Monday, November 30, 2015


Normally I don’t know how to write a review on classical music, but after witnessing a glorious concert that resembled a part of my childhood, I felt moved to write something about my experience at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and many more to come in the future.

The presentation of Sergei Prokofiev’s classic “Peter and the Wolf” was a moment that upon celebrating my 35th birthday, highlighted a moment where I was introduced to classical music for the first time.   Peter and the Wolf, narrated by a Leonard Bernstein, opened a world in which I would never leave from again.   To revisit that in a fresh new retelling featuring the humour and pathos of famed Canadian satirist Rick Mercer, recaptured the moments of pure storytelling, innocence, and tranquility in a long ago world.

In addition to the highlighted piece, there was a serene all horn arrangement performed by French Horn player Neil Deland of my fellow birthday brother Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust”, another birthday brother Benjamin Britten on the opener “Young Persons Guide to an Orchestra”, and another highlight of the evening, a Rachmanninov piano concerto which was a variations of a theme of Paganini.   Pianist Coco Ma had a precision and poise that was spot on, added with the sheer grace and charm by the featured pianist.

To close, what touched me the most that night was that the concert was the first benefit dedicated to the valiant work of one of the greatest hospitals in the world and a Canadian icon, “The Hospital for Sick Children”.    The story that touched me the most was that of conductor and musical director Peter Oundijan.   He shared that because of a ruptured intestine, he could have died as a baby.   However, thanks to the God-given talents and skills of the doctors at the time, he fully recovered, has got a clean bill of life, and now leads one of the greatest orchestras in the world.   Stories like this prove to me beyond a reasonable doubt that there is a God out there who is still bringing hope and healing in accordance with his will and timing.    Out of pain, comes growth.    And out of this valiant work came a brilliant conductor and musical director.   



Sunday, November 29, 2015


2015 marked a lot of milestone birthdays this year.    Billie Holiday, Billy Strayhorn and Frank Sinatra to name a few would be 100 years old.   One other huge milestone, 10 years different, would be the 90th birthday of one of the greatest Canadian celebrities to grace the entire world.    He became famous without the need of drugs, sex, or flaunting wealth to get ahead.   I am talking about the “Maharajah” of the piano himself, Dr. Oscar Peterson.

To cap the festivities, the folks at the Royal Conservatory of music showed an almost 25-year-old documentary about the life and times of this great legend, produced by his niece Sylvia Sweeney, daughter of Oscar Peterson’s sister and teacher Daisy Sweeney.    The documentary was a love story, a history lesson, and a jazz fest rolled into one, which at times could lead to sadness, rage, despair, and ultimately, joy.

The film looked at the golden era of jazz, and the trials and tribulations they went through to get to where they are in the most respective places in music history.   They were harassed, beaten, threatened to death, and treated like pieces of shit because of the colour of their skin.    Oscar Peterson got hate mail because of his decision to hire a white guitar player that would ultimately be one of the greatest small combos in the history of jazz.   Oscar Peterson did and lived through it all, and it should serve as a purpose to the millennial generation to know that this music came from love, toil, sweat and tears, not keyboards, electronics, and Autotune.

Upon looking at this documentary, I realized that Oscar Peterson and myself are mirror copies of each other but in a different time.   Oscar found acceptance and endearment from the white race just like me.   We both came from West Indian families who instilled strict Christian values, conservative values and work ethics that will hold it together in life.   Ultimately, the road was paved with suffering, toil and a lot of soul searching to make us the people that will not only make recordings, but also change the game of music.   “In The Key of Oscar” is probably the best two-hour history lesson that I have ever encountered that made me respect and honour my Canadian hero even more.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


In one of the most magical and most forward thinking places in Toronto for live music, I decided to take in a concert of some of the most unique music put together by a good old friend of mine.   He would go by the name of David Virelles, fellow Cuban and prodigee of Jane Bunnett.

I first met David at the IAJE conference in January of 2003.   I even took a Barry Harris workshop with him and when we saw the 50th anniversary of the “Quintet:  Live At Massey Hall”, we hung out the night away with greats such as Dave Holland, Max Roach, Roy Haynes, Roy Hargrove, Kenny Garrett, and one of our main piano heroes, Herbie Hancock.

