Playin’ Around With Playbook: Matt Wilson

Hey everyone! This past week on Playin’ Around With Playbook, we spoke with the amazing educator and performer Matt Wilson.

Wilson has released thirteen albums as a leader. His latest recording, Honey And Salt (Music Inspired By The Poetry Of Carl Sandburg) was recognized on over thirty worldwide “Best of 2017” lists, including Top Ten in the National Public Radio Critics Poll, JazzTimes, Irish Times, Boston Globe, Jazziz and All About Jazz. The album received a coveted 5-star review (masterpiece) in DownBeat. Wilson has made thirteen recordings as a leader for Palmetto Records since 1996, including acclaimed releases by the Matt Wilson Quartet, Arts & Crafts, and the Christmas Tree-O.

As an educator, Wilson has led workshops and masterclasses at colleges and universities, jazz festivals, and conferences around the world. He has served numerous residencies, including at the Centrum Jazz Workshop, Stanford Jazz Workshop, Litchfield Jazz Festival, Jazz St. Louis and Cornish College of the Arts. In addition, he is a faculty member at the New School, San Francisco Conservatory, LIU Post, Sarah Lawrence College and the Prince Claus Conservatory in Groningen, Holland. 

Below are some snippets of our conversation on March 10th, 2022. Click here to listen to the full interview. 




So to start us off, I want to ask you, what have you been listening to lately?


Ron Miles passed away yesterday. He was a very important collaborator of mine for over 20 years. He was on this Honey and Salt record. I listened to some of that yesterday and I’ve been listening to Ron’s music this morning. I found some music last night from a gig we did a couple of years ago in St. Louis with him. What Ron and I shared was a common love of the anthropology of the music, the history, but yet also wanting to push things around and do different things. 


How do we best honor musicians who are no longer with us?


 We’re all just part of a continuum. We’re just continuing this energy and continuing this flow. I think we honor it by just maintaining what we do, and taking their spirits and continuing that energy and that beautiful flow. We play their music and we want to keep the sounds of their compositions within people’s ears and feed people’s souls through that. So that’s one of the reasons I want to do one of his tunes next week. 


Was there any educator when you were younger that influenced you, that really paved your path for you?


There’s not one person I could point to, because there’s a lot of them. When I was back with Ron, actually, we drove by this nursing home and I said, see that nursing home right over there? That’s where I was playing an MTF gig with March Fanny. That’s when I learned that I had to play on the forms of songs. I was begging this older lady to let me blow.  One lady took me aside and and she said, young man, what were you doing over there? I was playing my solo. I was like 14. She says: well, We were playing Sweet Georgia. Jim on the trumpet, he was playing George Brown. I was playing Georgia Brown, Don Bets was playing Sweet Georgia Brown. I learned that everything I was doing, I had to connect to the song. So what was great was that I was a victim, a good victim. Here’s the lady that taught me that I have to play on the forum. So she was like, if you’re gonna play you got to play the song. I don’t think about one person, I think about all the stories that you gather along the way. That and there’s instances of these all the time where somebody says, do this, try this. I think the community is where you learn a lot of things, socially and ect.


Do you think moving to New York is important for young musicians interested in jazz music?


Not necessarily. I played here last night with these guys that sound great and the scene was really vibrant at The Club Deluxe. We talked about Ron being such a pillar of the scene in Denver. We need these kinds of people, we need the Roger Humphreys in Pittsburgh. We need these records of Iowa City. We need the Ron Miles’. We need these people there. But New York is still great. I love New York, but there’s other places for me. There’s great players everywhere we go. There are great bands wherever we go. If a crazy ass band came to New York from Lincoln, Nebraska, it would flip people out. We can sit around or we can create some things and create some scenes. 


As a teacher, what are some of the most important things you want your students to walk away with? 


Courage, curiosity. This is an offering and receiving, this is the human moment. It’s not about your hands or your feet or your reed, it’s about the gifts you offer to people and how they receive and vice versa. We got to train young people, and everybody to play so that people can hear them with their hearts, and tell you what they’re playing from. We have to work on that at the same time that we’re working on. You have to write things in and fail and try again and scheme. The most important thing is to find your community of people that trust you, that you can see this through with. Bands are what it is. We celebrate the person so much in this music, which is great. But John Coltrane’s vision happened because he had those people there with him. Miles Davis had visions and Ornette Coleman’s had visions because he had those players there too. So we have to acknowledge that they also were able to find those people and gather and get their trust. They’re trusted to follow what they were thinking and what they wanted to try.


 How has your teaching changed since being in the virtual world in the classroom?


I’m not afraid of technology. I like zoom and all that. It’s fun. I can have the materials there. We can listen to recordings, I can put up stuff. We watch videos and talk about stuff, and I actually enjoy it. I can check in with everybody. Hopefully, when they come back for the next lesson, they did some checking out. 

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