Fishers High School musicians are treated to a priceless lesson from professional saxaphonist Jeff Coffin and his band, the Mu’tet
By Dan Domsic
Jeff Coffin shares the stage with the Dave Matthews Band and has lent his talents with a saxophone to Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.
He has three Grammy awards to show for it.
But last week, Coffin shared the stage with the Fishers High School Jazz Ensemble.
His group, Jeff Coffin & the Mu’tet, put on a clinic for FHS and Noblesville High School students last Tuesday.
The Mu’tet is a five piece band, with Felix Pastorius on electric bass, Bill Fanning on trumpet and space trumpet, Chris ‘the Pianimator’ Walters on keys and Grammy-winner Roy “Futureman” Wooten on the drums.
“People all over the world know these guys,” Charlie Kunz, FHS director of bands, said. “They have so much experience and they have so much knowledge, for the kids to be able to hear that is great because there’s stuff I can’t explain to them until they hear it.”
They jammed for the student and teacher audience, with Coffin wailing on the saxophone, his face changing hue as his fingers keyed one solo after another.
It started as a jam session, with Coffin and the band mates playing a few tunes like “Albert’s Blues” and later jumping into one of their own tunes, “Low Spark,” a jam that has a level of Arabic influence and an active accordion part.
Seemingly comfortable in his blue jeans, Coffin said when he first learned he wanted to go pro it felt like he was coming out of his skin – a feeling he sometimes still experiences.
Akshay Athawale, an FHS senior and saxophonist, was excited to be part of Coffin’s clinic.
What he didn’t know was that after asking a question about musical improvisation, Coffin would confront him about who his favorite saxophonists are.
Then Coffin invited him on stage, and the two dueled back and forth, making up music and notes along the way.
Athawale said it was a terrifying and great experience.
Rebecca Carter, a Ball State University student teacher working with Kunz, said the experience would be equivalent to brining an NBA player in to talk basketball with athletes.
It was a once-in-a-life time opportunity, she said.
Students whipped out their phones to take notes while Coffin and his fellow musicians rattled off the greats that have graced the stage before them.
“I think that because I’m in a band that’s well known, it gives me a particular kind of credibility to the students, but really it’s irrelevant in my opinion,” Coffin said. “There are many people that don’t have that notoriety or that visibility that are every bit as qualified to give this information. But because someone comes in that they know who it is, it’s sort of like wow it’s an alien. And you get to come in; you get to be an alien.”
After having a question and answer session with the students, Coffin jumped in to join the Jazz Ensemble, throwing down solos and taking breaks to get the band in the zone while working with Kunz, ultimately practicing for a show they would play together later that evening.
While they practiced, Futureman and Walters took a little time to chat with some of the young musicians when they could.
Kunz was a classmate with Coffin at then North Texas State, now University of North Texas. So, when Coffin and the band come through the area, they know who to call. Coffin played at Fishers about five or six years ago.
“Some of the things he can do with a saxophone, I didn’t know you could do. I was blown away,” Levi Reece, a Noblesville High School sophomore, said. “He showed me there was no limit to what the sax can do.”
The Fishers Jazz Ensemble will perform again later this month and early in March.
Visit www.jeffcoffin.com for more information on the artist and the Mu’tet.