Saxophonist, composer and Artistic Director Matt Keegan talks to Canberra’s Street Theatre about their upcoming 14-date Australian/Indian tour, music and what drives him.
Saxophonist Matt Keegan regularly performs throughout Australia and around the world. He appears on over 50 albums as a recording artist, is a featured soloist for many well-known groups both past and present and has performed at music festivals across the globe.
In 2011, Keegan won the prestigious MCA Freedman Fellowship for jazz and has subsequently produced a recording with his new group The Three Seas in the Rajasthani Desert. He is the Artistic Diretor of the Three Seas international project. His band, The Matt Keegan Trio, have released five albums to critical acclaim.
Keegan is currently an integral member of bands including; the Steve Hunter Band; the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra; The Stu Hunter Experiment; Declan Kelly’s Diesel and Dub; The Beautiful Girls. He has arranged the music for horn sections for projects with artists including; Passenger; Emma Pask; Ray Beadle; and the TV show The Voice. As a composer he has been commissioned to write works for the Australian High Commission in Thailand; The Zephyr String Quartet; and Elisian Fields.
In professional capacity Keegan has also played, recorded and or toured with groups including the Darren Percival band, James Muller Band, The World According to James, Phil Slater’s Sun Songbook, Mark Isaacs Resurgence Band, 20th Century Dog , Jackie Orszaczky, Sarah Blasko, Thirsty Merc, The Japan Australia Jazz Orchestra (JPN) and Maroon 5 (USA).
The Street talked to Matt as he prepares to bring The Three Seas to Canberra.
ST: Describe your relationship with music.
MK: Music is how I best express myself.
ST: What are the possibilities of the saxophone for you as an instrument?
MK: As musicians we are only really limited by our imaginations. I play sax in all kinds of music – there are lots of ways to fit in musically if you think outside the box. I like to use electronics to broaden the possibilities too. For The Three Seas project I am playing baritone sax. It works well with the Indian instruments because it sits in a complimentary register.
ST: The Three Seas has been described as a labor of love you and has been ten years in the making. What inspired you to take on this project?
MK: When I first traveled to India and met my band mates I had a strong feeling that something worthwhile could come from a collaboration. I could hear in my imagination a really interesting blend of sounds – we are still refining it today.
I guess this tour has been a milestone for the band, receiving acknowledgement and support from APRA, DFAT and the Australia Council for the Arts has been a great motivator and inspires us now for the next exciting chapter.
ST: What have you learnt along the way?
MK: Patience. Lots about music. Working in musical areas out side your comfort zone is a humbling experience but the best way to assimilate something new. I’ve also learnt that we live a privileged life here in Australia. A fact we all tend to take for granted.
ST: You are playing a leadership role in cross-cultural collaborations in the world of music. Why is this important to you and what is your approach to collaboration with other artists?
MK: It is very important for me because it is through music that I feel I can offer the most to society. Cross cultural collaboration is an extremely important symbol of cooperation and understanding. My approach to cross cultural collaboration is the same as any other interaction I have with musicians. How can we make this work together? What are our skill sets and how can present them? How can we make each member of the group feel comfortable and play at their best?
ST: What are the challenges in leading a cross-cultural international project?
MK: lt is expensive and there are visas and other hurdles to get through to make it happen. Staying focused and aware of being respectful in cultural situations that are unfamiliar. It is easy to make mistakes or have actions or words misinterpreted. In India, for example, an anglo Australian like me must be conscious of the colonial history and sensitive to the ramifications. My band mates trust my intentions now – but I don’t take that for granted.
ST:How have you approached composing and and leading an ensemble including traditional musicians and their musical heritage?
MK: In any musical situation that I am the band leader and or composer I ask the following questions: What’s the instrumentation? How can we make these instruments sound best? What key centres, what tempos? What are the performers musical personalities and how can I utilise their skills? How can we blend the sounds together in the most interesting ways?
Collaborations like this only work if the musicians involved are all willing to work together. You need to create an environment where everyone feels safe to experiment, make mistakes and be a little musically vulnerable at times.
ST: Please share your perspective on the Australian music/jazz scene?
MK: I think there is lots to celebrate about the Australian music scene – so much music being produced. The rise of a stronger female presence in the Sydney music scene has been inspiring. I find my self working with more and more young women. Here in Sydney I’ve been enjoying checking out bands like Godtet, Planeface and Tangents.
ST: What is inspiring you creatively at the moment?
MK: Inspiring me creatively at the moment is Rhythm & Sound.
ST: What are you reading/watching currently?
MK: Last fiction novel I read was “The Unconsoled” by Kazuo Ishiguro. The Netflix documentary on Quincy Jones was fantastic. Some inspiring young Aussies had a lot to do with that movie too – Al Hicks and Johannes Leak.
Watch The Three Seas EPK.