With Audio: Hear Jack Coen talk about his musical life

Reverence for the ceoltóir dúchais--the source musician--is one of the reasons Ireland's ancient musical tradition is unbroken, despite the most fervent attempts at extermination. Jack Coen tells it straight.


He's a retired hurler, more famous for the holiness of his music, and the importance of his place in the reflowering of Irish American art in New York.

He is a flute player and leabharlann Gaelach of Irish music's treasured melody, often in settings with turns and thought patterns of great interest to excellent listeners and the scores of master musicians who claim Jack as their source.

His style of playing the music, began as the lilting of a three year old boy lán faoi cheoil--full with music, until he got his instruments.

Having defied doctors who told him he would never walk again, Jack Coen has comeback walking from two strokes, but he has lost the power of his flute. He plays whistle still, and he has the melodies. Talking to him shows how it must be the music that has kept him so sharp despite so much. He is invaluable, and sharp of mind, moreso maybe than people who go into old age without the training of musicianship. I couldn't do justice except to let him tell it himself.

The pictures were taken yesterday at his home in The Bronx with Mrs. Coen from Knock, County Mayo. Below you can listen in on our conversation about Irish music and the cultural history all Irish share, and Jack Coen's legacy in two segments below. Beneath the recordings are highlight summaries of the conversation as it progresses to help navigate through the material. It takes a few minutes for us to get going, but in the time we spent, there are great laughs and revelatory moments of precious information and philosophy. Well worth a listen or a visit yourself.

To hear Jack Coen's music, buy from the source the CD he and his son put out called Jack and Jimmy Coen, Traditional Irish Music on Flute and Guitar.

Jack Coen The Keane Edge Interview -- Eanáir 28, 2010 -- cuid #1 [download]

Jack Coen The Keane Edge Interview -- Eanáir 28, 2010 -- cuid #2 [download]

Mainpoints, Jack Coen Interview, part 1
Talk of East Galway while looking at a map. Accordionist Joe Madden, Fiddler B.Stanley, Stanley family, Flute player, Fiddle maker, Dick Stanley, Concertina, Ballinakill Céilí Band, Fiddler Tommy White, Fiddler Gerry Moloney, Piano Anna Rafferty, Flute players Steven Moloney, Flute Tommy Whelan, starting on tin whistle, learning to sing first, playing one octave, Fife and Drum Band, lilting, father playing concertina at night, 9 brothers and sisters, Father Charlie Coen, Paddy Coen England, 2 priests, Father Michael Coen, policeman youngest, Fiddler Anthony Tony Coen in Lurragh, Loch Dearg, Paddy O'Brien Neenah, working like hell before I left, grain mill, Drumnamuclan, 10 shillings for bread, concertina tuning all off, country house dances, discovering other octave, My father's father visits to him on a Sunday, lilting tunes for two black pennies, instruments in terrible condition and expensive, being in clover, World War II, end of concertina production, took in stride, everybody knew the tunes even though they couldn't play, lilting wrong, corrected immediately, Lawrence Egan lilting and singing all day long, playing with groups in Ireland, music very unpopular, no one learning, my father's generation everyone was trying the concertina, foxtrot, old jig, reel, and hornpipe, bartending, City Center, didn't want to be associated with it, bad attitude about it, laugh at you, very particular where you did play it, didn't want anyone making little of it, diddley music, 1949 emigrated, poverty, make your own entertainment, céilí music danced in the homes, sets, old time waltz, Sunday dances, class distinction, poor man's music, being a little smart, than everybody else, on the radio in Ireland, modern music they used to call it, Leo Rowesome Quartet, Irish and Irish Americans attitudes towards, I used to love to dance, follow the girls wherever they went, parochial hall, priests managing, priests didn't like house dances, didn't trust the people, being under 18, the snake dance, no more dances in private, charging at house, 2 shillings, half a crown, day you were leaving, cab to Cork, Cobh, small boat to big boat, leaving Ireland and docking at Manhattan

