Kenneth David Coon
b. February 7, 1967, Columbus, Georgia, USA
d. May 14, 2019, Freiburg, Germany
As a child, insatiable curiosity was Ken’s specialty; he wanted to know everything. This sense of wonder never waned throughout his fifty-two years on earth. When he was two, Ken loved working alongside his father who was studying mathematics at Georgia State University. His mother recalled that “when I returned home from work, I often found them on opposite sides of the 4 by 6 foot chalkboard easel in the living room doing their ‘homework’. Ken would stand on a chair and write and draw on his side.” He was a bright and talented kid. In the 5th grade, after making the highest score ever recorded at that time on the music aptitude test given to all fifth-graders in Clayton county, Ken joined the band and took up the alto saxophone at Northcutt Elementary School in Atlanta. Revered music educator and professional tubist, Michael Puckett, was his first band director. Ken loved it from the beginning, and when it came to practicing, he was self-motivated, so much so that he eventually sought out his own jazz teacher in downtown Atlanta, where his mother would take him for weekly lessons.
From an early age, Ken was an avid reader and throughout his life he had a great love for books and literature. His mother explains how that came about and also gives context to his remarkable ear. “Ken was born blind in one eye. He had eight operations before he was three. He developed an acute hearing, and loved to listen to records. When he got his first tape recorder for Christmas when he was two, we called him the ‘six foot kid’, because he couldn’t get further than the cord would reach… (before battery powered recorders). He listened to music and Golden Book tapes. He memorized the books, and then learned to read by looking at the words on the pages. He read by five… and never stopped.”
Ken enjoyed the outdoors as a boy, often fishing with his father and spending the summers at his grandparent’s farm in North Carolina. He was a lifelong lover of baseball and a die-hard Braves fan. A quirky boy with a penchant for irony, Ken saw humor in everything and he delighted in making his friends and family laugh.
From 1985-89, he studied saxophone at Florida State University with Professor Patrick Meighan and graduated with a Bachelor of Music Degree. By the time he came to FSU, Ken had already found his voice with the baritone saxophone. In 1990, he pursued a Master of Music degree in saxophone performance at the University of North Texas with Professor Debra Richtmeyer. Two years later, he was invited to join the acclaimed Rascher Saxophone Quartet in Germany. Ken had already taken several summer courses with the classical saxophone pioneer Sigurd Rascher, who was by then quite impressed with his musicianship. He would later refer to Ken as one of his “musical grandchildren.” Kenneth Coon lived his dream for 26 years traveling across the globe sharing beautiful music with audiences in Europe, Asia and America, premiering important new works, and setting a standard of playing on his instrument for generations to come. His family and friends along with the music world mourn his passing and simultaneously celebrate a meaningful life well-lived.
~ Wildy Zumwalt
The following tributes by some of Ken’s friends and colleagues honor his musical and personal legacy. The red lines that run through these recollections provide an altogether fascinating mosaic and accurate portrayal of the person we are honoring.
It is such a long time ago that I heard Ken play for the first time. It was a Baroque Sonata at one of our numerous RSQ Masterclass either in Hattiesburg or Tallahassee. It made such an impression on all of us…what a beautiful sonorous sound, excellent phrasing, perfect intonation and lots of energy. This kind of playing was seldom heard, especially from a baritone. We did not forget that performance, and when, in 1992, it was time to find a replacement for Linda, we all thought of Ken again. That was a lucky stroke for us!
It is not an easy task to join a group that has already successfully existed for 23 years….and has a substantial repertoire that already included such works as the Maros, Sandström, Xenakis or Keuris!! But Ken was ready for this extraordinary challenge; being a member of the Rascher Quartet was the goal of his dreams.
In those days we rehearsed four hours a day, every day, also during the times we were on the road. New works emerged that first had to be practiced and then of course rehearsed…rehearsed a lot! In the same year in which Ken joined us, the following new works emerged: by Cristobal Halffter, premiered in Amsterdam in June, by Dimitri Terzakis, premiered in Donaueschingen Germany at the world famous New Music Days in October, by Gunter Bialas, premiered in New York City at the Manhattan School of Music on the 3rd November and Richard Wernick, premiered in Carnegie Hall on the 8th November with the American Composers Orchestra under Dennis Russell Davis. To not only practice, learn and rehearse the standing repertoire, but also to find and work out the correct interpretation of these new works was indeed a challenge, for all of us of course. Ken mastered these hurdles with bravery! That determination did not change in the following years; moreover, it grew to full integration and mastery. We had a solid base (baritone!) on which to build for the coming years. Ken had much to share, not only the solidity of his voice in the quartet, but also his keen ear for intonation was always very helpful to us all. Each of us had a special talent to share. These talents supported our musical development, they shaped the concept of our sound and the direction of our artistry.
