Travellin’ Light

Matt Wilson
Answers 20 Questions About Life on the Road

Matt Wilson
Matt Wilson                                                                                                  Courtesy of Matt Wilson ©2008

Matt Wilson is a drummer, composer and bandleader. Wilson first garnered notice in the late 1980s and early ‘90s as part of the Boston jazz scene, where he worked with, among others, Dominique Eade, Either/Orchestra and Charlie Kohlhase. Upon moving to New York, Wilson first worked with Dewey Redman and Cecil McBee. In short order, Wilson became an in-demand player, working with Jane Ira Bloom, Andrew Hill and others; he also became part of the Jazz Composers Collective, and regularly played with such JCC stalwarts as Ben Allison, Frank Kimbrough and Ted Nash. Since 1998, Wilson’s own ensembles (including his Quartet and Arts & Crafts) have been documented on Palmetto CDs. In addition to his own projects, Wilson performs with, among others, Lee Konitz, Charlie Haden and Denny Zeitlin. Wilson’s recent projects include Trio M, a co-op trio with Myra Melford and Mark Dresser; his next Quartet album – That’s Gonna Leave a Mark – will be released later in 2009 on Palmetto. For more information and samples of Wilson’s music, visit:

What is the most difficult airline to deal with in terms of instruments and equipment?

I believe for a while it was Delta but they have seemed to become a bit friendlier. As far as the contrabass, an always-frightening financial variable for the bandleader, it all seems the same. It depends solely on who the person is at the counter. I know one thing for sure; a smile works better that getting angry on our part. It is so frustrating that it is such a mystery. The sad aspect about baggage is that the music has to often be compromised. Imagine the days when you heard a band with their bass and drum set? 

Which airline has the worst economy seating and food?

Well it is not like any of them are Café Boulud but the mysterious one is Alitalia. How can a country where the food is so amazing drop the ball so drastically on their airline?

Which airport is craziest for making connecting flights?

Paris seems to always be a challenge.

What is the most important thing you ever forgot to pack?

I just did a short run out tour with Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra and forgot underwear. It made for a nice laugh or two with the band and the promoter was kind enough to take me shopping. Picked up some nice boxer briefs in assorted colors.

What is your worst lost baggage story?

Well, I have been lucky and not had much trouble but when I take Ron Miles with me to Europe he always seems to have luggage problems. We just got back from Italy with Arts and Crafts and he got his bag one hour prior to our last concert (our 9th) of the tour. What is funny is that Ron is a very stylish dresser. There are plenty of photos now out of Ron in the same shirt and sweater at different gigs. He was very cool about it though. He has a great attitude. I am investing in some quick dry clothes for my carry on just in case.

What country hassles musicians the most at customs and passport checks?

I do not think anyone is too wicked though it still seems intimidating in Russia and Turkey. Canada has chilled out but it used to interesting when driving in to Canada. They are intense at the customs area in and Australia and New Zealand as far as food being brought in though.

Which city has the worst cab drivers?

I took a cab ride in Istanbul once and I felt like I was part of a car chase scene. Folks were jumping out of the way and running for their lives. The only element missing was a cross Bosporus River jump ala The Dukes of Hazzard.  

What is the best hotel that a presenter has provided for you?

I was out for over a month this fall with the John Scofield and Joe Lovano Quartet w/ Matt Penman and we stayed two nights at the Mandarin Oriental in Singapore. Very nice.  I want to do two books. Romantic Places I Seen (with a Bunch of Musicians) and Great Hotels I Have Stayed In (By Myself)

Do you travel with a laptop or a PDA? If so, how many times a day do you check your e-mail?

I have a Blackberry but I also bring a Mac iBook to do work and Skype. I want to get a new computer with a built in Web Cam so my kids can remember what I look like.

Do you listen to music on the road? If so, what device do you use?

I bring an iPod with Bose phones and speakers for my room. I go through times when I listen more than others. It was amazing fun traveling with late Dennis Irwin. He was an incredible disc jockey.  I remember him playing us Mahler, Kodaly, Sam Jones, Charles Brackeen, Duke, Ornette, Thad Jones, Lord Buckley and Jerry Clower all in one memorable drive. I sure miss him on and off the bandstand. He was fun travel companion.

Do you do your own laundry on the road?

I wash out small items in the room and try to get a laundry on days off because I find it to be therapeutic. I learned folding techniques from Cameron Brown, a master of packing Cameron Brown, which help. As I mentioned, I am also definite investing in quick dry apparel also because of the recent Ron Miles experience. Joey Baron could be the spokesperson for the quick dry council. He really has that part down!

What is your most nightmarish sound check to date?

Well I cannot account for one specific one; maybe I have blocked them out. I do love it when the sound people listen to the band play first to hear the sound they are offering. I also like when band folks stay cordial and friendly.  Also, if it is a great experience let the sound folks know you appreciate their craft. Also let the promoter know.

What is the scariest food that has been laid out for you backstage?

The raw hamburger on bun vibe in Germany still scares me a bit. What I dig is when you get to eat great local food made with love.  I want to feel part of the culture and check out the local foods, beers and wines.

What are your three favorite venues?

Green Mill in Chicago, Village Vanguard in NYC and I love this small club in Ferrara, Italy. All of these places have a lot of soul. But, to be honest, I love playing many places. Another special place is the Sanctuary in Iowa City, Iowa.

Which cities have the best restaurants for late after-gig meals?

Just down the road from the Green Mill in Chicago there is a great all night Mexican joint. I am not a big dessert person but a Nutella-banana crepe at a crepe stand is Paris is a nice way to end an evening. Late night tapas in Spain is also incredible.

Which cities have the best after-hours sessions?

Chicago, the Saber Tooth Quintet rocks the house after you are done playing Saturday night at the Mill. They play until 4:30am or so. I guess New York also but I do not stay out late at home. I have 4 kids that like to wake up early!

What is the best city that closes down too early?


What is the best locale to have a day off?

I like Paris, Rome and Istanbul for exploration. What I really love is being somewhere where I can visit friends on days off. I dig hanging out in Los Angeles also. I like small towns also or the chance to get out in the country.

What is your cure for jet lag?

CURE? I enjoy jet lag. I was basically jet lagged for two straight years after our triplet sons were born. I dig the dreams I have when I am jet lagged. Whew, there have been some wild ones!

What is your best tip for the novice?

LAUGH and SMILE as often as possible. Enjoy the experience and the fellowship of the group. Help out when needed, be flexible and maintain a positive attitude. Do not take for granted the opportunity of sharing music with folks around the world. It is a real gift to be able to do this.

I love to travel and find the whole experience to be so inspirational. I always dreamed going to these places and playing music. I am doing what I love with people I love! See you all out there!


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