Featured Musician - August 2011  

Matt Tabor

Name:Matt Tabor

Instrument: Piano

Early Years/Education:Grew up in Studio City, California, but moved to New Jersey and Ohio. I went to high school in Cleveland Ohio at Cleveland Heights High School. The first piano music I heard was dance class music for ballet, like Chopin. Both my parents are professional dancers. They love music and now are really into jazz. My Dad plays piano. I had one year of piano lessons at seven and hated it. At 13, I started on drums. I did a rock n roll summer camp, and that was the first time I learned music and performed it. During senior year in high school, my father got a job with OBT (Oregon Ballet Theater). So he came out here for a year. We have a bit of family here too, so it was a family migration. That's how I came to study at Portland State University. I really didn't know what I wanted to study, but I knew I loved music and wanted to get involved with the community of musicians out here.
I did one year of jazz drumming in high school and took a music theory class where I learned basic scales. I fell in love with it and started playing piano and drums equally. I auditioned for PSU as a drummer, but after a serendipitous meeting with Darrell Grant, he said you should become a piano player, there's too many drummers here.

So I enrolled at PSU and took one academic course and the jazz combo class with Darrell. At the end of that year, I asked him to become my private teacher, which he did. I'm very grateful he took me (essentially a beginner on piano) as his student. He taught me the rudiments. I actually injured myself from over-practicing, I had so little technique and so much drive. Luckily, I found Lisa Marsh (at PSU), who specializes in re-training injured pianists. Graduated from PSU with a degree in jazz piano performance. Looking back, it was a shame I was not into jazz in high school. There was a vibrant jazz scene at my high school in Cleveland.

Carnival: The summer of my junior year in college I played in a jazz trio on a cruise ship with Carnival Cruise Line. I was going to be in a show band, but two days before I shipped out they called me and said there was an opening in a jazz piano trio. For 10 weeks I played solo and trio in the "cigar bar" on board a ship that cruised the Caribbean.

I currently teach privately and work at PCC with Mitzi Zilka in the Portland Jazz Singers workshop. I also play for my parents' dance company, Portland Youth Ballet, in Beaverton.

Musical Influences: Brad Mehldau and of course, all the jazz greats (Bill Evans, Bud Powell, etc.). The one who really got me excited about jazz piano was McCoy Tyner ( I love his record, "Fly with the Wind" from the '70s, it has strings, high energy!). Locally, Darrell Grant and Randy Porter and all the other great players here. I also love Radiohead. I'm as much influenced by classical composers like Scriabin, Debussy, and Ravel. They influence my writing.

Most Satisfying Experience: Making my CD, "Ocean View," in 2011. It's a trio recording with Sam Howard on bass and Kevin Van Geem on drums. I've got two Cole Porter tunes on it and the rest is original material. I hope to have a CD release party in early Fall at Jimmy Mak's. We did it at Randy Porter's Heavywood Studios. I'm very happy with it.

Favorite Recordings: "Horowitz Plays Scriabin" - Vladimir Horowitz; "Revelations" - McCoy Tyner; "'Round Midnight" - Thelonious Monk; "Speak No Evil" - Wayne Shorter; "Portrait In Jazz" - Bill Evans; "Saxophone Colossus" - Sonny Rollins; "The Joy of Joplin" - Marcus Roberts; "A Blessing" - John Hollenbeck; "Highway Rider" - Brad Mehldau; and "Lines of Oppression" - Ari Hoenig.

Discography: My first CD as a leader, "Ocean View" (2011). Other recordings I've done include two PSU big band releases from 2007 and 2008. Some of my original compositions are on these CDs. After graduation I collaborated with a children's songwriter named Anna Antonia Giedwoyn in 2010. This was my first large-scale arrangement project. Also in 2010, I was on a CD of Redwood Son called "The Lions Inside."

Gigs: With the Lily Wilde Orchestra , Duff's Garage, August 1 (and every first Monday of the month). The Lily Wilde Trio, The Jack London Bar in The Rialto, August 3, 17, and 31. With Bre Gregg, The New Phoenix Casino, La Center, Washington, August 5 and 19., and The Living Room Theaters, August 20. With Tara Williamson, Tony Starlight's, August 24.

Future Plans: I'd like to pursue an advanced composition degree. I've looked at the Manhattan School of Music; it's very intriguing. I'd like to get a Masters in Music. Another huge future project is with my Dad (Chris Tabor), who is also a musician. He wrote a musical in '03 and he's going to put it on at PSU in 2012. It's called "Recognition," and it incorporates a lot of dance. He composed the entire thing with piano and vocals, and I'm orchestrating it for 15 pieces. It's based on his experiences in the dance world. It's autobiographical. When he was with the Cleveland Ballet, they shared a building with a mixed-ability dance troupe called "dancing wheels"; they were "sit-down" dancers. He was inspired not only by the dancers but by the parents of some of those young people. It takes place at a time when the Cleveland Ballet was folding and moving out to San Jose. This was an important juncture in his life. It's a character study.

Other: My style is rooted in a rhythmic approach, that's what I knew as a drummer. I'm interested in the modern stuff, very introspective. First you have to learn the vocabulary, the history of it and find your way ... but not derivative. That's every jazz musician's challenge.

Interviewer's note: Matt's debut recording is impressive. He plays in my favorite style of jazz piano. Another great job of nurturing talented young players by the faculty at PSU!

-- by Rita Rega