By likemindblog

Matt.jpg 280x280

MATT HERSKOWITZ,  this wonderful and incredible pianist, based in Montreal, brings us part two of his most interesting article. 

Matt, thank you for answering the questions I added to your original article, although you’ve been touring again on trains, planes and flying machines and took the time to do this just the same.   I sincerely appreciate it.

No.8)  Does playing music help you connect with your higher self, whatever that is for you?

Sometimes it does. Sometimes I just feel like playing something I wrote – perhaps that’s why, I’m connecting with my higher self… I suppose “higher self” refers to the state of mind where everything is flowing smoothly, without effort, and I’m simply receiving a nice breeze of contentment and pleasure from reconnecting with one of my pieces. I guess that means I’m “identifying” with my music, and thus with part of myself as well. It’s a very satisfying experience. Different from the inspiration of creating, of course. It’s great to make that sort of connection with my own music. I wish it would happen more.

No. 9)   Some people feel school systems kills creativity, how do you feel aboutmATT U that?

Well, it certainly can, I’ve seen it. It can happen when a student is too focused on the wrong things, like winning competitions (which is not a bad thing in itself, but it’s not the only thing to focus on, of course), or trying too much to imitate other performances without thinking too deeply about their own interpretations… but more often a teacher can sometimes kill a student’s creativity by being… well, uninterested, uninspired teachers. And there are plenty of those, unfortunately. Many teachers also do not guide a student’s practicing, which often leads to aimless, unproductive practicing for the student.

 No. 10)  How do  you feel about improvisation?

I think there are many forms that improvisation can take. I’ve experimented with different ways of approaching improvisation; from a completely free, stream-of-consciousness approach, to improvising inside of a set structure, such as a chord chart, to free improvisation within a written piece of music. No matter which form it takes, I always try and clear my brain and not have any preconceptions before I start, then let it develop on its own, organizing the elements and weaving them into a cohesive tapestry as I go. For me, that purity is essential to real improvisation. If you’re improvising over chord changes, you’re stuck with those chords (unless you substitute some of your own, which is more creative but still using set harmonies), as well as a set number of bars and phrases. However, you still have complete freedom of what you do within that structure. Here, it’s easy to fall into the trap of becoming too repetitive, which means you feel limited, or inhibited, by the constraints of the structure. When this happens to me, it usually just means that I haven’t got enough of a mastery of the chart to be able to liberate myself from it and just focus on creating at the moment, allowing inspiration to take over.

mATT VWith free improvisation, you have nothing to start with except inspiration, so the quality of the first thing you play sets the tone, and will have a lot to do with how and where it goes. If you’re experiencing a lack of inspiration – perhaps you’re just very tired and don’t really feel into it – it’s tempting to try and compensate by starting with an idea you’ve used before from a good improvisation. When I tried this on such an occasion, I found that it didn’t work out nearly as well as the improvisation I borrowed it from. It’s very difficult to reuse an idea from a previous improvisation and have it work, because the germinating idea is no longer inspired. It’s the letting go and allowing the music to come to you, not the other way around,  that will inspire a great improvisation.

My brain naturally wants to organize things (one of the hazards of being a composer, I guess), so I don’t need to put too much conscious effort into developing an improvisation – in fact, the less conscious effort the better! However, the composer in me likes to mix free improvisation with written music, which is something I’ve been developing lately in two of my projects. In this case, when I switch to improvisation from composed music, I try to continue in the same style and intensity as the piece I just left, and then lead it somewhere else. I did this in a couple of pieces on my last album, Jerusalem Trilogy, which features my original compositions and arrangements. My new project pushes this idea a bit further, and focuses on integrating improvisation into music by Bach, Chopin and Schumann. I find it’s especially important in classical music not to have too jarring a transition from the piece to the free improvisation, otherwise it will just sound confusing. Once that transition is made though, I can go absolutely anywhere and it will work. The trick is then weaving back into the piece (unless I’m ending it with the improv). I like this challenge, as it forces me to stay one step ahead, and create an on-the-spot map for how I’m going to get back to Chopin, Schumann, Bach, or even my own music, in a way that will sound completely natural.

No matter what style, genre, structure or lack thereof, I feel improvisation must flow freely and uninhibited from the heart, with the brain accompanying only as a means to help provide direction, and bring together the musical elements that were created by inspiration. Hell, if you can do that without the brain, you’re the master!

No. 12)  What is jazz to you?Mattphoto1

Oh boy! I don’t really know how to answer this one. I don’t really consider myself a jazz guy, at least not in a “pure” sense. For me, jazz is synonymous with improvisation, but not limited to any particular style. However, does it need to swing or groove to be jazz? Does it need to be in a meter? Does it need to be based on a tune? I tend to associate jazz with having some sort of groove or rhythm, but not any particular style or sound. There are certain “jazz” harmonies we all use, of course. But these harmonies are also found in other styles of music, and many came right out of the Impressionist composers such as Ravel, Debussy and Delius. So perhaps it’s really the rhythmic elements that make it jazz. As well, jazz harmonic vocabulary and rhythms have made their way into the contemporary classical music of many composers, such as Leonard Bernstein, John Adams and Paul Schoenfield. I use them in my own written compositions, as did George Gershwin in his Rhapsody in Blue and Concerto in F, but I don’t consider those jazz, as every note is written. So I suppose I’d say that jazz is anything that has more improvisation than written music.

However, there are many grey areas in this question. For instance, what do you call a completely free improvisation that incorporates many different styles? What if it’s out of time, with no clear rhythm? Your guess is as good as mine as to whether that’s jazz or not.

So, as you’re all now thoroughly confused by my completely incongruous answer, I’d like to conclude with a great line from the movie “The Legend of 1900”, which may provide some much needed clarity on the subject: “If you don’t know what to call it, it’s jazz!”

meprizery3Matt, you’ve been most generous in sharing your thoughts and feelings and musical knowledge with us and I’m certain our readers will learn a great deal from this artical.  I wish you all the best in everything you undertake.  Be blessed, my friend!


You are cordially invited to visit Matt’s links below to hear more of his wonderful music.  Your comments are sincerely appreciate, thank you and enjoy!


 Mail this post
Be Sociable, Share!
Filed in: MUSIC • Saturday, August 20th, 2011

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge


My name is Michele Andree. I am an artist, I paint musicians in action. I think I’m a musician at heart, my instrument being… a brush, so I play…brush and I paint… music.
I love jazz. I call it freedom music. It promotes special values. I love intelligent people and good conversations.

Some people ask me how music relates to art. Personally I find they go hand in hand. Music is what turns me on to painting. It makes me see colours