the the jazz jazz player player

Gifted saxa­phone player Alex Mathias tells Belinda Walsh about his life as a mu­si­cian, tour­ing the world with The Com­mit­ments Band and how he plans to bring jazz to the mu­sic lov­ing peo­ple of Ire­land


LOOK­ING YOUNGER than his 25 years and sound­ing and acting at least 10 years older, the pop­u­lar Bray mu­si­cian Alex Mathias is a man on a mis­sion to de­velop more in­ter­est, aware­ness and re­spect for jazz mu­sic in this coun­try and to be­come Ire­land's first in­ter­na­tion­ally fa­mous sax­o­phone player.

‘Do you know, we don't have a jazz club in this coun­try? Alex tells us. ‘Ev­ery­where else in Europe, in all the ma­jor cities, there are jazz clubs and a big in­ter­est in this type of mu­sic. There is very lit­tle hap­pen­ing in the jazz world here in Ire­land.

‘Most Ir­ish peo­ple have a real ig­no­rance about jazz and have very lit­tle ap­pre­ci­a­tion of it, un­like other na­tion­al­i­ties. I'm try­ing to change this and teach peo­ple about jazz, the won­der­ful mu­sic it is, with its huge his­tory and the way it has in­flu­enced ev­ery type of mu­sic right down to the rap­pers of to­day.’

Not just a gifted sax­o­phone player, Alex also has a good busi­ness head and has gone about de­vel­op­ing more in­ter­est in jazz in Ire­land by set­ting up his own or­ga­ni­za­tion, ‘Livenote Pro­duc­tions' a Jazz pro­mo­tion/en­ter­tain­ment agency and record la­bel.

In the last year he has started to show­case var­i­ous jazz bands from around Ire­land in ‘ The In­ter­na­tional Bar' in Wick­low St., Dublin, on Tues­day nights. Alex's own band ‘ The Alex Mathias Quar­tet' play there ev­ery Thurs­day night. ‘It's a start, I want to give jazz mu­si­cians an op­por­tu­nity to have an out­let for their mu­sic. My plan is also to hire out jazz mu­si­cians for events like wed­dings, cor­po­rate events and pri­vate par­ties.”

This very am­bi­tious and very like­able mu­si­cian has had, in his rel­a­tively young life, an in­ter­est­ing and sub­stan­tial ca­reer to date. He has toured ex­ten­sively and worked as a mu­si­cian in over a dozen coun­tries world­wide.

His band, ‘ The Alex Mathias Quar­tet' was awarded ‘Best Young Band' at the Cork Jazz Fes­ti­val in 2010 and he launched his de­but al­bum ‘Goin’ Roamin' in June of that year, con­tain­ing all his own orig­i­nal mu­sic, to great crit­i­cal ac­claim. His first al­bum also fea­tures on Aer Lin­gus's in flight en­ter­tain­ment.

Alex has writ­ten over a 100 com­po­si­tions in var­i­ous styles and has been com­mis­sioned to ar­range his own mu­sic for The Dublin City Orches­tra, of which he is a mem­ber. He has played along­side many of Ire­land's best and most colour­ful en­ter­tain­ers like Shane McGowan and Mary Cough­lan, per­formed in the Con­cert Hall and on The Late, Late Show.

His band played at Ox­e­gen in 2008 and '09, an ex­pe­ri­ence he de­scribes as ‘amaz­ing' when he played for the first time in front of an au­di­ence of 25, 000 peo­ple. ‘It was weird be­ing on stage in front of such a mas­sive crowd, a huge sea of peo­ple. I could hear my­self play­ing but only half the band.

‘I couldn't be­lieve the sound was so bad up there on the stage. That's fairly nor­mal I dis­cov­ered but I hadn't ex­pe­ri­enced any­thing like that be­fore. We played with The Repub­lic of Loose at Ox­e­gen in 2008 and re­ally got the crowd go­ing, I'll never for­get it, it was an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.’ Alex also toured with The Com­mit­ments band for two years trav­el­ling to pretty much ev­ery Euro­pean coun­try in­clud­ing Italy, Ger­many and Swe­den, and fin­ished off tour­ing in Canada.

On the road in a tour bus for such a long time with two of the orig­i­nal mem­bers of the band, the im­age of wild par­ties and the phrase, ‘what hap­pens on tour, stays on tour!' springs to mine but as Alex says with a wry smile, ‘It was not as wild a carry on, as I'd say it used to be. Its twenty years since the film and the older guys are a lit­tle burned out by now but still great fun. I was the youngest, the baby of the group. They all looked out for me and it was great meet­ing them all and hav­ing that ex­pe­ri­ence.’