Mainpoints, Jack Coen Interview, part 2
Jack working everywhere to save up money, how long to save, a big deal to save money, relatives in America, I was able to pay my own way, uncle home from America, send me the passage, Jack Lyons, he'll go if you go, written to my uncle, he mailed money over, I'm coming way to America and he's sending it back there, I give him credit for sending it anyway, Willis Avenue, Jerome Avenue, Grand concourse, father's brother, saloon business, times were rough, meet some new people, buying his first and second flute, Paddy Reynolds, Andy McGann, James Morrison, teaching, no place to meet him, no sessions in those days, Mike Rafferty, not having anyone to play with, job on the railroad, Willis Avenue, next door John Stenson, Tim Hart Fiddler, two fiddlers from Sligo, a few pubs on Third Avenue New Manhattan have music on a Friday night, fiddles hanging on the wall, O'Grady House of Music, Immigration Center, holds lessons on Saturday, early 60s at City Center, Cypress Avenue, O'Beirne's arthritis, Charlie Mulvihill, Father Kelly, Joe Madden, Seán Ryan, Paddy O'Brien (Offaly box player), Fiddler Katherine Brennan Grant taught Andy McGann, Billy Greenhall, Larry Redican, Joe Burke, Commodore, new bunch of accordion, Paddy O'Brien first good one I heard, met him in NYC, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí na hÉireann, Steve Quinn box player from Galway, all wanted to dance the Stack of Barley, dancers won out, good musicians wouldn't come then, competitions, Feis, nearly put me from playing music, took more abusePete Kelly, Maurenn Glynn, John Glynn, parents real serious about the competitions, Martin Mulvihill, Billy McComiskey, Billy Greenhall, James Keane, Chieftains, Gerry Lynch, Kilfenora, John O'Malley, I took more abuse than a tinker's ass, Mayor O'Dwyer, United Irish Counties Feis, syllabus, drawing up a syllabus, United Irish Counties were all politicians, revival, Aggie White, not qualified by the unqualified, worse than Little League, competition has positive aspect, nobody wanted to be the judge, Mulvihill's parents were behaved, he was more traditional, might still be no music here, a time when it was dried up, there was a dead area when I came in, the Parade, the hour dedication ceremony, all the politicians they could find, march in and all make speeches about Ireland, sickening, Brendan Mulvihill, Brian Conway, Martin Wynne, Seán McGlynn, tutor, Kevin Keegan, Joe Cooley, Galway team, played everywhere they put me, status of Irish musicians, try not to go to places you weren't wanted, saddled me with the job of running the Feis, few kids on the block, Joanie Madden, Joe Madden, she was very musical, lilting, Paul Ryan fiddle player, Montgomery, when she saw that she that it was great, Peggy Quinn, Mary Nauchton, I'm going over to Jack Coen, that's your last chance, I'm going over myself then, we won't pay for it, I'll pay for it myself out of my babysitting, she worked it out with you, I will pay you, out of my babysitting money, don't miss any lesson, I only want you for two years, never stopped, run home from school to eat her lunch, run home at night to play, , she really had it, play minute she woke up, she stuck it out, she just wanted it, a real spirit for it, if you get stuck on any tune, come back, good and bad played here, a lot of patience, need time, no practice, a few people that do understand, awards from the president, there's not that many around that understand it fully anymore, insult, not let people insult it, people out to sell it, non-musician bands, they make speeches about it, take trips back to Ireland, Ellis Island Céilí Band, he was a great man to run a session, and a band, a great player to begin with, great understanding about what the other instruments could do, I don't meet anybody now, Jerry O'Sullivan, Seán Tierney, came two days a week, come on a Tuesday and by Thursday had the tune, put the time in, Mick Moloney, Tim Collins, albums out, Jimmy Coen, Séamus Egan, Mike Rafferty, Woodlawn, few old Irish neighborhoods left, kids went to school here, Paddy O'Brien, tape recorder, we have to spread the gospel, that's what the tape is for, inspired, to teach them the lvoe of the music is another thing, in a lot of cases they don't have it at home, if there's tapes home, if the music is there, will get a love of it, it may not break out for 10 years or 15, but it will, parts go through your head when you're asleep, you don't have to work as hard for it then when you have a love for it, thanks for doing it

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