The legacy of jazz musician Rich Matteson will be heard when others perform. Mr. Matteson, who founded the award-winning University of North Florida jazz program in 1986, died June 24, 1993 after a long illness. He was 64.
Mr. Matteson jokingly called himself the best jazz euphonium player in the world because he was the only one. But he'll be remembered as a man who loved music and loved teaching it, and for taking the instrument to new levels of acceptance, having played with jazz greats Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Clark Terry, Louis Bellson, and many others.
Mr. Matteson was honored frequently by the International Association of Jazz Educators and is a member of its Hall of Fame. He was a founding member of the Tubists Universal Brotherhood Association, won the Homer Osborne Award, and was honored as an Ambassador of Jazz by Walt Disney World. Last year he was Down Beat magazine's Lifetime Achievement Award winner. "I guess Gabriel will have to move over," said Harvey Phillips, with whom Mr. Matteson formed the Matteson Phillips Tubajazz Consort. They played all over the world.
Mr. Matteson made his biggest mark as an educator. He began as an associate professor at the University of North Texas, and he gained recognition for the many master classes that he conducted throughout the world. He was brought to Jacksonville when philanthropist Ira Koger asked him to head the new department at UNF. Bunky Green, who succeeded Mr. Matteson as director of jazz studies at UNF, recalled how Mr. Matteson disliked mediocrity. "For Rich, a C wasn't good enough. He'd advise that a student take the class over again." As a player, Mr. Matteson was an inspiration, said guitarist Jack Petersen. "It was just something that was there. When he played, he made you want to play."
Mr. Matteson is survived by his wife, Michelle "Mikki", and four sons, Mark, John, TK, and Chris.
LITTLE: Would you tell us what you would consider to be your primary professional activities at the present time?
MATTESON: I'm teaching improvisation at North Texas State University and doing clinics in high schools and colleges. Occasionally, I will perform a professional job in a club, and I am beginning to do more and more with the new Matteson/Phillips Tuba Jazz Consort. I do feel that my main job is at North Texas, however.
LITTLE: How many guest artist/clinician type of appearances do you average in a year?
MATTESON: I would say between thirty and fifty a year. I think I did about thirty-seven this past year during school time, and I am doing only one small thing this summer whereas I usually do anywhere from three camps in a summer to as many as nine to ten.
LITTLE: One thing many younger players would like to know is how you came to choose the euphonium and the tuba as your primary instruments?
MATTESON: Well, I joke about it, but I didn't have any choice. I was drafted to play euphonium and tuba because my father was a band director and could not get anyone else to play those instruments. I was very young at the time (about ten) and had been playing French horn in the high school band for several years. My father took me off the French horn and put me on the euphonium and then a little later on the tuba. There was also one summer when he started me on the trombone and then decided he didn't need me there – so it was back to the euphonium.
There never really was any other instruments than tuba and euphonium from age ten on. It came back to my being interested in these instruments because that is what my father's desire as a band director was. Back in those days, certain instruments were not very popular; and I'm sure that, if you scout around among the band directors, you will often find their children playing school-owned instruments such as the euphonium, tuba, bassoon, oboe, and French horn. The band director knows that these instruments are exceedingly difficult and not usually popular, so he chooses a child that he can really ride hard on. The director, as a result, usually chooses his own child as he desperately wants that voice in his band. I will never forget when I was sixteen and my father brought home a bassoon that he borrowed from a music store and said that he wanted me to start on it! I talked him out of it and probably should not have, but he was kind enough to say "okay." I think that my mother helped me convince my father in this matter.
LITTLE: Would you continue in this direction and give us some insight into your professional background. performing. and education?
MATTESON: I graduated from high school and went to Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, which did not have a very good instrumental music program at the time. I went there because our family was living in Rock Island and because it was economical for me to go to college and be able to live at home. I played in the band which was probably the only thing I ever really enjoyed at that school. I quit school toward the end of my second semester and took a job working in a shoe store and playing nights when jobs were available. Shortly before I joined the service, I started playing valve trombone six nights a week with a Dixie band. While I was in the service, I played tuba in the 179th Army Band and formed a combo in which I played tuba and valve trombone along with some piano.
When I was discharged from the service, I went on the road and starved to death! I thought that going on the road was going to be easy and that one could play what he wanted to play. I found out that was not the way it worked and decided to go back to school. Although I was a grown man, my father was still a dominant force; and he insisted that I go to the University of Iowa because Bill Gower was there. So, I went to Iowa and studied tuba with Bill, although I did do some work on euphonium occasionally. Naturally, I played in the concert band; and later, I began working on bass trumpet. I met Cy Tuff and liked the bass trumpet that he played, so I got one. As a result, for a few years, I played primarily bass trumpet with dance bands and combos.
