Drummer Matt Wilson delights in being a little different. His enthusiasm for the quirky is infectious, as I found out in our phone conversation last week.
Matt Wilson’s Christmas Tree-o plays slightly warped or just plain outrageous versions of Christmas carols and “holiday favorites.” The Tree-o has been active for a few years, and they’ve recorded a CD, but just like the white-bearded man in the red suit, they have a limited season.
You can catch Matt Wilson’s Christmas Tree-o at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley in Seattle on December 8 and 9. Matt advises wearing your most obnoxious Christmas sweater. Santa hats, antlers and jingle bells are also encouraged.
“We’ve added new songs for this tour, and two short films. It’s a multimedia entertainment experience,” says Matt. “The Matt Wilson Christmas Special, like Andy Williams!”
Especially exciting for the band this year are the matching red velvet blazers they’ll be wearing. That, and the first annual Jazz Alley Christmas Lighting of the Drumset ceremony, which Matt has invited me to officiate.
Matt is all about fun, but he’s a serious musician and committed to being a jazz educator, too. He does clinics and workshops all over the country, including at Centrum in Port Townsend and the Cornish College Seattle Jazz Experience.
“I do it mainly because I was given those kind of opportunities by people, especially by players. I saw workshops when I was a kid by Louis Bellson and Clark Terry, and the stories you get from those folks are amazing. I’m really dedicated to trying to foster and provide growth for the mentor/apprenticeship aspect of learning the music. I believe in the institutions, too, and I’m part of them. What we do there is provide people with craft, and also the inspiration to continue to learn, continue to be curious, continue to really want to know. You’re learning this for the rest of your life.”
Matt and his good friend vibraphonist Stefon Harris agree that they get the same satisfaction from teaching as they do from performing at this point in their lives.
The Tree-o is only one of Matt’s musical projects. He has the Matt Wilson Quartet and the group called Arts and Crafts. His new CD coming out in March is dedicated to his wife of almost 32 years, Felicia, who died in July of 2014. When he’s not touring, recording or giving workshops, Matt spends as much time as he can with his daughter, a senior in high school who is very active in theatre, and his triplet sons who “…are 14 now. And they’re huge!” Matt’s very proud of his kids.
The Christmas Tree-o is more than a novelty act. The musicianship is superb, and the teamwork and the fun of taking chances together makes Matt wish they could play year-round.
“Here at Christmas Tree Headquarters, in Baldwin NY, we’ve had various meetings about how to expand the concept. We might expand it to other holidays: Labor Day Trio, Arbor Day Tree-o, or just a monthly calendar trio, play a Valentine’s Day song and a Halloween song, etc.”
He’s looking forward to this trip. “I love Seattle, I love the musicians there, I love the audiences there, I love the town. It’s become another great home for me in the US, like Chicago and the Bay Area,” he says.
Matt has invited many of his Seattle musician friends to come sit in with the Tree-o at Jazz Alley, and hopes that they will bring their students along too. It sounds like a holiday experience that you won’t want to miss. Jim Wilke will be hosting on Tuesday night at Jazz Alley, and I’ll be there on Wednesday night…with bells on!
Here’s a sample of Christmas Tree-o fun from NPR Music: