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Matt Wilson: Have Drums, Will Travel

By Published: February 13, 2012
AAJ: Let's dig into Arts & Crafts a little more. What can you tell us about the title of your new record, An Attitude for Gratitude (Palmetto, 2012)? What does that mean to you? It seems a little serious.

MW: It's a little serious. My wife and I have been married 25 years this July. She was tired, and something was going on. I could tell back in October of 2010, before I was going on a trip. There were blood tests for her, and you have to have a transfusion when certain cells are low, so she called me the next day and said, "They are transferring me to the North Shore Hospital." I flew home, and she was diagnosed with leukemia. She was in the hospital for a month, got into remission, came home, and then we were here home for the holidays. She had to go back in for another maintenance visit, and then she was able to find a bone-marrow match. So she had a bone-marrow transplant March 15th, and she is doing very well. She is actually going to go back to teach at the end of the month. So part of it was, man, you find out how hip people really are. Sometimes it's unfortunate that you have to have these situations to find out how great human beings really are, but they are really great, and they will really go to bat for you. I mean, our families, our music community, our community out in Long Island—you know, everybody.

We go to this little, hip Presbyterian Church, and one day the Minister said something about the "attitude for gratitude," or something like that. I think we have to, in general, be more grateful for things. When you have to go through something like that, and I don't want to sound melodramatic and cliché, but you really do take a different kind of philosophy about things a little bit. It helps you in a lot of ways, and it also scares you in other ways. You know, you find out how vulnerable things really are. So on one end you are energized and the other, I have to honestly admit, sometimes you are, like, "What's around the corner for any of us?" I don't want to try to be preachy; I am not on a movement, though I think it is a nice, positive thing. I don't think there is anything wrong with people trying to feel that way.

AAJ: How did the loss of Dennis Irwin impact the record?

MW: That was hard. I haven't really talked about it yet, but he was there from the get-go, and we only subbed out maybe a couple of times, where Martin played. At the same time that we knew about Dennis' situation was when Andrew D'Angelo, the alto player in the Quartet, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. So I had two different guys in two different bands of mine facing these pretty perilous situations, and it was really a hard thing. One day, I went to take Dennis to a treatment. I bring him back to his place, and then I went back to see Andrew, without telling either one of them.

AAJ: That's a lot of life.

MW: It's a lot of life. I have triplet sons, and when they were born back in 2001, I had this woe, it would be, like, "Oh, my career is over." Actually, that brought incredible luck, in that there are all these tests along the way. Some of them were pretty big. I just learned to try my best and learn to accept things. It is not always easy as that. It is not always easy to accept, so lightheartedness sometimes is there a lot of times, and sometimes it is kind of like woe. My kids are great. My kids are incredible. I am not just bragging. They are incredible, and they have been strong through the whole thing. They know the music community, too, and see how important it is to me, and they know how important it is to them. They have met, and they know, all the guys.

My daughter loves Charlie Haden, for example. It is kind of cool to know that they have had these kinds of experiences. Not to say it is any better or any worse than any other kid's situation, but it is a nice situation for them to be in. What is a great thing about New York for me is that—as opposed to what many people may think, especially outside of the music community—is that they probably think, "Oh it's really cutthroat." Actually, I think it is probably one of the most amiable scenes in the world.

We are all in the same boat, in a way. We are all playing jazz and support each other— even just little notes from people just saying "We're here" was really inspiring, and people checking in and everything like that and being really flexible with my schedule last year. I didn't want to bring it to light too much. But you know what? I knew it was a cause for something. The best way I know how to celebrate something is with music or with a group of musicians. This record was a way of saying thanks to some people: a big thank-you note, in a way, a sonic thank-you note.

AAJ: How do you go about choosing the repertoire, and how do you decide which projects are going to get which songs?

MW: There are a few different ways. There are tunes that I store that I want to do in general, and there are ones that I write specifically for a project or group of players.

On An Attitude for Gratitude, I wanted to have the guys contribute, so it was nice to have Gary's tune ["Poster Boy"] and Martin's tune ["Cruise Blues"]. We have been playing Martin's tune for a while in the band. Then "Happy Days Are Here Again" I heard on the radio one day when I was driving my daughter last summer, and it was Barbra Streisand
Barbra Streisand
Barbra Streisand
singing. I thought, "Oh, we've got to do that!" Johnny Cash's version of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" was a real inspiration.

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