Matthew Charles Heulitt: Sonic Magician

Ian Patterson By

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Guitarist/composer Matthew Charles Heulitt has been around for a while, gigging for over a decade in drumming master Zigaboo Modeliste's funk band. Heulitt is also a member of ex-Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer Narada Michael Walden's band; it is therefore no surprise that he displays an acute rhythmic sense in his playing. In fact, Heulitt's approach to the guitar stems from the way he hears other instruments; he adapts the agility of the piano and horns into his playing, and his tone and touch are influenced by the soulfulness of wind instruments. His debut recording as leader, Room to Run (Self Produced, 2009), is an excellent showcase of his talents as a versatile guitarist of uncommon sensibility—exploring material from jazz to rock, folk and ambient— and as a composer of maturity and imagination.

Not one to throw all his eggs in one basket, Heulitt also plays in Bay Area sensation, Moetar, whose joyous pop/prog-rock, avant-garde, improvisational gumbo- extraordinaire sounds like Yes meets Frank Zappa meets Chumbawumba. Its exhilarating debut recording, From These Small Seeds (Self Produced, 2010), makes the bold claim that the marriage between great pop and outstanding musicianship can both entertain and challenge the listener at the same time.

Matthew Charles Heulitt is clearly a musician with an open mind and one who refuses to be restricted by the limits of simplistic categorization. Possessing a deep knowledge and respect for the music of the past, Heulitt's focus is, nevertheless, very much forward-looking.

All About Jazz: You'd been playing professionally for a decade before you recorded your debut as leader, Room to Run. In hindsight, do you wish you had recorded earlier in your career or are you glad you waited, to gain the experience and maturity?

Matthew Charles Heulitt: It's a little of both. I'm glad I waited until I had a clear vision of the kind of record I wanted to make, but in the studio I wished that I had had more experience recording my own material. I had enough studio experience to be comfortable in that environment and play well without getting distracted, but I realized I had a lot to learn about the production and flow of recording a large amount of music. Of course, in the end, I had many realizations of how I could have approached things differently and whatnot, but overall it worked because I had clarity about the kind of recording I wanted to make.

AAJ:The interaction between yourself, bassist Don Feizil and drummer Jon Arkin is appreciably tight. Have you guys played together for long?

MCH: We began playing together at the University of Miami in 1995, and the chemistry was evident from the beginning. Part of it, for me, is just that Jon and Dan are such sensitive players and are always 100 percent devoted to the music. I feel like I can do no wrong with them and that music is always being made regardless of how I'm feeling on any given day. We've played together in all kinds of situations and it's just strengthened the unspoken communications that bring about the possibility of magic happening. The three of us did an instrumental rock EP a few years ago called NOIS that couldn't have been more different from Room To Run, and yet it felt just as natural.

AAJ: Prior to studying in Miami you were at DePaul and Wayne State University. What did you study?

MCH: At DePaul I mostly studied how to write papers. The jazz program at that school turned out to be a bit of an afterthought. The best part was my teacher Bob Palmieri, who schooled me in the ways of tone, phrasing, and target notes. He was an amazing mentor. He also got me into the University of Miami.

At Wayne State University I studied with saxophonist Chris Collins, who was steeped in the Jerry Bergonzi technique of tetra-chord improvisation and ear training. I also had a steady three-night-a-week jazz gig in downtown Detroit, where I was schooled by players much better than I.

AAJ: You spent three years studying jazz guitar and studio music at the University of Miami. How important was this period of study in your development as a musician/composer?

MCH: I think any jazz program can offer a musician a great overview of what his life's work is. Miami did a fantastic job, and I scratched the surface as much as I could. My one-on-one lessons with guitarist Randall Dollohan were crucial to becoming the most educated and versatile guitarist possible. He is a teacher who teaches you how to learn. My workload with him was typically insurmountable, and as a result I learned a tremendous amount of material in a short time. In addition to that I was writing/arranging for big bands, playing piano, playing in ensembles—big bands, vocal ensembles, ECM-type ensembles, Tower of Power-style fusion, avant-garde, et cetera—steeped in improvisation courses, writing in the style of Bach, and attending concerts and master classes weekly. It was total immersion, which is never a bad thing.


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