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Bandleader and saxophonistby Robert L. Campbell
Copyright © 2004 Robert L. Campbell
Jimmy Coe, an Indianapolis bandleader and jazz saxophonist, died on Thursday, February 26, 2004, at the city's Methodist Hospital after a long illness.
Coe, who would have turned 83 on March 20, was one of the most durable symbols of the Indiana Avenue jazz scene of the 1940s and '50s. Out of that musical crucible -- comprising a dozen or so small clubs in the heart of the city's black community -- came Wes Montgomery, Freddie Hubbard, J.J. Johnson, Melvin Rhyne and other national figures. Coe was among several notable jazz musicians who opted to stay here.
He was born in Tompkinsville, Ky., and moved to Indianapolis with his family when he was 3. He came through Indianapolis' segregated public schools, graduating from Attucks High School when it was renowned for its music program.
His widow, Delores Coe, recalled his ability to play any instrument, but he specialized in alto and tenor saxophones. As an altoist, he replaced Charlie "Bird" Parker in Jay McShann's band in 1942. Upon returning to his adopted hometown after Army service in World War II, Coe led small and big bands here. He recorded rhythm and blues successfully for small labels in the 1950s. In his later years, Coe was known as an adept arranger for the big band he led under his own name.
The Coes were special guests of a jazz festival in Switzerland in 2002, when Coe gave three performances. In January, the International Association for Jazz Education presented a tribute to Coe at its annual convention in New York City.
"He spent his life making people happy with his music," said Delores, his wife of 46 years. "He was something else."
To support himself and his family, Coe held jobs with the city of Indianapolis, the Marion County juvenile court and the U.S. Postal Service. After retiring in the 1980s, he devoted himself to music. Two of his children followed him into music: Earl, a drummer, and Jimmy Jr., a trumpeter.
Coe rebounded from a mild stroke in the early 1990s but was plagued in recent years by colon cancer and diabetes. Despite health problems, he could be seen occasionally playing from his wheelchair at special events, including the Independent Jazz Community Celebration in September at the Fountain Square Theatre, featuring Hubbard and others, and the Hampton Sisters Tribute by the Indiana Historical Society in November.
For more about Jimmy Coe, see http://hubcap.clemson.edu/~campber/coe.html.
Robert L. Campbell
Robert L. Campbell is a Professor of Psychology at Clemson University and a jazz enthusiast.