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Canadian Heritage

The Story of the Swingin' Shepherd: Moe Koffman

One of the most prominent jazz musicians to ever come out of Canada, multi- instrumentalist Moe Koffman achieved international success both as a composer and a player. His single 'Swinging Shepherd Blues' climbed the Billboard charts and became a standard. His playing across many different genres helped establish him as one of Canada's foremost be-boppers. Through archival interviews with Moe and conversations with people who knew and loved him, this documentary explores the life of the man they called the 'Swinging Shepherd'.

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Transcript of the audio documentary

I'm Ross Porter and welcome to the story of The Swinging Shepherd, Moe Koffman.

"Moe was a fastidious type of person. The job that he was doing and his instruments were the most important things in his life." - Guido Basso

"Moe is important because it was amazing that anybody could have commercial success playing the flute and playing jazz. He's really a legend, a legendary figure in Canadian jazz." -

"He's like a good, good piece of fruit, you know. Like he got better, got better with age, you know. He didn't rot and bruise or anything. He just got ripe and better, right until the very end and then he got consumed." - one of Moe's sons (Herbie?)

PORTER: Moe's contribution to jazz in this country and the world is unique and lasting. He had a playing career that spanned over 60 years before his death in 2001, releasing over 30 albums in that time. As a player and a business man, he was instrumental in shaping the sound of the jazz scene in Canada. He was determined, motivated, and above all, blessed with a true feeling of humility and kindness. A man I was lucky enough to have been able to know and to call a friend.

Moe was born in Toronto on December 28, 1928. His playing covered many genres and styles. But in heart, his first love was always jazz.

KOFFMAN: My first introduction to jazz didn't come by with buying LPs. I remember I was a young kid hanging around a place in Toronto called The Campus Record Bar. It was run by two guys by the name of Benny and Karl Langbord and was the only record store, retail outlet, in town that would bring in all these American new jazz things on Savoy and Bird and Diz and all the bebop was coming through there and there was a few of us would be hanging around, real fans, and that's how my first introduction came about listening to it.

And before that, I remember, going down to Eatons when they had little booths where you could listen to records before you buy them, there were 78s, and I remember the very first record that really turned me on to jazz, that was Coleman Hawkin's Body and Soul. It was a classic. And I use to go in there, cause I didn't have a record player, and listen to it in the booth all the time.

(sax music)

I started off playing the violin. I didn't get into serious jazz music until I was about 13 when I took up the study of the saxophone.

PORTER: By the time Moe was 19, he'd already established himself as one of Canada's earliest beboppers. A visiting American jazz critic saw Moe play and wrote in a New York magazine that he was Toronto's best, and maybe a lot more than that. The review gave him a tremendous amount of attention south of the border and landed this up and coming jazz great his first record deal.

KOFFMAN: Back in 1949 I went over to Buffalo and made four sides of a 78. It was released by a company called Main Stem Records and there was a big promotional ad in the Downbeat Magazine, I'll never forget, "New Alto Sax Discovery". I was a 19 year old or 18 19 year old kid and I was really premature, but they were pushing this thing, and that was the first jazz album I did. And these were with some of the hot cause we used to go over to Buffalo and jam all the time at the Black Musicians Club and so I used these guys to make these four 78s.

(Bop Lop beings)

PORTER: Here's one of those first 78s. It's Moe Koffman and the Main Stemmers with Bop Lop.

[00:4:15] (Bop Lop continues)

PORTER: In 1950, Moe Koffman moved to New York City to study and to play. In the daytime he took lessons with members of the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Orchestras. At night he gained invaluable experience playing in the big bands of Sonny Durham and Jimmy Dorsey. And it was in those early years in New York that he came face to face with one of his jazz heroes, Charlie Parker.

KOFFMAN: I was making a trip to New York City and my idol, of course, is Charlie Parker. Walking up the street with, I forget who it was, some musician, and I happened to see this character that looks like he needed a meal coming up the street just almost limping. I said, My God, that's Charlie Parker!' and I was just amazed, you know, finally there's this God, but there he is, he looks like a bum, you know. And we stopped, and we stopped him, and I said, Charlie Parker, The Bird!'

And he looks at me, says, "Gimme some money."

He was really strung out at that time. I just took out what I had in my pocket and he just took it from me and walked off and there I am with my mouth open, There goes The Bird!' I was just in awe. There's this God there's The Bird, you know. I didn't like to see him this way. I realized later, of course, even then, what was wrong. It's unfortunate but, a sick man, but a great musician.

PORTER: In the mid fifties, Moe left New York and moved back to Toronto where he formed a group of his own. His growing reputation had led to another offer to record and release an album. And unbeknownst to Moe at the time, it was a record that would define and shape his career for the rest of his life.

