Next in our series of interviews with some of Central Ohio’s finest jazz musicians is saxophonist Randy Mather. Mather has long been known as one of the greatest saxophonists in the area, and he continues to expand his legacy today. He has shared the stage with a plethora of greats, including Dexter Gordon, Hubert Laws, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Lew Tabackin, David Sanborn, Phil Woods, Louie Bellson, Doc Severinsen, The Spinners, Kim Pensyl, and Foley. He currently has a strong slate of upcoming shows, including a barnburner this Friday, March 11th, with Jeanette Williams, Bobby Floyd, Derek DiCenzo, and Aaron Scott at Dick’s Den (see below for more). Keep reading for details on Mather’s musical upbringing and ongoing projects:
When and why did you start playing music and jazz?
Randy Mather (RM): My dad was an extremely outgoing person and knew a lot of people. He especially loved Jazz, so he knew all of the musicians in town, and loved hanging out with them. I remember Rusty Bryant, his organist Jim Carter, and drummer Jimmie Rodgers would come over to our house and hang out. My dad restored old European sports cars, and there was always music playing in the garage. Usually Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, Groove Holmes and Rusty Bryant. Rusty always told me he knew one of my dad’s sons would play jazz, and probably sax. I recall after bringing my first sax home from the music store, I was playing along with “Got My Mojo Workin’” by Jimmy Smith. I started playing in clubs when I was fifteen, and I recall my earliest date was with Don Patterson (B3 organ), Bobby Alston (trumpet) and Billy Brown (drums). Funny, my dad had to take me, but he was loving it.
While in high school, my band director, Jim Swearingen, took an interest in the jazz band due to the fact there were some talented players at the time including Mark Frye (Phil Dirt and the Dozers) and Bill England (Vaughn Wiester’s Famous Jazz Orchestra). Jim wrote original tunes for the band that would feature us. Needless to say, I could usually be found in our band practice room. It only became a problem when I was supposed to actually be in another class! In the ninth grade, my Dad arrived at my high school carrying two tenor saxophones for me to try. The horn I chose, I still play to this day, and I only recently purchased a second tenor.
After high school, I attended The Ohio State University, playing in the critically acclaimed OSU Jazz Ensemble, directed by Tom Battenburg. This is a group that just “meshed” musically, and we toured the United States and Europe attending the Nice, France and Montreaux Jazz Festivals. To this day I’ve remained friends with John Fedchock, Kim Pensyl, Jim Rupp, and Terry Douds, also members of this group. The stint at OSU was a great experience, which also gave me a lot of exposure to the jazz world. Playing seemed like my destiny, but also my passion. Joe Diamond was somewhat of a mentor to me early in college, and he became a good friend. I miss his stories of the old days when he worked with Charlie Parker, Stan Getz and Tadd Dameron.
Who are some of your main influences in your playing?
RM: My very early influences were Rusty Bryant, Stanley Turrentine, Freddie Hubbard, Hubert Laws, Dexter Gordon, and Oscar Peterson. Pete Christlieb is probably my favorite tenor player, along with Michael Brecker. And I’m a huge fan of Chick Corea, Claus Ogerman, and Steely Dan, among others.
What are your fondest musical memories?
RM: I toured with Woody Herman in the early 80’s, as well as a midwest tour with Aretha Franklin. I will always cherish playing with Mark Flugge. Mark would challenge me and make me work, but in a very supportive way. We also had a love of the show The Sopranos and would always talk about it. He was a gifted musician and composer, and I really miss him!
What are you listening to today? What’s on your playlist?
RM: I typically listen to the same thing over and over for a short time, then move on to something else. While I primarily listen to jazz, I am a huge Frank Sinatra fan. I’m currently listening to Maynard Ferguson’s “MacArthur Park,” Rick Margitza, Kenny Garrett, Freddie Hubbard, and of course, Michael Brecker.
What inspires you about the Columbus Jazz scene?
RM: Columbus has an incredible pool of talented musicians, many which have worked and collaborated with world renowned musicians. Columbus also has numerous venues to showcase various styles of jazz and live music. One thing I always felt was a kinship and respect with other players, not a competition among us. There is always a willingness to help one of our own, or come together for a cause. I’ve played at Dick’s Den since the mid-70’s and it still continues to be one of my favorite places, along with Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza. Both showcase a great variety of live music.
What are you working on for 2016? Any new projects, exciting shows or releases?
RM: I am currently working with my band The Columbus Jazz Quartet; From the Five Jazztet, a classic jazz group that was started by Mark Flugge and is currently led by Aaron Scott; as well as a group of musicians that worked with Joe Diamond called Rhinestone. I have also reconnected with Tony Monaco lately, which lets me go back to my roots with the Hammond B3 organ.
This is not a current project, but I would love to mention it. My wife and I produced a jazz CD in 2010, Valentine’s Day, with 100% of the proceeds donated to a non-profit we support, the EagleEyes project through the Opportunity Foundation of America (OFOA.net). The funds we raised assisted people with severe disabilities, primarily children, with assistive technology to aid them with communication and learning.
Where can local audiences see you play in the near future?
Friday, March 11th @ Dick’s Den, 9:30pm-1:30am: Jeanette Williams, Bobby Floyd, Derek DiCenzo, Aaron Scott and myself. www.whynotcolumbus.com
Friday, April 1st @ Dick’s Den, 9:30pm-1:30am: Tony Monaco, Derek DiCenzo, Louis Tsamous and myself. www.whynotcolumbus.com
Friday, April 22nd @ Bungalow Jazz, 7:30pm-10:30pm: Tony Monaco, Derek DiCenzo, Aaron Scott and myself. http://bungalowjazz.com