Insights from Prolific Saxophonist of Many Musical Hats, Matt Steckler
- Primarily a saxophonist and woodwind specialist, he also performs on vocals, keyboards, percussion and electronic media.
- Matt holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in Composition from New York University, an M.M. in Jazz Performance from New England Conservatory of Music, and a B.A. in Music from Wesleyan University
- Matt studied performance with Jerry Bergonzi, Thomas Chapin, Danilo Perez, Cecil McBee, Nick Brignola, Jay Hoggard and Paul Bley, and composition/theory with Jim McNeely, Anton Vishio, Marc Consoli, Jerica Oblak, Justin Dello Joio, Dinu Ghezzo, Ron Sadoff, Lee Hyla, Anthony Braxton and George Russell.
- Over the course of his career, Matthew has performed alongside Lonnie Plaxico, Gary Smulyan, Lee Konitz, Anthony Braxton, Roswell Rudd, George Russell, Gunther Schuller, Curtis Fowlkes, Pheeroan Aklaff, Jon Hendricks, Jay Hoggard, George Lewis, Marty Ehrlich, Tyshawn Sorey, Dan Weiss, Chris Lightcap, Greg Burk, Jim McNeely, Lenny Pickett, Randy Brecker, Joe Lovano, Bob Moses, Greg Hopkins, Gerald Cleaver, Bobby Sanabria, Gary Morgan, Ed Palermo, Club D’Elf, Max Creek and the Jazz Composers Alliance.
- As a composer and bandleader, Matthew has been recognized for his seminal work with the projects Dead Cat Bounce and Persiflage, chronicled in Downbeat & Jazz Times, and featured at festivals and major concert series in the United States. Other projects he has led include SWIPE Carteland Lavender Jones & The Dead Giveaways.
- Matthew has written for concert music, theatre, film and game audio settings, and continues his own foundational work in electro acoustics and multimedia that began with his 2013 research-based, extended work Eco Beat Heresy.
- From 2017-2020, he served on the faculty in Jazz & Contemporary Popular Music at the renowned Brandon University School of Music in Canada; and has taught at NYU, RPI, and other Higher Ed and K-12 schools.
ZS: How did you become interested in playing the saxophone?
MS: A teacher who looked just like Gato Barbieri came to my school to demo instruments and the sax seemed cool. Also, a friend of the family – who lived with us when I was very young – played sax with Blood, Sweat & Tears and Laurie Anderson is also the coolest.
ZS: I see you have a M.A. & Ph.D. in composition. What was your motivation to continue your studies in composition over focusing on playing right after college?
MS: I played and taught for some time after receiving my M.M. in Jazz Performance. I guess the instinct had always been there for writing for my own groups and I was interested in learning more approaches…and to have the option to teach in higher education in a couple areas down the road was attractive to me.
ZS: What do you enjoy most about writing music? Is it the process or the end result and why?
MS: Definitely the end result – the process is torture! But in seriousness, my research is very process-focused, so with the right mindset it can be exhilarating. I think what’s interesting is not so much the “from the brow of Zeus” mentality but rather finding sounds that exist already in nature and the culture, and setting them in motion to see where they’ll go.
ZS: How did your sax quartet, Matty Stecks & Dead Cat Bounce come about?
MS: It’s an impure sax quartet plus bass and drums, so the full group is actually a sextet. It started as a one-off event for a poetry and music night collaboration with a friend. There were other instruments involved as well.
ZS: As an integral member of a saxophone quartet, what do you find to be the most challenging part? Is it writing new charts, or the actual playing part?
MS: Well, a little of both, since you have to take the feedback from rehearsal and apply it to editing the charts accordingly. It’s often the tricky rhythms and dense harmonies that require internalizing over time.
ZS: Has Covid influenced any of your recent or future compositions/projects?
MS: I’ve written contemporary popular material here at home, which wouldn’t have happened in that way otherwise. One tune became a video with COVID-themed messaging. I’m also heading soon to the Millay Colony to write an extended electroacoustic work based on issues of memory, so there’s an introspection and personalization to this new direction that the hiatus encouraged.
ZS: What other saxophone quartets do you find yourself listening to, and is there one in particular you continually check out for inspiration?
MS: I don’t listen to them often to be honest. But World Saxophone Quartet was a pivotal influence on the evolution of Dead Cat Bounce. ROVA and Tiptons are quite noteworthy as well.
ZS: What are your thoughts on the importance of equipment? Do you find yourself changing much or sticking with the same gear?
MS: I am admittedly not much of a gear head. I stick with some things that felt good playing on years ago. Several teachers demonstrated to me the sound comes from the player, even proving it on junky student model horns.
- Soprano – Yamaha 62
- Alto – Selmer Series II
- Tenor – Mark VI
Ligatures: François Louis
Reeds: Vandoren Red Box – 2.5
- Soprano – Selmer Super Session (E)
- Alto – Café Espresso (5)
- Tenor – Café Espresso (5)
NeckStrap: Protec harness
Case: Walt Johnson
Accessories: Rico humidifier cases & Vandoren filing kit
Resources: various writings from teachers; learning and organizing apps; composing software
For more on Matty, check out his Website as well as his Bandcamp page.