Morris "Moe" Koffman, OC (28 December 1928 – 28 March 2001) was a Canadian jazz saxophonist and flautist, as well as composer and arranger. During a career spanning from the 1950s to the 2000s, Koffman was one of Canada's most prolific musicians, working variously in clubs and sessions and releasing 30 albums. With his 1957 record Cool and Hot Sax on the New York-based Jubilee label, Koffman became one of the first Canadian jazz musicians to record a full-length album. Koffman was also a long-time member of Rob McConnell's Boss Brass.
Early life and education
Koffman was born in Toronto to Jewish immigrants from Poland. His parents operated a variety store. At the age of nine he began his musical studies in his native city, studying violin. He studied with Gordon Delamont, and later attended the Toronto Conservatory of Music, now the Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto, where he was a student of Samuel Dolin.
Koffman dropped out of school when he found work performing in dance bands. In 1950, he moved to the United States, where he played with big bands including those of Sonny Dunham and Jimmy Dorsey. In 1955, he returned to Toronto where he formed a quartet and later a quintet. He recorded Swinging Shepherd Blues in 1957 which helped establish his reputation as a flautist. "Swinging Shepherd Blues" was a hit in the United States, reaching #23 on the Billboard pop chart.
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, and 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 albums with arrangements of works by classical composers including Bach, Mozart and Vivaldi. The albums were released by GRT Canada and later by Universal. 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, as well as continuing to front the Moe Koffman Quintet. 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 since 1972.
Koffman was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2000, and died of cancer in Orangeville, Ontario in 2001 at the age of 72. In 2002, Moe Koffman was a MasterWorks honouree by the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada.
Some of Koffman's music for Duke Street Records was unreleased at the time of his death. Music for the Night was released and re-issued in 2007, and Devil's Brew was re-issued in 2009.
- "Pixies Three"
- "Swinging Shepherd Blues"
- Cool And Hot Sax (1957) (Jubilee)
- The Shepherd Swings Again (1958) (Jubilee)
- Moe Koffman The Swinging Shepherd Plays For Teens (1962) (Ascot)
- Tales Of Koffman (1962) (UA)
- The Moe Koffman Quartet (1963) (CTA)
- Moe Koffman (1967) (Universal)
- 1967 (1967) (Just A Memory)
- Moe Koffman Quartet (1967) (CBC/RCI)
- Moe Koffman Goes Electric (1967) (Jubilee)
- Turned On Moe Koffman (1968) (Jubilee)
- Moe's Curried Soul with Doug Riley & Lenny Breau (1969) (Revolver)
- Moe Koffman Plays Bach (1971) (GRT)
- The Four Seasons (1972) (GRT)
- Master Session (1974) (GRT)
- Solar Explorations (1974) (GRT)
- Swinging Shepherd (1975) (Universal)
- Live at George's (1975) (GRT)
- Jungle Man (1976) (GRT)
- Museum Pieces (1977) (Janus)
- Things Are Looking Up (1978) (GRT)
- Back To Bach (1979) (Anthem)
- Project (1980) (Universal)
- Moe-Mentum (1986) (Universal)
- One Moe Time (1986) (Duke)
- Oop.Pop.A.Da featuring Dizzy Gillespie (1989) (Universal)
- Moe Koffman Quintet Plays (1990) (Duke Street Records)
- Music for the Night arranged by Doug Riley (1991) (Universal)
- Collection (1993) (Universal)
- Devil's Brew (1996) (Universal)
- North of the Border in Canada (Decca, 1967 )
- Larry LeBlanc (24 February 2001). "Universal Canada gives priority to veteran jazzer Moe Koffman". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. pp. 58–. ISSN 0006-2510.
- "Koffman was jazz ambassador and a remarkable innovator". The Globe and Mail, James Adams, March 29, 2001
- "Swingin’ Moe Koffman". CBC Radio Archives, Feb. 2, 2001
- "Moe Koffman", Canadian Encyclopedia
- "The 101 strangest records on Spotify: Moe Koffman – The Swingin’ Shepherd Plays for the Teens". The Guardian, Rob Fitzpatrick, 22 Apr 2015
- "Jazz player keeps it in the family". Canadian Jewish News, By Ruth Schweitzer - March 10, 2015
- "GRT Fete for Koffman LP". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. 13 January 1973. p. 43. ISSN 0006-2510.
- "One of Canada’s top jazz pianists leads Moe Koffman tribute". Waterloo Region Record, Mar 07, 2017 by Terry Pender
- Larry LeBlanc (14 April 2001). "Canada's Koffman recalled as jazz master". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. p. 7. ISSN 0006-2510.
- Ron Forbes-Roberts (2006). One Long Tune: The Life and Music of Lenny Breau. University of North Texas Press. p. 145. ISBN 978-1-57441-210-9.
- "Still happening after 40 years - The Globe and Mail". www.theglobeandmail.com. Retrieved Aug 6, 2019.
- Mark Kearney; Randy Ray (30 September 2006). Whatever Happened To...?: Catching Up with Canadian Icons. Dundurn. p. 251. ISBN 978-1-4597-1819-7.