(music Swinging Shepherd Blues)

The album featured a catchy little blues song Moe had originally entitled Blues Ala Canadiana. Producer Morty Palitz didn't much care for the title and suggested an alternative. The single was eventually released as the Swinging Shepherd Blues. It quickly became an international hit, peaking on the Billboard charts in 1958 at number 23.

Long time friend of Moe's and frequent collaborator, Guido Basso.

BASSO: It surprised Moe as much as it surprised a lot of jazz musicians. For a tune like Swinging Shepherd Blues, which is just an ordinary blues tune, the form is like 12 bars, and that's it. That becoming a big hit was amazing and it has become a standard. It was a wonderful surprise for Moe and it was a windfall for him.

PORTER: Former Globe and Mail jazz critic Jack Batten.

BATTEN: What Moe had is hip, for rock and roll was huge in that there was sort of a niche where he could get another record well played that was distinctive. So it was a simple, catchy melody. A lot of luck is attached to these things, but Moe took advantage of the luck. He got the record played on radio stations, not just jazz shows, and it took off. And ever after that he played the tune in concerts, even though I'm sure he was sick of it and so were more traditional jazz fans that had been around for awhile.

PORTER: Long time drummer with the Moe Koffman Quartet, Terry Clarke.

CLARKE: We played it every night, you know. It was something that he always played. Then Ella Fitzgerald sang it. (music begins) It was a bonafide hit. So much so that, this is a funny story, I think I'm the only person that remembers this. But Cybill Shepherd came on the David Letterman Show one night, and Paul Shaffer's the band leader, and every time Cybil Shepherd comes on he plays the Swinging Shepherd Blues behind her as a play on. And I think I'm the only person that got it. But Paul is from here, so he knows.

[00:10:17] (music Ella singing Swinging Shepherd Blues)

PORTER: Arranger and tenor saxophonist Rick Wilkins.

WILKINS: Hit's are a great thing, you know. They get kind of established with you, but you're condemned to playing them forever, you know, so and sometimes hits can kind of wear out their welcome after awhile. I think Moe kept trying for hits after that but sometimes when you try you don't get a hit and when you don't try you get a hit so, you know, it's just the way it works some times.

PORTER: (music under talk) Swinging Shepherd Blues stuck with Moe throughout the rest of his career. He used to introduce it to the audience by saying, "I'm now going to play a medley of my hit." Over the years, over 100 different artists recorded the song including Ella Fitzgerald, Natalie Cole, Count Basie, Henry Mancini, and Tito Puente. Before Moe had even reached 30 he had accomplished something that very few artists could ever lay claim to doing in their lifetime: he had written a standard.

(music another version of Swinging Shepherd Blues)

Moe Koffman.

KOFFMAN: It really gives a person signature. Yes, I can play that in front of an audience that people don't know who I am or what I'm about and then I'll say this is a tune I wrote back in so-and-so and I can just watch their face and just say, "Oh, that's the guy." People remember.

(music ends)

PORTER: In the late fifties, the jazz scene in Toronto was alive but scattered. There were a handful of clubs that booked jazz artists but none that were exclusively dedicated to it. It was around this time that Moe was approached by Doug Cole, a police officer who also owned a restaurant. He had a proposition. He wanted to hire Moe to become the musical booker at a venue that would feature jazz six nights a week. The idea took off and quickly the restaurant became legendary, eventually becoming one of the longest, continuous running jazz venues in the country. It was a place named George's Spaghetti House.

Writer Jack Batten.

BATTEN: It was in a rotten part of town. It was at the corner of Sherbourne and Dundas. So you weren't in the chicest neighbourhood and when you walked in, of course this was back in smoking days, so it was noisy and smoke filled and all that. If you were a jazz fan, you tried to sit close to the front to hear it. It's a bustling, busy kind of place and somehow, cutting through it, you got to hear music if you were alert enough.

(music under talk)

"Good evening ladies and gentlemen, welcome to George's Spaghetti House, Toronto's House of Jazz. Tonight we're proud to include you, our patrons, in George's first live recording and now it gives me great pleasure to present The Moe Koffman Quintet."

PORTER: The owner of George's Spaghetti House, Doug Cole.

COLE: It just started out on like on Friday and Saturday and then I got lucky. Moe Koffman, he became the musical director, then we went six nights a week. We had no contract, just on a shake for 25 years. Never had one argument. Moe was a very easy person to get along with. He had only one love: music.

