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An upbeat account   By Tony Ortzen


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NOW here’s a really unusual story with a musical flavour about how a now well-known musician had a near-death experience and saw the instrument which would bring him fame.

NOW a top jazz saxophonist, Tony Kofi had never seen a saxophone until one appeared in a near-death experience. (Photo: Andy Newcombe on Flickr)


NOW a top jazz saxophonist, Tony Kofi had never seen
a saxophone until one appeared in a near-death experience.
(Photo: Andy Newcombe on Flickr)

Today, Tony Kofi is a jazz saxophonist and flautist. He leads a trio and quartet and is co-founder of the Monk Liberation Band.

Recently, Tony was featured on a BBC website where journalist Lucy Wallis said that when aged sixteen, Tony “had an accident at work.

“As he fell from a great height, he had a vision of himself playing a musical instrument, despite never having learned to do so.

“The experience set him on a new path in life – and led to him becoming a highly acclaimed saxophonist.”

At that point, Tony was working as a carpentry apprentice, helping to replace the old roof of a house. He was on the third storey of the property.

Tony was so keen to impress that he asked his supervisor if he could carry on working while his boss had lunch. The supervisor warned him to be careful.

Working on a two-by-four length of wood, Tony admitted that he “didn’t saw it properly. It splintered, caught my sleeve and took me down.”

Tony’s first thought was that he could not possibly survive. He completely relaxed, let go and closed his eyes.

“I don’t know whether it’s adrenaline or what because I’ve read that when you fall from a great height everything slows down,” Tony recalled. “I just started seeing flashes of images. It was unbelievable.”

Next, Tony viewed different places around the world and the faces of people he did not recognise.

Tony Kofi at the Reigen in Vienna (Photo: Manfred Werner - Tsui)
Tony Kofi at the Reigen in Vienna.
(Photo: Manfred Werner - Tsui)

“I saw young children that I’ve never seen before – they were to become my children, I guess,” he added.

“The one thing that really stuck in my mind was me standing up and playing an instrument.

“I just thought, ‘This is the weirdest feeling in my entire life.’ And then that was it. I completely blacked out.”

Lucy Wallis said that after the accident Tony “woke up in hospital, with his mother, father and two of his brothers by his bedside, desperately worried and asking how he felt.

“Disorientated, bruised and with severe head trauma, Tony was told that he had hit his head so hard in the fall he could have died from the impact.”

When Tony was well enough to leave hospital three to four weeks later, he returned home to convalesce.

Several weeks later, Tony received compensation for the fall and loss of earnings. His job was left open for him to return to whenever he was ready.

However, images he saw during the fall kept “flashing back” every time he closed his eyes.

“They really haunted me because it was almost like I was being shown something,” said Tony.

Having never studied music, Tony began to contemplate spending his compensation money on an instrument.

“But,” asked Lucy Wallis, “what was the instrument he had seen in his visions? He searched through music books and there, on the page, was a description of a shiny woodwind instrument made of brass and with a conical shape. That was it – the saxophone.”

Tony commented: “I’m not saying that I was musically ignorant back then, but I’d never ever seen a saxophone. I had probably heard it on the radio, but was completely oblivious to it.”

Subsequently, in early 1982 Tony paid £50.00 for his first saxophone. His mother looked at him strangely, unaware of what Tony had seen in his vision.

3 of the 4 members of the Tony Kofi Quartet (L-R: Ben Hazleton, Winston Clifford and Tony Kofi. (Photo: Andy Newcombe on Flickr)


3 of the 4 members of the Tony Kofi Quartet
(L-R: Ben Hazleton, Winston Clifford and Tony Kofi.)
(Photo: Andy Newcombe on Flickr)

He told her: “It’s a saxophone and I’m going to play it. I’m going to learn it. I’m going to quit my job.”

Tony remembers his mother putting her hand on her head and asking her husband Jack to speak to their son. Although his father did try to talk to him, Tony was adamant and stuck to his plan.

To cut a long story short, Tony sent an application to Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, a centre of musical excellence. Offered a scholarship, “a scared and excited” Tony set off to study music in America.

Today, as well as being a musician, composer and bandleader, Tony also works as a teacher at The Julian Joseph Jazz Academy and The World Heart Beat Music Academy.

Last year, he started teaching at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and this year was awarded an honorary professorship from Nottingham University… and all as a result of a near-death episode.  



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