The precious memories we gathered during all our travels are just as dear to me as the wonderful music-making we shared. Already in that first year of 1992 in which Ken joined us, we had performances in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy, France, USA, Finland and Turkey. For Ken there was a vast new repertoire to learn, a new language to learn, new cultures to get to know and so much more. It must have been rather overwhelming, but we were there to support and guide our new colleague.
Ken’s dedication to teaching was remarkable. Not only his private students, but also the numerous participants in our master classes and workshops were highly enthusiastic about his precise and profound guidance. He was loved and admired by many – a profound musician, a highly dedicated teacher and a caring and loving colleague.
It is tragic that such a talented, lovable and witty musician like my dear friend Kenneth Coon is no longer with us. But he will always be in my mind and heart.
Kenneth Coon gave so much to the people around him. Thousands of listeners heard him as the baritone saxophonist in the famous Raschèr Quartet. Music lovers appreciated the varied timbres he could produce, the rhythmic vitality of his playing, the nuances he created through articulation, his outstanding intonation – in short, they admired his refined playing and the foundation it provided for the quartet. Many critical listeners agree that Kenneth Coon’s command of his instrument set new standards.
Ken was not the most talkative person, but when he made chamber music, he sustained nonverbal dialogue with the other players by listening and responding to their musical ideas. Through his alertness and his artistry, Ken brought music to life – that is what he gave to his colleagues and to his audiences for nearly thirty years. His example continues to inspire all of us who knew him.
I am very grateful for the nine years Ken and I shared in the Raschèr Quartet. Aside from our artistic endeavors, I think fondly of the youthful fun we had in our free time – listening to Mahler songs until 3am, carousing through Amsterdam or Stockholm, laughing about the antics of an eccentric conductor. These are also experiences that I treasure. I miss him.
former member, Raschèr Saxophone Quartet
For more than 20 years I have enjoyed collaborating with the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet on a regular basis.
I have always been impressed and captivated by the agility and versatility of the ensemble – by the musicians’ openness, their commitment, and their joy for making music.
The members of the ensemble possess very different personalities. They come from varied backgrounds, are keen on discourse, and do not shy away from intense discussions as they search for balance on an artistic and on a human level.
And there is Ken. I see him – as if he and his instrument had grown together into an entity that remains intact even when he’s not playing. I see the broad strides of his gait, his slightly tilted head – caused by the many hours spent practicing his baritone sax – I imagine his sly, stealthy smile, and his subtle, intelligent humor. Ken exudes a certain gentleness. But this does not hide the fact that he has very clear ideas, ideas that he might not necessarily articulate at the first seizable opportunity.
These attributes characterize the role he played in the quartet. During intense discussions about interpretation and timbre, ensemble and individualism, I observed that Ken would often remain quiet for a long time. Then he would express his musical convictions so clearly – with gentle tenacity and friendly perseverance – that they would prevail.
With his calm disposition, which storms and excitement could not disturb, Ken seemed to me to provide the real foundation to the quartet – not just in terms of musical harmony. The sound of his baritone reflects his serene personality – calm and sonorous, fearless when confronted with challenges, equanimous and at peace, authentic and down to earth.
I fully associate the baritone saxophone with Ken. No baritone sax without Ken. No Ken without the baritone sax. On a purely intellectual level I am convinced that every person can be replaced – as long as replacing a person is not regarded as exchanging one for another. But when I think of Kenneth Coon and the Raschèr Quartet it becomes nearly impossible for me to sustain this conviction.
For me he remains seated there – his head tilted, his hand adjusting the position of the mouthpiece – as he then proceeds, with a smile, to bring a bit of heaven down to earth with the resonant, beautifully personal sound of his baritone.
