Tim Coffman, producer, songwriter and musician, has been around the music scene since the early sixties and like most fine wines, he is getting better with age. His CD Nonstop to Paris has been ripping up the Jazz charts in Europe for the past year. Beach and Guitar (2004) and Music from Beach Boulevard (2005) created an entirely new musical genre when he married a combination of retro and modern surf music to the sound of a Hawaiian steel guitar. While one might be hard pressed to describe Beach and Guitar as being related to the jazz world, Music from Beach Boulevard is less funky and allows you to lay your head back, close your eyes, taste the salt in the air, warm sand beneath your feet, and hear the waves lapping at the rocks.
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.
During my recent conversation with him, he talked about the opportunity to work with Soul Jump, a San Diego-based band (where Coffman lives). "Few people outside of Hip Hop or a European dance or trance community would even know about (them). They would come into the studio and do experimental music. They would bring in noise CDs and they would do noise. What I love about what they do is their experimentation. They just allow whatever is inside at the moment, whatever their fingers, their heart or their mind was saying to come out," says Coffman. "They will pick up those pieces and turn it into some really nice things. Even though my style is nothing like that, the freedom of expression is something that has always been near and dear to my heart."
Coffman continues, "This may sound surprising but again 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.
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?"
Thinking that maybe he would share with me his magical 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," says Coffman, "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. If you are a smooth jazz enthusiast and that is all you want, it may not be the album for you. 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.
While making Beach and Guitar, Coffman enlisted the help of guitarist Paul Johnson. The legendary guitarist is best known as a member of the pioneer surfer music group Belairs, and later the Surfari's, who's song "Wipeout" features perhaps the best drum solo ever played. He married Johnson's grooves to the mellower sounds produced by Greg Sardinha's Hawaiian steel guitar. The result was a blend of wave crashing, surfer music and the lighter ambience of Waikiki.
Coffman also turned to the use of recording equipment and gear from the early sixties to achieve the sound he was looking for with both Beach and Guitar and Music from Beach Boulevard. "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."
By the time Music from Beach Boulevard rolled around (no pun intended!), Johnson and Sardinha were gone and Gary Brandin and Gordon Freitas were featured on Hawaiian steel guitar. In addition to Coffman and Da Luz, Matt Quilter, Billy Thompson and Don Strandberg appear playing guitar. Tony Patler mans the keys as he has on several of Coffman's CDs. Coffman raved about the contributions made by Patler saying, "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."
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.
As we were wrapping up our conversation, Coffman told me about one artist that he has worked with recently. He told me to keep an eye on vocalist Marchand Melcher. "She is a jazz singer. Her first album was mainly swing with some bossa novas. The one I am doing for her right now consists of standards, bossa novas and a little bit of swing. She has just an absolutely great voice. She is doing very well. She is getting some air time on the last album and I expect her to do well. She also speaks French fluently. Some of the songs are done in English and then at the end, she does them in French. She is one of the best jazz artists that I have heard in a long time."
Readers may remember Melcher from her 1992 recording Shining Star with the ill fated label, Time Is Records. She received high marks for her Latin influences with songs like "Contemplation" and "Night Of Life".