All of a sudden now, David moved to New York, and at a ripe young age he is now backing up and recording with Chris Potter, Tomasz Stanko, Andrew Cyrille and Ben Street to name a few.   He got his training through the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) through legends such as Muhal Richard Abrams and Henry Threadgill.   Through these experiences, he is fusing the elements of the avant-garde, post-bop, contemporary classical, free jazz, and Afro-Cuban music into a uniquely potent style that is really energetic, rapturous, and gets you in the zone wanting more.

The performance was split into two sections.   David Virelles played mostly solo piano some short pieces and compositions with a few highlights from vocalist Roman Diaz and a percussion instrument.   From what I gathered, one moment David would play with the sensitivity and the romanticism of a Beethoven or a Chopin, but once he locks in a groove, he brings a percussive element that is just as intense and fiery as a Cecil Taylor.  

The actual world premiere performance, Gnosis, is a work that is a fusion of classical elements mixed with avant-garde, Afro-Cuban jazz.    It is a marriage made in heaven.   One of the highlights of the movement was a section in which David and the percussionist played a near 10 minute groove that was so intense, rapturous, and spiritual that I had to literally get up off my seat and start doing interpretive freestyle dance to the music, communicating with the percussionist who was egging me on with his rhythms.   That alone was what David really achieved that night.   Gnosis, which is Greek for “Spirit” (hence where you get the word Gnosticism) was just like that.   For me, it felt like a Pentecostal church service that didn’t want to end.  

In my honest opinion, David Virelles’ “Gnosis” could very well be the best concert that I have ever been to in 2015, since it was art at its most energetic, spiritual and classiest at its best.


(David Virelles)

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Gay.   Sadly, it is probably the most hijacked word of our time.   Back in the day, it did not mean what it does mean today.  

In the 1890’s, it was a decade known as the “Gay 90’s”.   Before the turn of the 20th century, the decade birthed composers such as George Gershwin and Duke Ellington who would redefine the musical landscape of America with its fusion of jazz and classical musics.   It was the dawning of progress and a new time.    “Gay”, as it was known back then, meant happy, and in that decade, it was a happy, promising time of progress.

This definition has held its course, but when Stonewall of 1969 happened, the definition was seriously hijacked to something that is really not of God, and not of progress.   “Gay”, meant that if you are sexually and physically attracted to the same sex, it is OK.   According to the Bible (and I may lose friends as a result of this), homosexuality is an abomination unto God (Leviticus 18:22) and those who practice homosexuality will NOT inherit the kingdom of God (I Corinthians 6:9-10).   I didn’t write the script.   God did.   And everyone on judgment day will have to answer.

I have dealt with this temptation, and to the day I’ll die or if God calls me home, I will not give in or back down to society pressures or a “feels good, do it” mentality.   My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and as a result I will serve God through my whole self.

I want to recapture the meaning of the word “Gay”.   If it is the original meaning denoting that I am a happy individual, then yes in that case, I’m gay.   But in light of the contemporaries, I reject their nuance of vocabulary to fit their agenda.

And on that note, that is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


CONRAD:  Last year, you did a concert in Las Vegas with a 17-piece band.   What was it like filling in the shoes of legends such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and all the other greats?

MATT: I’ve been performing in Vegas on and off for the last 8 years, but haven’t had the opportunity to perform with a big band.   Las Vegas music IS big band music… It’s obvious; Casinos are always blasting it in the lobby.   For me LIVE FROM LAS VEGAS was an opportunity to perform some of my favorite big band tunes,

CONRAD:   This album is sort of a return to the roots of jazz singing for you.   Do you find it easier to sing jazz standards vs. pop material or is it all just the same in your opinion?

MATT:  Jazz music is much easier for me to sing because I have a real love for standards, I’ve been singing thin music for almost 16 years.   The more you do it, the better you become.   However I’ve discovered there is no ”finish line” in music.   You ‘re always learning

CONRAD: What is it about Chet Baker and his music that intrigued you so much to do this recording?

