Matthias Bublath: Getting Organized

Alan Bryson By

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AAJ: Hauling a B3 around to gigs is quite a chore, but a B3 and a piano — you don't really travel around with both do you?

MB: No, not really. You know, over here in Germany they usually rent an organ for me. In the States, there are lots of clubs that have organs. Like up in Harlem, they have that tradition so there are clubs that have a Hammond and it's great because you don't have to bring anything.

In Europe, they often have a great piano. And for emergencies I always have a Hammond type keyboard so I can have some security, just in case everything fails.

AAJ: You have real talent for composition, four CDs in four years, with about 40 compositions—very strong material. Your music is often complex, but always very melodic. One of the rare compositions from someone else was Antonio Carlos Jobim—he's very prolific and melodic, so I was wondering if you are you a fan of his work in particular and Brazilian music in general?

MB: Oh yes, I'm a big fan of Brazilian music and I've played with a lot of Brazilian bands. Actually, I lived with Brazilians when I was studying in Boston. So my Brazilian roommates were a big influence on me, and, yes, especially Jobim. I like a lot of his tunes and I learned a lot of his songs.

AAJ: How about Djavan?

MB: Yeah, big time—and Elis Regina, too. And Joao Bosco.

AAJ: Did you ever listen to that record with Toots Thielemans and Elis Regina?

MB: Yeah, that's great. And maybe my favorite record is that one with Elis and "Tom" Jobim [Elis & Tom (Polygram, 1974)] that's kind of like my Bible.

AAJ: The one with the "Waters of March"? Oh yeah, that's just fantastic.

MB: That's a great record, one of my all time favorites, but it's not too usual to play Brazilian music with organ.

AAJ: I remember way back there was a great album with Astrud Gilberto and Walter Wanderley, but it was a different sound from the typical organ today.

MB: Oh that's right, I do think I remember hearing that.

AAJ: In terms of composers, who were some of your other influences?

Matthias Bublath

MB: Now I'm checking out a lot of classical stuff, so again I would think of Chopin and Beethoven. Not so much for my music, but kind of from the point of logical development and ideas. Also Franz Schubert, I've been playing his works a lot lately.

AAJ: Could you talk a bit about your approach to composing?

MB: In New York I forced myself to write a lot. I try to write a song every day. And then I try it on my friends when we do a session and I get input from everybody. That's my approach, just doing it, then playing it live, and then the compositions grow.

AAJ: I noticed you guys go into the studio and knock out 10 cuts in a day.

MB: Yes, we're pretty fast and I have a lot more tunes. I bind my music into books and I think I have five of them now. So my friends kid me about the "Matthias books." I've got a lot of material left so I can be pretty selective in what I record.

AAJ: I understand you didn't learn to read music until you were about 20. Are you a good sight reader now?

MB: Now, I think I'm OK. Initially, I was self taught, so I didn't need to read. I'm kind of doing it backwards: you know, guitarists usually start playing rock and roll music, and then they go into jazz. Pianists usually start with classical and then they go into jazz. So, I'm more like a guitarist on piano.

Now I'm doing the classical stuff that most people do when they are young.

AAJ: When you compose, do you find it useful to use software or MIDI technology to generate sheet music?

MB: I do use it to make charts for other musicians, but to compose I prefer the old way, using pencil and paper. I think if you compose on the computer it forces you into a certain direction. If you record something, and then you feel like you have to copy and paste something, to me it feels like music out of a box. Using a pencil with an eraser makes me feel more flexible. If it's in the computer it looks so good you don't want to erase it (laughs.)

AAJ: You studied in Linz, Austria and in Boston. Could you compare and contrast the differences in your musical education in Austria and America?

Matthias Bublath

MB: I also studied in New York at the Manhattan School of Music, so I had six years of study.

In Linz, it was very loose. It was just a bunch of jazz musicians, it was really like hanging out and playing a lot. Because at the time they didn't really have a director for the jazz program, so things were very loose. For me, it was great because it was a creative environment. We tried out lots of things and many of my fellow students are successful in Germany right now, even though we didn't have very strong leadership in the program at the time.

When I came to Berklee everything was very organized. You had your lessons once a week, you had homework, and it was good because I developed my skills like arranging and harmony. You learned concrete skills, so I would say it was more effective. In Austria, it was also a free jazz scene, very different from Berklee.

AAJ: How important to your musical career was your decision to live in New York?

MB: I think it was very important because if I had stayed in Europe I wouldn't have met so many great musicians like you do in New York. Plus, you don't play as much and you don't gain as much experience. You know, by the time I was finishing up in Austria I was already one of the top players in Southern Germany. But in New York I was suddenly a nobody, and that's sometimes very healthy. The best musicians from everywhere come to New York, so there's a lot of competition, but there's also lots of opportunities to learn from your colleagues.

AAJ: Tim Collins (vibes) has played on all of your CDs; he's got tremendous skills. How did you guys meet?

MB: I met him in New York through the Manhattan School, he's a little older than I am, so we didn't meet studying. It was somehow through the Manhattan School network. We were also neighbors in Astoria Queens, so we hung out and played a lot together in various bands. He's of course a great friend, too.

AAJ: Takuya Kuroda (trumpet) is another gifted musician who has played on most of your CDs. How long have you known each other?

MB: Yeah I played with him on my very first gig in New York, and he brought me to Japan twice, and I've brought him to Germany three times now. It's great to have people like this who know all your tunes. These two guys already know most of my tunes by heart. And we have very stable units, you know with the three of us, and we can add different rhythm sections to it and try different flavors.

AAJ: The two of them give you a very identifiable sound with trumpet and vibes. I'm guessing when you compose you are often thinking of Tim and Takuya.

MB: That's true because with them I often try my tunes out. So, for me they are part of the process of composing songs.
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