Jeff Coffin Interview (Full Transcript)

Jeff Coffin

Phone Interview | 07.08.2016


By Michael Urban



JC: Hello


MU: Jeff Coffin?


JC: Yes!


MU: It’s Michael Urban from Relix


JC: Hey Michael how are you?


MU: Good man, good to speak with you. Good time to talk?


JC: Yea man yes its good…


MU: You guys are out in Columbus right now?


JC: Yeah man we just got here last night.


MU: Excellent. Jeff I really want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me.


JC: Yeah I man, my pleasure.


MU: So I don’t want to take too much of your time so how about we hop right into it. So touring with Dave Matthews Band and on the road right now…how’s it going?


JC: It’s good man it’s good. Life is good it’s been a great year everybody is in a really great space for playing some great music that we have been working on for a bit. Been pulling some music out of the archives here and there it’s just been a really great year so far…


MU: Awesome stuff. I have got to say in all honesty looking at the tour schedule, it’s a pretty lengthy tour does it become a grind at some points?


JC: Umm  I think everything’s a grind at some points, but with this you know if you’re going to be on the road this is a great situation because we are so well taken care of, but I did notice you know we just had a four day break and I did notice everyone was a little bit tired right before that four-day break but that’s a matter of having been out for basically 2 months playing a lot and hitting it hard when we hit it.


MU: Well you guys aren’t young men any more Jeff …


JC: [laughs] No, that’s true…


MU: Don’t get me wrong though you still are in so many ways… I saw you last month in Mansfield and Hartford and you guys sounded fantastic you really did, especially in Hartford where you brought out more of the jams.


JC: Yea well Thank you, thank you. I think that… that’s one of the things that I notice and I think everybody notices is that the recovery time is a little bit longer now then say 15-20 years ago, even 10 years ago and that’s something you have to take into consideration, this is a career for us as musicians and as a career you have to look at it in a way that you need to take care of yourself. You can go out, have fun, stay up late whatever but you got to get rest you got to take care of yourself.


MU: Well I do see you guy juicing a lot on Instagram…


JC: Yea we juice before every gig its good stuff it’s easy on your system, gives you energy.


MU: Getting back into DMB a little bit you guys are busting some stuff out of the archives if you will, but have also been playing some new songs.


JC: Yeah we have been playing some new material too. I think we have maybe 4-5 new tunes we have been pulling out, which has been great you know for us to be able to pull out new material. I love that whether it’s with the Mut’et or the Flecktones or Dave, whatever I’m always down to play new music, I’m a big advocate. It keeps it fresh keeps it interesting and I love you know on first play bringing stuff out no one knows the music or what to expect like in the audience and watching the reactions is always funny because a lot of times they don’t know how to react…”ahh I don’t know…ahh that’s a new tune… awesome”…


MU: I can imagine that the Two Step chants can get old after a while.


JC: I don’t know… I wouldn’t say that. I don’t think it gets old, you know I mean a lot of stuff gets rotated. Again it’s like whatever group that you’re in and I even find this with the Mu’tet that there will be tunes that we play many, many, many times and the challenge for any musician is to find new ways through you know to listen and interact in a way that helps you find new ways through and part of that is the work we have to do outside of the band practicing and listening staying on top of our craft so when we get there the reaction time is quick, like if you’re a boxer you don’t not box for 2 weeks before you go out and fight you know what I’m saying because you’d just get your ass kicked, the same thing musically too man you got to be on top of your game and we do that, everything that goes on outside of the stage.


MU: Its obvious that with DMB and Mu’tet you guys are great listeners.


JC: That is the key


MU: Do you still rehearse much with DMB I know that sound checks have somewhat go to the wayside but are you still rehearsing with DMB before live shows


JC: There’s a fair amount of rehearsals you know, I’m not sure I would say there’s a lot but there’s a fair amount.


MU: Well it could be argued that you are all professionals, so you know what you’re doing..


JC: Yea well we try to…we like to think we do.


MU: Now with 2017 being off are there plans to hit the studio with a producer in terms of DMB?