PORTER: (music under talk) Apart from giving many new musicians their big break and many established musicians a steady place to play, Moe would book himself into George's to perform one week out of every month. He used these opportunities, not only to play great jazz in front of an audience, but as a chance try out new stuff, to gauge crowd reaction before taking it to a larger audience.

Moe Koffman.


KOFFMAN: The club is a most difficult audience to give attention anywhere because people are eating and drinking. If you can grab their attention with a piece of music and it's really quiet, you know you've got something. It's a good place to experiment.

PORTER: George's Spaghetti House kept many of the jazz musicians in Toronto working and experimenting for years and it gave many of the city's jazz fans a chance to hear some great music. But it wasn't just jazz fans who came to George's. Moe's own sons spent time there as well.

"I'm Herbie Koffman, I'm the oldest son."

"I'm Larry Koffman, middle son."

"Elie Koffman, I am the youngest son."

PORTER: For Moe's sons, George's Spaghetti House became one of the places they grew up.

"It was a classic. It was on three floors. The basement had the takeout and the bathrooms and the kitchen that prepared the takeout. The main floor was the jazz room. Was a small stage right by the front door. Terrible location, draft blowing by the band every time the door opened. It was just one of those terrible rooms that worked, you know. It was a success, it was just always lined up, there was always great musicians there. My dad was there as a regular. For years, Brian Brown Trio was there as a regular. Norman Amadio in the old days. Like lots of great players, you know."

"People used to send in tapes just to, you know, we had tons of cassettes, at that time they were cassettes, of people trying to get into the club. People like Alvin Paul and P.J. Perry. I mean these guys are great players now so it just shows you that everyone knew George's. If they were from out of town, whether it be the States or and the musicians would come in between 1:00 and 2:00, because it was the only club that was open from 1:00 to 2:00 on the weekends. So that 1:00 to 2:00 set it was the hippest place to be in the city because all the musicians would come in."

"And the other musicians would be finished by 1:00 so you could come in for the late set. You could phone ahead and Leo would put a carafe of wine on the table for you."

(end music)

PORTER: George's Spaghetti House not only had an impact on Moe's playing and that of the musicians who surrounded him, but later it was the place where Moe was to meet his second wife, a woman who would have a profound impact on the rest of Moe's life.

GISELE KOFFMAN: I'm Gisele Koffman and I'm, I was his wife. I met Moe and I didn't know who he was. There was a bunch of people and he came over to the table and sat with us and I didn't know that he wrote the Swinging Shepherd because, I knew the Swinging Shepherd Blues from Berlin. I heard it in Berlin. But then I all of a sudden had the person in front of me who wrote it. This was something. And the next day, that was it. We loved each other very much. For thirty years.

(music) [00:18:08]

PORTER: Back in the early sixties, Moe was firmly established as one of the A-list musicians in Toronto. He was amongst the elite group of people who were called first when a great player was needed in the studio. It was in a year when work was plentiful and for someone at the top of his game like Moe also very profitable.

Guido Basso.

BASSO: CBC were the major employers of musicians at that time because they had a variety, what they called a Variety Department. The Variety Department produced shows where they required an orchestra. It could be anything, from a five-piece group to a 50-piece orchestra or more, to be part of the show, to back up singers, to back up production numbers with dancers and various guests, American guests, big name guests, that they would bring in to headline the show. We were so busy that we couldn't find time to practice because you were busy all the time. Moe found time to practice as well as being busy, but none of us we were so tired of having that horn in our faces. I mean, at the end of the day, that's it. The horn goes in the case and I'll see you later. Open the fridge.

We were busy from morning till night in the studios. Every day. On top of which Moe, he'd go to George's every night until 1:00 a.m., and then early again the next morning, 9:00 a.m. showing up. So his life was full of music and so we were all involved in a very busy and healthy musical situation and which, of course, meant that we were all making money as well.

[20:00] (music)

PORTER: The sixties also saw the formation of a band that would enlist Moe as a featured member. It was a 22-piece big band led by Moe's good friend Rob McConnell. It was called the Boss Brass. It was made up of many of the A-list players this city had to offer. During its 32 year reign, the Boss Brass set the standard for big band music all over the world. It was a fraternity of musical soul mates that played frequently in Toronto and, from time to time, would go out on tour.

Rob McConnell.

MCCONNELL: We had a terrible trip to California once with the Boss Brass. We had to leave Toronto at 7:00 in the morning. We played after 1:00 a.m. California time so, that's after 3:00 a.m. for us. Somebody in the band said, you know, we were there so long that some guys in the band got drunk three times. Anyway we did our work and then got on the bus. We didn't have a room there. So we got back on the bus and we had to go to L.A. from there, which is 500 miles. And I just thought this is really going to, somebody'll die on this trip. I mean the sun was coming up, again, you know. And we got into our hotel and everything went fine and we had to play that afternoon and I went by Moe's room and he was practicing. I mean, this is on my way to my room to lie down and sleep, and Moe was practicing the flute.

