JazzColumbus.com Interview Series: Matt Adams

Next in our new series of interviews with some of Central Ohio’s finest jazz musicians is tenor saxophonist Matt Adams. Adams is involved in many local bands and projects, including the New Basics Brass Band and his own Matt Adams Quartet, which returns to Dick’s Den for a show on Sunday, May 3rd. Adams was kind enough to answer our questions and share a bit of his jazz background, including formative experiences with jazz and funk greats:

When and why did you start playing music and jazz?

Matt Adams (MA): I started playing music in 5th grade band. I played saxophone from the start, so I naturally joined the jazz band in high school. My cousin is a guitarist, and he had been studying jazz harmony for awhile and was listening to some of the great musicians of our music and I was drawn to that, and to the idea of improvising. We put our own little rehearsal combo together and got together and played tunes out of the “Real Book.” I guess I was a junior in high school then.

Who are some of your main influences in your playing/performing?

MA: Well, it always comes back to John Coltrane for me. I have many favorite musicians, but no one’s music has ever affected me on as many levels as Coltrane. Emotional, cerebral and especially spiritual – his music is the total package to me. I don’t listen to him nearly as much or exclusively as I once did, but when I put his music on the stereo I’m transformed, transported and transfixed. I’ve been listening to Joel Frahm a bunch lately, who’s a tenor player whose been around for some time, but is relatively obscure. Joe Lovano, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson – all the great tenor players from the golden years – Dexter Gordon, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, etc, etc. They’re called the greats for a reason!

What is your fondest musical memory?

MA: Probably my fondest musical memory is recording a track at Bootsy Collins’ house. New Basics Brass Band was in Cincinnati for a show and Bootsy wanted some horn parts laid down for something or other he was working on, so he contacted us – we were playing with one of his pet projects frequently. He was the most positive, affirming cat. Never a negative word. But we weren’t getting the sound he wanted I guess, because after a while who should walk in the door with his trombone but Fred Wesley! Fred wrote our parts on the spot – teaching us each our part by playing it to us on his trombone until we each got each little nuance down. I don’t know what ever happened to the tune – if it was ever used for anything – but it was a truly humbling and awe-inspiring day.

Another, much less fulfilling, but every bit as educational as the Bootsy/Fred episode was the time I sat in with the Branford Marsalis Quartet. It was in Indianapolis – can’t remember the club. I went with a buddy of mine who had sat in with him on a few occasions, so that helped with my courage, I guess. I was just destroyed. I was in waaaaaay over my head. We played a Monk tune called “Rhythm-a-ning” and I was lost after about 16 bars. After the show Branford looked at me, shook his head and said “Matt – keep practicing.” That was it. And I did.

What are you listening to today? What’s on your playlist?

MA: I’m listening to a record almost every day by an Israeli bassist named Omer Avital. The album is called “New Song” I’ve been listening to it for months – driving the folks at the shop crazy. Today I popped in a CD I hadn’t listened to in a long time. It’s Coltrane with the Art Blakey Big Band – I think it’s called The Bethlehem Years. Paul Simon’s Concert in Central Park made the rotation today, and a Jimmy Heath album. It’s different every day. Lots of jazz usually. And romantic era classical stuff. Melody and harmony!

What inspires you about the Columbus Jazz scene?

MA: There are so many beautiful players in this city. So many original voices on their respective instruments. I can think of 6 fantastic jazz guitarists who live in Columbus, and I can tell them apart easily. Same with drummers and pianists and trumpeters, and saxophonists. Everyone has a voice. It’s one of the most beautiful things about this art. It’s inclusive. The teachers at the universities around are inspiring their students to become individuals. It’s a wonderful cycle.

What are you working on for 2015? Any new projects, exciting shows or releases?

MA: Well, I’ve been trying to get a new CD recorded for oh, about 5 years now. The tunes are written and mostly rehearsed. I just need to figure out some funding and get a quality product recorded. We tried once, but had a pretty negative studio experience. Kind of took the wind out of our sails. But it’ll happen. I’m proud of the music, and I need to document this period of my life. It’s been heavy, to say the least. As far as new projects – yes. I’ve had a couple of ideas floating around in my head for too long. It’s time to bring them to life. It’s time to kick myself in the rear and get moving!

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