After graduating from college, I taught school for two years in a little Iowa town called Durant. I started doing a lot of writing and played weekends and summers in Davenport, Rock Island, and Moline. Then I decided to go to Vegas and was very fortunate in going, to work immediately with a group with which I played bass trumpet for about six months. I located and bought an old Helicon in very good shape and started using it on jobs. Eventually, it dawned on me that this could really work, and I started using it regularly for several numbers on each set. Gradually, it turned around. and there was a period of about four years that I ended up playing the Helicon almost all the time. At that time, I did not own a euphonium and occasionally borrowed one. I played tuba primarily with the Bob Scobey Band, the Dukes of Dixieland, and a few other Dixie bands. I also did an album with Louis Armstrong which gave me exposure on tuba.
LITTLE: What was the audience reaction in Las Vegas when you would play the Helicon?
MATTESON: The audience would go bananas, and that was what woke me up! Because it looked so weird, they would start laughing before I even played. It was like coming on stage with bagpipes and saying, “I’m going to play A Midsummer Night's Dream."
I would start to play, and since they had never heard anyone play be-bop jazz on tuba, the response was tremendous. I called that Helicon my salvation horn because, if I wanted audience response, I would just drag out the Helicon and play a tune.
It was manufactured by the Boston Musical Manufacturing Company, and I was told that it was made about 1835, but that is only a guess. I doubt if it is really that old. I have never checked it out; however, since the Encyclopedia Britannica states that "the Helicon was perfected in 1849 by Ignaz Stowasser in Vienna, Austria," I rather doubt that mine was made in Boston in 1835. It has been a good horn! I have many beautiful memories of that horn–particularly while recording with Louis Armstrong. Louis loved that horn, and it was a tremendous musical experience recording with him.
In 1962, I started working with groups that basically stayed in Nevada. I based myself in Vegas with occasional trips to Reno and Tahoe. Later, I went up to Anchorage, Alaska, for a six-week job backing a female singer, but it folded after three weeks. So three of us were stranded in Anchorage and did not have the money to get back to the states as we had spent our salaries on six-weeks rent. It was October, with the temperature already down to zero, and I walked more than seven miles downtown. I walked into a nightclub, where the owner was just about to place a call to the states to see about hiring a group. Luckily, he ended up hiring us as trio, with me on piano. Since I had not played piano for a long time, I rented one and practiced all day long. The group worked out fairly well, and I was able to occasionally play a few horn solos. We worked there for nine months, and then we returned to the states. l worked my own group in Nevada for awhile, and then I took on a job in Mexico City conducting a big band and writing shows for a nightclub. I eventually had two bands going for awhile and worked seven nights a week, conducting and playing both bass trumpet and tuba.
In 1968, I returned to the states and started doing clinics on tuba and euphonium for the Getzen Company. In 1972, I was offered a position teaching jazz improvisation at North Texas State University. I have also continued with the clinics, and that is what I have been doing ever since.
I think that I finally have found my nitch – I feel this is what I am supposed to be doing. I remember being extremely frustrated when I was working seven nights a week. At that time, I wrote one particular letter to my father in which I said, “What am I doing here? This circle is never-ending, and I’m working seven nights a week.” He wrote back and said, “I don’t know what the answer is, but I think that the Lord has a plan for you and that this is just part of it.” Much later, when I was back in the United States doing a clinic in North Dakota, my dad came and watched me. Afterwards, as we were talking, my dad said that now he knew why I went through that period down in Mexico.
He reminded me that I had to teach American style jazz and improvisation to the Mexican musicians who were not at all familiar with either. I also had to teach without the benefit of knowing their language. Dad said that this must have been my training ground and that, if without a language I had been successful teaching jazz improvisation, then I ought to be able to do it well in the United States where I do speak the language. I don't know if this is true, but it satisfied my father, and I can live with that.
Anyway, back to the career – I am very happy doing my thing here at North Texas and going out and doing clinics. l meet beautiful people all over the country: band directors, children, young adults, and college students. I run into kids in these clinics from the fourth grade up, and there is never any communication problem. The love of music is one of the real gifts of God, not just to the people who have the talent for music but also to the entire human race. A person who does not or who has not developed a talent for music, in all probability, loves music just as much as anyone else; he's just not in the music business. I am so happy in this life and don't know what I would do if I had to do something else. I could survive, but how fortunate we are when we are allowed to make a living doing the thing we like best of all. I love music, love to teach music, and love to perform it! I certainly hope this continues. I've been ridiculously happy.
LITTLE: Last December, I was fortunate to be able to hear the Matteson/Phillips Tubajazz Consort in Chicago. Would you tell us a little about that group?
