Dave Matthews Band sax player Jeff Coffin humbled by the gig of a lifetime

When Jeff Coffin plays his saxophone, magic happens.

The Dave Matthews Band saxophonist has a set of pipes that can rock any woodwind that comes his way. He can even play alto and tenor sax simultaneously, paying homage to the late, great saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

Coffin has played with some of the best in R&B, funk, and bluegrass, classical, world, folk, jazz and rock/pop music - from three-time Grammy winning, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones to Garth Brooks to the Wailers. And when he's not on the road with DMB, Coffin fronts his own group called Jeff Coffin & the Mu'tet, who just released their new special edition, 2-CD set, "Jeff Coffin & the Mu'tet - LIVE!"

He has shared the stage with an additional stellar lineup of musicians - ranging from Branford Marsalis, Phish, Willie Nelson, Van Morrison, Dixie Chicks, DJ Logic, Brooks and Dunn, Martina McBride, Lynyrd Skynyrd, among many others.

Also a bandleader, composer and educator, Coffin literally lives and breathes music and is a firm believer that you can never stop learning with music always changing and mutating. "The one constant in life is change, so to me the one constant in music should be change. It's open-ended, we can sort of mutate things as we want," he tells CBSNews.com. "It's not a quartet or quintet it's a mu'tet," referring to his band, "so it can be whatever we really want it to be."

Jeff Coffin, playing the alto and tenor sax simultaneously.
Roxanne Haynes

For Coffin there's nothing more rewarding than playing with a band that values this type of artistic freedom and growth, and that's why he loves playing with DMB.

"The thing that I love about this band is - it's about the music. I have the utmost respect, this band has been around for over 20 years and I have been fortunate enough to be with them for the last three," he said. "To witness the growth in this band, it's fantastic...People are taking chances every night on stuff. People are growing musically, spiritually, personally and professionally."

Through the years, Coffin got to know DMB when he and Bela Fleck & the Flecktones played opening gigs for them. Then in 2009, Coffin officially joined DMB after filling in for the late LeRoi Moore, who died tragically and unexpectedly in August 2008 from complications sustained in an ATV accident that occurred in late June.

"I was honored that they thought enough of me and of the way that I play to ask me to come in and help out and be there. I think they knew that my work ethic was such that I would come in prepared and do the very best I could," Coffin explained.

With less than a 24-hour notice, 140 tunes to learn and a folder full of chicken scratch, Coffin began touring with the band. Guided by cues from fellow DMB trumpet player Rashawn Ross, Coffin admits, "I couldn't have done it without him."

While no one can ever replace the incredibly talented Moore, who helped bring Matthews' lyrics to life, Coffin tries his best to honor him and carry on his legacy through the music.

"It's interesting because I never think of it as replacing somebody. You know nobody can replace Roi. He had a very unique sound," Coffin said. "The thing that I really love about his playing is that he was himself - and that's really the goal... the parts that he came up with are brilliant. He sort of got to the music through the saxophone and that was one of his vehicles - all the different woodwinds, clarinets, flutes. But the melodies that he heard in his head, they are just like pieces of the puzzle that just fit right in. We always play those parts."

While on tour, Coffin keeps a picture of himself and Moore close by, "So I see him every night," he says. "He was a friend and he is certainly a voice that is missed - there is no question."

Coffin also pays it forward when it comes to young, aspiring musicians in the U.S. and abroad. He's a heavily in-demand music clinician and a Yamaha Performing Artist, who graduated with a music education degree from the prestigious University of North Texas in 1990. Since 2001, he has presented nearly 300 solo and Mu'tet music clinics from Farmington, Maine to Perth, Australia to students of all ages.

Coffin recalls asking the students at one of his clinics, "How many of you have gotten goose bumps when you listened to a song?" And to his astonishment, everyone raised their hands. So, one can ever underestimate the power of music and how it can truly move people at any age - after all, DMB has become a cross-generational band, he points out.

As for now, Coffin will continue to relish in playing with one of the best acts around. "It's a great gig, it's a lot of fun," he said. "There's a lot of intimacy on stage. I tell people that it's like a seven-piece small group that happens to play in front of tens of thousands of people a night." Well this is one jam session that you won't want to miss.

Last weekend, DMB performed at Randalls Island in New York to make up for last of the DMB Caravan tour dates that were canceled due to Hurricane Irene. While in town, Coffin stopped by New York's Central Park to meet with CBSNews.com and play a few tunes. He played a never-been released song called "The Reunion," as well as "Sweet Magnolias" and "Move Your Rug." Check out Coffin's Central Park jam session in the video above.

  • Melissa Castellanos

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