Pick of the Week: Matthew Shipp

Categories:  Arts & Culture/Entertainment    Music    Events
Wednesday, April 4th, 2012 at 9:42 AM
Pick of the Week: Matthew Shipp by Rebecca Styn


In his new album, “Elastic Aspects,” pianist Matthew Shipp transcends traditional jazz in a way only a prolific musician can do. While his music conceptually fits the genre—distinctive tones, prominent meters, syncopated rhythm patterns, and improvisation—his delivery offers an emotional discourse that gives the listener a far more intellectual experience, evoking a concentration that one finds when reading a great novel, an intense and fast moving tale, ultimately bringing the reader to a poignant conclusion. And at 51, one would gather that Michael Shipp is no longer here “for the ride,” but rather to leave behind a series of memoirs that are not only multi-faceted but also far-reaching and far greater than some of his predecessors. 

I had the opportunity to speak with Shipp for a few minutes on the phone shortly before he was taking off to North Carolina for a few days. I learn his first introduction to music was pretty mainstream. 

“I started playing the piano at 5 years old, taking regular piano lessons many kids experience at some point in their lives,” Shipp said. It was seven years later though he found his true love—jazz. “I heard Nina Simone on television one day. And that was it—I realized I was really taken by the genre and the mystery of what it had to offer.” 

Luckily, he had a teacher that was open-minded. 

“Although I was taking classical lessons, she helped me with harmonic theory and really let me go with it,” he explained. “I really delved into jazz on my own.” After graduating high school, he went on to study music formally at the New England Conservatory for a year but then dropped out. While in Philadelphia, he studied with some of the most legendary jazz teachers, including Robert Lowery, who was jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown’s teacher, and the great Dennis Sandole, who served as John Coltrane’s mentor and teacher. 

After moving to New York in 1984, he quickly became active in the New York jazz scene. He was a sideman in the David S. Ware quartet and also for Roscoe Mitchell’s Note Factory before concentrating on his own music.

Shipp went on to record several albums under several labels, but he ultimately found great support from punk legend Henry Rollins. This pinnacle relationship would also help Rollin’s independent record label Thirsty Ear. 

“Rollins was looking for a jazz component for his label since early 2000. Since then I have served as curator and director of Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series label.” The concept of the Blue Series was born from the record label’s desire to marry jazz’s many languages into a cogent new one.

As for his main inspiration? Shipp laughs. “I’m 51 years old. My main inspiration is waking up and opening my eyes in the morning.” I do quickly learn, however, he finds the jazz piano tradition as a whole an inspiration. “I don’t like to mention specific pianists, and as I don’t want anyone to try to hear them in my music—I like to believe I am my own influence.” 

He’s never been to Erie. Luckily for us though, that’s about to change. Shipp will grace the stage that every great jazz musician that passes through Erie should—and several have—at our very own Erie Art Museum. And he will be performing with his trio—alongside bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey.  

Before we hung up, I did ask him if he had anything to say about his new album. He laughs again. “Yeah, go to Amazon.com and buy it.” 

The Matthew Shipp Trio will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 12 in the multi-purpose room at the Erie Art Museum, 411 State Street. Tickets are a suggested $10 donation. For more information, call 459.5477.

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