OTHER SIDE OF THE TRACKS with Matthew Halpin
- Interviews / Q&As
"In the rhythm of what my life has been as a freelance musician, there hasn’t been nearly enough time to fully explore the creative prompts or inspiring thoughts that have appeared. Now that I’m helping others on their way of investigation, I’m returning, processing and working through so many things that I’ve marked as I’ve been on my journey."
Cologne-based Irish saxophonist Matthew Halpin leads a European seven-piece jazz supergroup, bringing top musicians from the Irish and German jazz scenes together for an evening of no-holds-barred music-making. Part of the prestigious WDR Jazzpool Irish-German partnership, Matthew brings together outstanding young voices in the European jazz scene.
Ahead of their performance at The Cooler on Thursday, December 7thThursday, December 7th, we caught up with Matthew to hear some more about the project and what he's been up to in recent years.
Q. You've assembled a bit of a 'super-group' by the sounds of it! What can audiences expect for the gig in Dublin on 7th December?
A. This is an interesting project that was conceived by drummer Peter Weiss and saxophonist Wolfgang Schmidtke. Last year, upon notification of a successful funding application they made in NRW in Germany, they approached me and suggested a collaboration between some German musicians that they would choose and some Irish musicians that I know and would recommend. So far this group has played three concerts, in Wuppertal, Dusseldorf and Kirchheim. We’re playing a mixed program of original music from composers in the band which I think has accelerated the connection and communication in the band. The music is playful, colourful and has nice moments which allow the various personalities of the band members to show!
Q. You were appointed professor of jazz saxophone at the music and arts private university of Vienna earlier this year. Is teaching at this level a new venture for you?
A. I have been teaching at the MUK Music and Arts Private University of Vienna since February. I’ve been quite active as a teacher in various situations over the last decade; various workshops and masterclasses with big bands, saxophone students, some regular teaching at music schools. The level of students that I have experience working with has been as broad as it comes, from absolute beginners to professional and graduate level!
This is the first fixed position of this kind that I’ve held and also the first opportunity I’ve had to be working regularly with the same group of bachelor and masters students. So far I feel teaching at this level has felt like a really healthy exchange in inspiration, motivation and information between my students and the mutual benefit has been much greater and more visible than I could have expected!
Q. How is it informing your own experience as a musician?
A. I’ve really noticed how much the nature of communicating ideas and experiences has led to so much personal reflection and digestion of material that has been on my mind but perhaps not deeply considered or worked through. In the last decade I’ve had an immense amount of exposure to interesting and unfamiliar material and input from so many projects and people. In the rhythm of what my life has been as a freelance musician, there hasn’t been nearly enough time to fully explore the creative prompts or inspiring thoughts that have appeared. Now that I’m helping others on their way of investigation, I’m returning, processing and working through so many things that I’ve marked as I’ve been on my journey.
Q. On this, did you yourself have any particularly influential teachers or mentors as a young musician? Or any strong influences or inspiration out in the 'real world' worth mentioning?
A. Without meaning to sound sweet, every teacher I’ve had has been an influence and I’m very lucky that I’ve had many teachers and mentors. All have shown me exactly which direction I should be headed, either by reading well what I needed and knowing how to help or perhaps by pushing me in a way which I could tell didn’t suit, which then helped highlight the importance of the route that was naturally calling me.
Q. Tell us briefly about your creative process when composing, or beginning a new project. Do you have routines or rituals, or is it more spontaneous or serendipitous?
A. I am generally very open and spontaneous when it comes to details and smaller processes, so questions of how the music is to be played or what the setlist might be, or even how we get to the venue, are openers for my creative brain to kick in. However the bigger picture stuff like, what a project’s intention is or who will be involved are things that I prefer to have planned and clear. I need a certain amount of structure and stability to feel that I can be open, vulnerable, inviting to unpredictability, creative, emotional and welcoming to the messy nature of improvisation.
Q. What is next for Matthew Halpin in 2024?
A. I’m still finding my feet in a new city and with a new role in a University, I’m purposely trying not to plan too much and leaving a bit of space to see what opportunities and ideas are going to feel right. I am still writing regularly as part of my working routine and somehow am starting to see three very different recording projects emerging and I’m enjoying not yet knowing which one is going to be possible or appropriate to tackle first. I’ll give you a heads up on it when there’s something ready to share!
2024 will no doubt bring some nice surprises. For now, I can say for sure we have some concerts in Germany and Ireland coming up with Roamer in the spring which I’m really looking forward to! I’ll continue to work with Leipzig based drummer Max Stadtfeld and his group STAX, we’re about to release a new album and an accompanying comic book with that band. I’ll be recording with a new big band project that Claudia Döffinger is putting together. I’ll be teaching at the Sligo Jazz Project in July and at the Lübeck Jazz Workshop in August.
I hope to make at least one of my recording ideas happen in the first half of 2024 which may mean a release would be ready around this time next year!