CELEBRATING
50 YEARS

Record Promotion Veteran Terry Coen Dies at 73

From CTI, Warner Bros., and Epic to Palmetto and his own indie company, he talked up jazz releases for nearly five decades

Terry Coen
Terry Coen (photo courtesy of Gail Coen)

Terry Coen, a record and music promotion executive who spent nearly 50 years advocating for the music he loved, died July 28 at Suncoast Hospice Bayfront in St. Petersburg, Florida. He was 73.

His death was announced by his wife of 51 years, the former Gail Cunningham, who said that her husband had died surrounded by family and his favorite music. Cause of death was not disclosed.

Coen was, said Gail, “a music aficionado before that term existed.” He channeled that love into a career that began in the early 1970s with positions at RCA and CTI Records, followed by one in the promotions department at Warner Bros. Records, where he worked campaigns for Fleetwood Mac, the Doobie Brothers, and George Benson, among others. Moving in 1983 to Columbia/Epic Records, he managed promotions for Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Sade, and Luther Vandross. In 1999, he migrated again to the independent jazz label Palmetto Records, where he worked exclusively with jazz artists for 16 years.

In 2009, Coen founded Soundview Jazz Promotion, working with labels and individual artists to boost their presence on jazz radio and elsewhere.

Coen’s home in Westport, Connecticut—on Soundview Avenue, the namesake of his self-owned company—was a favorite hangout of musicians who lived in the greater New York City area, including Billy Joel and Meat Loaf, who also made use of the recording studio in Coen’s basement. Coen was himself a prolific songwriter, as well as an artist and photographer, and he served as a mentor for younger and up-and-coming artists who sought out both his services and his wisdom.

He was a three-time winner of industry magazine JazzWeek’s Promotion Representative of the Year award, and received production credit on recordings by Ben Allison, Fred Hersch, and Kate McGarry.

Terrence William Coen was born June 10, 1947 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The family moved around the American South several times before settling in the New York City area in the early 1960s. That arrival allowed Coen to indulge in his love of music. He vividly recalled seeing performances from the John Coltrane Quartet at the Village Vanguard to Bob Dylan’s infamous electric set at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.

Receiving a scholarship to the San Francisco Art Institute, Coen matriculated there in 1966—arriving just in time for the city’s legendary Summer of Love, which only deepened his love of music. He even attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music before returning to New York in 1968. He married Gail Cunningham (his high-school sweetheart) the following year, in which he also met and became friends with Miles Davis at the Newport Jazz Festival. “Miles relied on Terry to provide him with examples of the more ‘way out’ recordings that would give him ideas for new musical directions,” Gail Coen recalled.

In about 1971, Coen took a job working radio promotion at RCA Records. After a short tenure there, he took a similar job at Creed Taylor’s CTI Records, where he promoted work by Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, and George Benson. In the latter half of the ’70s, Coen moved to Warner Bros., where Benson had also moved. Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Bill Evans had Warners contracts as well; the label also then distributed ECM Records in the United States, giving Coen connections with Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, and others.

His work was not limited to jazz, however. Warner Bros. at the time was home to the likes of the Beach Boys, Rod Stewart, the Doobie Brothers, and Fleetwood Mac, whose 1977 album Rumours would become the highest-selling album of all time. Its record was later broken by Michael Jackson’s 1982 album Thriller—released on Columbia subsidiary Epic Records, where Coen began working in 1983, giving him a place in the success of two of the world’s most successful recordings.

Epic also let Coen keep his toes in the water of jazz, albeit primarily by way of fusion artists like Jeff Beck and Stanley Clarke, and jazz-adjacent artists such as Sade and Luther Vandross. He began freelancing for the independent jazz label Palmetto Records in 1992; he left Epic in 1993, but it wasn’t until 1999 that he worked exclusively for Palmetto, making him a wholly dedicated jazz record executive.

“Jazz always seemed to be a more civilized area,” he told JazzWeek in 2005. “The hours are better. … I don’t miss getting the calls late at night where people are asking me why I’m not at some function that starts at two in the morning.”

Through his work at Palmetto, which included A&R and production as well as promotions, Coen cultivated a roster that included Ben Allison, Fred Hersch, Andrew Hill, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and Bobby Watson, and established relationships with jazz radio programmers from coast to coast. Far from paying mere lip service to the importance of jazz radio, Coen relied on the medium to keep him apprised of developments in the music that were happening outside his own label.

In 2009, Coen entered self-employment with his own Soundview Jazz Promotion. Among its clients were guitarist Greg Skaff, vocalists Jane Monheit and Sara Gazarek, and the label Posi-Tone Records, all of whom credited Coen with increased success.

In addition to his wife Gail, Coen is survived by his sons Trevor and Davis; a granddaughter, Lily Claire Coen; two sisters-in-law; and several nieces and nephews.

The family requests that donations be made in Coen’s memory to the Jazz Foundation of America or The Blues Foundation. A celebration of his life will be held after COVID-19 quarantines have passed.

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.