Prof. Georg Fritzsch
Professor of Conducting, University of Music and Performing Arts Munich
Designated General Music Director, Badische Staatskapelle and Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe
(Translation from German to English: Diane Hunger and Harry White)
Sudden elation upon hearing Elliot Riley’s voice quickly turned to emotional numbness when Elliot shared the tragic news of Ken’s passing that early evening on Tuesday, May 14, 2019. The shock of losing a child is unbearable for any parent. The privilege of mentoring countless saxophone students during my tenure at The Florida State University College of Music made me feel like their musical father; no doubt, all studio teachers feel this way. As I spoke with Elliot, my mind and heart wandered into memories of a most special parent/child relationship – some fragmented, some vivid, some vague, some fully formed. This inward, emotional journey continued long after our melancholic conversation had ended…
A change in language was necessary; vertical, static sound gave way to horizontal gradations of intensity – took a looong time… New reference points needed to be established…A morphing of luminary performers and influence took place; the names of Pepper Adams, Nick Brignola, Harry Carney, and Gerry Mulligan were gradually being replaced with those of Lynn Harrell, Jacqueline du Pré, Mstislav Rostropovich, and János Starker…“I don’t understand your sentence!” …New tonal concept…Necessary resistance/Coon resistance ;)…Intelligent…Fundamentals, Sellner, Ferling, Intermezzi, Karg-Elert, Lacour…Appropriate repertoire … Vibrato – it’s purpose and why? ...Serious student…Knock on my studio, post listening – “Wow, we need to talk!” …and we talked, discussed, analyzed, laughed…Cock of the head, twinkle in the eye…Well read…Wit!…Now ACTIVELY listen! ...SMR…Compare/Contrast – why? …“Beauty in a performance is created by its proportion” – Artur Schnabel...Topography of melodic line…PHRASE! …Artistic Intentionality (Thank you, Dr. Kral)…What a nice kid! ... “That doesn’t make sense!”…A.E. – Artistic Exaggeration…“Child Is Father To The Man” – BS&T…RSQ… “Quit showing off!” … Message more important than the messenger …Quick and perceptive…The music will reveal itself…THINK! …Passion! ...humility…ad infinitum.
So many memories surfaced during this sudden turbulent yet cathartic journey.
And my inward journey continues, now with acceptance and peace.
But not total understanding.
So much joy and laughter, FSU days and beyond.
So many talks.
So much Music.
Thank you, Kenneth Coon, for enriching my life and making me a better teacher and a better man.
“Life Is A Gift. We Just Don’t Know When It Will Be Returned”.
The Albert N. Tipton Professor Emeritus of Music
Saxophone Studio (1974-2016)
The Florida State University College of Music
It is an honor to have the opportunity to write this remembrance of Ken. It is still so hard to believe that he is gone and I miss him deeply. Ken was a close friend, even though we saw each other infrequently, and he was a one-of-a-kind outstanding artist. He inspired me, really inspired me, not only by his amazing musicianship and sound, but by his integrity, honesty and friendship. My fondest memories include working together on the solo part of the Double Concerto that I wrote for him, hanging out at the Steelers bar in Boston the weekend he premiered that piece, going through the Sigurd Rascher archives at Fredonia together, hearing him and the Quartet perform the middle section of my Mobius Loop for the first time (I cried), and the many times he pranked me and made me laugh (I was an easy target) but could then quickly turn and say something extremely serious and poignant. Thank you Ken for the incredible beauty that you brought into this world, until we meet again my friend.
Professor of Composition and Theory, Chair of the Department of Music
University of Pittsburgh
Kenneth Coon had a special mischievous twinkle in his eyes that always made me smile. He was a beautiful musician and a generous human being. His spirit lives on with all who were lucky enough to know him. Thank you, Ken, for all your generosity and artistry. Thank you for always recommending me books to read and for sharing thoughts on the books you were reading. Thank you for premiering and playing my music and giving it 200% every single time, thank you for your inspiration and smiles, thank you for all the flights you took with my 72 angels, you will always be an angel for me. I miss you.
Russian-American composer and pianist
New York City
I found myself wandering around in circles all day after hearing the news of my dear friend Ken's transition—even today I continue to pray for resolution and understanding, not just for me but for all of us. The contributions that he made to my life remain immeasurable, as do the laughs and the profound conversations (or so we thought they were) that we shared. He always said that I helped him grow up, but the truth is that he helped me grow up, or perhaps we just grew up together. Too many hours together in the past, listening to music (Bach to Coltrane to Garth Brooks to Penderecki to The Eagles), arguing about the quality of a book, enjoying performing together, and much chicanery…much chicanery… rife with rapier wit and patience with each other. He was like a little brother to me, and I was the proud big brother. I dearly miss my old roommate, colleague, mutual sports fan, partner in crime, foil, punching bag, teammate, and yes, hero and artistic mentor/teacher. Dearest Ken, thank you for making me a better person. I will do my best to try to live with the same zest and passion as you did – you remain an incredibly positive source of energy and inspiration to all of us.
