Tony Coe obituary

Jazz musician who worked in star-packed lineups and whose tenor sax suggested tiptoeing stealth in the Pink Panther theme tune

Many aspects of the 1970s hit-movie franchise The Pink Panther have long passed their sell-by date, but Henry Mancini’s title theme might well outlive them, lurking among the opening credits as a tenor saxophone refrain that elegantly caught the tiptoeing cat-burglar stealthiness required by the original storylines. For all but the first of the series, the saxophonist was Tony Coe, one of the most accomplished British jazz and contemporary-classical woodwind players of the second half of the 20th century.

Coe, who has died aged 88, developed a tone on the tenor saxophone that was sultry, smoky and insinuating, his phrasing idiosyncratically spaced, his timing a constant tease to expectations. As a clarinettist (on which instrument, in his era, he was widely regarded in jazz as one of the world’s best) he could be as pure as a violin, but sometimes seemed to be lost in thought in improvisations, toying with soft, low-end sounds that would burst into fast, flaring ascents and wailing falsettos before evaporating in delicate, quivering retreats.

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