PORTER: Guido Basso.

BASSO: He was constantly practicing, but practicing flute, clarinet, piccolo, tenor sax, alto sax. Practicing all those instruments because he want to, not just be a doubling guy with, you know, with okay my major instrument is alto saxophone, but I own a tenor and I own a flute so every now and then you touch those things. No, he wanted to be have the same level of technical mastery over all those instruments and he succeeded. I mean, when Moe would sit down, his music stand would be filled with the demand for all those instruments to be played. So he was sitting there with stands in front of him with all those instruments, the entire arsenal, and it doesn't matter which instrument he picked up, there was always perfection.

PORTER: Rick Wilkins.

WILKINS: The only weakness we ever found in Moe's playing, and if Jerry Toth were around he'd tell you this too. All those years with the Boss Brass, Jerry sat on one side of Moe and I sat on the other side of Moe. Part of our job was to tell Moe what instrument he was supposed to play. He was kind of like the absent minded professor. He'd be thinking about something else and Jerry or I would be looking at him and he's got the flute in his hand and we know there's an alto section coming up and the two of us would say, "Moe, alto!" He quick put the flute down and picked the alto up or "Moe, piccolo, clarinet." Once he got that instrument in his hands, he'd play the shit out of it.

PORTER: Dave Bird produced Jazz Radio Canada, CBS's flag ship jazz show in the seventies and eighties.

BIRD: He was just a consummate musician. Whatever Moe did, whenever he went into it, whether it was more classical, serious music type of material, or whether it was jazz, or whatever, he did it with ultimate professionalism. When you combine that with his personality in terms of being so wonderfully supportive of other people, he was just a great human being, and a great musician.


PORTER: Moe Koffman's sons.

"He used to spend all night just finding for a reed. He'd go through boxes of reeds and play them for five seconds, crush them, throw it in the garbage, play another one, crush it, throw it in the garbage. Some of them he'd put in another pile, and date them, put them away for five years. shave them down."

"I don't even know what those piles were. He had glass, layers of glass, glass, glass"

" special tools to shave hem and try to get just the right sound."

"Always looking for an edge."

PORTER: Drummer Terry Clarke.

CLARKE: I got the feeling that he really wanted to become like the greatest flute player in the world, which he nearly was. His enthusiasm was just endless. He was always up. He just went from morning to night. This man was completely tireless. If we were doing a recording date, say from 10:00 to 1:00, 2:00 to 5:00, Moe would take the hour off, or the hour and a half that we'd have for lunch, we'd all go out and have steaks and cognac and have a great time. Moe, would meanwhile, would stay back at the studio and practice. He always kept up his flute chops. He was just obsessive about it and, of course, it showed in his playing, with that beautiful gold flute that he had.


PORTER: Moe's gold flute was a solid gold instrument which was originally owned by Julius Baker, the former principal flutist with the New York Philharmonic. After acquiring and playing the flute, it quickly became Moe's signature on stage. And off stage, he practiced with it, along with all of his other instruments, relentlessly.

Moe Koffman.

KOFFMAN: I found over the years, that's the only answer, to continue playing. If you let it go, it leaves you very quickly. The actual practicing and playing studio work is not enough to go out and play jazz. You have to play at it all the time because there's a flow that leaves you if you're not doing it. And just to have your body coordinated to your fingers and your hands and your brain all coordinated to do what your brain is saying. If you're not playing all the time, your brain says one thing but your fingers won't do the same thing! And I enjoy it as well. I like to be constantly playing. It's a nice gratifying feeling to know that you're in shape, you're on top of it and it's happening.


PORTER: Moe experimented on his albums with a wide range of different styles and genres, many seemingly geared to gaining him another hit like the one he had with the Swinging Shepherd Blues.

Guido Basso.

BASSO: I think he was driven by the feeling of having a hit, so, "I love this, let's try it again!" But poor Moe never succeed again after that. But mind you, he placed some of his other songs as themes for different shows and they used it for opening credits and closing credits and that way. I'm sure his royalty cheques were healthy enough.

(Curried Soul begins)

PORTER: In Canada, one of the best known and most recognizable Moe Koffman songs is the one that's been used as the theme for CBC's current affairs show "As It Happens". It's been used on the show for close to 40 years. Here's one version of that song, Curried Soul.