Friend and brother
I first met Ken in 1996, when I was still in high school. Since that day I have had the great fortune in my life to have known him first from the standpoint of me being a Raschèr Saxophone Quartet masterclass participant, and then ultimately as an RSQ colleague and as a friend. Being given the opportunity to sit next to him and craft musical lines together with him for the better part of twenty years has enriched my soul in ways I cannot describe with words.
Ken had a musical gift that only very few people possess; with his saxophone he could express the full palette of emotions and colors, sometimes even almost transcending what his instrument "thought" is physically possible. When I close my eyes and concentrate, I can still hear that last note of his in the Emmentaler Hochzeitstanz, a piece which we often played as an encore years ago. It brings a smile to my face and I know I will still be able to hear it twenty years from now: a singular, selfless syllable. That note conveys to me a virtuosity that would make any flight of the bumblebee fly back home in shame!
Ken's biggest gift, however, was how he selflessly applied his amazing qualities to friendship. When I first moved to Germany he offered me a place to stay in his apartment until I could find my own place. We would bike to the rehearsal room and we would play though repertoire together, some of which was not even programmed on the immediate horizon. One time, many years later, when all possible trains were cancelled, Ken drove me from Kassel, where we were in the middle of an RSQ project, to Frankfurt so that I wouldn't miss a rehearsal with Ensemble Modern. The latter was a project that he wasn't involved in, and when I thanked him for all of that driving, he replied with: "it’s okay, they have a gym in Frankfurt that I have a membership to, so I can just work out while you rehearse." In the true spirit of chamber music, nobody was left behind. I thank a dear friend and colleague who has played his last note.
May he rest in peace.
Raschèr Saxophone Quartet
Kenneth Coon was my student for two years, while earning his Master of Music degree in Saxophone Performance at the University of North Texas. I will always remember his kind, generous, and playful spirit. His enthusiasm for life was contagious and you couldn’t help but be in a great mood when you were around him. His love for playing the baritone saxophone was evident through his lush tone, beautiful control, and engaging artistry. He told me during his studies that he was being considered for the baritone saxophone position in the Rascher Saxophone Quartet and that it was his life-long dream to play in this esteemed ensemble. He worked tirelessly towards achieving this goal and literally jumped for joy when he received the invitation to join the quartet upon graduation. For 26 years, Kenneth performed around the world with the Rascher Saxophone Quartet. Together, they blazed trails premiering the works of prominent composers in prestigious venues in both chamber music settings and as concerto soloists with internationally renowned ensembles. It was his dream come true. Over the years, Kenneth also became a dedicated educator. He presented seminars in saxophone history and pedagogy, aesthetics, contemporary music techniques, and principles of chamber music throughout Europe and in North America and Asia. Kenneth’s work as a performer and teacher touched the lives of countless people, and his contribution to the saxophone world will never be forgotten. He lives in our hearts forever.
Professor of Saxophone
University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign
"Welcome to my world!" - Ken whispered to me with a sinister smile and blink in the eye. It was during a rehearsal for our CD-project Was Weite Herzen Füllt (what fills wide hearts) – music for six saxophones – with my friend and colleague Roger Hanschel and the one and only Raschèr Saxophone Quartet. Christine Rall, the soprano player, had interrupted the playing during a rhythmically challenging passage to speak about, clarify and mark down one of the many musical details.
I do love this exact and very detailed work process very much, especially when it's about my own music. However, coming more from the improvised world, I am rather used to just repeating a certain passage – especially if it is of some rhythmic sophistication – many times, until it really sinks down in the body. Kenneth Coon has been familiar with both ways, and his sinister smile showed me, that he loved our "methodology".
When I think of the handful of truly great baritone voices the planet has given birth since the invention of the saxophone, names like Harry Carney, Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Ronnie Cuber, Scott Robinson come to my ear. Still, I have never heard a sweeter tone on this singing instrument than from Kenneth Coon. I truly admire his soft yet warm and huge and always controlled resonance on his horn. It has been an honor, a pleasure and big fun to sit next to him during so many rehearsals, concerts and recordings (not by any means as many as the colleagues of the RSQ, but still quite a few…), and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to share some sounds with him.
