Matthew Garrison: Core Matter

Ian Patterson By

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AAJ: Turning back to Shapeshifter Live 2010, was this recorded in front of a live audience?

MG: We did three takes: one before the audience came, another with the audience, though we had some technical glitches [laughs] and couldn't use that, and a third when the audience had left. And actually, we used the third take.

AAJ: You draw from a very large musical palette on Shapeshifter Live 2010. Musically, your motto seems to be "anything goes."

MG: There you go, absolutely. There are just so many things that we enjoy—that I personally enjoy and that I'd rather not leave out. Sometimes it's too much, but I'd rather have that and try as many things as I can.

AAJ: The opening track, "Life Burning," sounds like a cross between [guitarist] Jimi Hendrix playing that tortured "Star Spangled Banner" he did at Woodstock, and the Prodigy. What's the inspiration behind this track?

MG: Oh yeah, totally. The inspiration was that I was torn up about the bullshit going on in Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan and the problems we had in this country. I kept on seeing these images of people burning. People burning was the image in my head.

AAJ: The CD plays like a continual 50-minute piece of music. Is that how you performed it?

MG: Yeah, we played it as one 55-minute piece. It's always open to modification, and the great thing is that as we get new technology, we can add new elements and really start expanding the way the performance is presented. But it also allows the organic side to come through, and we can interact with the pre- programmed stuff in a very free, improvisational manner.

AAJ: There's a very natural ebb and flow to the music. Was the order of the pieces something that you labored a lot over, and if you played it again in a similar setting, would you play around with the order?

MG: I think the order is pretty important just for the sake of organization. As a performance like that develops, I have to be able to understand what I have to do next. But because it's computer based, it really takes nothing to go in and change the order around even before a show starts.

AAJ: The music is highly urban sounding and highly contemporary and there seems to be a thread of spacey sounds running through the music. Is sci-fi an influence on you?

MG: Oh, totally, man [laughs]. I insist on seeing the really big sci-fi movies at a really good theater. I'm really fond of going with a trio or a quartet, and we play somebody's tune or a standard. I love that, but there's some limitation to that, especially considering all the options we have working with computers, which I've been doing for years. As much as I love the emotional impact that exists between musicians, that can have its own limitations in terms of having to satisfy each other, and I'd rather feel like I'm sitting in the audience sometimes. I'd rather focus more on the sonic presentation of the music. If it's a small jazz club and the audience is one foot away that's great, you just go and play, but if we do a larger performance, then I want to present it almost as if it were a movie. I'd rather focus more on the sonic presentation of the music.

AAJ: You've spent a number of years designing and creating your website. How satisfied are you with where it's at?

MG: I feel right now like the website is too one-dimensional. I present something to you, and then you deal with what's there: you listen to it, you download it or you learn from a little lesson. What we want to do is make certain sections of the website more interactive. I'd like to record a tune, leaving spaces open for solos, and I'll record different musicians doing solos and people will be able to select who they want to hear soloing over that track. A lot of the musicians I've worked with over the years are going to come and help in that process. We want people to enjoy it but to be in control of it too.

AAJ: Apart from all the lessons you offer on your website, from bass playing to composition and improvisation, you also interview musicians and showcase musicians, and the first feature on a musician was on your father [bassist] Jimmy Garrison what have you learned from listening to his playing?

MG: Oh man, that music is so passionate. My experience has probably been more emotional than technical. I tried to see how my father was dealing with his life and how that expressed itself in his music. His bass playing is tremendously deep; I love listening to it, and I'll listen to it anytime. Then I listen to the music and try to understand what they were doing and what it meant to them. The passion for what they were doing was limitless. It's uplifting. That transcends genre, time and race. That's what I've been trying to do as a musician, and I've noticed during my career that, unfortunately, all of those limitations still exist. Personally, I've tried to stay away from things that will limit my expression. I'm not into the whole race thing, and it still exists, man. It's total bullshit. I just want to get to the core of what it means to make music.

AAJ: Your father was the only musician who stayed with (saxophonist) John Coltrane until the very end...

MG: Kicking and screaming, I might add [laughs]. From what I understand, he really tried to get 'Trane to go back.

Matthew Garrison, performing with Human Element at the 2010 New Universe Music Festival

AAJ: That's interesting, because in most histories or biographies of Coltrane, not much space is given to the wilder, avant-garde stuff Coltrane was playing, towards the end. It's almost as Coltrane died after A Love Supreme (Impulse! 1965). Listening to your father playing on those latter records, how do you feel about that music?

MG: 'Trane at that period of time—even though he had stopped drinking and smoking, he was dropping a lot of acid. Interstellar Space (Impulse! 1974) was a big acid trip, man. When I listen to those records, some of it is kind of hard to deal with, but man, I love it. Some of it is out to lunch, but that was what he had to do and the phase he needed to be in. I think it's just fantastic. I've got almost all of those recordings.