(music - Curried Soul)


BUDD: I'm Barbara Budd and I'm the co-host of "As It Happens" and have been since 1993, officially, but for 12 years before that I used to fill in for Al Maitland. So I've been part of the "As It Happens" family for a long time.

Our theme song produces a lot of reaction from our audience. People will write in and say, just for no good reason, they'll write in from Missouri or from Medicine Hat and just say, "We love your theme song. If you ever change it, I will have to come down there and kill you." And you think, gee, I wonder why they suddenly thought to write to us about if we ever change it, because we have no intention of changing it. It's curious that they pick up the phone to call just to mention the theme music.

At any rate, we do get the other side, too, like, "Get with the times, folks." And we did. At some point, one of the producers had the nerve to take Moe's arrangement and have the Parachute Club do it. It wasn't good, and nobody liked it either. And people have sometimes, from time to time since that time, executive producers I, mean, who are long gone, will say, "I think it's time maybe we re-look at the theme." And I say, Yeah, you can re-look at it but I won't be here if you change it, and so many listeners won't be either.'



PORTER: I'm Ross Porter and you're listening to The Story of The Swinging Shepherd, Moe Koffman, on Canada's premiere jazz station, JazzFM91.

Throughout Moe's career, his music went through many stylistic changes. Some jazz, some more rock, some classical, but all undeniably Moe.

Moe Koffman's sons.

"There was the Nehru phase, the electronic phase, where everything was electronic. He plugged into a flute and played electric saxophone."

"That was the late sixties."

GISELE: The two saxophones.

"Two saxophones at once."

"He did an album called Turned On Electric, I believe it was. Moe Koffman Goes Electric."

" for the time some standards

"And then he went through a stage of he actually did something in Australia. He did a Swinging Shepherd Plays to the Sheep, actually. He did it with James Galway, he did it?"

GISELE: James Galway.

"It was one of those Kaytel things."

"No, that was The Magic Flute of Moe Koffman. That was the only one that was ever sold on TV."

"That was basically the most commercial he ever went and then everything else was pure jazz. He would always follow something like that up with a pure jazz album."

"If You Don't Know Me by Now was a whole other thing, too."

(If You Don't Know Me by Now plays under talk)

"He was a hard core bebop alto player until the end, though. He could always just play the crap out of any tune on the alto. He went through a lot of phases but he always went back to the bebopper, the main stream jazz. Definitely a hardcore bopper."

PORTER: Guido Basso.

BASSO: His gimmick with the two horns, too, that was a good gimmick. That saw him through a couple of years of Well, isn't this a nice novelty.' And that's great, but you can only do one tune with that and then it's over. He had a good eye for commercialism and that's what he figured that he should be trying to achieve. If he's going to get another hit, it's not going to be a jazz hit, it's going to be a commercial hit. So that's what he was using as his formula.

(music Andrew Lloyd Webber's Everything's All Right)

PORTER: Moe took a lot of criticism from jazz purists who took offence to his commercial experimentation. His commercial releases included everything from progressive rock to Vivaldi's Four Seasons to a tribute album to the work of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Jack Batten.

BATTEN: Moe wouldn't hesitate to try anything, within reason. Getting a hit, maybe without reason, if you count the Andrew Lloyd Webber album.

He would tie albums to things. Like he did one with the Royal Ontario Museum. (music) It's called "Museum Pieces'" He had several tunes that were written to fit in with one of the exhibits in the museum. In fact, some of the tunes were not bad at all.

He was an extremely facile musician. He could pick up classics, rock and roll, stuff like that, kind of shape it with a Moe-type sound. I'm not sure that any of those turned into mammoth hits or anything and when you go and see him in a club, I notice he usually didn't see many of those. I never heard him play Andrew Lloyd Webber in a club so I guess that didn't take off.

PORTER: Moe Koffman.

KOFFMAN: I think if I had to choose one kind of music and just stay at that the rest of my life, or even start out at that and stay with that, I don't think I'd be very happy. I enjoy a variety of things. I enjoy being able to sit down and play an orchestral part, a nice flute part, a nice legit clarinet part, or maybe a nice lead alto part with Rich Lee voice five saxes. I enjoy that. In other words, I don't enjoy one specific kind of music. I like to do it and then try something else, you know.

PORTER: One of the things that Moe tried during the eighties was an extraordinary collaboration with legendary jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. The two first played together when Dizzy sat in with Moe's band during a concert in Stratford, Ontario. Dizzy was blown away by Moe and his band and a full tour was quickly arranged. They would call the performances "The Dizzy and Moe Super Show" and, on and off, they would continue to tour together each year for nearly a decade.

Moe Koffman.