There are other people that know much better than I do how much Ken influenced the entire artistic direction of the RSQ during his 26 years as a member of this unique ensemble. He has always searched for the highest level, was very rarely really satisfied with the result, still a great colleague and sweet buddy.
The message of his tragic death hit me out of the blue. We had just completed a workshop and concert with a wonderful singer from Norway at the Hochschule für Musik Nürnberg, where I teach, and my cells were still full of sound when I got the message from Christine and was totally devastated. I had no idea he had been suffering for some months, as it was his wish to keep it private.
To honor his spirit, I composed "Buddy´s Soul – for Ken" for his funeral, but as it was too tough for us to perform it then, we decided to premiere it on the 50th birthday celebration of the RSQ. I have incorporated some short quotes of bass lines of Ilha Das Gaivotas by Hermeto Pascoal and Jandor by Roger Hanschel – bass lines, that we had a lot of fun playing together. I sincerely hope that Ken would enjoy this and I imagine his sinister smile, as I will always remember this truly great person. Today would have been his 53rd birthday. We miss you Ken.
Director of Jazz, Nürnberger Musikhochschule
When I think of Ken, I am remembering decades of friendship and collaboration.
When I met him at a master class given by Sigurd Raschèr in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in the summer of 1989, I had no idea that one day we would become colleagues in the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet. However, the fact that he seemed to already be 'chosen' became more than clear even then. It would go beyond every scope to list the many musical and personal joint adventures. However, I can say that I have countless wonderful and very special memories of this mensch, who set the highest moral standards for himself artistically and personally, and lived according to them. As a result, he significantly shaped the ensemble during his 26 years in the RSQ. On a very personal level, I will always miss the long-time friend who could enrich with wit and charm, and who was able to give me good advice based on his life experience on many occasions. We were a great team.
May he rest in peace.
Raschèr Saxophone Quartet
(Diane Hunger, translation)
Maybe it’s not about happy ending, Maybe it’s about the story.
Kenneth D. Coon
As widow of the composer Tristan Keuris, my history with the Rascher Saxophone Quartet started in 1986.
They belong without doubt to the top musicians in the world.
I am proud that the Rascher Quartet performs Tristan’s music so often during the years.
His voice is heard.
The members of the Quartet always have been very good friends to me and my family.
Kenneth Coon was the successor of Linda Bangs and we met him for the first time in New York City in March 1994.
Tristan was still there and his piece To Brooklyn Bridge was premiered at Lincoln Center.
In the intermission of the rehearsal at Columbia University Ken was standing outside and immediately stole my heart by making great jokes in his own, almost shy, special way.
‘Who’s that guy?’
His musical talent and how devoted he was to music, his instrument and to the RSQ need no words.
I will emphasize some memories not only about the great musician Ken was but about other things I remember of him.
1994 New York City:
Great jokes, very kind and gentle to all of us.
Asking clever musical questions about the piece. Tristan was impressed by Ken’s knowledge and kindness.
Going to Pizza Hut with Tristan, Ken, the children and Bruce.
Fabulous concerts and meetings afterwards.
Walking down the streets of NYC with him. Stories. Laughter.
1999 Mainz Germany:
Three years after Tristan’s passing away (aged 50) the RSQ performed his Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra.
After the concert Ken and Harry were drinking some beers with me and we sang along with the pop music in that German pub. The song I remember very clearly was Losing my religion by REM.
When I hear that song now I always see Ken and Harry. ‘That was just a dream, that was just a dream’.
There were two concerts in 2000 – Basel, Switzerland and Essen, Germany.
In Essen Ken introduced me to Elliot Riley. What a nice and special young man. A possible new member of the Quartet? Ken didn’t say but I saw his eyes. Impressive moment.
2005 : Oldenburg, Germany.
Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra
I was there with my children Eva and Stijn and some friends.
Ken enjoyed the company of Desiree Duwel, our friend from Holland. They shared the same sense of humor and to me it felt like a kind of love at first sight.
I know they have been in touch later on but unfortunately it didn’t work out. Desiree died a couple of years later of a brain tumor.
2007: Hong Kong, China.
Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra
With my children I came over all the way from Holland for this special event.
