Jeff Coffin’s Mu’tet

Summer Camp is a multi-night festival in Chillicothe, Ill., (just north of Peoria). Taking place this upcoming Memorial Day weekend, the festival is three nights of music and primitive camping put on by Jay Goldberg Events & Entertainment (the same people responsible for The Canopy Club). The festival features three nights of music from headliners moe., a performance by local favorites Apollo Project and even dance music from SCI Fidelity house artist DJ Harry. Buzz chatted with Jeff Coffin, reed player for BÇla Fleck & The Flecktones and leader of his own Mu’tet, who will be appearing at Summer Camp on Sunday.

Buzz: What is the ‘Mu’tet’ about?
Jeff: It’s from the word ‘mutation.’ It’s always changing, and we can play any music with that group. It’s meant to be a little bit of a community.

Anyone who has seen you knows about your ability to play two saxes. How did that evolve, and for what purpose?
It’s a Roland Kirk thing. He’d actually do three at a time. (The hard part is) trying to figure out different fingerings for things. I do a Montuno thing, drone on one of the horns. A number of years ago, I was playing in an acid jazz group (when that was happening), and we didn’t have any harmony players, so I tried to provide some harmony with the two horns.

Do you ever have difficulty playing in different keys at once?
That’s the trick: thinking in two keys at once.

You have various pedals in your setup. How do you use electronics to enhance your performance?
I use them as a different sound, a different sonic texture. I use an envelope filter, I use a harmonizer, I use a digital delay pedal. I use a phase shifter, whatever I can use that I think actually sounds decent.

Could you give an example of how you use the harmonizer?
For example, on ‘Mad Hatter Rides Again,’ there’s a bass breakdown, there’s a series of hits. I put it on a tritone and play a major third and it gives me the flat seven underneath it. If I was going to put a harmony on it, the harmonizer is giving me the harmony I’d put on it.
You regularly have the opportunity to play with BÇla, who is such a great improviser. How do you interact with someone who can go in any direction?
We are all trained, at this point, as improvising musicians, to hopefully be able to go anywhere on the fly. A lot of it is learning how to listen.

How does one learn to listen?
There is a number of different ways. One of the things is how to listen to the music and what to listen to. If you’re looking at a piece of art, you can look at the picture and the frame, or you can get into great detail. You can actually see the brush strokes, where (the artist) may have used blue in this corner … You can really get into the transparency of the music, by just listening to the high hat, or the piano, or the bass or the soloist … eventually, all that stuff unfolds and you’re able to listen to everything, but still be able to pinpoint different things.

Like hand-independence in drumming, for example?
There is ear independence-it’s also the same thing. The ear learns to be able to listen to a lot of things at once.

You play a lot of sax on bluegrass/country tracks with the Flecktones. What’s your method for adding sax in these pieces?
I don’t want to sound like Shorter or Coltrane over ‘Big Country.’ I’m going to let the tune or the spirit of the music tell me how that music is supposed to be played. I’m going to try to morph but still maintain my individuality. Listening, that’s the one big thing. The harmony is a given, the rhythm is a given.

What are the Flecktones up to right now?
There’s a new record that’s in the works. It’ll be out at the very beginning of 2006.

Can we expect as many guests as the last record?
There are no guests, just the four of us. It was something we wanted to do on the last CD. We let providence decide what we’re going to do on it.

Who are your spiritual forebears in your playing?
Guys like Coltrane, Miles Davis … Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, Abdullah Ibrahim, Keith Jarrett, Inayat Khan. They have a necessity of expression.

What sax player should people these days listen to?
Ravi Coltrane, John Coltrane’s son. Chris Potter; Mark Turner is ridiculous. There are certain guys who come to the top who really sound like themselves.

Summer Camp begins today (for early birds) and continues through to Sunday in Chillicothe. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to

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