Matt Clohesy: The thing about musicians in NYC is that they’re mostly from some other place too. Just like I’m from Australia (and I’ve been in NY for nearly 15 years now) there are a lot of great musicians from all over the US, Canada, South America, Japan, Israel etc. But once any of these people have spent at least a few months living in NYC they tend to soak up the musician culture and really become a part of it.
Jazz musicians tend to work really hard at their goals and improve quickly in NYC, I’d say possibly a difference in Australia is the laid back lifestyle, less competition, musicians may tend to stagnate a bit more.
Having said that, there are great musicians over there creating plenty of somewhat unique music and playing really well. I just think for a lot of players, NYC is the thing they need to push them to the next level, It definitely did that for me.
Being able to play with such a variety of different musicians constantly is something many musicians don’t get to do in most other cities in the world.
I got into jazz partly through being in a fairly musical family, but really it was just hearing a few local musicians play jazz when I was about 14 that got me interested.
I quickly figured out I needed to listen to Miles Davis etc and really learn how to play. I had already been into rock and pop and dabbling with guitar, bass and drums for a few years.
Over the next few years I practiced and listened a lot, got a degree in music at the University of Melbourne – at which point I was already doing a lot of gigs, and within the next couple of years I decided to try NYC for real.
(I had already visited NYC straight out of college and knew staying there was something I wanted to try)
The transition was pretty abrupt. I had saved a bunch of money, sold or threw away most of my stuff and just showed up in NY with a bass and a suitcase and started over.
Of course there were immigration procedures to go through and people to meet, people to eventually get work with but that all happened in good time.
VOJ: Has jazz always appealed to you, or was it more of a gradual process that got you involved with it? Why does playing jazz appeal to you, and what about it keeps you continually interested? Is it more than a career or profession to you? Elaborate on that and what the term ‘jazz’ means to you
Matt Clohesy: I’d say jazz has always appealed to me ever since I “discovered” it. But I’ve always been interested in a lot of other music too. The first time I became kind of aware of modern jazz I immediately took to it. I was exposed to a lot of traditional jazz through my father who was a drummer. I liked that music also, but not in the same way as the modern stuff.
I’m not really sure why it appeals to me. I definitely feel differently about jazz than I did when I was young. To be completely honest, there are times when it does feel just like a profession but every few days I usually am in a playing situation where I feel like “Oh that’s why I still like playing” and “I’ve missed playing this way for a few weeks!”
Sometimes it might be a new playing situation where the music has one or more elements that seem really fresh to me. Maybe a little bit innovative. That’s what I think jazz should be – a search for something a little bit new or unique.
It doesn’t have to be a completely brilliant reinvention of anything, but I like influences coming from other styles which help to make the improv based music seem fresh and new. That’s what jazz means to me.
VOJ: As a versatile bass player, do your general goals and mindset change depending on the musical situation that you’re going into? If so, please explain how and why your approach might change
Matt Clohesy: My mindset definitely does change quite a bit in different playing situations.
I do certain gigs that aren’t really even related to jazz. I enjoy the variety. Sometimes it might be a pop type gig that requires me to play very simply.
Other gigs might be complex mostly written material with very little improv. Other times it’s straight ahead, swinging jazz. I’m very lucky to get to do all this stuff.
As for how my mindset changes, I think some situations allow me to be spontaneous and relax doing a lot of improvising or playing simple parts while others require an extra amount of focus – concentration to nail difficult passages, playing on difficult forms etc…
VOJ: While improvising, are you aware intellectually of the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic choices you are making, or is it more of an instinctual process?
Matt Clohesy: I’d say in the best and most enjoyable situations I’m playing in, what’s going through my mind is instinctual.
I love it when I’m able to be really focused for long periods of time, that tends to happen more often for me onstage than it does in the practice room unfortunately. Still something I’m working on.
There are definitely times during a performance when I’ll think about a technical or harmonic issue – more likely when performing unfamiliar or under rehearsed music.
I sometimes get hung up for a while on sonic issues, like a room with bad acoustics or sub par equipment. But it is important to try to let that go as quickly as possible and just play your best.
VOJ: As someone who is primarily playing in a rhythm section, how have you learned to balance providing a solid foundation for the band, while simultaneously being creatively involved/interactive with the music, and bringing your unique personality to the situation? What do you think has helped you over time to develop this kind of musical sensibility?
Matt Clohesy: I personally feel bass playing should be very supportive and fairly disciplined. On the other hand, I want it to be strong, present and never going unnoticed.
I guess that’s what kind of makes up my approach.
I like throwing in creative, unusual stuff but more importantly I try to lay down solid foundations with a good sound and feel.
I’m still working on these concepts all the time but I’d say being able to really listen well to your bandmates while you’re playing, especially the drummer helps keep everything not only rhythmically together, but if you follow each other’s dynamics and intensity the music starts to feel and sound really great.
Getting back to talking about NYC, I’d say I’ve learned so much with regards to playing in a rhythm section here. I’ve learned what a team effort it can be, everyone’s time feel has such an impact on the other players in the group.
Or maybe a soloist has an unusually laid back feel. The drums and bass need to really hold things together sometimes in these situations.
More on Matt Clohesy can be found on his website.