Ken loved the Far East and he showed us the city of Hong Kong. And night-life. We all stayed at the same hotel, Tine, Elliot, Ken, Bruce, Eva, Stijn and I.
Apart from the rehearsals we did some great things together.
Going on a boat trip with Bruce: we forgot to get off the boat and we had to do the same cruise again. Against our will but one of the highlights of that trip.
And Ken: he took us after the concert to the Hard Rock Cafe Hong Kong.
Elliot was there too and we had a blast.
Next evening we met at the rooftop bar at the Peninsula Hotel. Ken was there already. having a drink with a friend. Places to remember.
After concert life. Ken loved it.
Good music, new cities, new people and old friends.
Breakfast at the Eclipse restaurant in the hotel where Ken always was full of stories and plans.
The goodbye after a whole week of music and fun.
Ken flew Korean Airlines for his saxophone. The instrument could sit beside him at that flight.
I still see his sweet face and how he looked at us when he left the hotel in a cab. Funny and melancholic at the same time.
Bye, Ken, fly safe, see you soon again but when?
In the meantime we always stayed in touch by mail and later on through social media.
How easy that was.
Ken was always there and came with the most wonderful ideas and tips. For example for good books and other reading stuff.
He was extremely well-read. I loved that.
But above all he was a great friend.
We had still a lot of plans in the pipeline. Ken promised us to make the real ‘hot sauce’, he promised he would come to see us in Holland. By bike.
He promised he would spend his old days in a rocking chair on the porch, in the South.
Hilversum, The Netherlands
I first got to know Ken at an RSQ course in Marktoberdorf, one of the many I have attended over the years. What impressed me then was not only his playing throughout the course but also his patience and willingness to help everyone. No matter the level of the student, he would give everything he had and the result would always surprise me. Some years later I went over to Freiburg to visit him for a lesson. There too he inspired me with his incredible attention to detail and the drive to help improve anyone willing to learn. Now that I have the incredible honor to play in the Raschèr Quartet's baritone chair I get to know Ken in yet another way – through the memories of those that worked with him, and his notes in the music that we play from every day. "Strive for improvement, not for perfection" is the last thing he told me, but not the last I've learned from him.
Thank you, Ken.
Raschèr Saxophone Quartet
During a career as a composer you have met several musicians from which a few also become your friends. Ken was one of them. I met him for the first time in Stockholm when RSQ was rehearsing together with the Kroumata percussion ensemble, with a piece, “KRASCH!”, I composed for these two outstanding ensembles. I was delighted to work with RSQ, not only for their tremendous musical skills, but also the cheerful relationship between the two senior members, Carina Rascher and Bruce Weinberger, and the youngsters, Harry White and Kenneth Coon.
It was a relationship of great respect for their technical musical skills. Ken had quite a number of difficult passages in my piece but never complained – “No problems” he said with a smile and a blink in his eyes – on the contrary he solved the difficulties brilliantly and left the composer satisfied.
Following the success of ”KRASCH!”, I got a commission to compose a Concerto Grosso for RSQ and the Festival Orchestra at the summer Music festival at the Royal Palace in Stockholm. This piece turned out to become one of my most performed orchestral compositions and mostly performed by the RSQ. The Concerto Grosso has some intricate parts as well, but then I knew that there were no problems for Ken and the other members – the limit was set at the highest level!
On some occasions I was present, as during the very cold winter tour to Oulo in Finland and got to know Ken more personally and we became friends.
We kept in contact through the years by mails and social media and when I visited the Music Fair (Musik Messe) in Frankfurt 2007, he popped up and we spent a nice day together. I wish there would have been more such occasions, but suddenly it was too late. The very last time I met him was when the RSQ visited the Berwald Hall in Stockholm to perform a piece by Lera Auerbach together with the Swedish Radio Choir. I really miss him!
I met the Raschèr Quartet towards the end of the nineties, when they performed in the Kleine Zaal of the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. They were very kind and invited me to take part in a masterclass they were doing in Lörrach, in the far south of Germany. I took part in that workshop, which as one can imagine became a life-changing event for me on many levels. During that first phase, I immediately struck up a friendship with Kenneth. Towards the end of the masterclass Ken gifted me a stack of CDs, and the image of leaving Lörrach in my car listening to the RSQ playing Singet dem Herrn, is forever etched in my memory. Later on, when I studied with Carina Raschèr, Ken gave me the key to his apartment, and let me stay there whenever I had lessons. This typified Ken, he could really go out of his way to help a friend. Apart from my staying there alone, we also spent many evenings together. When the Raschèr Saxophone Orchestra was on the road we’d always room up together in hotels, something I always looked forward to. I will forever cherish these memories, his sometimes spikey humor and his wonderfully eloquent and warm playing.
