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Interviews

Matthew Charles Heulitt: Sonic Magician

By Published: September 28, 2010
AAJ: Would you recommend the formal university education you had to aspiring young musicians, or is there a better path to self discovery/development, musically speaking?



MCH: I think it depends on the person. Some folks do very poorly—especially artistically minded folks—with the structure of school. If that's the case, I'd say seek out the musicians that really inspire you and go study with them. On the other hand, there's certainly something to be said for being a literate musician, which is becoming a rarity these days. School at least provides you with some structure and an opportunity to study in depth. Its pitfalls are that—especially in the jazz realm—you will be taught more about tradition, swing, bebop, et cetera, than you will about the art of improvisation and finding your own voice, which is the true essence of jazz, in my opinion.

AAJ: Were you doing many live gigs in this period? Some would say that the best schooling is on stage—would you go along with that?

MCH: There wasn't much of a gig scene to speak of in Miami at that time. I played in cover bands to make a little money. Most of the playing occurred on campus. We played all day and all night. There was an amazing collection of talented students there at that time that were all writing original music, listening, and jamming at all hours of the night. So to say onstage, I think, really means to play all the time. This was a singular experience for me—to have the opportunity to be creative and play all day and all night for three years with very talented and creative people.

AAJ: You've certainly done plenty of gigging with highly talented musicians over the years, and you've played with Zigaboo Modeliste for over ten years. What's it like playing in his band?

MCH: Zigaboo is a guru of rhythm. My work with him has not been unlike that of apprenticing a sorcerer. The amount of groove, soul, and fire that man produces from behind the drum kit was, for a long time, very intimidating to me. It's only been in the past few years that I've felt like I've had the confidence to really offer something of value. I feel like what he does is not only singular, but somewhat of a dying art form. The funk—the real funk—is so rarely heard. It needs a level of soul, selflessness, and sincerity that transcends technique and ego. This is what I feel like my challenge is in playing with Zig, and there are few things in life that are more inspiring. There is a ton of freedom in the band because it's all about the vibe, the feeling, and the need to be as bad-ass as possible in every moment.

AAJ: You also play in Narada Michael Walden's band. Have you learned something different about music and your approach to music making by being in bands led by drummers/percussionists?

MCH: I suppose that because it's my belief that rhythm and time are the most important aspects of music is maybe why I've been attracted to working with such great drummers in my career. It is essential in the task of creating great music. Narada has also taken me under his wing as somewhat of a spiritual advisor. He lectures me at each performance to play like I've never played before and to reach heights that I never thought imaginable. That message in general is of utmost importance, and to hear it directly from the mouth of a drummer I listened to as a teenager with wide eyes is beyond inspiring. His belief in my greatness is tangible and his performances behind the kit are transcendent.

Perhaps the greatest lesson I've learned from Narada is that there is no time and no excuse for mediocrity.

Jeff Beck
Jeff Beck
Jeff Beck
b.1944
guitar
and The Mahavishnu Orchestra. It's always amazing. The gigs I've had with Narada are always epic on so many levels.

AAJ: Coming back to Room to Run, your approach to composition and the moods you create express a sensitivity reminiscent of Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
, especially in "100 Years Ocean." How much of an influence is Frisell on you?

MCH: Frisell is an influence, but I think it's important to make a distinction about how that occurs for me. It's not that I've ever wanted to just replicate something I've heard by Frisell or any other musician, but rather that he's doing something that I relate to, and I feel inspired or encouraged to honor that voice within myself. David Torn
David Torn
David Torn
b.1953
guitar
is another guitarist that inspires me in a similar way. When I hear a musician going to that hauntingly beautiful textural place and doing it really well, I'm reminded of how powerful it is and, in some way, that I have a responsibility to share it. I'm drawn towards meditative music in general—I love electronic music and trance, and I think it serves a purpose on a CD. It cleanses the musical palate, as it were.

AAJ: "Never Present" echoes electronic-era Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
. Is that a fair comment? If so, is this a period of Miles which you particularly like?

MCH: Yes, for sure. The rock elements along with the Wurli always stir those '60s-'70s Miles impressions. To be exact, this song was more of a nod to Chris Potter
Chris Potter
Chris Potter
b.1971
reeds
, but the instrumentation and edginess of it are certainly Miles- influenced. I adore all eras of Miles, but certainly my favorite is anything of the classic quintet from the mid-'60s through the '70s. The sound of the electric piano in jazz certainly began with Miles' experimentations in that era, and I've always loved it. There was a Wurli in the studio and Kit played beautifully on it. He really understands that era of music and interprets it in his own unique way.


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