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.
Matt Keegan’s search for new sounds first drew him to India in 2009 and the start of a music collaboration with West Bengali musicians resulting in a new group The Three Seas in New Delhi, India and an international cross-cultural collaboration. 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 New Delhi, India and began making touring plans.
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.
DESCRIBE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH MUSIC.
Music is how I best express myself.
WHAT ARE THE POSSIBILITIES OF THE SAXOPHONE FOR YOU AS AN INSTRUMENT?
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.
THE THREE SEAS HAS BEEN DESCRIBED AS A LABOUR OF LOVE FOR YOU AND HAS BEEN TEN YEARS IN THE MAKING. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO TAKE ON THIS PROJECT?
When I first travelled 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.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ALONG THE WAY?
Patience. Lots about music. Working in musical areas outside 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.
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?
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?
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES IN LEADING A CROSS-CULTURAL INTERNATIONAL PROJECT?
Communication. Tyranny of distance. International travel is expensive and there are visas and other hurdles to get through to make it happen.
Staying focussed 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.
HOW HAVE YOU APPROACHED COMPOSING MUSIC AND LEADING AN ENSEMBLE INCLUDING TRADITIONAL MUSICIANS AND THEIR MUSICAL HERITAGE?
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.
PLEASE SHARE YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON THE AUSTRALIAN MUSIC/JAZZ SCENE.
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 myself working with more and more young women.
Here in Sydney I’ve been enjoying checking out bands like Godtet, Planeface and Tangents.
WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?
Inspiring me creatively at the moment is Rhythm & Sound.
WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?
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.