Matt Shulman: The Next Big Thing


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We are doing our art and we are doing what feels right. We are out there doing our best to resonate on a high frequency and bring this music that we feel is important to people.
Trumpeter Matt Shulman has been hailed by The New York Times as, "A new voice from jazz's emerging generation. His style is thought by cohorts of fans to be an amalgamation of Miles Davis and Radiohead. He is an up-and-coming virtuoso, comparable to a modern day Chet Baker with a far-seeing vision. Down Beat Magazine has called his signature sound, "Zen-like, a sound which consists of sincere, intimate vocals and ethereal multiphonics. His approach to the trumpet is one of a pioneer.

Classically trained by Mark Gould of New York's Julliard School, he made his debut as a featured guest soloist with the New York Pops Orchestra in 2002, and was named Jazz Artist of the Year in 2003 at the Independent Music Awards. His influences include legendary jazz greats and many genres of modern day music; which have clearly resulted in the successful creation of an exclusively original sound. Apart from reinventing the notion of what sound we can expect to hear from a trumpeter, he is making strides as an inventor. He developed the ShulmanSystem for the trumpet, a device for eliminating damaging embouchure pressure and body tension. His system is endorsed by his peers.

Katrina-Kasey Wheeler caught up with the innovator to discuss his sound and his release, So It Goes (Jaggo/Universal, 2007).

All About Jazz: You were born into a musical family.

Matt Shulman: Yes, my dad plays the violin and my mother plays the piano; they are both classical musicians. I started on their instruments at an early age of around three or four. There was a baritone horn in the house for some reason which is kind of like a small tuba or a huge trumpet; I played that in the fourth and fifth grade. At twelve years old, I switched to the trumpet. It just seemed like a more fun instrument and fit my personality a little more. I could play it very well right away, so I took to it naturally.

AAJ: Other than your classical influences, who were your sources of inspiration?

MS: Well there are always the obvious influences; Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Clifford Brown. I also got into Blue Mitchell once I went to music school; I went to the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio and I really got into his symmetrical, logical approach to melody, and that was great for me. I was also listening to pop music too, early on like Peter Gabriel and Sting. I also remember checking out AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Doors, a lot of stuff like that which also influenced me.

AAJ: You sing on your songs now, did you sing at all growing up?

MS: I actually did sing. The first song that I ever really wrote and performed was in high school and I wrote the song and arranged it for the high school big band. I ended up playing most of the piano part and singing the lyrics, and I had a flugelhorn player play the melody along with my voice. I then got up and took a trumpet solo, so there were definitely the beginnings of the style that I have kind of come into my own with now.

When I went to music school, I went along with the curriculum that a lot of the jazz schools had established, which was to learn straight-ahead jazz. When I moved to New York I was definitely deep into that scene for awhile, getting calls to do a lot of that stuff, and some commercial stuff as well. I got a call to play in the house band for Saturday Night Live. Skitch Henderson was running the New York Pops Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. He had heard me and had me solo with the Pops Orchestra. That was a great experience.

I have been expanding and evolving pretty much non-stop. The music conservatory years were great for studying music and then you move to a city and live life and you start to have experiences and you continue to expand and grow. I feel that the singing is kind of a crossover thing that I have gotten to, where I am playing jazz with sort of a hybrid feel with some alternative rock and singer/songwriter influences. It is really a turn from my initial impetus, as it is an evolution.

AAJ: Well I would say it is an inspired turn; your music is unquestionably unique. How did you come to play the trumpet and sing simultaneously?

MS: That is something that not many trumpet players do at all. Some trombone players have done it over the years. One player known in the brass community is Albert Mangelsdorf. He is kind of an obscure, European, avant-garde trombone player. There is a little more room in the mouthpiece and in the tubing, also you can sing with your normal voice and it matches the octave with the trombone.

But the trumpet is a higher pitch and it is a smaller instrument, with a smaller amount of room in the mouthpiece. It takes a lot of control to finagle both the vibrational impulses of the trumpet and singing through the horn at the same time, so I think that is a challenge. It depends on the pitch one wants; I use a falsetto voice and that blends really well with the instrument. A trombone friend of mine showed me the technique when we were on tour when he was using the technique, and I said, "Wow that is interesting! And he said, "Yeah, I wonder what would happen if you used the high voice with the trumpet. I did it and it was really cool, I kind of got this pop!

People who I have seen use it do it, and it is sometimes almost gimmicky, but I have really taken to it and approached it by using it as an accompaniment. Every time I use it, it is a real chord. You can analyze it in the structure of a chord progression, and it is a real chord that I am applying. It is pretty cool and fun. It has expanded my whole approach—I didn't want to play a regular single trumpet line; they are deeper now because I have this dual approach. I am definitely multi-dimensional now whereas I used to be sort of one-dimensional as a trumpet player.