KOFFMAN: Dizzy was flying in from wherever he was flying in from and the plane had unloaded and there's no Dizzy. And so I went back to the immigration and thought there might be a problem and they said, "No, Mr. Gillespie has cleared customs and he's left."

So finally another passenger came off and I says, By the way, have you seen a Mr. Dizzy Gillespie?' Cause I figure everybody knows who he is, you know.

"Oh, yes, yeah, he's sitting in there. He's talking to some lady."

So after about a half hour I'm just flipping out. I thought like what's going on with this guy, you know. He finally he came out and I says, Diz, what happened? Is everything okay?'

He says, "Oh, yeah, man. I was just talking to this lady about needlepoint."

So there he is, I mean he was so accessible to any subject to anybody. But this one story really stuck because it gave me an insight as to what kind of a guy Dizzy was, you know. There he is, like this old lady on the same flight and there he is, unaware that like somebody's waiting for him for a half hour, talking about needlepoint! And that was that. I never forgot that.

(Oop-Pop-A-Da begins)

PORTER: Here's the title track of the 1998 (1988?) release featuring Dizzy Gillespie and Moe Koffman, Oop-Pop-A-Da.

(Oop-Pop-A-Da continues)


You're listening to The Story of The Swinging Shepherd, Moe Koffman, on JazzFM91. I'm Ross Porter.

For Moe, music, and more particularly jazz, was what made him a legend. But there was another side to Moe, that amongst the musical community, was almost as equally as legendary. It was Moe's skill as a shrewd business man that set him apart from most of his contemporaries. Skills that kept him on track of all his engagements even when his fellow musicians fell behind.

Guido Basso.

BASSO: As a business man, Moe kept records of everything. He had this book of his. That book was always with him. I think he slept with his book. The book had all the details of every job that he did and many of which, of course, I was on with him. And if someone was delinquent in paying, I'd phone Moe because, I guess I would be a little careless with my books. So I'd phone Moe and say, Moe, check the book for February 14th. Did you get paid for that?' He says, "Hold on a second." Said, "Yeah, we were Studio G from 10:00 to 2:00 and then we broke for an hour and we were back on at 3:00 to 7:00. And, let's see uh, I played piccolo, saxophone." Said, "Yeah, we got paid for that." So then I knew I that probably I had also been paid.

PORTER: Producer Dave Bird.

BIRD: I dealt with him as a business man, you know. And he was always great to deal with. He was very reasonable. He wasn't greedy or anything, but he knew exactly what his, what the market would bear, and he'd bargain and get the best deal he could. But Moe did have a bit of a reputation and the musicians used to tease the hell out of him because he'd count every penny.

Phil Dwyer told a funny story about, I don't know, I can't remember, it was when he was in Toronto and Rob, something about Rob stood up in front on the band and said, "Well, Moe Koffman was supposed to do this gig here tonight but he got another gig down the road because they paid him an extra five bucks." There are all sorts of stories that went on about Moe because of his judiciousness in negotiating his fees.

PORTER: In the nineties, Moe was hired as the musical director for many of the mega musicals that played in Toronto. Huge productions, such as Phantom of the Opera, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, and Showboat, became Moe's responsibility to hire and maintain the musical roster that work alongside these shows playing in the orchestra pit.

Tony Award winning producer Garth Drabinsky.

DRABINSKY: I didn't hire him because of his business prowess. I hired him because he had an interface with all of the top musicians, not only in Toronto, but in Canada, you know. And I always believed in insuring that what came out of that pit was of the highest quality and Moe gave me that comfort because he was so well respected by the musicians and he so well knew who was the best cello players and viola players and bass players and horn players and so forth. Moe was always there, he was pouring over the charts, he watched the musicians and the care and dedication and commitment they were taking. If there was anything that would go awry, he would handle it. He assumed that it was his orchestra and he wanted the best for himself and, therefore, for me. I just knew that if he was looking after me, I was in good shape.

PORTER: Trumpeter Arnie Chycoski.


CHYCOSKI: I did one for two years and another one for about six months. But he would hire who the leader asked him to hire. Some of the guys felt slighted that they weren't asked to be to do these shows, you know, and some wouldn't do the shows.

PORTER: Rick Wilkins.

WILKINS: He ran that as a business. He made sure He was the boss, people showed up on time. And there again, if you didn't do your gig, you were gone. This is what I kinda just hear from people who worked under him.

PORTER: For Moe, being a true professional was always important in every aspect of his musical career. He kept his business affairs in immaculate order, maintained his musical chops by practicing relentlessly, and treated his body with care as the vehicle that made all these things possible.

Moe's three sons and his wife Gisele.

