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Matt Wilson: Have Drums, Will Travel

By Published: February 13, 2012
AAJ: In listening to your recordings as a leader, as in Arts & Crafts, that notion comes through and probably cannot be separated from the music. It comes through in the space or in the room that the other musicians seems to have.

MW: I always know that I am fortunate to have these people as friends, and they happen to be really great musicians. They are very special. For example, with Dennis Irwin
Dennis Irwin
Dennis Irwin
1951 - 2008
, who passed away and who was the original bassist in Arts & Crafts, if we could just spend five more minutes talking with Dennis—we wouldn't have to play with him again but just to have five more minutes of saying something—it would be really, really great. I think as you get older, you just have to realize these things too—a little bit about the vulnerability of things and how special it is to get to do this. I think sometimes we take it for granted. My buddy Andrew DAngelo, who played with the Quartet for a long time, we were just laughing the other day about the time that we were hanging sheetrock at the first house that my wife and I bought—and we were hanging it, and he's really great at this stuff, and I was holding this thing up over my head, and I am shaking and he's drilling to put the thing up, and we looked at each other—and he said, "Let's never complain when we are out on the road again, ever, because this is a drag."

We'll complain about: "Oh man, this hotel," or "Man, this food," but we get a chance to do this, and I never take that part of it for granted. That's why I like going and playing in different places. And sometimes there are a lot of people there and sometimes there's not. It's just the way it happens, but that has always been this way in this music; it's not like all places are always packed. It feels good to give some people an opportunity, an hour or so, to kind of leave what is going on and be taken up.

That is why being inclusive is such an important part of the band leading. I learned that from people. You have those people there because you know who to surround yourself with. Dewey Redman
Dewey Redman
Dewey Redman
sax, tenor
was a big mentor of mine, and I played with him for 12 years. He said, "You know, when you want to lead a band you pick people that you love to play with, and you pick songs, and you let them play." I know how to surround myself with good people, and I treat them well. Being a good band leader comes from learning what I have learned as a side-person, and I have learned a lot from being a band leader that makes me a better sideman. There is a sense of pride for me when someone in one of my bands can turn around and say to me, "Wow, that was so much fun." That, to me, is the ultimate compliment.

AAJ: Do you ever find that there are instances where you are not giving enough direction or a musician will yearn for more of it?

MW: Yeah, and you learn to sense that after a while. My philosophy is that you want to be able to, at any time, lead, follow or just get out of the way. Sometimes you've got to take charge. Somebody has got to, but sometimes you can't— you don't want to be the leader all the time, so it's give-and-take with all this. There are times you have to make decisions. I've made some good band decisions, I think, sometimes on the bandstand; sometimes I haven't, about tune choices or whatever. If people know that you are there for them, I think it makes a big difference. I have had some good role models for this, though. People have been very generous with me. Dewey said, "People sound their best when they play with me." I have written about this and talked about it a lot. At first I was taken aback, but that is a really great gift—to bring out the best in people and let them shine. And that goes beyond the bandstand. You know, it goes beyond everything.

We are in pretty naked territory when we are up there together, so you have a relationship with people, especially in improvised settings—naked in a good way, but naked you really are. If you are really vulnerable then that is when real magic happens. The word "careless," this word about "care": you want to care about things, but then there is "careful" and there is "careless" and there is "carefree;" I mean, there are all these ways in which "care" can be in these words. I don't want to be careful necessarily, though careless is not great in music, either. So there is a responsibility, and I think what is great about everybody I play with is that they have such good presence. They are so comfortable with themselves that they welcome new challenges- -and it is not necessarily challenges of really hard music that they have to figure out. It is more like a challenge of: how am I going to allow them, help them, or how are they going to allow themselves to offer and then receive. They are all great receivers; also, they are great allowers. When I have been around somebody like Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
or John Scofield
John Scofield
John Scofield
or Dewey, these guys just have a different energy about them that I really admire and I really want to be around and be a part of.

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