Friday, July 22, 2011

Matt Otto: Now's the Time

Since I conducted this interview with Matt Otto in 2009, I've learned that not every observer of the Kansas City jazz scene shares my enthusiasm for the saxophonist and composer. Some say Otto's approach is "too dry and cerebral." I admire those qualities, which why I hope to attend Otto's performance Sunday, July 24 at The Record Bar.


Matt Leifer said...

When I hear the criticism "too dry and cerebral" what I really hear is:

"I'm not willing to put forth the effort to expand my understanding to the necessary level to feel this music."


"The fruit on this tree is too high. I'm too lazy to look for a ladder so I'm going to find a shorter tree."


"Sorry, but I prefer immediate gratification and the lowest common denominator."


"I don't get it, therefore I am angry/jealous/scared."

Ralph S. said...

I enjoy Matt's playing and never get tired of his improvisation, especially on standards and jazz tunes.

"Too dry and Cerebral" to me say's not enough blue notes and the solos don't climax. Ralph. S.

Russell Thorpe said...

I'd say his playing kicks the shit out of almost everyone else in this town, and he's always ready with a smile and a kind word.

Cb said...


Ah. The "too dry and cerebral" critique is a comeback by those who can't really argue with someone's talent, so they use such nebulous descriptors as a put down.

I don't think players at Matt Otto's level in this music, in terms of both - dedication and ability, are concerned with such things at all.

Whoever is a good player and whoever is not is very subjective at best in jazz/improvised music, because what is good and what is not is very subjective and inherently biased. I will say that it is musicians like Matt Otto who prove that you don't need to be based in New York City to contribute to the music.

Russell is right about Matt being a great guy and encouraging fellow artist. He is everywhere at once on the KC scene and has injected a good dose of what is good about what we have going on here nowadays.

Ultimately though, we all know that an artist does not need anyone's approval or permission. So, who cares that someone doesn't "get it". That should be no surprise to anyone who posted here. Especially considering that most all are progressive musicians in their own rights as well... LOL

Peace, Cb

Anonymous said...

I get the sense that everyone posting here is a musician.

It doesn't matter what other musicians think. Don't play for other musicians approval.

Musicians are not going to impact your livlihood (sp) I challenge any musician posting to go out and hear a concert. Actually pay the full cover charge or ticket price and order a nice meal, dessert and beverage(s). Oh by the way, do this once or twice a week all year long.

If you are playing for the approval of other musicians or critics you might as well apply for food stamps or sell vacuum cleaners door to door.

Play for the audience that pays your salary. At least keep them in mind.

Matt Otto is in a class that few musicians are in...especiaaly in Kansas City. Whomever made the "too dry and cerebral" comment. I don't care what you think unless you are actually following my suggestions in paragraph 3. If you're not, your opinion has no weight or worth.

Matt Leifer said...

The audience has the right to spend their money and attend events as they see fit. To the art form it is incidental. How far a musician is willing to go to appease the audience is one's own choice. It is our responsibility to realistically asses the financial realities of the situation and act as we see fit. Come out and watch us play and we are grateful to have your support but we do not OWE you anything.

Matt Leifer said...

By the way, speaking of the weight and worth of opinions: Anonymous posting is for cowards. If you mean what you say, put your name behind it, and if you can't bring yourself to do that, re-consider the weight and worth of your own opinions.

Sal said...

Thats what I thought. You don't OWE the audience anything. It's all about YOU and the Music.

If I pay a cover, you owe me a great set of playing your butt off. You also owe your audience music they can enjoy and think about. I'm paying your salary and my being in the audience may determine whether you play in the club again and get paid.


Matt Leifer said...

I'm not advocating playing anything less than one's best. That part is given. The gig is all about the moment and you and everyone else are warmly invited to join.

What I'm saying to you is: take it or leave it.

The job of the band is to play with sincerity and feeling and that is all that is needed to reach an audience with an open mind and willing attitude. You have to meet the musicians halfway and expect to be challenged a little bit.

Michael said...

By the way, this was one of the handful of best shows I've seen from Kansas City musicians in my 5+ years in Kansas City. I left feeling inspired, encouraged, and amazed that I heard such beautiful live music, had 3 beers, and bought a CD and my total bill for the night was around 20 dollars. KC has a great, great pocket of talent, particularly for a smaller midwest city. I mean no disrespect to any of the other great saxophone players we have in town (and there are dozens whose playing I love), but Matt pretty much has his own tier. I'm all for being allowed to have subjective opinions about music, but goodness--I'd have to cringe and be a little embarrassed for the offending party if I heard someone dare to be critical of Matt's music. To each his own, I guess...

Cb said...

I agree with Matt Leifer's statement "take it or leave it".

In terms of comparing musicians, it is best not to do it at all because that type of thing is not even remotely relevant. Art isn't a football game or a NASCAR race.

Opinions are just that - opinions. I normally avoid posts like this, but I have become sucked into this one :D

In Kansas City alone, the saxophone is like "holy ground" - it is Bird's town after all. If you play saxophone in Kansas City, you are "bringing something", regardless whether your "style" is in vogue or not at the moment. Go to New York where there are 10 times the number of great players and see my point.

I played in the military with musicians who could likely blow everyone's mind, they were that good - no, really. However, most of you will never know of them because they are not covered in blogs or the other commercial media. Does that make them any more or less? No. You just don't know about them. Sometimes hype is not good.

Like many folks in our local music world, I appreciate Matt Otto's artistry, just as I appreciate Nick Rowland's, Gerald Dunn's, Dave Chael's, Dan Thomas's, Kerry Strayer's, Jim Mair's, Doug Talley's, Bill Caldwell's or Logan Richardson's artistry - for what they each are respectively. None is better or worse than the other as a saxophone artist. They are all well known here. They simply are doing their thing. We are lucky to have all of them. None of the saxophone players whom I know in Kansas City need to be hyped. They are all bringing something...

The above list could go on for a while. And, I didn't even mention Bobby Watson - who is truly and legitimately on a different planet... Get it?

Peace, Cb

Anonymous said...

It's pretty amazing what musicians who are lucky to take home $50 owe everybody.

Michael said...

It's not worth arguing over, because you're right, Chris--jazz isn't a competition. But I have to strongly (but respectfully) disagree that all professional saxophonists are operating at the same artistic level.

beena said...

Matt Otto is brilliant!! True to the music he plays and a true human being. I am proud , he is part of the Jardines family of great musicians.

Cb said...

@Michael - thanks, it is cool and healthy to disagree. I think I do understand your point though. Again, only my opinions here. I have just become so bored with much of the musical discourse and overt mentality regarding the jazz/improvised music scene in KC not progressing much beyond a certain level of maturity. It never seems to get more than a few years beyond college. When in reality, twenty years after college is when most people really start making music. But, that type of reality isn't usually a good story. The goal is not to regurgitate a bunch of memorized patterns, transcriptions and stuff. The optimum is to do your own version of what it seems to me that Matt is doing musically. I don't know how old he is, but Matt Otto has got to be in his forties and at least twenty years removed from college. The level of his artistry demonstrates that type of maturity and to grow into one's own means of expression is supposed to be the goal. Isn't it? That is what I am saying about comparing. You can't. It is impossible. The gifts are totally different. And good is relative, like it or not. Too "dry and cerebral" - humbug! I think he's great! Go, Matt!
@Beena - thanks for Jardine's!

Peace, Cb

Anonymous said...

All I'm saying is: Anyone who can hang with Bergonzi (look up the joint masterclass they just did together) is a mean, mean musician.

I love Otto's playing. Go check out his tune "Bird". Lyrical, spontaneous, beautiful.