"He exercised, he ate properly, he was into being healthy, having strong abdominals, like he knew you had to have good core strength to play wind instruments. He looked after himself. He used to go to George's and play sick. He never subbed out just cause he had a flu or a cold or something."

"He even played during a kidney stone attack. He had a kidney stone and he wound up being so loyal he didn't cancel the concert."

GISELE KOFFMAN: He phoned and he says, "I'm horribly in pain, but it's luckily there's a doctor in the audience and he gave me pain killers." He made it through the concert and then he passed it!

"Like his whole life he never got sick, until he got sick."


PORTER: In 1999, Moe did start to feel sick, but his approach was something in that the show must go on' mentality. Moe was expecting to be able to brush it aside.

Arranger Rick Wilkins.

WILKINS: One of the last studio gigs he did was kind of a Wayne and Shuster show. I called Moe to do it and he said that he had some doctors appointments to go to and he wasn't kind of sure he could do it. I think he was having some problems with his stomach at that time but he agreed to do it, come and do the show. We knew something was not right with him.

(piano music)

PORTER: Gisele Koffman.

GISELE: We decided to sell the house in the city and move up to our country place. This was in 1999, on the 12th of July. And he was just still producing his album, his last album. We sold the house and moved up here and one month later he was diagnosed with cancer. And he had no clue. He said he ran into a brick wall and he says, "I will beat this. You'll see, I will beat this."

(piano music)

PORTER: Writer Jack Batten.

BATTEN: I saw Moe two or three times after he got sick. He was amazingly determined. I saw him at a book launch and at first I didn't quite recognize him and then I did and I could tell he was sick. He said, even then, "I'm going to beat it." I didn't ask that. I guess he could sort of read it in my expression and he said that. So I thought, My God, what a brave and determined guy.'

PORTER: Moe was diagnosed with cancer, Non-Hodkins Lymphoma.

Gisele Koffman.

GISELE: The first day we went to the hospital to speak to this doctor when they finally found out what it really was, what kind of cancer it was. He said, "You have two months to live or when you take the chemos, what are really not for your kind of cancer, you will live a year and a half."

And so Moe said, "Well, I will beat this. I'll go through this. I'll take the chemos."

The doctor said, "I'll put you in a lifeboat." And I didn't understand at the time what it meant to be in a lifeboat. Now I know what it meant. Just to give him a little bit more time.

PORTER: In June of 2000, the Boss Brass played Toronto's Nathan Phillips Square as part of the Jazz Festival. It was to be the last concert for Rob's McConnell's band, the Boss Brass, a group that Moe had played with for over three decades and, as it turned out, it was also to be the last concert Moe would ever play.

Guido Basso.


BASSO: (music under talking) I think he must have known because we did Things Are Getting Better, I think it is, that featured Moe and he just played his butt off. I mean, I had heard him play that song so many times but that night there was something within Moe that had been, I guess had been stored and he was just waiting for this moment for knowing that probably this is going to be my last concert.

PORTER: Rob McConnell.

MCCONNELL: Moe was taking chemo and had one of those kangaroo hats on and that's what he was wearing because he had lost all his hair. I put the word out. Okay we all have to wear hats, but we've gotta hide them. And then when Moe's piece comes up, Things Are Getting Better, which they weren't, then we'll put the hats on, you know. And he'll be out front so he won't see us. I mean, he won't turn around. But he did when the whole audience stood up, you know. It was great. And Moe, it was the most emotional seen Moe. "Boy, he said, "that really shook the hell out of me."

PORTER: Guido Basso.

BASSO: Every little bit of energy that was left in him just got sapped away. Cause after that he was just like a sack of potatoes. He just collapsed in the car, apparently, and that was it, you know. He said, "Gis, I don't think I could do this again." They drove home leaving us all completely astounded by his performance. It was beautiful and it was emotional. It was for everybody.

PORTER: Gisele Koffman.

GISELE: He told me, "I'm going downstairs in my office," and I said, Okay.' And he didn't come up for half an hour and I was wondering what he's doing so I went down and he was trying lift his saxophone to put it in it's case. I asked him, Why didn't you tell me to help you?' And he wanted to do it alone.

PORTER: Moe Koffman's sons.

"I don't think he ever thought he was really gonna to stop playing, you know, until very, very near the end. Even in the hospital he was saying, you know, like we all knew, and he was saying, "I think I'm gonna retire." I think he was admitting it himself but we were all thinking, Of course, you're gonna to retire.' In his mind, you know, we all see ourselves like twenty. You feel the way you feel, but I think he sort of felt like that young person until the end, you know. But, near the end, he had a lot of realities to swallow."

