Jazzing It Up with Ryan Matzinger
A Grammy Winner Returns to Bozeman
BY DOUG NELSEN
I recently sat down with Bozeman native and grammy award winning saxophonist Ryan Matzinger to get caught up on his well traveled eclectic life. The confident yet humble Matzinger (once known as Ryan Montana) is also a singer-song-writer, recording artist, teacher, producer and studio engineer. His Electric Picture Show CD with the Ten O'clock Scholars garnered national attention and charted on several radio stations.
Ryan continues to perform, teach, and record while researching Jazz saxophone and African-American history at MSU, where he is developing a series of saxophone method books. He has shared the stage and collaborated with the likes of Ike Turner, Ray Charles, Sonny Rollins, Ellis Marsalis, T.S. Monk, and Ravi Shankar, among many others.
DN: So Ryan, you’re a Grammy award winner, where is your grammy sitting at the moment?
RM: We acquired three Grammys as members of the Kings of Rhythm in 2007, which is the band started by Ike back in 1951 credited with penning Rock and Roll's first song (Rocket 88). I am in possession of none of them. One is held by Ike Turner's family, one went to the producer, and the one given to the band is, I don't know, probably with a lawyer in a detention locker some-where.
DN: You’re a Bozeman native, how did you end up back here?
RM: About 2 years ago I was back in Bozeman visiting family. I made a trip up onto campus to talk to some friends. I found out that the School of Music was in transition for several positions, one of which was the saxophone and jazz position. They made me an offer I couldn't refuse, I accepted it and moved back here.
DN: Do you dabble with any other types of instruments besides the saxophone?
RM: Yes, I do a lot of composition on the piano and guitar, more from the production point of view. It helps me as a producer to hear what a complete product needs to be.
DN: How did your life as a saxophonist all begin?
RM: It began when I was really young, as early as three. My mom and dad would tape cassettes for me. One contained music from Grover Washington Jr. Apparently, I wouldn't go to bed at night without hearing it. Then later when I was six or seven, my mom took me to the Sweet Pea Festival in Bozeman, and Sonny Rollins appeared. His performance just mesmerized me in a way I can't explain. Ironically, he would later assist me in getting in to the Hart School of Music in Connecticut.
DN: When did you realize you had a chance to make this aspiration a professional reality?
RM: In my late teens I realized that there was nothing else in the world I could do this well, or could enjoy doing this much.
DN: You have had a chance to play with some of the most influential people in history, in not only Jazz but in Rhythm and Blues, and Rock and Roll. Who have been the biggest influences in your life both musically and personally?
RM: I'd say on a professional basis definitely Paul Jeffries, Jackie McLean, and Sonny Rollins have had the biggest impact. On a personal basis definitely my mother, who continued to push me in my formative years…there were several times when I got discouraged, and thought of quitting.
DN: What makes Jazz truly unique?
RM: I think there are a few things. First of all, it is a distinctly American art form. America is the only place it could be born, because of the melting pot that existed in New Orleans. You had French and Creole music, and Italian singing, and the Blues and Gospel, and all these things came together. It's also unique in the sense, historically, its not just a musical form, but a cultural icon. It could ultimately be seen as the first movement in America of desegregation. Where a white man, a black man, and a woman could be standing side by side working for the force of good.
DN: What is it like going into the "zone" when you are playing? What do you feel emotionally, spiritually?
RM: It depends a lot on the mood I bring into it. I go into an almost zen-like state, even when I am practicing. It’s meditative, nearly out of body, where your brain almost turns off and it's more of a visceral feeling. It is the dialogue of feeling something your having with the other musicians. There is also a great energy exchange between myself and the audience. The dialogue with the audience contains notes, or tonalities, or harmonies that evoke responses individual to each member.
DN: Being a professional saxophonist is physically very demanding, isn't it?
RM: Definitely. I learned from cats like Sonny Rollins that having your physical as well as mental and emotional strength is very impor-tant, especially when going out on the road. I follow a work out routine that includes breathing exercises which I teach to my students every day. Also, I stay active by doing a lot of cross-training in the summer, and cross country and downhill skiing in the winter.
DN: You’re currently a member of the Rhythm Kings?
RM: Yes, I became a member in 2001 of one of the longest standing Rock and Roll groups in America, of which two original members are still a part of. I auditioned at Ike Turner's studio. He asked me to tour with the band that summer. I had 9 or 10 days to learn 50 of his songs, before heading to France. I have been a member of the band ever since.
DN: What is on your iPod?
RM: I love Indie acoustic guitar stuff. I do listen to a lot of Jazz. I go in stages, currently listening to the era between 1957 to 1967, hard driving modern B-Bop. I also love 70 and 80s rock. I don't listen to a lot of contemporary stuff, most of it is just sonic drivel.
DN: Your a wealth of knowledge Ryan, what do you have coming up?
RM: In addition to finishing up the school year strong, I am working on four separate albums. One with the Rhythm Kings, one of African Senegalese tunes, a third coming out in New Delhi with a guy I met through Ike, and a follow up to my 10 O'clock Scholars album. I will be working with a couple of the Neville brothers also on a project. I am looking forward to my summer of touring with the Rhythm Kings again. I want to send out a shout to all of Montana for their ongoing support!