February 5, 2006

Tim Coffman Interview

Tim-Coffman.jpgTim Coffman's CD Nonstop To Paris dominated the European Jazz charts during 2005. The musician / songwriter turned producer also struck pay dirt in 2005 with his album Music From Beach Boulevard which married Hawaiian steel guitar to the sounds of retro / current surfer music to provide a melodic Jazz genre yet to acquire a name. If you like the taste of salt in the air, the feel of warm sand between your toes then close your eyes and crank up the volume because Coffman's music will whisk you away. Before the first song is over you will swear you can hear the waves lapping against the rocks.

I caught up with our American friend at his San Diego home early one Saturday morning. We talked about some of the lush tapestries he has created and the multi layered tunes that leave you breathless.

Thinking that maybe he would share with me his magic formula for the success of Nonstop To Paris I was surprised by Coffman's answer, "I don't know (what made it successful). I don't have an answer to that question. It is not what I would describe as a real true smooth Jazz album. It really deviates and goes in a few different directions. It has some Spy music on it and what I would describe as Funk tunes. One of the radio stations from Europe contacted me and they were playing one of the cuts that had a real authentic Italian accordion on it. The program director commented to me that he had to play this (song) because he never knew anyone to play an accordion on a smooth Jazz record. He was just amazed that somebody would actually do that. It has its own character. It is funny a lot of people liked the fact that it deviated a bit."

With Nonstop To Paris Coffman once again demonstrates a fondness for horns. He says, "Horns are one of my favorite things to record. I love horns. I do a lot of horn records."

When you look at the musicians that Coffman assembled for Nonstop To Paris it is easy to appreciate why the music sounds so good. Mitch Manker (Hootie and the Blowfish, Fattburger, Ray Charles) appears on trumpet as he did on Music From Beach Boulevard. Also doing double duty on both albums are guitarists T.J. Tindall (Bonnie Raitt, O'Jays) and Anthony Da Luz. The outstanding saxophone work of John Rekevics (Natalie Cole) seems almost a prerequisite for Coffman's productions because of this brass man's outstanding work. Coffman also appears playing several different instruments on his productions.

One of the key ingredients in Coffman's success is his ability to enjoy good music regardless of genre and to find elements that he can incorporate into his own styling. He is a composer who is not afraid to color outside the lines, sometimes in pastels sometimes in more vivid colors.

Coffman continues, "This may sound surprising but I don't put as much credence in style of music as I do the soul of music. Soul to me means when your heart is connected to your voice. What is inside of you is flowing through your instrument."

Coffman says he also likes to experiment and incorporate many different styles into his own music. He says that it broadens his audience. For Coffman though it goes much deeper than that because he is not merely content to create milquetoast music.

Music From Beach Boulevard was the sequel to the funkier Beach and Guitar released in 2004. For that album Coffman enlisted the services of surfer music pioneer Paul Johnson formerly of the sixties group the Belairs but better known for his work with the Surfaris who made the song "Wipeout" a fan favorite.

With both Guitar and Beach and Music From Beach Boulevard Coffman created a unique sound by recording using vintage '60's equipment and gear. He says, "What I wanted to do was (arrive at) an original sound and then print it to digital. I then wanted to change it somewhat so (I used) original gear and original microphones. When you listen to (the CD) it evokes the feeling from that time period. There are also enough new things going on that it sounds pretty modern in some ways."

When it came time to commit Music From Beach Boulevard to acetate Coffman recruited the services of Gary Brandin and Gordon Freitas to provide the vibes from their Hawaiian steel guitars. Accoustic and electric guitar work was provided by the combination of Coffman, Anthony Da Luz, Matt Quilter, renowned blues man Billy Thompson and Don Strandberg. Tony Patler mans the keys as he has on several of Coffman's albums. Coffman raves about Patler, "He has worked for many years off and on with Chaka Khan. He and another player named Bill Hayworth are just so creative. I just love working with those guys."

Rather than trying to play the part of prognosticator and address my question about where he thought the music industry is headed he gave me this answer, "I can tell you where it should go. Where it should go is towards more experimentation. It should go towards more honesty. It's funny we have all these new tools as musicians. You really don't have to use your imagination as much as you used to. It is not allowing us to get deep creativity. We have a lot of very shallow creativity but not real deep things. If you go back into the fifties, forties, thirties and twenties you find a lot of very deep composition. When you look at the chord changes and melodies it is extremely deep and extremely hard. It is hard to play for an average musician. I think we need to go back and get deeper into our songwriting, deeper in our production and still (retain) the same spontaneity. Does that make any sense?"

When Coffman established his company Rolltop Music in the early eighties he did so to fulfill a need he saw among fellow musicians. He told me it is often not until an artist has produced a second or third album that they are signed to a label. He also noted that an artist's financial resources are often limited. Coffman says he felt his company could meet a need by providing quality production that would attract more attention to the artist but doing so within the budgets available to most artists.

Rolltop Music also provides a vehicle through which Coffman can bring his own music to market. This year he has two of his own albums planned and is hoping to begin a project with his daughter Julie.


Tim Coffman Interview
By Joe Montague
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Posted by Joe Montague at February 5, 2006 9:40 AM