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NR native performs at Studio Z, releasing new jazz album

New Richmond grad Matt Slocum recently performed at Studio Z as part of his group’s album release tour. (Submitted photo)

For most people, defining success can be a tall task, especially in a field like music, and especially when it comes to a genre such as jazz.

“Jazz has become, in many ways, such a niche art form that ‘success’ is a pretty relative term,” said 35-year-old New Richmond High School grad and jazz drummer/composer Matt Slocum. “I’m not aware of any jazz musicians, even the all-time greats, who haven’t struggled. I’ve certainly had the luxury of great teachers.”

Even with his admission that success is relative, it is hard to deny that Slocum hasn’t had at least a little success in his chosen field, especially when you consider he recently performed a series of concerts to promote his fourth and newest album, Trio Pacific, Vol. 1, including concerts in New York City, San Diego, Los Angeles and most recently, at Studio Z in St. Paul.

“I’m excited because it’s the first time that I’ve been able to bring the exact personnel from a recording to the Twin Cities for the album release performances,” Slocum said. “The instrumentation is a bit unorthodox because it is saxophone, guitar, drums (no bass). I wrote six of the compositions and the other two are jazz standards. The audience is a spark for the creative process. When they are there as a part of the music with you, it can be magical.”

According to Slocum, making it to where he is now wasn’t easy and he knows he will have to continue to improve his craft in order to reach new heights.

“Like any other job, sport or art form, we’re always trying to learn and improve on the areas where we’ve fallen short,” Slocum said. “Peter Erskine, my teacher at USC, would tell us, ‘What makes good judgement?... Experience. What makes experience?... Bad judgement.’ Music is humbling because it’s a lifelong pursuit, and you are only as good as your last gig.”

Getting started

Slocum first got into music by taking piano lessons when he was a young boy. However, his true motive for taking piano lessons was to be able to become a percussionist when he got to middle school since students were required to have two years of piano before they could play percussion.

It wasn’t until his sophomore year in high school that Slocum first became interested in jazz. However, he wouldn’t fully immerse himself in jazz until he attended USC, where he planned on double majoring in jazz studies and psychology. That when he got “pulled into the jazz vortex.”

“There was a very supportive and knowledgeable musical community both at the high school and around town,” Slocum said. “In high school we had great music teachers like Mr. Gregerson, Mr. Ramthun and Mr. Kendziera as well Mr. Saliny with the orchestra. I got to play drums for some of the musicals that Stagedoor Players produced, and I really learned a lot from Bill Leahy too.

“I wanted to play about 10,000 notes every five seconds and that was a great learning experience in learning how to play less and support the music.”

Throughout his high school career, Slocum performed with the jazz, concert and marching bands. During his senior year, Slocum studied music theory, history and ear training with Dennis Alfveby, who was the NRHS choral director at the time. “Mr. Alfveby is an amazing teacher who helped prepare me for what would be required in these courses at the college level,” Slocum said. “I think the thing I enjoyed the most about high school was the camaraderie of being a part of the percussion section in the marching band.”

Creating an album

Trio Pacific, Vol. 1 is Slocum’s fourth recording as a leader, but he has played on many other albums as a sideman.

“It’s much easier when you are playing on someone else’s recording!” Slocum said. “Then you can just learn the music, rehearse, show up to the recording sessions and you’re done. When it is your own project, it becomes much more personal and involved in terms of arranging the music and dealing with mixing and mastering engineers.”

Of all the things that go into creating and producing an album, Slocum enjoys the recording process the most.

“This is by far the most organic and spontaneous part (at least for jazz),” Slocum said. “After that it’s a lot of detailed work with the mixing and mastering engineers, artists and graphic designers.”

With the release of the new album, Slocum and his trio will be performing across the country, which means a lot of traveling for Slocum, who currently lives in Montclair, New Jersey, a suburb of New York City.

“I like different spaces for different reasons. A lot of it has to do with the sound and acoustics of the room,” Slocum said. “Jazz at Lincoln Center is beautiful, but I also like smaller clubs. There is a really nice space in Half Moon Bay, California, that I love too. I have enjoyed traveling, but my favorite memories seem to be short segments from individual performances (or sometimes as long as one set) where all of the musicians and the audience seem completely connected in the moment.

“Actually, one of my favorite memories was the first time that I played with Dayna Stephens and Steve Cardenas, the musicians on the new recording.”

The future

With Trio Pacific, Vol. 1 having been released on Oct. 7, Slocum’s calendar is full for the next few months with the album release tour. Once the tour is over, Slocum plans on writing several new compositions and recording a new project next year.

“I want to continue writing and documenting those compositions on recordings,” Slocum said. “I’d love to play with some of the elder statesmen of jazz — artists like Kenny Barron, Charles Lloyd, Joe Lovano, etc. And at some point I’d love to do a recording project with Dave Holland.”

In addition to recording and touring, Slocum has been teaching as well, which has been one of his favorite things to do.

“I’ve been working with some excellent students these past few years and have enjoyed that. So I’m interested in doing more in that direction but also continuing to tour and record with my own groups and as a sideman,” Slocum said. “There are about four projects that I’d like to record right now! I’d also like to take this current project, Trio Pacific, across the pond for some European performances.”

Although Slocum has performed all across the United States, as well as in Canada, Europe and Japan, he has yet to perform in Africa, and hopes he can perform in South Africa in the future.

“I would love to perform at the Village Vanguard (Greenwich Village, NYC),” Slocum said. “There’s such a rich history in that space from all of the great jazz artists who have performed there over the last 80 years.”

As much success as Slocum has had in his career, Slocum feels that success doesn’t come and can’t be defined by the number of albums you sell, the number of concerts you perform or becoming the next star of the jazz world.

“This could be answered in a lot of different ways, but one thing that I think is really important is being in the right creative environment with like-minded artists and mentors to spark progression,” Slocum said. “In this sense, environment can become more important than willpower. A student could be practicing five hours a day, but that might not be as effective as someone who is practicing a couple hours a day and surrounded by and performing/studying with other serious musicians.

“You also have to be willing to make sacrifices and give up any notion of ever making a lot of money. The number one goal has to be serving the music and supporting/making the other musicians sound better.”

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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