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Jake Koffman

This week’s featured artist is saxophonist Jake Koffman, who participated in our Jazzology program in 2009.

Born in Toronto to a music family, Jake began playing woodwinds at the age of thirteen including alto saxophone, flute, and clarinet. After starting to play gigs in his teens, he enrolled in the Humber College jazz program. While studying there, he had the opportunity to perform with Randy Brecker, Mike Stern and Chris Potter as well as the Studio Jazz Ensemble. Koffman also expanded his instrumental palette to include baritone saxophone and bass clarinet.

Since graduating in 2009, Koffman has established himself on the Toronto jazz scene as both a band leader and a sideman. Jake can frequently be heard in Toronto clubs performing with musicians including Bernie Senensky and Neil Swainson, who appear on Jake’s yet-to-be released debut album, which was recorded in 2013. Jake has also been performing with highly acclaimed vocalist Nikki Yanofsky, work alongside legendary producer Quincy Jones.

Jake shared some of his thoughts on the Jazzology program and outlines his more recent activities:

1) Describe your experience with the Jazzology program. What was your favourite aspect?

I participated in Jazzology in my fourth year at Humber College when Larry Green was the host. As Larry used to take saxophone lessons from my grandfather, we had a great ice-breaker and he made me feel right at home. My favourite aspect of this experience was the fact that I got to share the music that has influenced, inspired, and motivated me so greatly with all the listeners. Getting to play some of my own music on the radio wasn’t so bad either.

2) What is your strongest memory of the Jazzology program? Are there any funny stories or incidents that come to mind?

As I was just a tad nervous at the start of the interview, I would begin my responses with the ever-so-annoying “lip smack.” After Larry had had enough of the “lip smacks,” he politely moved away from the microphone and said, “You know, you should try not to smack your lips at the beginning of your sentences. It’s a good general life skill to have.” From then on, I’ve been consciously avoiding any accidental “lip smacks” when I speak.

3) Would you recommend this experience to other young musicians?

I would definitely recommend this experience to younger musicians. Being able to speak confidently, clearly, and intelligently about music and your thoughts is one of the most important skills to develop, and crucial to connecting with your audience.

4) How has this experience helped in your personal and professional development?

The experience made me dig deep into my past, and helped reignite certain flames that got me interested in music in the first place. It also helped build my confidence in speaking into a microphone to an audience (even though there was no actual audience in the room).

5) This program is made possible by our generous donors and sponsors who strongly believe in the importance of arts education initiatives. If you had the opportunity to thank them in person, what would you say?

I would say thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to experience something like this. It is people like you who are creating so many opportunities for younger generations of musicians growing up in a time where it is much harder than it used to be to have these experiences.

6) Why is music education important?

Music education is very important. Not every music student gets the chance to learn from his or her mentors, or in professional settings at a young age like they used to. Music classes and ensembles may be the only way a young musician gets to experience the feeling of learning about and making music with other musicians. It helps us to pass the traditions of jazz music down the generations, which is vital in ensuring its survival.

7) Since participating in the program, what have you been doing?

Since I graduated from Humber College, I have been working as a freelance musician. Booking dates in clubs in and around Toronto has given me the opportunity to work with some incredibly gifted musicians. A very memorable experience for me was being asked to play in the “Moe Koffman Tribute Band” last year, getting to play in the same band as legendary musicians such as Bernie Senensky, Neil Swainson, Terry Clarke, and Bill McBirnie. I recorded my debut album last year, which features Bernie Senensky, Neil Swainson, and Morgan Childs, which I am very excited to release soon. I worked with exceptional vocalist Nikki Yanofsky, which led to the opportunity to work alongside the legendary Quincy Jones. I did a contract with Princess Cruises, getting to travel all over the world while applying my trade working in the house orchestra. As well as performing, I’ve been working in music schools as the in-house woodwind teacher, as well as teaching privately lessons. I also do “Intro to Jazz” clinics at different schools around the GTA, as well as clinics and demonstrations on woodwind instruments to the younger grades. It’s been quite the experience working as a freelance musician in Toronto the past several years, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

8) What music are you listening to at the moment that you find particularly inspiring?

The music I’m listening to now is somewhat the same music I’ve been listening to for a while now. Being a saxophone player, I find myself listening to the greats on my instrument a lot of the time: Cannonball Adderely, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Michael Brecker, Kenny Garrett, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and the list goes on forever. Hearing these players always inspires me to want to practice as much as possible, and try to be the best musician I can be. I also love lots of other styles of music like hip hop, rhythm and blues, rock, or anything that makes me feel good. (Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Sly and the Family Stone, Tupac, Notorious BIG just to name a few)

9) What are your plans for the future?

I am applying for a touring grant, so I can take my band across the country playing original music by myself and other musicians on the album. I’m doing a five week long tour of Holland with a Brazilian music group in October/November 2014. I’m also writing new music to take into the studio to record my second album.

10) How can people learn more about you and your activities?

People can learn more about my activities through Facebook, Twitter (jake_koffman). My website, is almost near completion.

Jazzology is proudly sponsored by RBC Emerging Artists Project.


About RBC and the Arts
RBC sponsors a wide-range of grassroots and local initiatives that contribute to the cultural fabric of our communities. Proud to support events and passions that resonate with our clients and all Canadians, RBC provides opportunities for up-and-coming artists through programs such as the RBC Canadian Painting Competition, one of the largest competitions of its kind in the world; and the RBC Emerging Filmmakers Competition, part of our commitment as the Official Bank and major sponsor of the world’s top public film festival – the Toronto International Film Festival®.

Learn More about the RBC Emerging Artists Project


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