Jazzed To Meet You


What does it look like when young minds shine alongside world-renowned stars?

Three-time Grammy Award winner and Dave Matthews Band saxophonist Jeff Coffin rehearsed and performed this week with the young musicians of Augustana University’s Northlanders Jazz Band.

“It is absolutely amazing, and it’s something that we get to do a lot here at Augie, we bring in so many awesome artists to work this festival, but working with him as a saxophonist, I was sitting in rehearsal last night, and he would come over and in the middle of pieces we’re working, and he’s like, ‘Hey, a little more mouthpiece, bring that out a little bit more,'” Sophie Drotzmann, Augustana University sophomore and member of the Northlanders, said.

“I tend to lead with a lot of encouragement, and in really raising them up,” Coffin said.

“As a lead alto, you kind of want to lead a little bit, and so he was really pushing me as a saxophone player. That’s not something all artists can bring in, so it was really awesome to relate to him and play with someone of that stature,” Drotzmann said.

The three Northlanders performances with Coffin were part of the 44th annual Jazz on the Upper Great Plains Festival. Coffin also worked with students from Roosevelt High School, and if it weren’t for this week’s snow storm, he would have also worked with 700 to 900 students from across the area.

“I really wanted to get someone that has never been to the Sioux Falls area, to try to bolster the, or foster this community of jazz music here in Sioux Falls,” Brian Hanegan, Augustana University professor and Northlanders director, said. “And Jeff certainly fits that bill.”

KELOLAND News asked Augustana University junior Trey Townsend, also a member of the Northlanders, what it’s like to play with someone of Coffin’s stature. 

“It’s enlightening, actually,” Townsend said. “It’s humbling in some sense, because you realize just how long they’ve worked to get to that level.” 

The thought of what it might be like to step into Coffin’s shoes also crosses Townsend’s mind.

“And you realize how much you have to work to get to that level, but it’s also like really boosting, because you get to work with somebody that is this world-renowned,” Townsend said.

“So inspiring, it’s something I always want to aspire to do, and so, it’s really cool to see that that’s something that’s attainable,” Drotzmann said.

“He pulls out music and improvisation out of these students that they didn’t even know they had,” Hanegan said.

“I can reach the students pretty quickly, most of the time because they’re smarter than I am,” Coffin said. “But we have a good time together, you know, and I don’t come in like with any kind of superiority, whatever, it’s just like, man, I’m just like you guys, I’m just a little older, you know, so on the same path.”

Coffin has held more than 300 clinics. 

“He’s giving back a lot of his efforts and talents to the educational component of jazz music, and I think that shows up, I mean when he comes in, he just lights up a room,” Hanegan said.

“He’s telling us about all these things that we can do to spice it up, in the music,” Townsend said. “So, maybe we come down here in this part while he’s playing a solo, changing up the tune just a little bit, you know, provides variety.” 

Dan Santella:
 Is there a blurring of lines between teacher and student sometimes? 

“All the time, yeah, all the time, yeah, I don’t think there is a line,” Coffin said.

He makes a comparison to the infinity symbol.

“It’s very reciprocal, very reciprocal,” Coffin said. “And most of the time, I just, I think of myself as a student, also. And that they’re teaching me a lot about how to interact with people also, about relationships and dynamics, and, you know, which I guess is ultimately about ourselves.” 

This relationship is one Drotzmann won’t forget.

“It’s something I will be able to say the rest of my life, I performed with a three-time Grammy Award winner, and this amazing saxophone player,” Drotzmann said.

The feeling’s mutual.

Dan Santella: What’s your impression of the Northlanders? 

“Oh it’s good man, they’re great students, and we’ve had a lot of fun together,” Coffin said. “I think they’re playing at a really high level, which is great. You know they listen well, which is a big part of it, and they’re anxious to make music, and they’re passionate about it.”

Teachers and student alike. 

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