Little by little, he picked up gigs, contacts and momentum, "playing with lots and lots of different people and gradually getting recommended for more and more stuff. It was a slow process." His skills and his musical intelligence gained recognition. The struggle eased. A decade or so ago Penman joined trombonist Nils Wogram
's Root 70 band that is still going on. (The band recently cut a new album and plans one with strings next year).
He's also done projects with Rosenwinkel, Kenny Werner
, Brad Mehldau
, Chris Cheek
, Mark Turner
, Guillermo Klein
, Nicholas Payton
and Madeleine Peyroux
. He performs with elite players and, like all good musicians, learns something at every stop, big or small.
"Playing with Scofield and Lovano, and seeing that level of commitment to improvisation, I would say, really drove the point home to me. Realizing that those guys are up there and they hear everything we do, every subtle change in the music, creates some kind of reaction from them. That kind of onstage dialog I just found so inspiring. Going out there and throwing down every night. I love it.
"I'm very blessed to be involved with such great people and people that are committed to creative music. When you spend so much time on the road, as we all do, you've got to be out there with people who you admire and that feed you and that you resonate with, and are good people. I feel really great at this stage of my life to be surrounded by great human beings, the kind of human beings I always wanted to hang out with. You've got to keep that life force flowing and keep the life and the music. We all try to inspire each other, I think. I feel very fortunate, for sure."
Playing improvisational music is dear to Penman's heart and is the primary path he intends to trod upon, with James Farm and elsewhere.
"It's about creating an energy flow. Not just on the stage, although on the stage it reaches this heightened art form. We're all directing energy and with improvisational music, especially, you have the chance to channel this stuff through the crowd and then through you, and throw it back. And when you really get it going, it's an incredible feeling. When you can feel the energy circling through you and through the people. You can see it in their eyes. You're really with them. They are a part of it too. That's what keeps you going, for sure," he says with absolute conviction.
"With this music, we have a chance to do that in a new way every night, or afternoon. With different people. Sometimes it doesn't happen. Then you have to adjust and say, 'How do I get the energy going now.' That's also part of the quest," he says. "People kind of look on the stage and say 'I wish I was a musician. I wish I could do that too.' But they are part of it as well. They're one part of the equation. Without the audience being with you, you're not going to get the flow going."
Penman's part of the equation is covered. He always holds up his part of the bargain.
James Farm, James Farm
, (Nonesuch, 2011)
Jonathan Kreisberg, Shadowless
(New For Now Music, 2011)
SFJAZZ Collective, Live 2010: 7th Annual Concert Tour (SFJAZZ, 2010)
Nils Wogram/Root 70, Root 70
(2nd Floor, 2009)
Matt Penman, Catch of the Day
(Fresh Sound New Talent, 2008)
Ari Hoenig, Bert's Playground
Aaron Parks, Invisible Cinema
(Blue Note, 2008)
Root 70, Heaps Dub
, (Nonplace, 2006)
Chris Cheek, Vine
(Fresh Sound, 2004)
Matt Penman, The Unquiet
(Fresh Sound New Talent, 2001) Photo Credits
Page 1: Courtesy of SFJAZZ
Page 2: Courtesy of Wilkins Management
Page 3: Cees van de Ven
Page 4: Alessandro Freguja, Courtesy of James Farm
Page 35 C. Andrew Hovan