New Jeff Coffin album raises money for Cuban students

Jeff Coffin is releasing a big band album to benefit young Cuban musicians.

Inside of the Outside has already exceeded its $20,000 goal on Kickstarter, and all additional money raised will go to Cuba’s National School of the Arts in Havana. Jeff and Caleb Chapman’s Crescent Super Band — a nationally renowned high school band based in Utah — performed at the school during a recent cultural exchange, and they even recorded two of the album’s songs with students there. There’s a variety of interesting products and experiences available through the Kickstarter, including a private jam session with Jeff and a video of him eating celery, his most hated food.

Dave Matthews Band’s Rashawn Ross makes a guest appearance on the album, as do DMB’s friends Victor Wooten and Branford Marsalis. The campaign ends in six days, so head on over to the Kickstarter page and then read our interview with Jeff below:

How did you get involved with the National School of the Arts in Cuba?

It’s a really well-known school. If you’re on track to be a musician or a dancer or an artist, that’s your track for life, basically, in Cuba. This school houses 600 students, and they live there, and they have 300 instructors. They came in and performed for us, maybe 10 or 12 of them. It was stunning. They were so poised and so confident, and they sounded incredible.

One of the things we decided while we were there was that, when we finished this big band project, that all the proceeds would go to the school. One of the things that we noticed while we were there is that it was bare bones. There was nothing on the walls. The instruments they had were archaic. Stuff was falling apart.

What was it like being in Cuba at this time when our countries are coming closer together?

It was remarkable. The people were absolutely incredible — some of the warmest, most generous, beautiful people I’ve ever met. Havana, to me, was like a combination of New Orleans and Rio. It was an incredible, incredible city, and I wish I’d had another week there.

We went to this percussion festival. It was overwhelming what this music was like. To talk to the musicians and the performers, it was a singular experience in my life.

Why did you want to do a big band record, and what do you get out of this type of music that’s different from your other projects?

A number of years ago, I had two of my original tunes arranged for big band, because I was doing clinics and I’d like to be able to go in and work with a big band, which pretty much every school has. Subsequently, I’ve had 13 or 14 of my tunes arranged for big band. I decided, what better time to record it than now — with the whole education slant, with the Crescent Super Band.

For me, as an instrumentalist, we all play big band music. It’s what we grew up on. It exists in school programs and needs to be supported. There’s a lot of programs being cut, and that’s one of the things I’m railing against. If you lose the arts, you’re screwed.

There are some pretty cool experiences available through this Kickstarter, but I’m sure you’re not looking forward to eating a stalk of celery.

That was more of a joke, but I was like, if somebody is willing to put up 500 bucks for me to eat celery, I’ll do it. And then somebody did it, and I was like, oh no! We met with some people while we were out in Utah, some really great people who bought a lunch and a hang with me and Caleb. And some people came by the studio also to hang out and be part of the experience. It’s really meant a lot to me, personally.

We’ve already funded what we need to fund. I was telling Caleb, I don’t want to be greedy, but if people want to continue to donate, it’s awesome. And we’ll keep trying to find things that are incentives for people. All the money over and above what we need for the mixing, mastering production of the CD, as well as the vinyl, all that money will go to the National School of the Arts in Cuba.

What did you take away from DMB’s two-set concerts last year, and how did that inform how you approached it this year?

It hasn’t really changed that much. We’re really in a groove with it. Again, this idea of reaching out to people and trying to draw people in — that’s what we’re trying to do. It’s, let’s share this music in a different way with everybody.

You got to play with your old bandmate Bela Fleck last weekend.

What a joy to share the stage with him again. We have a very deep love for one another, and we spent a lot of time on the road together. The reason that I even know the guys in Dave Matthews Band is because of Bela and the Flecktones. There’s a very deep personal, musical, spiritual connection that goes on between everybody. I can’t say enough about having him up there and how much we all love Bela.

You’ve also debuted a few new songs this summer. How do you feel they’ve fit into the shows so far?

Great. I’m lovin’ it.

Were they developed on the road, or did they come from recent time in the studio?

A little bit of both, I would say.

How is that studio work going?

It’s going really well. I think everybody’s very excited about it, and I think it’s going to be fantastic.

Rashawn posted some photos of you and he working with an orchestra and a horn section. Can you fill us in a little more on that and what their involvement in the process is?

I’d rather not talk too much about it at this point. I think it’s nice that there’s some mystery around it.