Ex-local jazzman, 77, dies in Spain

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FRIENDS and family have paid tribute to a jazz legend, who died last Friday.

Geoff Coates, pictured right, who grew up in Hastings, passed away at his home in Spain, aged 77.

He suffered a heart attack during an operation in hospital.

Mr Coates’s brother, Patrick, said: “Geoff was the ideal older brother with his easy-going charm and confidence and ability to make friends. He was a friend and protector in my early days. We all loved and admired him and his catch phrase ‘Take it easy, but take it’”.

The musician spent his early years in India, as his father served in the Indian Army.

When the family returned to the UK, they settled in St Leonards.

Mr Coates went to Hastings Grammar School. After he left he joined the Royal Navy when he was 18 and went off to fight in the Icelandic Cod Wars and served on HMS Truelove. He received an early discharge from the Navy after contracting tuberculosis.

While Mr Coates was recuperating in hospital, he had visits from his childhood friends, who already had formed a jazz band, and they began playing jazz numbers together. He and six of his friends from Hastings Grammar School started the Dolphin Jazz Band, playing regular gigs in Sussex, London and Kent for almost 10 years.

Mr Coates took on a number of jobs to help pay for his semi-professional jazz career. These included bus conductor, labourer, painter, and a photographer on Hastings seafront. He busked around Europe for seven years and married his wife Greta in 1967.

Mr Coates later became a teacher at Hastings Grammar School.

He moved to Shropshire and joined Derek Harrison’s All Stars, followed by Roy Norton’s Band in Shrewsbury. In 1978 Mr Coates became a member of the New Orleans Express and played banjo with them for 14 years before moving to Spain in 1992. The band played all over Europe.

Mr Coates settled in Torrox in southern Spain and immediately became involved in the local jazz scene, playing in the Coastline Dixielanders.

He wrote two books on jazz, Going Home and We Heard Ya Talkin’.

Peter Treger, who had known Mr Coates since the 1940s, said: “For the last 20 odd years, Geoff made his musical mark with bands such as the Coastal Dixielanders, entertaining the locals and the expats in and around Malaga. It was this activity which, after nearly half a century, brought back together, for a couple of weeks a year, half of the original Dolphin Jazz Band.”

Mr Treger said his friend had suffered from failing health since a double hip operation seven years ago.

He added: “The last time I saw Geoff in October, he was in considerable pain underneath his usual ebullient self. I shall miss him as a friend and soul brother with enormous sadness. But those Dolphin Jazz Band reunions in southern Spain will continue every year as long as we are capable. This is what Geoff would have wanted.”

Another friend, Michael Cashmore-Hingley, said: “Geoff was such a lovely man – true salt of the earth.”

Mr Coates’s funeral was held in Torrox in Spain on Tuesday (December 20).