On the surface, drummer Matt Wilson may seem like a juxtaposition. After all, where else would you find terms such as "unabashed mainstream," "swirling psychedelia," "extraordinarily masterful" and "house party" nestled comfortably together to describe a single musician?
For Wilson, it's not about labels. It's about the music.
Wilson is bandleader for several groups, and when he comes to Salt Lake City, it will be with the Arts and Crafts band Terrell Stafford on trumpet and flugelhorn, Gary Versace on piano, Hammond organ and accordion, and Martin Wind on bass.
"This group started out being a little more molded around a classic jazz group where maybe the Matt Wilson Quartet was a little bit wilder," Wilson said. "Now I think I've sort of blurred those boundaries purposely, because all the music can be all the music all the time."
For Wilson, what makes each of his groups distinctive from the others isn't so much the different instrumentation as it's the individual members. "As the great artist Marcel Duchamp said, 'I don't believe in art, I believe in artists,' and I kind of feel the same way, too. I believe in the musicians. The musicians are really what are key."
In addition to the standard concert, Wilson and his group will be conducting a workshop at the University of Utah.
Russell Schmidt, director of jazz activities at the U., said the workshop is probably going to be more of a performance clinic by the artists than a master class with students performing. But "given Matt's great creativity and spontaneity, it'll probably take whatever shape feels right to him in the moment," Schmidt said.
At the time of the interview, Wilson was preparing to head to the Kennedy Center for an educational clinic and concert, which he says he loves to lead.
Because it's another chance to talk about the music, which Wilson tries to do whenever possible, whether he's talking to the next generation of jazz musicians or to listeners and fans. "We hope we give people different points of entry into the music. I think that's really, really key. I [also] enjoy the challenge of speaking to folks about the music and making sure we're available to talk about what we do, what we did that evening."
The GAM foundation, which is sponsoring Wilson's Salt Lake City concert and workshop, has been sponsoring similar events every year since the concert series launched in 1994.
Co-founder Gordon Hanks said jazz exposure and education was the reason he and Michael MacKay started the foundation to begin with. "We felt that there was a huge number of young people who weren't being exposed to the art form at all," he said.
After launching the concert series, the GAM foundation donated more than $1 million of tickets to local high school and colleges across the Wasatch Front. "We wanted to try to get young people in those programs to understand what the art form was about and to increase the awareness, appreciation and popularity of the art form," Hanks said.
Now, they charge $10 for student tickets, but they still actively market to local schools and encourage students to attend. And when the funds are available, they sponsor performance clinics like the one Matt Wilson will be doing.
"We have many U. students who attend the JazzSLC series, taking advantage of the discounted tickets available to them," said Schmidt, from the U. "And in the days after a Capitol Theatre performance, we often find a setting to talk about the particular artist's concert, trying to determine what our students enjoyed the most and why. It usually leads to a deeper discussion into the nature of improvised music and how certain approaches and techniques can truly connect with an audience."
The arts and craft of Matt Wilson's jazz
Drummer Matt Wilson brings his Arts and Crafts band to Salt Lake City's GAM Foundation concert series.
When • Monday, Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m.
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $25; $10 students (with ID); at arttix.org, 801-355-ARTS (2787)
Also • Matt Wilson educational clinic
When • Tuesday, Feb. 19, 10:30 a.m.
Where • Dumke Recital Hall in David Gardner Hall, 1375 E. Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City
Tickets • Free