Dexter native Jeff Coffin has played sax and other horns with the Dave Matthews Band since 2008. Credit: Courtesy of Rodrigo Simas

Long before he made his name as a saxophone player in both his own projects and as a member of the Dave Matthews Band, Jeff Coffin was a 9-year-old kid in Dexter, Maine, trying to pick out which instrument he was going to play in elementary school band.

“At first I really wanted to play drums, but I think my parents were like silently praying that would not happen,” said Coffin, who will perform with the Dave Matthews Band this Friday at the Maine Savings Amphitheatre in Bangor. “I think the saxophone chose me more than anything. I remember I brought it home and opened the case and saw just so many things — the ligature, all the keys, the accessories. I shut the case. It was a lot of stuff.”

Coffin was born in Massachusetts but lived in Dexter throughout his elementary and middle school years, before attending high school and college in New Hampshire. It was in Dexter that he figured out that music would be his career, under the tutelage of Dexter music teacher Arthur Legasse, a longtime area music educator and bandleader.

“Arthur always really encouraged me to find my own voice and improvise,” Coffin said. “I think from the get go I was always drawn to find my own melodies.”

By the early 1990s, Coffin had settled in Nashville, Tennessee, where he quickly became an in-demand studio musician. He returned to Maine regularly, teaching at Maine Jazz Camp at the University of Maine at Farmington and playing gigs with longtime Maine jazz drummer and composer, Steve Grover. In 1997, Coffin joined legendary bluegrass-jazz fusion ensemble Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. He remained with that band for more than a decade before leaving in 2008.

That same year, Coffin got a phone call that would change his life. LeRoi Moore, multi-instrumentalist for the Dave Matthews Band, was involved in a serious ATV crash, and the band needed someone to fill in for him on its 2008 tour.

Coffin essentially dropped everything, got his horns together, met with Matthews and the rest of the band and within a few days was ready to tour. Nearly overnight, he was playing 30,000-seat venues with one of the most popular touring bands of all time.

Sax player and Dexter native Jeff Coffin (far right) has since 2009 been a member of the Dave Matthews Band. Credit: Courtesy of Sanjay Suchak

Though Coffin originally intended to only join the Dave Matthews Band temporarily, Moore tragically succumbed to his injuries and died in August 2008. The following year, Coffin joined the band permanently. He has played on the four albums that the band has since released, including “Walk Around the Moon,” the band’s 10th album, released on May 19 of this year and for which Coffin co-wrote six songs.

“This is the sort of thing that I think most musicians dream about, and I am very, very lucky to be able to travel around the world and play for thousands of people,” Coffin said. “For me, the most rewarding thing is all the community around it.”

When Coffin isn’t on tour, he teaches in the music school at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Education is his other main passion, and he has led jazz master classes at high schools all over the country and in Maine, including at both Dexter High School and Nokomis Regional High School.

He has also released 12 albums as a leader or co-leader of various projects, including with the Mu’Tet, his ever-changing ensemble of players, and has contributed to albums from the likes of David Crosby, Cage the Elephant, Umphrey’s McGee and many others.

With the Dave Matthews Band, Coffin spends about half the year on the road. He said that other than the joy of making music each night with a band and crew as warm and generous as the one he’s with, he also relishes the chance to see the country — and to visit one of his home states.

“There’s always that nostalgia kick, coming up the road to Bangor,” Coffin said. “I really love the opportunity to come back to a place that feels like home, whatever chance I get.”

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.