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Famous saxophonist and composer Jeff Coffin works with Bemidji State University Jazz Band members Thursday afternoon as they prepare for a concert tonight at Bemidji High School Auditorium as part of the Bemidji Concert Series. The BHS Jazz Band will also accompany Coffin for a selection, as well as Coffin's own band members. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Students to perform with jazz musician

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How often does a high school or college musician get to play with a Grammy-winning professional?

That opportunity will happen tonight when Bemidji High School and Bemidji State University jazz students will join jazz saxophone soloist Jeff Coffin and his ensemble Mu'tet on stage at 7:30 p.m. at the BHS auditorium. The last concert of this year's Bemidji Concert Series promises to be the culmination of all those long hours spent in practice and rehearsal. Derek Wickum's BHS Jazz Band and Steven Konecne's BSU Jazz Band have been preparing for a clinic with Coffin and the opportunity to perform in a live on-stage concert for family, friends and jazz lovers from across generations and interests. Tickets are $20 for regular admission and $5 for students through college and may be purchased at Lueken's North Village Foods and at the door.

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Del Lyren, chair of the Department of Music at BSU, said the committee that brings the Bemidji Concert Series has changed the plans for next year's performers. There will be no large groups and ensembles, and the focus will be on student clinics and performances.

"We have plans to bring in soloists who are willing to hold clinics for our students and also perform with BSU bands including the jazz bands," Lyren said. "Jeff Coffin is highly dedicated to music education. His clinics are informative and captivating, and he brings an element of openness and friendliness which is appreciated by those who have a chance to meet or study with him."

Coffin's belief that music is in a state of constant change and mutation is underscored by his ability to absorb music from around the world. Coffin has played with Bela Fleck & the Flecktones since 1997 and the Dave Matthews Band since 2008. He wants to be known only as a musician and rejects other labels or categories that separate the various musical genres.

The three-time Grammy winner has said, "Whether it is New Orleans Second Line, African music, Indian Ragas, folk songs, Alan Lomax field recordings, jazz or funk, the spirit and breath of the music is what I take away from listening and playing. It's what decides for me whether I like it or not."

Coffin is also known in the jazz world for playing two saxophones simultaneously - alto and tenor - bringing an extraordinary sound to his music and improvisation. He has played on literally hundreds of recordings, had his Carnegie Hall debut in 2007 and has performed around the world. His skill in educating young musicians has been acknowledged by being named a Yamaha and Vandoren Performing Artist/Clinician since 2000.

Since its inception eight years ago, the Bemidji Concert Series has brought world-class musicians like Coffin to the Bemidji region for the local opportunity to see and hear music that would normally require a trip to the Twin Cities and beyond. The series is supported by sponsorships from the BSU Department of Music, the Bemidji Pioneer, Villa Calma Bed and Breakfast, Paul Bunyan Telephone and the BSU Student Activity Allocation Committee.

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