Young-Un’s: Matt Hespelt Interview With Jazz Guitar Life

“I would like to change my relationship with the instrument from something that defines me and that I need to sound great at, into more of a spiritual feeling, or gateway for myself. I hope to one day play without concern or fear.”

Matt Hespelt

Matt Hespelt is a seventeen year old Jazz Guitarist out of Sparta, New Jersey who has embraced the tradition of Jazz as both a player and composer.

In this interview, Matt discusses his “early” years, what he’s doing now musically and how he got to play with Mark Egan of Pat Metheny group fame. I found Matt to be quite articulate and I have no doubt that if he keeps playing and working at his craft, he’ll do some great things.

For more info on Matt, click on over to his YouTube channel.

Enjoy!

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JGL: Hi Matt and thanks for taking the time to respond to the following questions. First off, how old are you?

MH: I’m 16 years old

JGL: From what I have heard of your playing so far, you have a great approach to the instrument and the music. How old were you when you first started playing guitar and how did you get into Jazz?

MH: Thanks! I started playing guitar when I was 9. I was big into classic rock until I was 11 or 12, when I heard Wes Montgomery for the first time. That for me was sort of like the light bulb going off. I have fond memories of listening to Wes Montgomery play “Twisted Blues” and Polka dots and Moonbeams” over and over again on my iPod.

JGL: How old were you when you did your first gig and what was it?

MH: I can’t exactly remember, but I had my first paying gig when I was 13 at a local coffee shop with me and my band. Whatever people would give as tips is what we would get as our pay. My first performance in public was at the local battle of the bands competition when I was 12, which we won. That was the first time I played in front of a big crowd, and also, the first time I learned how good it felt to play and share music with other people.

JGL: On one of your YouTube auditions to the Berklee Guitar Sessions Scholarship program, you are playing with your guitar teacher Rob, has he always been your teacher?

MH: I didn’t start taking lessons with Rob Hall until I was really starting to develop a deeper understanding of the instrument. When I first started playing, I took lessons at Bill Wright’s Guitar Studio in Sparta. At that time, I was big into classic rock, sort of like I wanted to be the next Jimmy Page or Alex Lifeson. I would learn the tunes I liked by copying what my teacher was showing me, or by having him write out the tabs for it. But when I got interested in learning jazz, I realized that I couldn’t solely rely on shapes and pattern, and that I needed to see the notes on the fretboard. Rob was the teacher I needed for this and I’ve been taking lessons with him ever since. I also take lessons with Dave Stryker who is great because I am learning from one of the best on the New York scene.

JGL: Speaking of the Berklee Guitar Sessions Scholarship program, how did you do?

MH: I was awarded the scholarship and when there, I was allowed to audition for a scholarship towards Berklee’s Five week program. I was awarded a full tuition scholarship to the program and will be back again this summer where I will have the opportunity to participate in the Jazz Workshop and to work with Terri Lyne Carrington.

JGL: You have been touted as having been a great student by your past teachers. How disciplined has your musical education been? Do you practice every day and what is your practice regimen like?

MH: It’s hard to say because from the educational standpoint, it’s been a good mix of fun and discipline. The true discipline comes from what I make of those opportunities. My practice regimen consists of a warm-up, and sometimes exercises that I come up with or learn from somewhere else. I don’t have a strict day to day regimen. If there’s something I want to practice or transcribe I’ll work on that.

JGL: Which guitarists do you listen to on a regular basis?

MH: Lately, a lot of Kurt Rosenwinkel and Lage Lund. Some others like, Jim Hall, Mike Moreno, John Scofield, Pat Metheny, and of course Wes Montgomery. I love listening to the way each one of these players composes and improvises. They are all so unique in their own right, but I can hear Influences of everyone else I listed in their playing styles.

JGL: Do you compose as well?

MH: A little bit. I have just recently started discovering my compositional skills.

JGL: To date, what has been your most memorable musical experience(s)?

MH: Going to Berklee over the summer and being exposed to the community there was probably the most memorable experience I’ve had. The sheer amount of talented people all in the same place, all striving for the same goal was absolutely incredible and very inspiring.

JGL: Have you had any bad musical experiences that you would like to share with JGL readers?

MH: I’m still going through what one might call a bad experience, but in the long run it isn’t. For almost a year now I have been dealing with myofascial pain in both my arms due to overuse. Because of this I had to stop playing for a while and I’ve only recently begun to build my chops back up. Yeah it sucked, but this injury has bettered me as a person and as a musician, because it is forcing me to better myself. Now it is so obvious to me, what I have to do in order to get to where I want to be. There is no going back to where I was, knowing what I know now. The only way to go now is forward.

