Tell us about your first inspiration for playing the saxophone.
“I wanted to play the sax ever since I saw someone playing it on Top of the Pops! This was when i was about 10. When I started playing I was really into Hank Crawford, and then one of my older brothers got me into Paul Desmond. I subsequently discovered Stan Getz and Cannonball, my two biggest influences. I also studied Charlie Parker, as all sax players do!”
You studied at Berklee in the 1980s. What were the most important things that you learnt?
“The most important things I got out of Berklee were an understanding of harmony, and arranging skills. But it was also a very inspiring environment, with lots of amazing musicians around. Not sure there's much else to be had from any college, the main thing is to make the most of the opportunity to do as much playing as possible!”
What would you like to pass on to the younger generation of jazz musicians?
“As far as the next generation of players goes – well, I'm simply in awe of them. There's an ever increasing number of fantastic players coming up who are doing incredible things, particularly in the area of complex rhythms. I suppose the only thing I'd say is that it's important not to lose sight of what (for me at least) is at the heart of jazz – swing. If it's not swinging at least some of the time, I don't really feel it's jazz – which is not to say that it's not valid, just that it's something different.”
Tell us about your long running sextet. What sets it apart from other bands?
“As for the 6tet – I suppose one thing that sets it apart is its longevity! It's been around 25 years now, mainly with the same guys. The great thing about this is it really starts to sound like a band, because we know each other's playing and the material so well. I like to think there is a lot of love and mutual respect in this band. Plus I suppose things have kind of crystallized into a strong sound and style after all this time, so that when I write for the band I basically know what's going to work and what isn't. And I try to keep coming up with new material to keep things fresh so that the guys (and the audience) don't get bored – in fact, it seems to me that's the only way to keep a band going. As a result, we've now got well over 300 charts in the band book.”
You write and arrange a lot of pieces for the band. How do you go about composing and where do you get your inspiration from?
“Inspiration comes from all over the place – fragments of tunes I've heard, riffs, grooves, chord sequences – but what I always find is it's pointless to sit down and wait for inspiration. It never comes that way, only when you're least expecting it. But I must say as I get older it's hard to avoid repeating oneself in some way or other. It's only occasionally I feel I've come up with something that kind of breaks my own mould.”
Matt Wates appears with his sextet at The Verdict in Brighton on Friday 19th August.
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