Saxophonist Jeff Coffin has played with countless bands — from a 13-year stint with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones to sessions with Phish and Umphrey’s McGee. He also has his own side project, the Mu’Tet, an eclectic, groovy band combining jazz, funk, African music and many other genres.
But Coffin, 46, is also a tireless music educator, holding sax workshops in schools around the world. Coffin held one such workshop at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport more than 10 years ago, and worked with a young Andrew Clifford, then a promising teenage jazz drummer and now president of Main Street Music Studios in Bangor. Coffin spent part of his childhood in Dexter and worked with Clifford’s father, Jack, the music teacher at Nokomis, so central Maine was — and still is — a second home. Andrew Clifford remembers being hugely influenced by that workshop.
“Jeff was really inspiring to me, when I was young,” said Clifford. “I remember he made a big list for me of all these jazz greats, and I went out and bought them all. I still have that list. I think his playing is really fascinating. His way of soloing has really influenced me, as a drummer. There’s an amazing kind of polyrhythm in it.”
The young Clifford and Coffin kept in touch over the years, as Coffin went on to join the Dave Matthews Band after the death of their former horn player, LeRoi Moore, and Clifford made a name for himself as a hip-hop producer, DJ and drummer in New York, and later set up shop in Bangor. Coffin is coming back to Maine this weekend to catch up with his former student at a special jazz clinic from 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13, at Main Street Music Studios in Bangor. Coffin also will perform at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16, at Nokomis Regional High School, as part of his weeklong artist residency at the school. Tickets for that performance are $5 for adults, $4 for students, $13 for a family.
Coffin’s teaching style is based solidly in jazz fundamentals. He encourages his students to think slowly and methodically about whatever composition they’re working on and to always keep their ears open.
“Listening is the most important fundamental to me,” Coffin said. “I want to help them to critically think about music and life and to ask questions when they have them … to be curious and to self-educate. I want them to feel I am an advocate for their questions, thoughts and ideas. I use a method of teaching that is very affirming and positive.”
With Bela Fleck and Dave Matthews, Coffin wears several different hats as a player. With Bela Fleck, he’s part of the “front line” of the ensemble, while with Dave Matthews he’s in a horn section. And with Mu’Tet, his own group, he’s the creative leader. All three pose their own distinct challenges.
“The music for the Flecktones is quite difficult and the music for DMB is difficult in its own way, too. The parts are peculiar and particular to the part of the song — it’s not a ‘stock’ arrangement by any means,” said Coffin. “The challenge is to be sure I am fulfilling those roles to the best of my ability while still retaining who I am as a player … I feel that my passion for music is apparent, and I am going to leave it on the floor every night we play. For me, it really doesn’t matter how many people show up. I will give everything I can each night.”
Clifford is thrilled to have a musician of Coffin’s caliber coming to Main Street Music Studios. The Studios work with hundreds of area musicians of all ages on instruments and in genres ranging from bluegrass mandolin to heavy-metal guitar.
“This is a huge opportunity for our students,” said Clifford. “We try to create a really welcoming atmosphere here, that’s also challenging. We’re all here because we love music and want to help other people do the same thing.”
Coffin is proud of his former student and admires what Main Street Music Studios has accomplished since opening in 2008.
“Andrew has a lot going on these days and is very community-driven,” he said. “He’s working with great musicians and really making a difference out there in the world. I’m proud of what he is doing and I’m happy that he has chosen to reach out to his community.”
For more information on Jeff Coffin’s clinic, visit mainstreetmusicstudios.com. The clinic is sponsored by The Charles Inn & Big Easy, Mark’s Music, Jeremy Shirland Guitar Lessons, Second Wind Music, Monahan Design and Green Tank Productions.