Jeff Coffin is one of the most accomplished sax players today. He became a very familiar name after the Flecktones hired him as their fourth member. As a flecktone he has toured around the planet performing in front of thousands of people. An endless thirst for new ideas and sound, he has been touring with his own band featuring the great Jeff Sipe on drums. His last two records are a testament to his abilities. He has a new solo record coming out as well as a New Flecktones record. This is what Jeff Coffin had to say about his musical journey.
AL: I BELIEVE YOU JUST FINISHED RECORDING YOUR NEW ALBUM, COULD YOU SAY A FEW WORDS ABOUT IT?
JC: Sure. I recorded it in early June 2003 in a beautiful studio just outside of Nashville called Darkhorse Recording Studios. It should be ready sometime early 2004. I am very excited about it. It’s a funkier project, more akin to what I do on the road, than I have done before. Here is a list of some of the players… Jeff Apt. Q-258 Sipe: drums, Chris Thile: mandolin, Victor Wooten: electric / acoustic bass, Derek Jones: electric/acoustic bass, Johnny Neel: B-3, Pat Bergeson: guitar, Tyler Wood: piano/B-3, Rod McGaha: trumpet, Roy Agee: trombone, Joe Murphy: tuba. Futureman & Bela have also agreed to do some playing on the CD and I have some other overdubs to do as well. This is the first time I have done a project this way…There is also a vocal tune for the first time as well as a children’s choir. keep checking the web site for more info as it comes available. (Also, the Flecktones have a new CD, “LITTLE WORLDS”, coming out on August 12, 2003 on Sony / Columbia. It will be a triple CD. Check it out.)
AL: HOW DOES IT SOUND IN COMPARISON TO YOUR LAST TWO RECORDS?
JC: To me, each of these has started where the other left off. I think the new recording has a more universal appeal to it. There are tunes that have African, New Orleans, (East) Indian, folk and jazz elements to them. I am trying to simplify my writing and distill down ideas that will allow the tunes to sound simple but they are actually more complex than one might realise. I am trying to write from the melody and the phrase rather than think ok, I am gonna write something in 5/4 or 13/4, etc….It’s really not a jazz recording but there is lots of improvisation and really great inner group playing.
AL: DO YOU COMPOSE ON THE SAX OR THE PIANO?
JC: Sometimes both, sometimes neither. I can be hit by a melody or shape of a phrase in the strangest places. I might be walking downstairs to my studio or be on a subway or on the bus or in my car and I have to scramble to get the idea down before it is gone. Bela has a good method where he calls his cell phone and will sing or play the melody to the voice mail. I stole his idea.
AL: THE FIRST TIME I HEARD YOU WITH THE FLECKTONES, YOUR TONE REMINDED ME A LOT OF CHARLIE PARKER. YOUR SOUND WAS A BIT LOUDER AND FIERCE THAN THE GREAT PAUL MCANDLESS FROM OREGON, WHO IS ALSO AN AMAZING MUSICIAN. IS THAT WHAT YOU BROUGHT ON THE TABLE?
JC: First let me say that I am a huge Paul McCandles fan. He has a quality and emotion to his playing that is second to none. He had an integrity to his music that is continually inspiring. I guess what I bring to the Flecktones is my passion and my attraction to the organic nature of music. Also, I try to bring a vocal quality to my phrasing that I think brings in a different dynamic to the group. When you play sax, you HAVE to breathe. That is not a necessity when playing drums, keys or banjo or bass. (Obviously, I am referring to the phrasings of music.) I think That having a windblown instrument enhances what the group was already doing by breaking up phrasings and lending that vocalness to the sound. To me, instruments are like vocals without words.
AL: WHAT IS THE STORY BEHIND PLAYING TWO SAXES AT THE SAME TIME?
JC:Rahsaan Roland Kirk. It is my nod to him, a tribute of sorts, of the open page that music presents to each and every one of us at all times. If you try things and experiment with your instrument you will find many ways of doing things that seem far fetched to some. Roland Kirk played three saxes at a time and would circular breathe while doing it! Now that’s some imagination! fusion music.
AL: WHEN DID YOU LEARN TO PLAY THE FLUTE?
JC: I have studied a little bit over that last 10/15 years but mostly I have worked on it myself. I need to get with a really great teacher sometime soon though. I feel the calling.
AL: CAN WE EXPECT ANY WORK WITH YOU AND HARIPRASAD CHAURASIA IN THE FUTURE?
JC: I wish! But I don’t think so. I have never met him and don’t think I would be in a position to do something with him. I love his playing and how he uses the tone of the bansuri (with usually no vibrato) to express emotions.
AL: HOW DOES YOUR PLAYING CHANGE WHEN YOU ARE WITH YOUR OWN BAND COMPARED TO WHEN YOU ARE WITH THE FLECKTONES?
JC: I think that my playing with the Mu’tet is a bit more aggressive, the solos are longer and we tend to explore a tune longer than we do with the Tones. I have been branching out more to do works that are different from one another but still retain a thread throughout. The music of the Mu’tet is consciously directed to physical movement also. Dance type movement or however your body tends to move. I think that all music should be groovin on some level. Whether it be avant garde jazz or drum & bass or something classical….regardless of the genre, it should have motion and movement.
AL: WHAT DO YOU TELL TO THE GREAT BUNCH OF SAX PLAYERS OUT THERE?
JC: I would encourage them to be patient, work hard every day you can, be easy to get along with, be ready for whatever situation you are called upon to do, be easy to get along with, be open to new possibilities in your situation, leave you ego at the curb, be easy to get along with, play as many different kinds of gigs as you can, study with musicians who inspire you, transcribe lots of solos, listen to lots of different kinds of music, be easy to get along with, and, most importantly, experience life in all its wonder.