Keeping The Flame With Matt Garrison

Matt Garrison, son of legendary bassist Jimmy Garrison, expounds on his recent solo CD, the art of composition, and what the future holds in this exclusive interview for ActiveBass.
Matt Garrison's recent solo CD has been compared to the solo efforts of Stanley and Jaco in terms of raising the bar from where it had previously been set. Son of the great Jimmy Garrison, Matthew lived with legendary jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette and his wife while finishing high school, graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, studied with Dave Holland, and has done stints with John McLaughlin, Joe Zawinul and many more. At 30 years old, he's finished his first solo CD (with a few more on the way) and is setting up to take us all on a ride that's been needed for a while. Matt recently took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with's Peter Davyduck.

Peter Davyduck: Hi Matt, welcome to and thanks for your time to do this interview. First off, it's good to know you're doing well in light of the tragic events in New York. I don't mean to turn this article into a CNN Larry King Live, but there is no doubt that the city and its people have been deeply changed and I was just wondering, if you don't mind, if you would share briefly how you've perceived the city/music scene/gigs/sessions that you've done since the 11th of September.

Matt Garrison: The weeks following the events of the 11th were probably the saddest yet most enlightning times I've ever had in the city. When phone communications were relatively back in order we all just let our ideas, emotions, and feelings out to each other which is something that rarely happens in normal times of business. A lot of us went to the streets to express our political idealogues, to mourn, and to help create a sense of peace in a chaotic time. I was really moved by the sense of community and support that came about. As far as actual gigs, as you can imagine, most of those were cancelled due to traffic/transportation mayhem, but we got together and played and partied to help shake off the inevitable feeling of depression. Personally I wrote a whole bunch of new music and it will all be on my next CD. Hopefully the music will give some insight into my perception of the times we live in.

PD: I know that you did your new CD almost entirely of your own will and your producing and engineering. How did the process come about as far as composing and recording?

Matthew Garrison (2000)
Matt: I guess it all came about as I developed as a musician. I've always had a strong sense of melody in my playing and it was only a matter of taking those ideas and crystalizing them into a compositional format. I'm absolutely mad about songs and tunes that have an immediate impact due to their melodic/thematic content. I had plenty of material from several years before the recording and all I had to do was put the music together in a format that worked for me and the other musicians. I even wrote new material for some of the musicians involved.

The engineering side came out of necessity. I had to record the CD on my own because every other opportunity either escaped me or just wasn't right. I ended up buying a whole bunch of equipment that wasn't even compatible but by banging my head hard enough on the manuals I made them work, and subsequently loved every single moment I put into the production and engineering. It was a true awakening of some other side of myself. I'm now a computer geek and I have to own the latest stuff! I'm doomed!

PD: Along with performing and recording the CD, you've also been marketing and selling it yourself. Since its release, how have you changed as a businessman as well as a player?

Matt: Well, I must say I wasn't much of a businessman before the CD. The best I could do was to take care of getting the right price for my performance. Now things have taken on a much more serious direction since I now know how much work goes into preparing a CD the way I did. I make very few compromises and will really only engage in business with people who are absolutely serious and understand the value of my products on every level.

That motivation to view my products in that way has definitely spilled over into my role as a sideman. I've always played music for the love of it but I've decided to be absolutely unbending in terms of what I know I should be offered for my expertise. Being selective has its downside on a short term basis, but generally speaking, it uplifts one's level in the long run.

PD: As to the content of the CD, the opener "Family" has one of the catchiest progressions and melodies that I've heard on any solo bass CD. Your writing is really composition-based, with a depth of chops happening in the background that requires many listenings to discover it all. What is your approach to writing as opposed to soloing?

Matt: Well, you've pretty much nailed the answer in your question. Interestingly enough, a lot of compositions come about from me just recording random melodic statements into my computer. I've made it a point to record at least one melodic idea a day even if it sucks. By the end of the month I'll go back and listen to everything I've recorded and choose what ever I feel to be the strongest statements. If there are several ideas that work I'll tie a couple of them together by key, rhythm, time signature. If they don't necessarily work together, I'll find a way to fit them if I think they are close enough in nature. Sometimes I'll just leave an idea exactly as it is, regardless of its connection to another idea, and I'll go along with it and fit the harmony or underlying rhythm to make it work.

The possibilities are infinite and the chances of coming up with a new song are just as infinite. It's an absolutely mind boggling experience. Basically composition, soloing, bass playing, programming are intrinsically linked in my mind. I don't really make a distinction between any of them but I will be specific about the way I ultimately organize the parts. I will only be satisfied with a recording when I know all those aspects that go in to making a composition are very well synchronized.

PD: With the melodic side of the tunes on your CD, you've mentioned working with Sting and Peter Gabriel as gigs you'd be interested in having a chance to be a part of. Is that some of the music that's inspired you and brought that bit of "hum-able melody" to your writing?

Matt: Absolutely. I've always been a huge fan of Sting and Peter Gabriel for those exact reasons. They both have a strong sense of composition. They create subtle and effective melodies, but create some complex harmonies in the background. Many great composers work exactly in the same manner and I'm driven to that concept like a moth to light.

PD: Do you feel that we, as bassists, really need to break out of the mold of "support only" and into the Mingus-esque realm of composers? What do you see as the benefits to a bassist's skills in doing so?

