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Canadian Heritage

Moe Koffman


MORRIS (MOE) KOFFMAN (flutist, saxophonist, clarinetist, composer, arranger) was born December 28, 1928 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He passed away on March 28, 2001 in Orangeville, Ontario, Canada. A Canadian jazz legend, Koffman gained lasting respect and recognition by his peers as one of the nation's most important jazz institutions throughout a celebrated five-decade career in which he recorded dozens of albums and performed with legions of the music's greats.

Moe Koffman was one of Canada's true jazz icons, and in recognition of that, was awarded the prestigious Order of Canada in 1992 honouring his outstanding talent and dedicated service to the arts.

One of the first Canadian jazzmen to adopt the new bebop style born in New York in the early 1940s. Moe Koffman played, toured, and recorded with a lengthy list of jazz stars that included Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet, and Doc Severinsen, and in hundreds of television and recording studio bands.

Born Morris Koffman in Toronto in 1928, he began playing violin at age 9 and alto saxophone, clarinet, and flute at 13. He studied theory at the Toronto Conservatory of Music before moving to the United States for further study in the 1940s. He returned to Toronto in 1955, and divided his career performing with his own jazz group and session work. He became the booking agent for George's Spaghetti House in 1956, remaining in that capacity and performing there himself an average of one week each month with his band "The Moe Koffman Quartet" (later expanded to "Quintet") until 1994.

The Canadian and U.S. success in 1958 of his recording of 'Swinging Shepherd Blues' established his name internationally as a flutist and helped to popularize that instrument in jazz. In the mid-1960s he made more than six appearances as a soloist on NBC Television's 'Tonight Show With Johnny Carson'.

Moe Koffman established and led what was to become one of the most successful jazz groups in Canada in 1955, originally a quartet but latterly a quintet with guitar great Ed Bickert and stellar pianist Bernie Senensky as original members. In his final decade, Moe continued to compose and to perform with his beloved 'The Moe Koffman Quintet' in clubs, concert halls, and festivals everywhere. His last public performance was with The Boss Brass in June 2000 for the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival.

Upon Koffman's death in 2001, the former viceregal consort of Canada,  John Ralston Saul said, “The creative excellence Moe Koffman achieved as a jazz musician, arranger, flutist, saxophonist, and clarinetist gave his tones an enchantment that ensnared the listener long after they were played. His talent brought us pleasure and delights…gifts that lodge him in the hearts of all Canadians.

1981 – Recipient of PRO Canada William Harold Moon Award
1991 – Winner of the Toronto Arts Award for Music
1993 - Named an Officer of the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honour given in this country, granted to Canadian citizens 'for outstanding achievement and service to the country or to humanity at large'
1993 – Honored for Songwriting by SOCAN
1993 – Named The Jazz Report Awards’ ‘Flutist of the Year’
1994 – Named The Jazz Report Awards’ ‘Flutist of the Year’
1997 - Inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame (also known as the Juno Hall of Fame) for lifetime achievement in music
2001 - Awarded the Prix Oscar Peterson, established by the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal to recognize Canadian jazz musicians of distinction
2001 - Became one of the first two inductees (with Oscar Peterson) into the Canadian Jazz and Blues Hall of Fame.
2002 - Named as a MasterWorks honoree by the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada