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Fred's Interview of the Month with Matt Butler
 
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Fred: In brief, what is your musical background both as a musician and as a composer?
Matt: I'm largely self-taught but I studied at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and Grove School of Music.  I also spent a lot of time 'hanging' around the University of Miami over the years.  That was a great experience.  I learned a lot from the students there.

Fred: What kind of guitar training have you had?
Matt: I've had some formal training over the years but I wasn't consistent with it.  My guitar teachers have been Don Casper, Robert Conti, and Gary Starling.  Most of my other 'teachers' weren't guitarists at all or at least the 'lessons' weren't centered on the guitar.  In fact I'd call some of the 'lessons' "hangs" and other lessons "training".  The teachers that stick out in my mind the most are an incredible martial arts master named Anthony Arnett, a great session guitarist in L.A. named Eric Jackson, the guys in my quartet (Eric Riehm, Jeff Byrd, Dan Shelton – all very strong and unique in their ways), a natural musician named Reggie Brown, Joseph Yorio, Greg Isabelle, Joe Cohen, John Otto, Tim Thacker, a talented musician who recently inspired me to go into scoring for film, and many other people.  The bottom line is 'thinkers' and 'doers' inspire me to shed, compose, study, etc.  *That's* what teaches us.  The 'act', the practice, our peers, etc.  Formal study often has all of this packaged into a set time or routine.

Fred: What are your main guitars?
Matt: I play a Godin Multiac Jazz, the Concert Grand, and the LGXT.  I have a few other Godin's but these are my main instruments when I play with the group.  Did I mention that the only guitars I own are Godin?  As soon as I played the Multiac I knew there wasn't a point in owning anything other than a Godin.  It has everything I need, the tone, the feel, synth access that tracks *very* well.  I love these things.  On top of that, they're sexy.

Fred: Having developed a compositional approach to jazz, how do you govern improvisations within the context of live group performance? Are these head/solo/head constructions or more free jazz-oriented pieces?
Matt: Well, both and neither.  I write "book ends" for the improvisation but there isn't a set terrain that we negotiate in between.  It's free in the sense that we have a *lot* of responsibility during the improvisational sections but no rules and very restricted in that I don't want to hear the group doing something heard in pieces by other artists in the same vein. 

Fred: Your main instrument for live performance is guitar, you often compose on the piano and computer, and you are teaching yourself saxophone. How do you divide your practice time? How do your ideas about each instrument shape your notions of composition?
Matt: I compose *for* piano but not *at* the piano.  I do compose with the computer, though.  I used to do everything with pen and paper but realized that I could increase my efficiency by exponents using a computer.  Right now my practice time is divided along the parameters of what I'm compelled to do at that moment.  Usually I'll take a break and run to the piano, put in 15 – 30 minutes practicing a specific piece, get back to work, take a break to shed horn, work, shed guitar a bit.  I do this all day and night, every day and night.  I practice guitar less than everything else but my guitar playing is getting better anyway.  The time I spend on the horn and piano is applicable to my musicianship in general.  That's the most important thing; dealing with the fundamentals of making music.  sure, certain aspects of technique might be sacrificed but that's something that can be dealt with when the compulsion hits, and it does every year or so.

My playing these instruments doesn't affect how I compose.  I compose in the same way that I improvise; I chase a feeling until it has been depleted or I can't sustain it anymore.

Fred: You have experimented with arrangements of various pieces, including those by Bach, Rachmaninoff and even Iron Maiden. What moves you to perform such diverse pieces, and how do you begin arranging them for jazz quartet?
Matt: The pieces I perform that weren't penned by me all have the same thing in common, they move me.  My approach to arranging them is listening to it on loop for several days and start to hear how the parts should be.  The piece always tells me.

Fred: You've also been playing with rap and hip-hop ideas, more specifically phrasing saxophone lines based on excerpts -- actual lyric lines -- from rap songs. How does this influence your performance on the horn, and what are the implications regarding composition? How can these ideas be broadened into a musical/instrumental application?
Matt: I've loved Hip Hop since I was 14 years old listening to Run DMC and over the past several years started to realize the similarities between some Rappers out there and certain horn players.  At some point I'd like to write a book on improvisation using Rappers and Rap as the point of reference.  There are a LOT of things we as improvisers can learn from Rappers' phrasing, dynamics, pocket, cadence, and wit/cleverness that are emphasized in ways we aren't normally exposed to through the usual avenues.  There is an unfortunate knee-jerk reaction to dismiss Rappers out of hand due to the message some deliver.  The irony is that some of the "worst offenders" have a lot to offer.

More then anything this pursuit informs my guitar playing since guitar is the instrument I use when I perform. 

Fred: You've been called temperamental, a taskmaster, moody and difficult to work with and also brilliant, a genius and a virtuoso, sometimes by the same people. Do these labels trouble you? Have you softened your approach over the years, or are you still the same whip-cracker you were years ago?
Matt: It's all perspective.  The people who are closest to me shake their heads when they hear the negative labels and also know me well enough to understand when I shrug off the positive ones.  The same things can be said about any other person, it's just more fun to talk about someone who is in the public eye, even a little bit.  It's all just But-lore … 

Fred: In your other life, you are a software developer and author of programming books. Is the cold, calculated world of computers at odds with, or in harmony with, your life in music?
Matt: I've never seen computers as "cold" or calculated they're just a tool that can be used in a neglectful way as much as a hammer or horn.  I've heard horrifically robotic things done with a guitar and beautiful things done with a computer.  Even outside of music I've seen programming code that brought about the same feelings that Brahms string quartet in C minor has, elation. 

Fred: Finally, what are your upcoming projects and performances?
Matt: We're playing Oct. 27th at a place in Jacksonville called "Starlite Café".  Other than that we're "in the shed"; recording, working on a new Bach Piece, and working on some of my new compositions.

*Fred DiSanto is the Artist Relations representative & a Product Specialist at Godin Guitars.

 

 

 
         

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