Music

‘Once I start playing the first few notes, I’m in my element’: Matt Savage

Matt Savage

Matt Savage   | Photo Credit: Micah Gummel

Matt Savage and his inspirational journey in music

A word that would probably describe jazz musician Matt Savage’s journey in music best would be ‘inspiring’. Diagnosed as autistic at the age of three, Matt could barely tolerate music, much less appreciate it as a child. He, however, went on to record his first two albums at the age of seven and eight. Now, at 26, Matt has had a 17-year professional career as a jazz musician, band leader and composer.

“I underwent auditory integration therapy, which is a sound desensitisation therapy, as a child. It helped replace my aversion to sound with an affinity towards music. My first two albums were sold to help raise funds for autism research. I released my first full jazz trio album (All Jazzed Up) when I was nine,” writes Matt in an e-mail interview.

Music, says the autistic savant, became a part of him, thanks to the piano, which he taught himself to play for a week before starting formal training lessons. “I studied with the late Charlie Banacos during my teenage years, and then went to Berklee College of Music, Boston, and Manhattan School of Music, New York,” says Matt, adding that he plays “a little alto saxophone just for fun.”

And while he was enrolled for Western classical music at first, he soon shifted to jazz. “Jazz has the whole improvisational element, which is special to me because it allows a song’s melody to develop over time.”

A fan of jazz greats such as Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Chick Corea, Matt has played with several renowned jazz musicians himself, such as Chaka Khan, Bobby Watson and Clark Terry and has opened for rock legends Neil Young and Stephen Stills.

“It is a humbling and exciting experience playing with such top musicians at such a young age. One thing I have to mention is that Chaka Khan’s voice is really powerful and uplifting,” says Matt, who has released 12 jazz albums. Some of the albums are “originals, with a lot of the pieces inspired by the places I have been too.”

After the release of his first album, Matt admits that he did lose out on his privacy while growing up. He was the focus of various television features and interviews. “But I have adapted well to the professional expectations of being in front of a camera.”

And as for the stress of expectation from the audience while performing on stage, Matt says, he has a ritual before each concert where he spends a few minutes in the green room, stretching, turning off the phone, and forgetting what’s happened in the last day so that he can focus on the recital.

“But the pressure of expectation really varies with each gig — depending on whether it is a big première or part of a longer series of gigs. Once I start playing the first few notes, I’m in my element. It is very important for me, however, not to have the performance interrupted (for example, if someone has a question). It has been truly wonderful playing music for a living. The hard part is adapting to a more flexible lifestyle; for example, balancing artistic image versus artistic reality, deciding how much autism plays a part in my professional life, and dealing with those ever-present flight delays,” says Matt, who is part of The Groove Experiment, a six-piece band which is into making pop/funk music more improvisational and doing more rhythmic styles as jazz musicians. “Half of our tunes is instrumental and half vocal.”

Matt, who is coming out with a jazz/rock fusion EP, with the Matt Savage Groove Experiment shortly, currently teaches at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston. “I like introducing students to jazz through tunes with simple chord progressions, such as blues tunes or So What by Miles Davis, which leave open lots of room for improvisation.”

Matt is in the city as a speaker for the International Autism Conference hosted by city-based CADRRE, The Autism School. He spoke on how living a musical life has influenced his social maturity as a person on the Autism spectrum. Matt, who will be visiting Thailand, Japan and China on this same trip, says this is his first time to India and is looking forward to seeing the beach and cliffs at Kovalam and try out some new spicy food.

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Printable version | Feb 29, 2020 7:40:26 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/matt-savage-and-his-inspirational-journey-in-music/article24715392.ece

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