JC: Umm you know not that I know of, I’m not really sure what’s going on with that to be honest with you I haven’t heard a thing. I know that 2017 is going to be off you know, but I plan on doing a bunch of Mu’tet stuff… I’ve got a bunch of projects I’ve been sitting on for a while that I’ll be spacing out over the next year. I got my own label [Ear Up Records] also that I’ll be putting out other people’s projects on.


MU: Mu’tet has a bunch of dates coming up you also have dates with the Super Band…


JC: Yup, Caleb Chapman’s Crescent Super Band, which consists of a bunch of high school students and the last record we did that I recorded with them and we started in Cuba and we finished in Utah. And the thing is once Cuba opens up fully all the proceeds from the sale of the record will go back to the National School of Music in Havana.


MU: That is awesome. I have listened to the Super Band record titled Inside of the Outside and it is awesome, real jazzy stuff. I know Jeff you were a producer on it with lots of guests and I got to tell you it sounds great.


JC: Thank you Michael that means a lot. As you know the education thing for me is a big part of what I do and a big part of what I try and put out into the world. It’s something I take pride in and to be able to have that experience with them is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime for most of the most of the students


MU: That is really great. As I’m sure you know a lot of those kids will be inspired. You know education means so much to me personally also and I just find it amazing, I mean who knows what kind of fire is lit under one of the students and what they’re going to do with the experience that you gave them, you can’t put a price on that.


JC: That’s very, very true and even if they don’t end up being professional musicians they’re going to be the people that are supporting the arts and becoming patrons, it’s all connected and it’s all important.


MU: Absolutely. You mention the Mu’tet, is that a main focus of yours in 2017? What is Jeff Coffin’s main focus in 2017?


JC: Umm I think there’s another number of different things man. I want 2017 to be a really creative year I want to do things that are really meaningful creatively to me and definitely the Mu’tet it is going to be one of those one of those focuses. It’s going to be a matter of making sure that we’re focused enough time period wise material to be able to do different festivals. I’d like to take the band to Europe possibly Japan. I also have another project coming out with Nir Felder (guitar), Will Lee (bass), Jeff Babko (keys), Keith Carlock (drums). We’re going to try to tour that a little bit as well.


MU: Is there a Name?


JC: Not yet we are just the just in the process, but when it happens I will definitely let you know. I think the name of the group is going to be Band of Other Brothers. It’s pretty slamming. We recorded last year. There are some other projects I’m working on as well. I have a couple projects we recorded upstairs in my studio. I also have one I literally recorded everything myself, but had keyboard player Chris Walters playing on two tracks, just kind of filling in stuff that I was unable to play. But literally I am playing all the horns, flutes, clarinets. It’s really a sweet little project. Another thing I am doing is just recording some of my material with local musicians. I’m sitting on a lot of projects right now; it’s been a really creative last couple of years when I’ve been at home.

MU: You’re so versatile Jeff and that’s what really amazes me about you. You have such a dynamic range as far as your saxophone skills go and it’s such an impressive sight to see. You’re a creative guy there’s no doubt about that.


JC: Well I appreciate that man. There is a lot of music that I’m really interested in and different things that I’m really interested in. I started the Jazz Composers Collective also and we’re firming up a residence now the Vanderbilt University and that’s another thing is taking up a lot of my focus. I am trying to plan a couple concerts per semester at Vanderbilt, a couple with Wycliffe Gordon a great trombone player, so there a lot of things you know kind of sitting in front of me and all they are things that I’m really interested in doing. I just want to be able to do them to the highest level.


MU: Speaking of other things on your plate and in front of you, any possibility of a Flecktones get together or maybe Umphrey’s McGee?


JC: Well I usually play with Umphrey’s on New Year’s and we’ll next year if they got stuff going on, I love those guys I would definitely jump on with them if the situation came. Who knows with the Flecktones I saw them just a couple nights ago, hanging out having dinner, but there’s been no talks of anything for next year at all. They just came off a quick two week tour with Howard [Levy], but of course I would love that, I love those guys.