Matt: I don't necessarily see that bassists need to become composers, but I do see that we are in a formidable position to do so if we choose. We've all heard it many times before: "we're the bridge between harmony and rhythm". And if you perform a lot, you'll know what that means and how it feels. That alone puts any musician, let alone the bassists, in an area of decision making that is critical to making a performance work. Once you're making those type of decisions, you're already acting as a composer/arranger on the spot.

PD: Getting back to the CD, "Dark Matter" - great drum n' bass beats, which shows some influences outside of the normal jazz parameters. What kind of stuff are you listening to that bring out that side to your playing?

Matt: Here's my latest list of artists I listen to:
  • Squarepusher - "Go Plastic"
  • Prokofiev - "Peter and the Wolf"
  • Stravinsky - "Rite of Spring"
  • Linkin Park
  • Bjork
  • Nils Peter Molvaer - "Kmer"
PD: Finally about the album, in Bass Player you mentioned your use of the symmetric augmented scale. Are there any other new "scalar themes" you've been diggin' lately?

Matt: I've been checking out a fabulous book called the "Thesaurus of Scales and Patterns" by Slonimsky. It really doesn't get any deeper than his studies in terms of symmetric scales. There are lots of ways to approach his ideas and develop and adapt them to your playing and composing. I couldn't mention anything specific since there are so many variations but I will say that some of those ideas will appear on my next CD due out sometime in the middle of next year.

PD: What about your voicings? Do you have any specific approach to them as far as physically playing them along with conceptually approaching them?

Matt: I approach voicings from a pianistic point of view. I see the notes of a scale that I choose to use laid out before me, and I try to play as many combinations of double, triple, quadruple stops as I see fit for the situation at hand. I never confine myself to root, third, fifth, seventh positions. Those are chords that are good for studying.

PD: I'm going to assume that your more "harmelodic" approach to playing has lead you to favor a 5-string with a high C as opposed to the low B.

Matt: That's correct. The high C string enables me to get closer to the sound in my head in as far as solos and chords go. When I was at Berklee studying I was really into transcribing pianists, saxophonists, and guitarists. When I would play trough the transcribed parts I was never satisfied with the octave limitation of my four string so I switched to five with a high C really to hear those solos closer to their pitch source. I now have a hipshot on my E string which drops to a low B and that satifies my low end necessities.

PD: Speaking of gear, how has your work with Fodera, Aguilar, and Epifani added to your playing?

Matt: Vinnie Fodera and Joey Lauricella of Fodera Guitars have been like family to me from the first day I joined with them. The instruments are absolutely phenomenal and there so much freedom in terms of experimenting with new shapes, electronics, and general concepts. They're very open minded and willing to try new things. They approach making instruments as musicians make music.

Nick Epifani of Epifani Custom Sound is exactly the same. We've sat down for hours talking about new ideas, sonic concepts, shapes and whatnot. He's just a fabulous and very resourceful craftsman and a great friend. I'm proud and honored to work with all of those guys and to have an enduring relationship with them.

I don't work with Aguilar anymore. They weren't very helpful.

PD: In terms of attaining your sound after it's left your finger tips, as well as being able to see the instrument from the technical side of things, has the broadened insight into the nuts and bolts of the instrument and its amplification made your bass appreciation greater? Not only can you tell the band that it's a subV7/III but you can also go "the pickup needs to go back 1/16" closer to the bridge".

Matt: Actually I'm a complete technical fool when it comes to my bass. I'm one of those musicians that tells Vinnie Fodera or Joey Lauricella at Fodera: "I need more blue in the midrange, some green when I play chords, and some turquoise when I want to solo".

All jokes aside, I'm not much of a nuts and bolts bassist. I let people who know about those things worry about it. I have enough trouble trying to figure out how I'm going to skip strings without raking!

PD: Back to playing, you've mentioned in other interviews that Dominique Di Piaza is an influence. I was wondering if you'd possibly say a word or two about Dominique for those that might not know who he is and what it is about his playing that's inspired you.

Matt: Dominique is simply one of the most technically/harmonically accomplished bassists I've ever heard. His precision/attack/fluidity/harmonic sense are just mind boggling. I first heard him on John McLaughlin's "Que Alegria" and have been hooked ever since. He also uses some alternative right hand picking technique and that's what kind of inspired me to look for a different way of playing my axe beyond the 2 fingers.

PD: Onto your future plans, I read a quote where you said, "where I'm heading next is deeper into the world of recording and creation" and also commented, "I've done my share of sideman work and I've had enough of it." What can we expect from Matt Garrison in the immediate future and what's on the horizon?

Matt: As far as the sideman stuff, I lied! When I got a call to perform with Herbie Hancock, I just couldn't resist the temptation. It's fabulous playing with him, but it's always hard because it takes away from time in my studio creating more music. At the same time, it exposes me to new and larger audiences for my projects and forces me to learn more about the possibilties of recording and creating music while I travel.

PD: Thanks again Matt for taking time to talk to us here at and we're looking forward to hearing more from you.

Matt: Thank you guys at for helping me share my ideas with other folks out there. Your website is an essential part of the information revolution we're living through and I'm honored to have contributed in some manner to your vision.

To everyone reading, keep your ears open and your eyes pointed to in the coming year. I have a lot more music for all of you!