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Matt Wilson: Have Drums, Will Travel

By Published: February 13, 2012
AAJ: You see a lot with kids and music where you don't have to tell kids anything about the music. You just expose them to it, and it clicks for them— something there touches and resonates.

Trio M, from left: Mark Dresser, Myra Melford, Matt Wilson

MW: I think honesty is a big part of that, and also maybe they are more open listeners than anybody else. They will be cool with this project, so I am very excited about it. I have always been into playing for all ages, and that is something that I love about jazz. And it is often not talked about, but I don't think there is as diverse an age of crowd for any other music as there is at jazz shows. Where else can you find a high-school kid sitting next to somebody in their 70s, and they both like this music and they can talk about it during the break.

AAJ: Jazz is very similar to baseball, where you can go to a baseball game at any level of play—you can go to Yankee Stadium or you could go to a little league game or you could to a college game—and go as deep as you want. You can be a stat-head, you can know everything, or you can just dig sitting there and kind of taking in the atmosphere.

MW: That is really true. Dennis Irwin said the same exact thing as you just said. He said, "Well, it's like a baseball game. You could be sitting next to somebody that doesn't know anything that is going on, or the person next to him is going, 'Well, he is going to pitch it. He's going to throw a slider.' But there is still enjoyment whether somebody is really expert about it or not." So sometimes I think we want to educate people, but sometimes I think that gets them weirded out, too. As respectful as I am with the traditions and all this, and I am a firm believer in all that, we have to also make people feel that jazz is happening right now and not in the old days. There is such debate going on right now about all that in jazz.

AAJ: That's part of it, too, though. It's just like when people are talking about baseball: "The mound used to be higher," and "The ball used to be wound differently," et cetera. That's how you know it's alive and healthy—when there can be an orthodoxy and there can be heretics and there can be schools of thought. It's a sign of vibrancy, even when the debate itself is annoying.

MW: Oh, I think so. If there is anything about the older days, it was that the jazz players were more part of the community. They weren't just these people that came to town and: "Oh, their concert's here and then they are gone." It was: "They are staying for four nights; Let's have the [Jazz] Messengers over for dinner." Things like that.

Buster Williams and I talked about that, once. I think it's a really great topic of study about the bands that played those circuits and the houses they stayed in, and they left messages for each other, and they did all that stuff. They just knew that they were going out and playing these places. It's not going to be that way again, nor should it be, but maybe if we can start to create a little bit of this atmosphere of having more of a circuit in more towns, with shorter distances between... I really feel like what gets people into this music is when they get a chance to know some musicians. You can read about them and you can put stuff up on the internet or you can put YouTube clips and you can do this and that, but the minute they sit down and talk to cat, that creates a different kind of atmosphere. That is why I try to be as personable as possible out there—to try to help generate the feeling that we are not aliens or separate.

Again, its community. When we have had the opportunities to be in a certain town for a few days, doing workshops and a couple of concerts with any one of these bands, it's always fun because you get to see real people. One time, Arts & Crafts was playing in Alaska. It was Gary, Terrell, Dennis and I. We took a little plane from Juneau to this fishing village called Una, Alaska and we played a fishing cannery. It was great. It was turned into a little community center, and they had an electric piano. It's a town of about 1,000 people. There were 120 people at the concert. They hung on every note and just loved having anybody come play for them; they loved every second of it. We stayed; we did a thing at the school. When we were heading out of town, people were waving, and it was great. At one point, we were leaving the hotel, and the band director left me his truck to drive—I could drive it to the little airport because it was "three on the tree" and I knew how to drive it. So we were putting all the stuff in the back, and we see this truck drive by and then turn around and come back and we are, like, "Uh-oh," and the guy rolls down his window. He has his dog in the back, and he goes, "Fellas, that's the greatest thing that has happened to this town in 20 years," and it was great. They wouldn't know a Cannonball Adderley record from our ensemble, but they loved, loved this. They loved just having people come to them and play.

We didn't raise a fit like: "We can't play here. We said 7-foot grand piano; we have to have a 7-foot grand." You know what? There was no 7-foot grand to be had. It was an electric piano, and we dealt with it. We knew what the situation was, again improvising with the situation.

That was a really special one. I said to the folks, "We had a great time here. The only thing that would really cap this off is to see a bear." So we are driving back to town; they are driving us back on this gravel road. All of a sudden, all these cars are stopped, and we get out of the car to see what is happening, and someone says, "Hey, Mr. Wilson, your wish is granted," and there was this little yearling Grizzly that had come down this hill. We weren't that close, but close enough. I said, "Wow, that thing is big!" and they said, "Oh, that's nothing!" The police or the Sherriff came, shot a gun up in the air to scare it, and it went up a hill. The next day we took off. We were, like, "Well, this was a really deep experience."

So again, the experiences. We go out there and do it for the music. Benny Green
Benny Green
Benny Green
told me that with Ray Brown
Ray Brown
Ray Brown
1926 - 2002
bass, acoustic
, one day it was first class, the next it was in the van. One day you are at the Mandarin Oriental, one day you are at the whatever it is, but you are going out. We are going out and doing this. It is nice to have high standards and all that, but "No expectations, no disappointments."

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