JGL: Do you see yourself continuing Jazz Guitar as a profession?

MH: I honestly can’t see myself doing anything else.

JGL: What do you have planned for the near future?

MH: I will be attending Berklee this summer and then will be auditioning for music schools this Fall. I am excited to graduate from high school next year and pursue my dream of becoming a better jazz guitarist.

JGL: Do you have any other interests that you would like to pursue other than Jazz Guitar?

MH: Not really, I have never thought about doing anything else with my life.

JGL: Do you listen and/or play other music besides Jazz?

MH: Of course. I still listen to some of my earlier influences, but jazz is still what grabs my attention the most. I’ll listen to some funk, fusion, or even classical, it just depends on what I feel like listening to at that given time.

JGL: Do you remember that first “aha” moment that made you realize you wanted to be a Jazz Guitar player?

MH: Yes, very clearly in fact. The first time I heard Wes Montgomery was definitely that “aha” moment that got me interested in jazz.

JGL: Do you have a set of young friends you play with, or are you mostly playing alongside older musicians? What kind of advice has the older generation given you?

MH: I’m very fortunate to live in an area of the country that is well funded musically, and that has a lot of kids my age that are interested in jazz that I get to play with and learn from. Two programs I’m currently involved with, NJPAC Jazz for Teens and Jazz House Kids, do a great job of establishing a young community of players. In these programs, we have great instruction and mentoring from some of the best, well-established musicians on the New York scene. The advice we get is to practice, listen, and learn the language. The other important lesson we gain from these types of programs is the valuable playing experience with our peers in an environment where we’re mentored by some of the best.

JGL: Speaking of older guys, on an audition video up on your YouTube channel, you are playing in a trio setting that includes bassist Mark Egan of Pat Metheny and Elements fame, and drummer Karl Latham who has played with such Jazz luminaries as Joe Lovano and Bob Malach. How did your hooking up with them come about? Were you nervous?

MH: No, I wasn’t nervous at all. Karl and I go way back. We both live in the same town. Karl has always been a great friend and supporter for me. He’s always been hooking me up with some great musicians. A couple years back there was a benefit show in town that Karl was helping to run and organize. Karl had heard me play before and asked if I would like to sit in. In the program he was playing with a lot of good friends, including Mark Egan. That was the first time I played with Mark, and ever since then Karl, Mark and I have been pretty tight knit. So, in the audition video I wasn’t nervous, because I was just jamming with my friends.

JGL: The above mentioned audition was for the Grammy Band. What is the Grammy Band and what was the outcome of your audition?

MH: The Grammy Band is a Jazz Big band that you can audition for that plays at the Grammys every year. The kids I know who’ve made it in are some of the best musicians I know. It’s just another program that gets my peers together for a great learning experience. I was a finalist, but unfortunately I was not selected to participate.

JGL: What would you like to work on guitar wise in the years to come?

MH: I would like to change my relationship with the instrument from something that defines me and that I need to sound great at, into more of a spiritual feeling, or gateway for myself. I hope to one day play without concern or fear.

JGL: When you are not studying, practicing or sleeping, what other stuff do you like to do apart from guitar?

MH: I have a bad habit of getting sucked up in all the stuff that’s out there on YouTube, musical or not. I also like to play video games.

JGL: Do you have any siblings or family who are also musically inclined?

MH: Not in my Immediate family. My great grandfather from what I’ve heard was a great jazz clarinettist. He got to play in Tommy Dorsey’s Orchestra for a year and I think he received a full scholarship to go to Berklee or Julliard, but his mother wasn’t a big supporter of him making a living as a musician. I can’t find a recording of him playing. I’m really interested in hearing what he sounded like.

JGL: Do you have any advice for young musicians that you would like to share?

MH: My advice would be to always let your love for the music push you the most. I would also like to say that you DON’T NEED TO PRACTICE FOUR TO SIX HOURS A DAY. Although I’ve gained invaluable knowledge from my injury, I would not recommend forcing yourself to play so much.

JGL: Thank you Matt for taking the time to respond to these questions for Jazz Guitar Life. I look forward to following your career in the months and years ahead.

MH: Thanks so much Lyle. I love your site!

The Young-Un’s series features young and promising Jazz Guitar players who may one day make a mark within the Jazz Guitar community.  If you know of such a player or student who is below the age of twenty, please contact me to let me know for a possible feature on Jazz Guitar Life.

Please consider spreading the word about Matt and Jazz Guitar Life by sharing this interview amongst your social media pals and please feel free to leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you 🙂

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