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Matthew Garrison: Core Matter

Ian Patterson By

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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?

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