s Brew was re-issued in 2009.
Thanks to NPR for having the foresight to record this an so many other rare and important concerts for the Jazz Alive! series. It would be nice to see them run again – as all the masters are sitting in the Library of Congress, gathering piles of dust.
But in the meantime, crank this one up and chill out for the next half-hour.