Moe Koffman – A Multi-Talented and Respected Jazz Musician

Short career summary on Moe Koffman

Moe Koffman was a jazz multi-instrumentalist, composer and record producer. In 1950 the Canadian native moved to the US to perform in big bands, especially those of Jimmy Dorsey and Sonny Dunham for about five years until he returned to his hometown Toronto to form a quartet (eventually a quintet), with whom he recorded the hit “Swinging Shepherd Blues”. Although he played a variety of wind instruments, Koffman was popularly known as a flute soloist. He recorded a series of popular albums, and performed with Dizzy Gillespie, Peter Appleyard, Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass, among others. As a session musician Koffman was popular especially in his home country; he was employed to play music for several films, TV, and commercials. He died of cancer in Ontario in 2001, aged 72.

Moe Koffman’s early music education and career

Jazz musician, multi-instrumentalist, arranger and composer Moe Koffman had a great ability to adapt to changing styles and his inclination to include popular music in his repertoire, which jazz purists weren’t very keen of. But because of his fusion, he became very popular.

Koffman played a variet of instruments including flute, bass flute, saxophone (alto, soprano and tenor) and clarinet. However, as a musician he was best known as a flautist.

Moe Koffman was born Morris Koffman in Toronto, Canada on December 28, 1928. He formally began his musical studies along with musician and future music educator Gordon Arthur Delamont. As he grew older he went on to attend the-now-named Royal Conservatory Music of Toronto, where he continued studying music under the tutelage of Samuel Dolin. However, he discontinued his studies in order to play for dance bands.

Performing in the US, and returning to Toronto

In 1950 Koffman relocated to the US and worked for the big bands of some of the famed bandleaders during his time such as Jimmy Dorsey and Sonny Dunham. Five years later Koffman returned to his hometown, armed with extensive musical experience he got from the States. There in Toronto he formed his own quartet, and later a quintet.

Koffman’s biggest hit with “The Swingin’ Shepherd Blues”

In 1957 Koffman recorded an instrumental number he wrote, “The Swingin’ Shepherd Blues,” along with his backing band the Moe Koffman Quartette. In this track he really showed his natural talent as a flautist. “The Swingin’ Shepherd” was released the following year in the United States, on Jubilee label. Actually, Johnny Pate Quintet’s own version of the song was the first to chart on the Billboard chart, eventually peaking at #43. Moe Kaufman Quartette’s own rendition also hit the Billboard charts a little later, eventually reaching its peak position at #36 there. It also charted in the UK at #23.

Koffman’s “The Swinging Shepherd” was covered by several artists including David Rose and His Orchestra, Ted Heath Orchestra, and even Ella Fitzgerald.

Koffman’s own hit assured him of a place alongside Herbie Mann, Yusef Lateef and Jeremy Steig as the greatest jazz flute players ever.

A little bit of playing inspiration for Koffman

He was inspired by another jazz multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk (in right photo) in playing several instruments simultaneously. Sometimes, Koffman relied on his own modified set of straps that allowed him to play the tenor and alto saxophones so he could create incredible tones as well as improvise at once.

Other works and legacy

Koffman went his way to become one of the most esteemed session players in Toronto, where he performed for various background music productions, commercials, and film and TV soundtracks.

Along with fellow Canadian Maynard Ferguson and new age multi-instrumentalist Ron Allen, Koffman was one of the strong advocates of what is called “circular breathing” technique used by other players of wind instruments. He also recorded several albums comprising his own renditions of classical works by Mozart, Bach and Vivaldi. In the 1980s he collaborated with other jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie and fellow Canadian Peter Appleyard. He still actively performed in his later years until he died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in Ontario in 2001. He was 72 years old.

Among his best-known recordings are “Curried Soul” and “Koff Drops” which have been used as the opening/closing theme for the national radion show As It Happens. His other honors include the Order of Canada and induction to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, among others.