• Sarah Kwok

Alan Matheson Septet - May 18

Alan Matheson

The Alan Matheson Septet has been an important part of the Vancouver jazz scene for over twenty years, and they have an upcoming show on May 18. Since I don't know a lot about jazz, I was curious to know about Alan's inspirations and influences, I think you'll enjoy reading about it as well!


So your septet will be featured as part of Vancouver ProMusica's Further Series, which is meant to tingle the listener's musical tastebuds - what's on the menu for the show?

We are featuring new compositions by nine Vancouver-based composers. There’s quite a diversity of approaches with this group of composers and we are excited to premiere their works with the septet. Of the nine composers, I am proud to say that six of them are either current Vancouver Community College music students or alumni of the VCC Music program.


You're known as someone who is fully comfortable in both the jazz and classical worlds - can you speak a little bit about how this versatility has helped you in your career?

The appreciation I have for the jazz and classical worlds has made me very open to other genres of music as well. While I primarily make my living playing and writing music in the jazz idiom, I have been very fortunate to also play with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the Victoria Symphony Orchestra and the Vancouver Opera Orchestra and I have written music for musicians who are primarily “classical” artists (such as French hornist Martin Hackleman, vocalist Marisa Gaetanne, and organist David Palmer) who were interested in music with a jazz flavour.


I am also curious to know how the two genres inform each other in your performances and your compositions - do you approach them in a similar way, and if so do you find that they work well together, or do you try to keep them separate?

I do find that the two styles (jazz and classical music) work well together and do not see them as separate. I compose with the performer I’m writing for in mind and that’s the main factor in terms of creating the music.


In a recent video (see below) you said that an eight-bar cornet solo played by Bix Beiderbecke on a 1928 Paul Whiteman recording, specifically the way that he was able to vary the melody without veering too far away from it, was what inspired you to get into jazz. That's always amazing when you can have one of those “Wow” moments that changes your perceptions of music and how it can be made. How has this affected the way that you approach jazz?

The revelation I had with hearing that Bix Beiderbecke solo (on a song called “The Love Nest”) was that one could play music and compose music at the same time. His solo is an exquisite variation on the original melody and harmony of “The Love Nest” and that realization opened an important door for me about jazz improvisation. To me, jazz improvisation is a form of composition and even arranging that the player creates in the moment of performance.


And have you had any more of these kinds of “Wow” moments?

I’ve had almost too many “Wow” moments to document but some that stand out are:

-hearing and seeing Duke Ellington and his orchestra here in Vancouver as a 14-year old in 1973

-hearing and seeing Charles Mingus’ quintet for several nights in a row at two different Vancouver jazz clubs when I was in high school and 1st year college

-hearing and seeing Janos Starker perform the Kodaly Cello Sonata at the Banff School of the Arts

-hearing and seeing the Juilliard String Quartet play the Ravel String Quartet at Symphony Hall in Chicago


Who else has inspired or influenced your music-making?

Duke Ellington has been my primary influence. When I saw him in 1973, I was awe-struck by how he could perform material he’d written in the late 1920s (which still sounded fresh and current) as well as recent works from 1971-1972 and that all of this music came from one person and yet displayed his growth and development as a composer.



Also, congratulations on your recent VCC Outstanding Alumni Award! It's great to see what a wonderful impact you have made on the music communities in Vancouver, both as a performer and a teacher. Is there something in particular that you always try to pass on through your music, to both your listeners and your students?

It’s hard to isolate one particular idea or concept that I try to pass on but I do encourage my students and listeners to stay curious and to listen with “open ears.”


Curious? Come with your open ears to hear the Alan Matheson Septet, a concert in the Further Series presented by Vancouver ProMusica, on May 18 at 7:30pm in Pyatt Hall


More information: Vancouver ProMusica

Tickets: alanmathesonseptet.brownpapertickets.com

Alan Matheson: https://www.alanmatheson.com/

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