Matt Bauder’s music focuses on jazz, free jazz, avant-garde, as well as popular and rock music practices. In the tradition of jazz and improvised music, he often performs his own works, in various settings from solo to large chamber ensembles. Bauder studied at the University of North Texas and the University of Michigan where he earned a bachelor of fine arts in Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation. He then situated himself in the thriving music scene in Chicago where he became an active composer and performer. After two formative years in Chicago he attended Wesleyan University and received a masters’ in composition. There he studied composition and computer music with Ron Kuivila and composition with Anthony Braxton and Alvin Lucier.
Matt is playing with Day in Pictures tonight at New York’s Cornelia Street Cafe.
Tell us about your early history. How did you get involved with music, especially the type of non-mainstream music you’re known for today?
At a very early age I decided I was either going to be a musician or an astronaut. Pretty quickly the path towards musician was a lot more apparent and I went with that direction. My dad is a bassist and played in garage/dance bands in the 60s, I remember falling asleep while he played guitar at night when I was probably 6 or so. In the last few years I just learned that my Grandpa actually worked for NASA for a spell so who knows, maybe I could have gone in the astronaut direction too! Anyway, I started guitar lessons when I was 8 and started a punk rock band with my friends when I was 12 or 13. Those were amazing years of exploration that I still miss. When I was 16, I met Colin Stetson and he basically showed me that the saxophone was a cool thing to do. He sounded amazing even back then. I mostly remember him playing classical saxophone music on alto and soprano at the time, seemingly effortlessly. He hooked me up with his teacher, Chris Creviston at the University of Michigan who was a student of master teacher Donald Sinta. I was pretty much hooked at that point, I still played guitar and did basement punk rock shows, but the saxophone was taking over.
Your music is all over the map but seems to be centered around some form of jazz. Is that approach intentional or just the way things evolved?
I’m not sure if its intentional or if thats just the only way I seem to be able to do things. Or if thats the same thing. When I hear something that resonates with me, I immediately start fantasizing about learning to play it or starting a new band to get that sound. I think of it somewhat like an actor playing different roles. I wish musicians were more heralded for transforming themselves the way actors are. Somehow there seems to be a cry of inauthenticity if a musician shape shifts too much yet actors are given oscars for it. At the sometime though, Jazz is definitely my center, its the music that I know the most about and feel I have the most to say in. But that center is constantly being informed by all the orbits around it and visa versa.
Tell us about the two years you spent in Chicago.
That was an incredibly formative time. I lived there very briefly, from 1999 – 2001 and again for a summer in 2002, but in that time I made lifelong friends and was able to play with people who are still some of my favorite musicians on the planet. Its taken me close to 10 years in New York to get somewhat comfortable and come into my own here. Chicago has a real hands on feeling in the avant music scene. In those couple of years I met and played with a cross section of all the major figures there, including the major critics and the older generations. In my time in New York I have yet to cross paths with a lot of the equivalent figures in the scene. Its just a very different beast.
You are part of both the “Anthony Braxton” ecosystem, and well as the “New York creative” ecosystem (I’m making those terms up…) How has your time with these musicians influenced your writing and playing?
Braxton is constant inspiration to me. He always encourages people to think bigger and to go further with their ideas. I’d show him a composition that I was proud of and he’d say “that’s great, now write 50 of those and orchestrate them for 100 different types of ensembles”. Then if you look at his work, that’s just what he did. All of his ideas are executed to their most extreme ends. On the other hand I was able to work with Bill Dixon and see an almost opposite approach where everything is whittled down to its most essential. Alvin Lucier shared some of that as well, although with a different philosophy on improvisation. In the end I take from all those insights and experiences and I come out hopefully as myself. I’m a very slow composer, so its good to think about Braxton pulling all nighters and writing huge works and get myself to just write a god damn new song for my band! But I also hope that my recorded output is very refined. Its a nice goal to put out an new album every year, but if I don’t have anything that really needs to be a record, I’ll wait. I’d rather have every one of my recordings feel essential than have an impressive discography in terms of numbers.
As far as the New York scene goes, its just a constant flow. You see different musicians all the time. Someone might be playing on the subway platform and blow you away, so you have to stay on your toes. The sky is also the limit here. I’m about to go on the road with The Arcade Fire, thanks to Colin Stetson and Stuart Bogie who’ve brought me along on their journey through modern rock and roll. So its my time I suppose. But you are constantly around people who are seemingly doing the most incredible and impossible things like collaborating with Bjork or touring the world with David Byrne, or even more impressive, people who are making a living playing their OWN music! So that can either inspire you that you’re rubbing the right shoulders or it can get you down comparing yourself. The trick is to stay on the side of inspiration more often and push through feelings of jealousy and competition.
With Day in Pictures, you work with a handful of musicians known for left-of-center leanings, and produce something that is informed by tradition. How did this project come together and was that result your goal?
Goals and results are often cloudy. Its easy to just say, “yeah that’s what I was going for all along”. But the truth is I thought Day in Pictures would be a band that played many different styles, almost like Naked City but changing styles song to song instead of second to second. The band name came from the BBC News website where each picture is a total surprise from the previous one, but the format keeps everything in a neat conceptual bundle. Once I started writing the music, however, I realized that mostly I was interested in writing jazz tunes and doing so unapologetically. I kept the name because I still feel like there’s enough variety in the idea of ‘jazz tunes’ that there’s still a surprise in each track. One song might feel rooted in hard bop but the next might come more out of late 60’s freedom. One of my teachers in college, Donald Walden, said that I was always trying to play in three or four different ways when I improvised. His advise was that I should pick a direction. I guess I didn’t take that advise and I keep trying to play in more ‘ways’. My friend Dave Luther can play exactly like the great old blues and R n’ B players, like King Curtis and Lee Allen and he can do that yakety chicken sound. I’m so jealous of it, I practice that all the time. But then I hear Warne Marsh, or Sonny Rollins or Lester Young, the list goes on, and I want to sound like that too. Hopefully there’s something of myself that comes out in the end, but sometimes I don’t worry about it. I remember reading that Sam Rivers learned to play just like all the major saxophonists just to make sure he never did any of their stuff. I think thats so amazing, but I’m a bit more willing to let those influences just come out when they want to.
What do you have coming up in 2014 in terms of releases, project, performances, and so on?
I have a concert at Cornelia Street Cafe on February 19th that celebrates the second Day in Pictures album called Nightshades. It feels like a really important show for me. My mom said it seems like an adult version of a recital or something! We’ll be playing two sets and almost all the material from both the records. Its not easy to get this line up together, everyone in the band is world class and super busy, so we just have to make this one count! In March I start touring with Arcade Fire, so I’ll be playing to the largest audiences of my life. When I’m back in New York though I’ll have to make the most of it. I’ll be working on a new album of music with Hearing Things, my project with JP Schlegelmilch and Vinnie Sperrazza. We’ve been playing for a year or so together, touching on a lot of old rock and roll and surf rock. Super fun band, its an organ trio but it feels a little punk or something. We played for an audience of about 7 the other night, couldn’t have been more fun. Full circle.