When reviewing their separate careers, one would suppose Jeff Coffin and Miles Osland were destined to be great friends.
Both are learned saxophonists as well as artists active in fields of education and performance — although they have each chosen one of those areas as a favored pursuit.
Coffin leads his own jazz fusion band, the Mu'tet, but has gained national attention as an alumnus of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones (with which he won three Grammy Awards) and for his current role as sax man with the Dave Matthews Band.
Osland is perhaps Lexington's most visible jazz personality and the leader of several performance groups. His most enduring musical duty, however, has involved overseeing the jazz studies program at the University of Kentucky.
It was in the latter role that Osland reached out to Coffin, a New England-born, Texas-educated fellow saxophonist who had moved to Nashville.
"I just called Jeff up out of the blue one day because I wanted him to come up and play and do some clinics," Osland said. "And he agreed. Jeff is just one of the most humble, gracious cats that I know. He's always giving of his time when he can. We've had him up here two or three times in the past in different capacities. This time, it's going to be two days just jam-packed full of Jeff Coffin."
"This time" is this weekend. Coffin will serve as an auxiliary member of the Osland/Dailey Jazztet, the combo Osland co-leads with pianist and UK faculty mate Raleigh Dailey, on Friday at Natasha's Bistro and Bar. Then Saturday, Coffin will be the featured guest at UK's annual Big Band Blast, a triple-bill concert at the Singletary Center for the Arts that will bring together the high school-level Jazz All Stars of Central Kentucky, the college-level University of Kentucky Jazz Ensemble (which Osland directs) and the community-based Bluegrass Area Jazz Ambassadors. Coffin will perform two tunes with each group and offer a free jazz clinic in the afternoon that will be open to the public.
"A lot of the stuff we talk about in clinics deals with life lessons more so even than music lessons," Coffin said. "I wanted to do clinics because I felt like I had some experience that I could bring to students, that I could talk to them about what they need to do to go out there, perform well and be successful at holding a gig, getting a gig and all the different things that are involved with that.
"It's like, 'I'm out here doing this. I know what it takes. You're trying to get out here where I am.' So I can talk to them about what they need to do, and I really lay it on the line. Being able to play your butt off is a given. That's where you start. It's all the other stuff that's going to get you the gig or not get you the gig. Those are the things we talk about. We kind of unwrap the mystery of it all and get in deep."
The only trick in luring Coffin back to Lexington this weekend was logistics. Osland approached Coffin about helping out with the Big Band Blast over six months ago, but recording plans with the Dave Matthews Band kept a confirmation for the weekend out of reach until late into the winter.
"Ultimately, we didn't have to face that conflict," Osland said. "But it was really up in the air for a long time. I had Plan A. I had a Plan B. But everything worked out."