Andreas van Zoelen
Raschèr Saxophone Quartet
Tilburg, The Netherlands
My first meeting with Kenneth Coon was at a Raschèr Saxophone Quartet workshop at the University in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. This must have been around the mid-1980s, and he was a course participant at that time. I took notice of him because he said he would be playing a solo on the baritone, the first movement of Benedetto Marcello’s 6th Cello Sonata. When the time arrived, he performed and his presentation was very impressive. Both his musicality and the tone quality with which he played were very beautiful. After he finished playing he was waiting for comments from the quartet members. I went up to him and made the gesture of giving him my baritone and said “here you can take over for me.” It was of course meant in fun as I would never have given up my part in the quartet but I clearly remember his performance.
Over the years we met numerous times and I witnessed his growth in the Quartet’s repertoire. He learned all my parts and many, many more.
And then, more than 20 years later, came the tragic news of Kenneth’s death. All who knew him were deeply saddened about this loss and grateful for all he gave to the quartet. He was a wonderful musician, an excellent saxophonist as well as a good friend. Personally, I can say that I couldn’t have wished for a better successor for my part in the quartet. He will truly be missed and now the quartet continues into the future and we all hold him close to our hearts.
former member, Raschèr Saxophone Quartet
My association with Kenneth Coon began in the summer of 1986 at The University of Louisville’s Saxophone Institute. Every successive meeting or musical collaboration that followed over the years only served to deepen my admiration and respect for Ken’s high degree of musicality and his impeccable character.
My first vivid memory of Ken’s musicianship was made in 1991 when I was pursuing doctoral studies at Florida State University. I heard him play in a masterclass for the Rascher Quartet at the University of Tampa, where they had played a concert the night before. As I recall, Ken was back in the South on a break from his studies with Debra Richtmeyer at the University of North Texas. I’ll never forget the sweet sounds I heard coming from his baritone that day. He played a Telemann Sonata – so fresh and lively, with such clarity of diction, such intimacy and refinement that it sounded as though Telemann had just penned it for Ken and his baritone the day before. Little did I know at the time, this remarkable performance was Ken’s audition for the Rascher Quartet. No one who heard him that day was surprised to learn that he was chosen for the job. A few months later Professor Meighan and I joined Ken in his hometown of Columbus, Georgia to play Gershwin with the Columbus Symphony. After the concert, Ken was glowing with excitement about the future. Soon he would be headed to Germany and he was talking a mile a minute about all the wonderful and complicated new scores he was practicing — most of them now standards in the saxophone quartet repertoire.
I had the privilege of collaborating with Ken on several occasions and I heard him perform often with the Rascher Quartet. Each encounter left me astounded by his large palette of tone colors, enormous dynamic range, granite sense of rhythm, impeccable intonation, and his deep musical sensibility – a complete and beautiful package of refined artistry.
Over the last 15 years, Ken and I became close friends. Whenever I was traveling in Europe, he offered a standing invitation, first in Lörrach then in Freiburg – “mi casa es su casa” – and he meant it. He opened his home to me for as long as I could stay. Ken was the consummate host and treated me like a dignitary He did this for all his friends. When he didn’t cook something savory and healthy, we would hit the streets and usually end up at his favorite Thai restaurant. Ken was a marvelous conversationalist with a lively interest in a broad range of topics. We spent many hours in his living room surrounded by shelves and shelves and stacks and stacks of books and scores, of paperwork and saxophones. It was cozy... comforting. We stayed up well into the wee hours of the morning sharing stories, dreams, fears, and flights of fancy. Ken was full of idioms and irony and laughter was pervasive. We listened to music, discussed literature, parsed the finer points of saxophone pedagogy, contemplated the future, and sometimes we just gabbed... In these memorable evenings I came to know and love an erudite, charming, witty, kind-hearted, reliable, and sometimes stubborn mensch. To his friends, he was loyal and kind to the core. I will always treasure his genuine friendship and his magical music making.
Professor of Saxophone
State University of New York