The Value Of Annual JEN Conferences
by Jeff Coffin
When I attended my first JEN Conference in New Orleans I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had heard it was just up and running the year before and that it was considered by some to be the ‘new IAJE’ but it was going to be something that catered more toward students. To say I was blown away by attending is an understatement. The dedication to music education and to the students was a far cry from the IAJE. Not that the IAJE didn’t have its merits but I felt it was more about getting a bunch of great players together and hoping that some students might show up than it was about being dedicated to music education. But, it did lead us to JEN and for that I’m grateful.
What I noticed that first year in New Orleans was that there were more students than I expected. And I noticed that the classes and seminars were geared toward providing thoughtful and imaginative information. The interaction between educators and students was apparent and the vibe was awesome! I remember after the conference that I told a lot of people about JEN and that they should really check it out. That it was still in its infancy but it was getting its legs. I have been attending the JEN Conference ever since and I have seen it grow into an education haven for people wanting to study and learn about jazz, improvisational music, and its rich history.
I’ve had the opportunity to play with my group, the Mu’tet, at JEN as well as present classes, adjudicate, give the keynote speech, do interviews, play with presenting groups, help with the jam session, and even brought Bob Mintzer for Indian food in the back (aka the hatchback) of my Honda Fit in Atlanta!
I am currently on the Presidential Advisory Council for JEN and have been a very close friend of Caleb Chapman’s for many, many years. He’s like the brother I never wanted (just kidding). I have watched him become more heavily involved with the conference over the years and have watched that involvement culminate this year with him holding down the role of el presidente. JEN has a history of selecting the best and the brightest for this position and they have, once again, nailed it!
I have been heavily involved with music education for many years and my degree from North Texas is in music education. I always encourage students, teachers, and players alike to check out the JEN conference and to become involved. The reach of JEN should be far and wide and, I’m happy to say, it is becoming exactly that. There are literally thousands of students who participate and their lives are changed through their interactions and from the experience. One thing that I think would really put this experience over the top is if JEN will combine the late nite jam sessions for at least one of the nights so the students can play with the pros. Victor Wooten recommended this two years ago and I have been on the bandwagon since. Let’s make it happen!
The biggest thrill I get personally from going to JEN is interacting with the students and seeing old friends. I get to see some of my young friends too! Every year I meet some incredible new people at JEN and every year I come away inspired, thankful and full of new ideas on how to teach and share knowledge with others. I will continue to go to JEN every year my schedule allows.
Being a member of Dave Matthews Band, I travel around the world. I try to have clinics set up while I am on the road through both Yamaha and D’Addario and I always tell the students and teachers everywhere I go about JEN and I encourage them to get involved and go to the conference. I have met many pros who are not yet familiar with the organization who are very interested in being involved. Can you imagine having Snarky Puppy or John Scofield play at a JEN conference? I can!!
I feel that I am around kindred spirits at the JEN Conference with most everyone involved being of like mind. It is a great thrill for me to participate and be involved on so many levels and to see students benefit in such a profound way. My deepest thanks and sincere admiration to all the amazing, incredible, thoughtful, spirited, talented, selfless people who make up the JEN organization. Now, as we say in the south, let’s have a big time up in New Orleans!!
Saxophonist Jeff Coffin is a globally-recognized musician, composer, educator, and author. He is a member of The Dave Matthews Band, a three-time Grammy Award winner, and a fourteen year former member of Bela Fleck & the Flecktones (1997 – 2010). Jeff also fronts his own group, Jeff Coffin & the Mu’tet, founded the Nashville Jazz Composers Collective, started and continues to run Ear Up Records, and still finds time to teach saxophone and improvisation at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. For more information about Jeff, please visit www.jeffcoffin.com.