MATT:    I first discovered Chet Baker when I was a teenager.  His instrumental music was played a lot on the local jazz radio station.   I was amazed at the way he played so softly and beautifully… I wanted to try and capture those moments in my voice on the new album.   I’ve noticed the younger generation doesn’t know anything about Chet Baker, so by doing this album, I hope it will bring greater attention to the great 40 year career that Chet Baker had.

CONRAD:   I know that you received beginning training singing classical music at St. Michael’s Choir School.   What was the catalyst of transitioning from classical to jazz?

MATT:   When I was in my teen years, I discovered “crooning” To be honest I found the music fun loving, almost cheesy.   Soon after I discovered a little thing called Karaoke, and I quickly realized I could have my own big band behind me… well, almost!  I took my karaoke tapes to a few talent nights, and realized it was a great way to meet girls!  I said to myself “I don’t care what kind of music this is… I’m gonna do this for the rest of my life!”.

CONRAD:   When I first heard you, I had to admit that you were a copy of Frank Sinatra at first.   Was it a struggle for you over the years to find your own voice or singing your own material has helped create your own voice?

MATT:   Everybody has a mentor, and the best way to learn is to copy someone.  You use them as a point of reference, and over time you begin to develop your own style. I was fortunate enough to be taught by Bob Fenton, a piano player at York University.  Sadly, Bob is no longer with us, however he taught me how to sing lyrically, just like the crooners had learned long ago.

CONRAD:  In this album, you have special guests ranging from Emilie Claire Barlow, Guido Basso, Ryan Ahlwardt and Arturo Sandoval.   Describe to me what was it like working with these people and how each one of them contributed to the flavour of the project.

MATT:   Most musicians know who Chet Baker is, and know how amazing he was.   The reason I chose Arturo Sandoval as the main soloist was because although he is known for playing high and loud, Arturo can play very quietly and tenderly.  This can be heard on his album “ A Time for Love”.  I’ve known Emilie Claire Barlow for a long time, and thought her voice would be perfect as a duet on “Embraceable You”  It is one the highlights of the album.  I’ve played with Guido Basso throughout the years, and his tone on the flugelhorn is legendary.  When doing a tribute to a great trumpet and flugal player, you have to include him, as he is legend in his own right.  Ryan Ahlwardt did vocal arrangement of “I Fall In Love To Easily” which was a throwback to the Pied Piper’s vocal ensemble work.  Both him and I have a love for that old crooning vocal style. 

CONRAD:  So upon release of this album, is there a tour in the works?

MATT:   I’ll be touring across Europe, Asia and North America throughout 2013, with a full Canadian Tour in the fall of 2013.

CONRAD:   Who is your all time favourite singer, and why?

MATT: Frank Sinatra.  I’ve always been enamored by his voice.  Lucky for me, I sing in the same range as he does, so it was always easy to figure out how’d I sound on his tunes.   Sinatra also had a way of singing loud, then tenderly, and had amazing breath control… man could that guy sing!  He was a great inspiration for a young singer in their teens. (me!) 

CONRAD:   What is your all time favourite album, and why?

MATT:  My favourite album is Frank Sinatra’s “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning.”  When I was going through my first breakup, my jazz ensemble teacher, Mark Eisenman, told me to listen to it.  I was hooked.  I still love the album today, can play it anytime and never get bored of it.  Chet Baker sang a song called, Deep In A Dream, which is also on “Wee small…” I love Chet’s version even more and had to include it on my latest album.

CONRAD:  In your opinion, do you think that classic jazz music has a thriving future ahead?

MATT:  Good music never dies.  The music business will change, but not the love and passion for good music.  It believes it will be nearly impossible to have #1 world wide hit in the jazz/classical genre, but it’s not needed.  Both genre’s have lasted for decades and have become a truly unforgettable genre.  Most genres have difficulty lasting A DECADE!  I truly believe that jazz and classical music will always be available to the discerning ear.

(Matt Dusk and Me...The Best of Friends)