AAJ: That is the natural progression and evolution of an artist. It is a great technique and a distinctive sound. How did you develop the ShulmanSystem for the trumpet? And for anyone unfamiliar with it, what exactly is it?

MS: The ShulmanSystem is essentially a device that I developed to create better posture, better breathing and less tension in the trumpeter and ultimately a more stable approach to the instrument. It is holding the trumpet in place for the player so he or she doesn't have to use their body tension and match the trumpet with their lips, like some trumpet players do and cut off the tone. It is an ergonomic approach to the trumpet.

A few things contributed to its creation. I played with the great pianist Kenny Werner, who just released a great record, Lawn Chair Society (Blue Note, 2007). He wrote a book that really made a lot of waves throughout the music world called Effortless Mastery (Jamey Aebersold, 1996). It is like the title implies—it is about becoming a master of your instrument and its music by applying the law of least effort. Through finding a very relaxed, centered space and working from there.

I was really getting into that while playing with him. I was on tour with the band and I did a lot of one-nighters, which can be tiring and challenging. I was seeing a woman at the time that had some experience with the Alexander Technique; so that, along with Kenny Werner's approach and the normal obstacles associated with playing the trumpet, all came together. So I decided to invent something in which to approach the trumpet in this way. I went into my father's woodshop in Vermont and told him that I had this idea. The first prototype looked pretty weird, but it worked! I got pretty excited and invested some time and energy into developing and refining it; and eventually patenting it. Word has spread throughout the trumpet community because it is the only item of its kind.

I am signed to Jaggo Records. It is a great label, it is a major independent label, it is independently owned but they distribute with major label distributions like Universal Music Group. They have great backing and great major label executive experience, it is really exciting. Now I am focusing full time on my recording and performing career.

AAJ: I think that is fantastic. What a wonderful contribution to the world of musicians.

MS: I think it well help a lot of people. I would love to market it to students. Right now it is used by experienced professionals and a few serious students here and there. I think that it can really work well as a beginner's tool, to get trumpeters off on the right foot.

AAJ: Absolutely, there are a lot of possibilities to promote it to various music programs.

MS: Yes it is very exciting. It is all just about getting more music out there. I invented it so that you can make more music, so that you can transcend the instrument.

AAJ: The New York Times has called you the voice of the new emerging jazz generation. Do you feel that way? There is definitely credence to this with the contribution that you are making with your invention, and the new sound that you are presenting through your music.

MS: You know what? Yes, that does resonate with me, for sure. It is interesting as an artist. How self-aware are we? We are doing our art and we are doing what feels right. We are out there doing our best to resonate on a high frequency and bring this music that we feel is important to people. Some people are able to step back and say, "Who am I? What do I look like? What do I appear like to the public?

I am able to do that, to step back and ask those questions. I can understand people telling me that my music is new; there are not many people doing multiphonics. I am doing this thing as a serious jazz trumpet player and I am also singing and have singer/songwriter influences, and alternative rock influences. I feel like it is sort of a Nu movement in jazz. Like The Bad Plus; they are my generation, I have played with a couple of those guys and they are my buddies. We all sort of came up together here in New York. It is an approach where we are taking all those early pop influences, and what is really happening today—the real emotional impulse of now and incorporating it with jazz.

So I feel that yes, I am doing it in a different way. I feel that I am just beginning to rediscover that for myself. This record, So It Goes is great. I also have a lot of new material for the next record which will be even more in that direction.

AAJ: You are definitely doing something right. To have your peers such as saxophonist Branford Marsalis say that your music is "Swinging! —that is such an accomplishment in itself, to be respected by your peers for your musicianship and your artistic vision. Your music has an esoteric nuance to it. When one listens to your music it does speak to your inner intuitive self, there is something insightful to it.

MS: Music serves a lot of different purposes. There is music that is just for festivals or celebrating. That has been a societal function of music for many years, people getting together and dancing. But, the music that I'm into, and I'm into all of it, but lately, I am into music where you can transcend the physical in a way and you really get in touch with your spirit. Like you said, it is kind of esoteric and ethereal. It is hard to talk about, but it is real and that is what a lot of that music is about; transcending the everyday trivial things and really enabling people to resonate on a higher frequency to help us all to evolve. I certainly hope that people feel that. I hope that it is not too abstract for them and that they really feel it and get it.

Selected Discography

Matt Shulman, So It Goes (Jaggo/Universal, 2007)
Matt Shulman, While We Sleep (ShulmanSystem, 2004)

Photo Credit
Courtesy of Matt Shulman's MySpace Page

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