Tony Kofi

Tony Kofi Quartet Plays Monk

Tony Kofi

January 4, 2024
Malcolm Mills

My sister’s boyfriend Alan Fuller had opened my teenaged ears to the music of Thelonious Monk but in my last year of school, I didn’t have the pocket-money to go and see his brilliant quartet in concert at the Fairfield Halls in my hometown in 1966. Bah! But hey…I copped plenty of other great stuff so that’s the way it goes. My ears remained open.

The late Peter Symes was a noted photographer who specialized in capturing images of jazz musicians. He was on the London scene for many years along with my Properbox collaborator, Joop Visser. Peter was the sleuth who tracked down the incredible selection of photos that appeared in that series. In the early part of this latest century, both gentlemen witnessed the Tony Kofi Quartet lighting up the Ealing Jazz Festival with their faultless interpretation of the music of Thelonious Monk and they were rightly insistent that I should try and record the band because it was simply so damned exceptional. Thank you, Peter, and Joop.

In 2005 we had just built a new recording studio at Proper Records, and I announced to stunned Paul Riley that I intended to start a separate jazz label and wanted to kick it off by asking him to record the Tony Kofi Quartet playing the music of Thelonious Monk. He said he’d never recorded jazz and didn’t know Monk’s music…but would give it a try.

Crammed into our new studio with a real A-Team of Jonathan Gee, Piano; Winston Clifford, drums; and Ben Hazleton, bass, the Tony Kofi Quartet successfully summoned the spirit of Thelonious Sphere Monk and the communion commenced.

Of course, Paul got engrossed in the project as soon as he heard it and - of course - he produced a brilliant set of recordings…because that’s what he does.

The tracks that were recorded over those few days were selected from the complete repertoire of Monk’s compositions that had been the culmination of five years' intensive study and performances by Tony Kofi and the musicians associated with his Monk Liberation Front project. They are world class one-take recordings which serve as an eternal reminder to me of the role of the recording company in the music industry.

Shortly afterwards, the Tony Kofi Quartet’s magnificent recording debut heralded Tony’s arrival as a bandleader and fully formed soloist when it was immediately awarded the winner of the prestigious BBC Jazz Awards “ALBUM OF THE YEAR”.

The mythology of Buddy Bolden imparted to me by my father had most definitely registered and was finally being used fruitfully.

I have consistently released Tony’s own recordings since then. He is a true force, relentless in his pursuit of musical Nirvana. But that Monk project! Oh Boy! There’s just something special about it.

It’s hard to believe that something as elusive and truly mysterious as the atmosphere generated by the performances of Thelonious Monk’s own units that are captured on recordings and film could possibly be recreated. On Saturday 2nd July 2023, Joop Visser and I went to The Vortex in London to see a rare appearance of Tony’s original quartet performing Monk’s music. It was one among the most truly uplifting concerts either of us have witnessed. And believe me, between us we have seen some. Each of the four of them were out of sight. Tony Kofi, Jonathan Gee, Ben Hazleton, and the incomparable Winston Clifford floored the pair of us.

Next day I checked and there was no remaining stock of the original compact disc and so I decided to rerelease the album as a two LP vinyl edition as well as a newly packaged CD.

Outta sight. That’s all I’ve got to say on the matter.