Award winning jazz player performs at Old Chapel Wednesday

Five jazz musicians perform a concert in the Old Chapel


(Sophia Gardner/Daily Collegian)

By Sophia Gardner, Collegian Correspondent

When people think “jazz,” they sometimes imagine a smoky room where soft piano music drifts out of dimly lit corners, played by a man wearing a fedora. They may not think of a lively drummer and his band, performing upbeat and heartfelt songs whose lyrics come directly from the poems of poet Carl Sandburg. However, this is exactly the type of jazz that was performed on Wednesday at the University of Massachusetts’ Old Chapel.

Matt Wilson, named “Musician of The Year” and awarded “Album Of The Year” by the Jazz Journalists Association, was recruited to perform for UMass by Glenn Siegel, jazz coordinator of the Fine Arts Center, who describes him as “one of the most celebrated, critically acclaimed jazz musicians of our time.”

Wilson performed for the UMass community once before in 2014 as a sideman in Marty Ehrlich’s Large Ensemble. He has now returned as the headliner for the night and the lead musician of his band.

Wilson’s most recent album, “Honey and Salt,” features four other musicians, all of whom were present on Wednesday night – Dawn Thomas on guitar and vocals, Ron Miles playing the cornet, Martin Wind on the bass and Jeff Lederer on the reeds.

Lederer said of the group, “This is a special collection of musicians, most of whom I’ve had long relationships with. Matt chose this particular group of personalities for the specific qualities each one brings and their relationship to the poetry.”

The group’s friendships plays an important part in their ability to create innovative music. “Matt has a great sense of instrumentation – he dislikes the jazz flute, but enjoys the jazz piccolo, so I have to play the piccolo. I would only do that for him,” joked Lederer.

At one point during the performance, Wilson removed the symbols from their stand and started playing them in the style of a marching band, with one in each hand, emphasizing the innovative and creative joy the band worked toward.

According to Wilson, the inspiration for “Honey and Salt” is Sandburg, who is featured on the cover. Wilson feels a special connection to the poet, as they are both based in the same area.

“I am from the same region of west central Illinois and that connection made a big impact. Just knowing I am seeing the same prairie landscapes and breathing the air is also inspiring,” Wilson said.

UMass is not alone in having the honor of bringing Wilson to the stage, as he and his band are accustomed to playing at colleges and universities.

“I perform at universities around the U.S. regularly throughout the year. College age listeners often have a new sense of openness that allows them to be open to new sounds and spirits” said Wilson.

In addition to performing on Wednesday, Wilson also taught a workshop in UMass’ music department.

Siegel believes that Wilson is only one of many contributors to a variety of superb jazz shows available around the Amherst area.

“UMass has a lot of jazz shows,” Siegel said. “UMass also has a rich history of presenting jazz music. This area in general has a lot of very good jazz programming.”

“I feel no matter the genre or the medium, people desire and need to experience human moments of art in their lives. When you have a wonderful and trusted series like the Magic Triangle, curated by the great Glenn Siegal, these moments are easily accessed and experienced,” Wilson said.

Sophia Gardner can be reached at [email protected]