"We always thought there would be something else. There was some alternate medicine or some alternate thing we could try. They were running out. He was getting smaller and weaker. He was fading away."

"He always made it sound like he was going to get better, but we all knew he wasn't."

GISELE: On the thirty first of January in 2001, they told us they cannot do anything for him anymore, no more chemos, no nothing. So we just had to go home and wait.

"And then he was taking care of business. We were discussing really about "

"He was all business till his last day."

" we were talking about the funeral and the shiva. The shiva was at my house, and we were discussing all this stuff."

[00:54:20] (music)

PORTER: CBC radio producer Dave Bird.

BIRD: I mean, Moe Koffman was just one of the heavies in the Toronto music scene. Period. And I had the greatest respect for him, always. And I think every musician in Toronto did have. So when I found out that he had only a very short time to live, I phoned him. I didn't even know if I'd get him on the phone personally, but I did. I just wanted to express to him how much I admired working with him over the years, admired his work, you know, and he can be very proud of the body of work that he's left behind and his reputation speaks for itself, and I considered it a privilege and an honour to have known him.

Well of course Moe got, you know, he was very gracious on the phone. He said, "Aw, Dave, you know, that's very nice," and we got a little gushy and all this. I said, Well, it's important to me for you to know that and I think there's a lot of people in this country that feel the same way, whether they've expressed it to you or not. There was a lot of love there and I was one of those people that was very fortunate to have known you and worked with you over the years and I'll remember it always.'

PORTER: Guido Basso.

BASSO: As a man, as a friend, I sure miss him. The visits were getting more and more difficult. I don't want to sound macabre, but it's amazing just talking about him, it brings back those visits and that feeling of this might be the final visit.

It's almost like he wanted to make sure that I understood certain things. He'd go back to something that, maybe an argument we might have had over something and said, "You know, remember that day when we argued about Well, you know what I meant, huh?" And then he starts rehashing it and I said, Okay, it was my fault. I'm sorry.' And that would be it. "Good. Now, next!"

He wanted to make sure that he left and everything would be in order. Thats exactly the way he was a very orderly person.

PORTER: Jack Batten.

BATTEN: There are many reasons for admiring Moe as a musician and as a guy. But at that end there's another side of Moe. I thought he was an amazing and a courageous guy.

PORTER: Moe Koffman passed away on March 28, 2001. I was living in Winnipeg at the time and flew to Toronto to attend the funeral. It was held at a Jewish funeral home in the north end of the city. Attending were most of the key players in the Toronto jazz scene. Two of his sons and one of his grandchildren delivered the eulogies. But the most poignant moment of the service, for me, came when Moe's music was played to the assembled crowd. It was a piece that Moe had chosen in his dying days especially for the event, a piece to remember him by. From his last studio album, "The Moe Koffman Project", here is Moe with Spring Nocturne.

(music Spring Nocturne)


PORTER: A few years after Moe's death, his famous golden flute was sold at an auction to an anonymous bidder, someone who the media knew only as an unnamed young female musician based in Toronto. Throughout researching this documentary, we tracked down the mystery buyer of the golden flute and she spoke to us in the living room of her home west of Toronto.

"My name is Joan Brown and I'm a flutist, a classical flutist. I play with a couple of orchestras in the greater Toronto area. (Plays a few notes on the flute.) Well, the spirit of Moe is in that flute, definitely. It's got a fluidity, it's got a responsiveness, as if it's already played what I'm playing and sometimes it feels like it plays itself, which is especially if I'm play something really tricky, sometimes it'll just come out and flow. And I'll think, Oh, that must be Moe'."

(music under talking)

PORTER: Moe's playing style was a lot of things. He played hard, he played tender, he liked to experiment, and he loved the classics. In his lifetime, he became a household name which, for a jazz musician in Toronto, happens all too rarely. He is sorely missed by those who knew and loved him. He provided a rich musical legacy that will be cherished by fans for years to come.

After his death, one of Moe's alto saxophones was handed down to his 19 year old grandson, proving that his impact and influence is still very much alive. Because, even all these years after Moe's death, his saxophone is still doing what Moe would have wanted it to do: swing hard.

"Hi, my name is Jake Koffman and this is my Zaide Moe's alto saxophone." (Plays Swinging Shepherd Blues.)

PORTER: I'm Ross Porter and you've been listening to the story of The Swinging Shepherd, an original documentary on Canada's premier jazz station, JazzFM91. The documentary was produced by Jeff Siskind. Executive producer was Ross Porter. We recognize the financial support provided by the Department of Canadian Heritage via the Canadian Culture Online Program. A special thanks to the family of the late Moe Koffman.

(music ends) [1:06:32]

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