Interview / Preview: Tony Kofi tells the story of working with Ornette Coleman - Singing Ornette ReVoice!. 13th October

Ornette Coleman and Tony Kofi

 "This is what I've waited all my life for." Tony Kofi talked to Georgia Mancio about his work with Ornette Coleman, and about his gig with vocalist Barbara Raimondi (titled Singin' Ornette) -  ReVoice! Festival, Pizza Express Dean Street, 13th October.

Georgia Mancio: What was your first introduction to Ornette Coleman’s music and how has he influenced your work over the years?

Tony Kofi: My first introduction to Ornette Coleman came years ago when a friend lent me a CD of The Shape of Jazz to Come. Well from that moment of it changed my life. I didn't totally understand what his approach to playing was but I really dug his ability to put his whole emotions into the music, and that's what I started to emulate, and that's one of the ingredients of what Harmolodics is about as well as the rhythmical concepts. It's about the using your inner human voice and letting it come out of you're instrument. (in Barbara's case, I see it as a natural transition of voice to voice) So I followed the emotional side of music from the beginning, and the journey of that led me to the life-changing trip to New York, to collaborate with the amzing bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Ornette Coleman in 2010 recording of For the Love of Ornette album and my debut on tenor saxophone, and now to the present day with the amazing Barbara Raimondi.

GM: We know you had the chance to work with Ornette himself - can you tell us about that project and what collaborating with him was like?

TK: Well, this project came about because I'd been working and touring with the Jamaaladeen Tacuma in Europe since 2008. We had already recorded a live album entitled Coltrane Configurations, and he really like the way I played on it. Then he told me about a project that had been playing on his mind for a while to do a homage project to his teacher and mentor Ornette Coleman, and how he had me in mind as well as other amazing musicians.

My initial thought was I'm an alto player and how would it work playing alongside Mr Coleman? Anyhow a whole year went by and heard nothing more of his ideas so I let it fade in my head and carried on as normal. Then out of the blue in the spring of 2010 Jamaaladeen called me on Skype from the states and asked if I was ready to come and record the project in New York with himself, Wolfgang Puschnig, Justin Faulkner, Yoichi Uzeki,myself and Ornette Coleman.

My initial thought was 'oh sweet lord this is it, this is what I've waited all my life for, not just to meet Ornette, but be invited to his home to rehearse and record'. Now nothing in my life is ever clean cut so I expected the next installment of obstacles. I asked Jamaaladeen if he wanted me on alto,baritone or soprano which were the only saxophones I played at the time, he said "no I need you on tenor" I broke out in a cold sweat because I'd never even played tenor or owned one, I'd only admired the tenor from afar.

I told Jamaaladeen that I don't play tenor and don't have one, his reply was "well get one because you're on this session. It was April and the recording was to take place in June. I had two months to get a tenor and woodshed it like my life depended on it. I canceled every gig in the book and literally went into the woods near where I live and played long tone and scales for 8-12 hours a day for two months of pure woodshedding.

I asked Jamaaladeen to please send me the music which he said he would, up to this day I've never seen the music and when I got to New York I had to learn the music from memory. Meeting Ornette at his huge loft apartment was amazing, he didn't want to stop playing or rehearsing, his energy is amazing, and commented that I had a good tenor sound, I told him I was nervous because it wasn't my primary horn. He told me then I should make it one of my primary horns and that was that, I accepted and took his sound advice.

On the day of the recording, me and Ornette shared a recording booth and Jamaaladeen told us all in our headphones that this was a one take recording so if you mess up then you'll have to live with it. That's when I switched off and went into subconscious mode.

The rest is history. When I woke up the recording was complete.

Georgia Mancio: Tell us how you met Barbara Raimondi and were you aware of her work before this collaboration began?

Tony Kofi: Well I met Barbara through her drummer Enzo Zirilli who's also a great friend of mine. We were talking one day about these amazing adventures in New York, and he mentioned a singer who sang the music of Ornette. This really intrigued me: I've never heard anyone sing Ornette. So I was very happy to get the call.

GM: Will the ReVoice! date with Singin’ Ornette be your first outing with the project? Would you have imagined Mr Coleman’s music lending itself so well to the voice?

TK: Yes this will be my first outing with this project but I feel I'm stepping on familiar ground here. I truly get and dig what Barbara is doing. Hearing her sing Ornette's music music is very pleasing to my ears, I really love her arrangements and the timbre of her voice. It's very honest and natural.

GM: Recently, you’ve been working with some other great jazz stars and nominated with the group Lineage for a MOBO - congratulations. Tell us more and what’s next?

Tony Kofi: Yes Lineage is a collective of leaders, Trevor Watkis, Byron Wallen, Larry Bartley and Rod Youngs, each leading our own groups and coming together with our individual touch as Lineage. Formed in late 2012, we each bring our own unique compositions to create something very musical, magical and majestic, and an original sound that is totally our own. I'm looking forward to working more with these amazing musicians/composers and hopefully record an album in 2014.

The MOBO nomination is nice too, as we're a new group and it's testament to the power of five to be recognised so early , we sold out Ronnie Scott's for our début London concert. A nice introduction for Lineage.

Georgia Mancio: What an amazing story, thanks for telling it. We're looking forward to the gig!!! 

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