MATTESON: Well, Harvey Phillips and I have known each other for quite awhile and are not able to work together as much as we would like to. We see each other once in awhile and happened to do a tuba/euphonium regional symposium together in November, 1975, in Chadron, Nebraska. There were tubists, euphoniumists, and ensembles from that area of the country ranging from high school through college. There was one particular tuba / euphonium ensemble from the University of Northern Iowa that performed one evening for all of the symposium participants at the local American Legion Club. As people watched the tubists and euphoniumists set up, everyone wondered what the group was going to sound like. Well, they started playing – mostly gay nineties and sing – along, and the group was very good. It was a most enjoyable evening, and everyone laughed and just had a wonderful time. Of course, Harvey and I were enjoying listening to the fullest. Afterwards, we started talking about the performance and became so excited that we talked until five in the morning. We decided that this could be a thing that could really put some spark to the tuba and euphonium. It showed that these horns could be used in all fields of music, not just in symphonic and concert literature. So we decided to put together a jazz tuba/euphonium group, add rhythm, and see what would happen. We maintained communication over the phone and started contacting writers and arrangers. We asked guitarist and arranger Jack Petersen and Phil Wilson to do some charts for us, and I composed some charts myself.
Harvey said that he thought we could get this group presented at the First International Brass Congress in Montreux, Switzerland, and so we did! We added tubists Dan Perantoni and Winston Morris and euphoniumist Ashley Alexander. We still needed a third euphoniumist, so John Marcellus from Washington, D.C., agreed to help us out on a temporary basis. Jack Petersen joined us on guitar in the rhythm section as well as Steve Harlos on piano; and, well, we were in no way prepared for the group to go over like it did-it tore the place apart! People just loved the group, and these were people who had been dealing with brass instruments all of their lives. Our next gig was in Chicago, December 1976, during the time of the Mid-West National Band and Orchestra Clinic. Louis Bellson joined us at this time, and his presence gave us a name that people would recognize. Louis is a beautiful person – we loved working with him, and the gig went·fantastically. One of the finest compliments we received was at the convention during the day when someone asked what the group sounded like. A gentleman from Texas, Bill Snodgrass, responded that it sounded just like Basie, only an octave lower! I should add that euphoniumist Buddy Baker, pianist Tom Ferguson, and bassist Steve Rodby joined us at that time.
We believe the group has a great future – jobs are beginning to come in. We will be back in Chicago during Mid-West again, and there is an upcoming tour of Australia as well as, hopefully, the Third International Tuba/Euphonium Symposium Workshop to be held June 1978 in Los Angeles.
LITTLE: Harvey Phillips once remarked that the tuba is not accepted in jazz the way he would like it to be and that it will be a great day when the first "Clark Terry" of the instrument comes along. With that in mind, what future do you see for the tuba and euphonium in the jazz field?
MATTESON: It's a wide open field and it's unlimited. I see the horns as solo instruments being limited only by the performers' abilities. These instruments are already being used as voices within bands – Chick Corea has two musicians doubling on euphonium. The only thing that prevents more of this is the writer's lack of knowledge about the abilities of these instruments. Writers are always interested in new sounds and are slowly beginning to discover that they can get some crazy new sounds by using the tuba and euphonium within the band. I do not see any limitations as long as composers and arrangers become aware of the instruments' sounds and technical abilities. It is up to the players to make the writers aware, and this is one of the things that we are trying to do with our group. When Harvey Phillips first went to New York, he didn't hang out with the musicians; he hung out with the writers and made them aware of what he could do on the instrument. As a result, they began to write him into their parts. An arranger writing something to be recorded in New York thus did not write "X" number of parts plus one tuba part but rather "X" number of parts plus the Harvey Phillips tuba part, thinking naturally of Harvey. It is like when Duke Ellington said that he did not write for the first alto but rather for Johnny Hodges! Again, I do not see any limitations ; and, as a matter of fact, I feel that these instruments are going to be the “in” horns because, even though the horns are not new, the use and the concepts of their sounds and capabilities have done an abrupt turn-a-round.
LITTLE: What suggestions would you give to young tubists and euphoniumists who are interested in the fields of jazz performance or jazz education?
MATTHESON: First of all, they should get themselves completely together on their instrument technically, and I am talking about classical technique in terms of range, tonguing, general technique, scales, all of it.
LITTLE: In other words, just learn to play the instrument?
MATTESON: Learn to play the instrument! My Lord, if a person can play the Carnival of Venice on the tuba, he ought to be able to play the blues or a jazz scale run if he has got the jazz feel within him. Take Michael Lind, the Danish tuba virtuoso, for example. He is hoping to come here and do some studying in jazz. If he can learn jazz interpretation and creativity and then combine that with his tremendous facility, he ought to be something else! He has certainly got the first problem out of the way – that being technique.
There are no shortcuts for anyone, and I do not like to hear a young musician say that he doesn't have to do "this or that" because he is going to be a jazz player. It is possible to be a "jazz scuffler," but if you are going to be a jazz creator, then you must get your act completely together with a foundation of classical training. That is the way I learned to play, and I still practice scales and arpeggios when I want to improve certain aspects of my playing.
I have never heard a really great jazz artist that did not have some classical training sometime in his life. This training helps give the mind the freedom to create whatever intricacies the mind may wish. It's that simple!
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