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Interviews

Matthew Charles Heulitt: Sonic Magician

By Published: September 28, 2010
AAJ: You switch to acoustic guitar on "Clearing." Do you have a preference for either acoustic or electric guitar, or is it like asking a parent which son or daughter is more special?

MCH: Well, yes, I love them both. If you compare how much time I spend playing each one, there's no denying that I'm an electric guitarist. The acoustic guitar has such a beautiful timbre for jazz and offers a nice tonal change in the midst of a guitar album. I always loved the Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
b.1954
guitar
and Kevin Eubanks
Kevin Eubanks
Kevin Eubanks
b.1957
guitar
records with acoustic guitars on them. I also love the simplicity of having an all-acoustic ensemble.

AAJ: A really beautiful tune is "Fountain of Worth," where the tabla playing of Bryan Bowman really brings a nice dimension to the music. Did you imagine tabla from the beginning or did it suggest itself to you later in the compositional process?

MCH: I use various tools for composition, and this song was written using Reason. I put a tabla loop over the bass line and it brought a meditative quality to the tune. I knew that if I recorded it, it had to retain that feeling. Bryan Bowman and I had been playing together a lot during this time as a guitar/tabla duo. Ultimately, I would love to do a dedicated recording of that music, but at the least I wanted to have Bryan play on the record, and this song was the obvious choice.

AAJ: You've mentioned Frisell, Metheny, Eubanks and Torn as influences in one way or another, and another guitarist who you turned to for advice was Wayne Krantz
Wayne Krantz
Wayne Krantz
b.1956
guitar
. What did you learn from him?

MCH: Wayne has an amazing and beautifully thought-out method for opening the guitar up to actual improvisation. Most methods force you into patterns, shapes, and recyclable licks. When I first heard Wayne, I thought, "That's how I hear myself sounding...in another 20 years," in my own way, of course. But his voice is so unique, his touch of the guitar is intimate, and his timing is impeccable. He gave me some tools and ideas to think about that basically have become an unending source of material to work through and constantly generate fresh ideas ever since. I went to him because I felt stuck in my attempts to improvise and he offered a solution in less than 60 minutes.

His courage and tenacity to do his own thing and turn away from his influences has been a major inspiration for me to do the same. Plus, he's just an incredibly nice and thoughtful person and, amazingly, always remembers me when I show up at his gigs every couple of years.

AAJ: In your bio you mention quite a few horn players and pianists as major influences, among them Michael Brecker
Michael Brecker
Michael Brecker
1949 - 2007
sax, tenor
, Tim Berne
Tim Berne
Tim Berne
b.1954
saxophone
, Charlie Peacock
Charlie Peacock
Charlie Peacock
b.1956
piano
, and Esbjorn Svensson
Esbjorn Svensson
Esbjorn Svensson
1964 - 2008
piano
. How do you think your love of horn players and pianists has affected your guitar playing style?

MCH:I like the freedom and agility of pianists and horn players that is so rarely achieved on the guitar. They can simply play things that are oftentimes not executable on the guitar, and I think that's fresh and exciting. The guitar is limited by its layout, which is a blessing and a curse. I've always tried to approach the guitar with that same kind of freshness and agility that I hear in other instruments. There's also a kind of soul in wind instruments; the fact that the notes are created by your breath is so visceral and intimate. I've always tried to recreate that feeling with tone and touch.

AAJ: Have you been gigging much to promote Room to Run? How difficult is it to get gigs to perform your own music?

MCH: The live music scene today is not about what you play, but how many people can you bring into a venue to buy drinks. It's a little discouraging, but given the proper venue, good things can still happen. Because I'm so involved in so many different projects I don't play and/or promote this music as much as I'd like to. It's a work in progress, though, and as with all good things, it just takes a little time. Ideally I'd love to travel a bit because I think the audience in America is generally not tuned into creative jazz. Europe is much more receptive to such things, and I'll be looking for opportunities to bring it there.

AAJ: Do you get more satisfaction from composing or from performance?



MCH: They both ultimately end you up in the same place—self expression. We all have an innate need to express ourselves, to do what it is we came here to do. I feel like I was given an ability to give a voice to the spirit of music. We are so about ownership in this culture, and I inherently disagree with the idea that music that I play or compose is mine. It simply is, and when I have one of those fleeting moments where I feel like I've honored the spirit of music and been as honest as I can be about allowing that to flow through me, I feel completely content, radiant, grateful and inspired. It's always mysterious as to when and where those perfect moments happen, but the fact that they exist make all the lesser moments worthwhile.


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