“Matt Baker is one of the most respected and versatile pianist-composers yet to come out of Australia. Baker’s playing sounds as though it belongs on ECM. An exceptional pianist.” Tony Hall, JAZZ WISE UK
An interview with Matt Baker for Jazz Australia.
One of the many expats living overseas, we explore the lure of New York.
JK: Why did you decide to move to New York?
MB: There came a time around the age of 30 when my career was plateauing, as well as my playing. I had the life in Australia, but the opportunities were not there. I really had to revisit my dreams, and be real. If I wanted to achieve them, I had to get out, and there was only one place for me: the jazz mecca of the world.
JK: What do you like about living in NY?
MB: I absolutely love it. Its the city of extremes. We had our coldest winter night since 1916 this year, and when its hot its real hot. Its dirty, smelly, fast paced, tough in competition, and when starting out you can work your backside off and not earn anything. But its also beautiful, the architecture and enormity of the city is inspiring, Central Park is beautiful, the snow is beautiful, the music, the art, the culture and the warmth and welcoming nature of the people is amazing. The worlds greatest musicians are here or pass through too. There are more venues here than anywhere, and the musical opportunities are endless. You learn to get to the point, cut the waffle, speak directly and not waste time – theres always someone waiting there to grab your opportunity if you don’t!
JK: What are the things that are unique to the New York lifestyle?
MB: I love being able to move around the city very quickly on the subway, grocery shop 24/7, hail a taxi within 10 seconds, not needing a car at all, eat out almost every night, having a coffee shop on ever street block, having anything you need to buy delivered, being a part of the crazy climate here and most of all having so much inspiration around all the time. You feel you have a purpose in this town.
JK: What is the most rewarding part of being a musician in New York?
MB: Being able to create, grow and work around such a diverse array of musicians, in the most creative and developing artistic environment in the world. To then have the opportunity to take your music and perform on some of the worlds greatest stages and inspire others, is the greatest I could hope for.
JK: What are your career highlights to date?
MB: Certainly playing at Carnegie Hall this year for the first time. Other than that – touring with Judy Collins, Patrizio Buanne, playing at Birdland Jazz club, visiting the home of Oscar Peterson and playing his piano, playing solo at the Lincoln Centre and being written up in the New York Times the next day, playing privately for Quincy Jones and chanting pre-show with pianist Herbie Hancock.