AAJ: Do you feel a significant change in your father's playing on those latter Coltrane records?

MG: Yeah, definitely. I think he was keeping in synch with where Coltrane was going. As experimental as those cats were, [drummer] Elvin [Jones] and [pianist] McCoy [Tyner]—they couldn't deal with the weird transgression of the rules that they had imposed. But Coltrane and Jimmy were open to seeing where this was going. What's next? That's the beauty. That's music for me. Forget classification, which doesn't mean shit anymore—it does only to sell music but we all know that it doesn't. It's about: where are we going? What can we do? How can we make this happen? If we have to drop some acid, let's drop some acid. If we have to play to our Lord, let's play to our Lord [laughs].

AAJ: Your father taught at Wesleyan and Bennington colleges. Have you heard much from former students of his as to what kind of a teacher he was?

MG: Completely, man. It's amazing, especially with the advent of MySpace, Facebook and so on—these people are just popping up everywhere. It's incredible to hear some of these stories. I'm going to write them down because, for some of these people, to some degree, they felt like it was a life-changing experience for them.

AAJ: You're something of a musical chameleon, and apart from performing with some of the biggest names in jazz of the last 40 years, you are happy to play in diverse settings like, for example, with Whitney Houston. One guy you've played and recorded with, who is maybe not so well known, at least in America, is [guitarist] Pino Danielle. Amazingly, he only played in America for the first time ever in 2010.

MG: I know. Incredible, huh? The funny thing is he's been here many times, recording and hanging out, but he never did an official performance. For Pino, the conditions have to be right, and everything has to be in place. He's totally justified, and I am the same way. That's probably why it took so long. I love the fact that he did it at the Apollo Theater, because his connection to African-American music is unquestionable, although it ended up being just all Italians in the audience [laughs]. That was quite a night, man. It was crazy. I've never seen the Apollo Theater that crazy. Pino is a fucking legend. He's an icon.

AAJ: In Italy, he's pretty much idolized, as you know.

MG: Oh my God! [Laughs.] I grew up listening to his music because I was in Italy all those years, and I actually met him on the day when he did his first major performance, when there were over 100,000 people. Somehow, I ended up on the stage with these guys. My mum was there, and we met Pino. That was just after his first major release came out, and people went crazy. Then 30 years later, they were going to celebrate that day and I get an e-mail from his management saying he wanted me to play with him at this festival to celebrate the 30th anniversary of that show. You couldn't get any more out to lunch than that. There I was in front of sixty- or seventy-thousand people in Naples, man.

What was interesting was that when I first started playing with him, he was playing with a pick, but he's modified that and started playing just with his fingers because he was really inspired by [guitarist] Jeff Beck's sound. He asked me a lot about my technique as well, so maybe there's a little of my influence in there as well.

AAJ: Winding up here, you have a recording project which will be released one track at a time, over 12 months. What's the thinking behind that?

AAJ: Yeah. Every month there'll be a new tune, and some of them will show up on Shapeshifter Live Part Two. Just as people don't want to be limited to having to download an entire CD of music, I want to be able to put a tune out here, play live there, videotape this, put a tune out there; I want to have that same freedom. I also like the idea that every month I have to put out something fresh, forcing the composer to write music that is new.

Selected Discography

Matthew Garrison, Shapeshifter Live 2010 Part 1 (GJP, 2010)

Ranjit Barot, Bada Boom (Abstract Logix, 2010)

Pino Daniele, Boogie Boogie Man (Sony, 2010)

Terri Lyne Carrington, More to Say (Koch Records, 2009)

Alex Machacek, Jeff Sipe, Matthew Garrison, Improvision (Abstract Logix, 2007)

John McLaughlin, Industrial Zen (Verve, 2006)

Wallace Roney, Mystikal (Highnote Records, 2005)

Gary Husband's Force Majeur, Live at The Queen Elizabeth Hall, London [DVD] (RSJ Groove, 2005)

Matthew Garrison, Shapeshifter (GJP, 2004)

Matthew Garrison, Matt Garrison Live (GJP, 2004)

Dennis Chambers, Outbreak (ESC, 2002)

Herbie Hancock, Future 2 Future Live [DVD] (Transparent Music, 2002)
Matthew Garrison, Matthew Garrison (GJP, 2001)

John McLaughlin, The Heart of Things, Live in Paris (Verve, 2000)

Jim Beard, Advocate (ESC, 1999)

John McLaughlin, The Heart of Things (Verve, 1997)

Steve Coleman, Def Trance Beat (Novus, 1997)

Joe Zawinul, My People (ESC, 1996)

Bob Moses, Time Stood Still (Gramavision, 1994)

Photo Credits

Pages 1, 4: John Kelman
Pages 2, 3: Fortuna Sung
About Matthew Garrison
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