MU: I don’t know why, but I find the Umphrey’s collaboration interesting just because they play such a style of prog-rock that you just adapt to and it’s fun to watch.


JC: Well thank you I love playing with those guys they’re all just really great people. Those guys are out of their minds in the most beautiful way.


MU: They really are, I followed both them and another group called Lotus over to Amsterdam about 8 years ago for a festival called Jam in the Dam.


JC: Oh sure


MU: Also a big Lotus fan, not sure how much you have heard of them or listened to them for that matter, but an extremely talented group of musicians.


JC: Yeah man absolutely, I know the name.


MU: On the subject of collaborations I have no doubt you could absolutely crush it with them sometime if we can get you to cross paths.


JC: Yeah man that would be a lot of fun.



MU: Alright, well changing the subject a little bit and getting to something we have discussed in the past on a personal level, your grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s correct?


JC: Yes that’s correct, on my Dad’s side.


MU: She still with us or she passed?


JC: Yea she passed a number of years ago. We were very close.


MU: My mother suffers now from what can only easily be described as a form of dementia and Alzheimer’s, called Primary Progressive Aphasia, her verbal skills along with memories and all of that are 100% gone at this point. Over the years I have connected with people like you about the disease. It’s devastating and heartbreaking, for caregivers and family and loved ones alike and I am just curious, how did you deal with essentially someone dying in front of yours eyes?


JC: Yeah man as you obviously well know it’s a terrible disease and it’s strange how it affects people to go from being very cognitively aware to not being cognitively present it was the same thing with my grandmother she would always tell a lot of stories, she grew up in Nova Scotia and she played music with her sisters and she was a great storyteller and she was very fun to be around, but as the disease progressed whenever I would see her which wasn’t often because she was in Maine and I was living in Tennessee the older stories would still be there you know, they would still be there, but the more recent stuff there would be questions like about this or what about that and it’s tough to see that. And Michael I would think for a child in particular to see their parent sort of losing their cognitive awareness that would be a difficult thing, losing all those memories that we hold with us…and it kind of makes you wonder you know where it all goes, that’s the thing for me…


MU: You are absolutely right. I connect with a lot of siblings you know whose parents are going through it because it’s like you said it’s not your grandparents it’s your mother or father. Please continue because like you said I wonder when I look into her eyes I wonder where does it all go? I mean people dealing with the disease often wonder what they you supposed to make of it. The body is still there, but maybe the spirit isn’t… Not to get too deep, but I feel like it’s what a lot of people struggle with, which is the body of their loved one is still there but their mind is not…


JC: Well I think that it depends on sort of what you’re philosophical or spiritual view is. I think that in a lot of ways for me anyways we’re here to experience things and there’s a totality to it and universality to it with our lives. It’s all a big experience and for something like Alzheimer’s or like I had a former first band director who passed away from ALS a few years ago, and with that you are completely locked in where your mind is sharp, but your body is failing, so it’s almost the opposite of Alzheimer’s in some ways. But I’m not sure, in the grand scheme of things it really makes me wonder you know and question a lot of things. I just had a dear friend pass yesterday from cancer up in Maine a guy named Steve Grover…he was 60 years old and that’s really young and you know so there’s a lot of stuff that’s very senseless.


MU: It makes u question things…


JC: Makes you question things absolutely.


MU: I guess I was more curious on your thoughts because I respect you, you’re an intelligent guy. I guess I am wondering how you help someone that’s losing someone. You covered a couple things be it Alzheimer’s or a death from cancer or anything else, I guess you just cherish what you had and you try to live for them?  It sounds vague but that’s what you tell people…


JC: I think that part of it is that people live on in us, there is a continuance. A memory that they have or had has been passed on to us and we continue to pass on the memory going forward.  How we live and how we share things and how we think of them, we share those memories. I think those things are really important and to get to the spiritual level of things. I do think that the spirit is separate from the mind, I think that the energy that exists in people is real I think it continues. Do I believe in reincarnation and that kind of thing…? I can go there I can definitely go there…I think that this energy, this life energy… I don’t think that it ends let me say that. There are arguments that can be made for both sides of it but me personally I believe in what’s always been and will always be.


MU: I really couldn’t agree with you more and going back to my mother for a second her mind is gone but her body is still there and even though she cannot communicate she is always smiling always laughing always embracing. Maybe she does not know why she’s doing it but she in many ways is still the person that she always was, she’s still there…Nancy Urban’s spirit is still there it and inspires me and certainly I see it in my father, him trying to live more maybe to the person that she was in the most positive way…


JC: I think that’s important. I think that living for them in their memory and that positive way is really big. Remembering the lessons that we learned from them, the stories and all the things that we can share, that’s all good things that can continue down to our children and grandchildren and so on and they effect the world… that’s the thing, every little part is necessary and who knows what will happen in the end. You hear these stories of these people becoming lucid at the very end for a brief moment and it’s like where does that stuff come from and I get goose bumps now thinking about that kind of stuff…


MU: I agree and it gives me goose bumps also because it makes you wonder…


JC: Yeah, absolutely there are a lot of the unknowns


MU: There really are and then of course on the lighter side of things you get someone like Joe Rogan who is very open about smoking DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) to get to that state…


  1. Right, yeah and there are people who do that also and the effects of that are unknown, but you know there are people who use meditation to get there also. You need to be able to tap into that universal energy.


MU: Alzheimer’s and dementia is the 6 leading cause of death in the country and it’s something that affects everyone and everyone deals with things in a different way and I think like you and I try to deal with all of it in a positive way and live on for that person even while they’re still here.


JC: Right. And as I am sure you know there’s a lot of research that is going into it. I remember reading last year about the use of ultrasound testing on rats. They used ultrasound to clear the brain of the plaque and they said that they had his incredible success rate and they were literally able to clear the brain of this degenerative plaque.


MU: There is lots of research and the same can be said for a lot of diseases in which there is a lot of good research, but just not enough funding, but I really do hope that we will get there someday. I do think Alzheimer’s is preventable.


JC: I remember reading the other day that there is now some DNA testing that can be done to check for the disease.


MU: Yeah there is. I’m thinking about getting it done myself even though it’s not hereditary per say it has been known to be common to run in families.


MU: I know you probably have to run, but just back to DMB for a second…you are coming home. You play Gilford, New Hampshire next week…


JC: I know I am excited. Get to see Mom.



MU: It is one of the few if not only the privately owned venues the country.  It’s owned by farmers.


JC: Oh really I didn’t know that.


MU: Owned by farmers not by Live Nation. It’s one of the few if only private sheds you are playing this summer tour.

MU: Having said that do you have a favorite venue to play?


JC: I don’t know man, I mean I really like The Gorge just because of where its located, Heaven’s Amphitheatre as it’s called, it’s a beautiful place to play. SPAC also is incredible, its gorgeous all those trees surrounding us, it just feels like playing out in nature and I love that.




MU: Curious when you come to Boston are there any particular hot spots you hit right away?


JC: Yea there is a placed called The Daily Catch, we try to go there whenever I can. My wife’s parents were over from Japan for about 3 weeks, from the end of May to the middle of June and we went up there, we love the place.


MU: Any plans to do more recording with your wife who is featured on Side Up?


JC: Possibly yeah of course. I would love to collaborate more with her she’s a very talented musician herself she plays harmonium and brings all that stuff into her yoga stuff and meditation and that whole scene…holistic therapy. She’s deep man…


MU: That’s fantastic that you guys are able to get together like that. Not every relationship is that open. To be able to be creative together is a special experience.


JC: Yeah absolutely. Bela [Fleck] and Abby [Washburn] have that also which is really beautiful. They are in the middle of writing more banjo tunes together. Derek [Trucks] and Susan [Tedeschi] are doing that on a very high level also.


MU: Jeff really thank you so much for taking the time you and Brian are unbelievable. For you to be able and willing to take the time is amazing, you are so down to earth. It’s been a pleasure.

JC: You to man the feeling is mutual. Anytime man for real, just let me know.


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