Alexan­der Mathias was born in Dublin but grew up in Bray where he lives with his par­ents, Paul and Janet Mathias. His fa­ther Paul is a re­tired bio-chem­istry lec­turer from the Dublin In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy (DIT) who also plays and writes mu­sic in his leisure time. His mother Janet worked as a di­eti­cian and his only sis­ter Emma stud­ied phys­i­ol­ogy and now works as a so­cial worker.

The name Mathias, he tells us, comes from his Welsh grand­fa­ther and is a bib­li­cal name mean­ing ‘sent from the Lord’. ‘My par­ents then de­cided to call me Alexan­der which means, “leader of men” so I've got a lot to live up to.’ He also tells me about his close re­la­tion­ship with his fa­ther. ‘Dad was my first teacher and I got a good deal of my mu­si­cal knowl­edge from him. He was al­ways play­ing mu­sic and was re­ally good and has also writ­ten some great mu­sic. He en­cour­aged me to learn to play the gui­tar and the piano be­fore mov­ing on to the sax­o­phone. Dad and I get on re­ally well to­gether, we al­ways have.’

Alex be­gan saxa­phone lessons at the age of 12 and took to it straight away. A year later, he found him­self at the Jazz in Clare Fes­ti­val in 1999, play­ing along­side Michael Buck­ley, a man re­garded as one of the best sax play­ers in the coun­try and a mu­si­cian who Alex de­scribes as ‘a huge inspiration to me at a young age’.

Alex won a schol­ar­ship at 13, into the Royal Ir­ish Academy of Mu­sic and then at 15 he took a ‘gap year' from school to study jazz full-time. He plays many vari­a­tions of the sax­o­phone in­clud­ing tenor, alto, so­prano and bari­tone.

Alex tell us why he loves this par­tic­u­lar in­stru­ment, which is of­ten said to be tech­ni­cally very dif­fi­cult to play. ‘I love play­ing the sax be­cause it's such a per­sonal thing. The sound it makes and the way you hold it, is like an ex­ten­sion of your­self. You're fully con­nected to it with your mouth and your hands, it's like part of your body. It's a sen­sual thing as well and it's said that the tenor sax is the clos­est thing you can get to the hu­man voice.’

In 2003, Alex Mathias got a three-year schol­ar­ship to the pres­ti­gious Berklee col­lege of Mu­sic in Bos­ton. While study­ing there, he joined a funk rock band called In­fi­nite Fre­quency and got to ex­pe­ri­ence and en­joy life in the U.S.A. ‘I re­ally en­joyed my time study­ing in Bos­ton. We of­ten trav­elled up into the moun­tains and played mu­sic around big open fires un­der the stars.’ While study­ing in Amer­ica, Alex chose to do mu­sic ther­apy to help peo­ple and learn more about the phys­i­ol­ogy of the hu­mane mind.

He spent three months in a chil­dren's hos­pi­tal in Bos­ton work­ing with kids who had se­vere learn­ing and phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties. It was an ex­pe­ri­ence he says that changed his attitude and per­cep­tion of life. ‘Work­ing with these brave kids and be­ing able to help them through mu­sic was a life chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for me. It made me re­alise the power of mu­sic and that it isn't just about en­ter­tain­ing peo­ple, be­ing on stage and show­ing off.

‘Mu­sic can re­ally help peo­ple and re­ally make a dif­fer­ence in their lives. It can trig­ger some­thing in­ter­nal and help peo­ple step out­side them­selves in a sense. I've learned how mu­sic ther­apy has en­hanced the qual­ity of life for all types of peo­ple, from neona­tal ba­bies to kids with autism, to adults suf­fer­ing from schizophre­nia and de­pres­sion. This ex­pe­ri­ence also made me ap­pre­ci­ate my own good health and this abil­ity I have to help other peo­ple through mu­sic, some­thing I plan to do more of in the fu­ture.’

For the mo­ment, Alex Mathias is try­ing to get the word out about jazz here in Ire­land. He wants peo­ple to know about its fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory from the slaves in the fields to the big bands and the great jazz pe­ri­ods of the 1940/’50s. To ap­pre­ci­ate the greats, like trum­pet play­ers, Miles Davies and Chet Baker, sax and piano play­ers like Charley Parker and Her­bie Han­cock - all he says, had a pro­found ef­fect on the mu­sic we lis­ten to to­day.

‘ These guys from this pe­riod were the best. Miles Davies’ al­bum, ‘ The Jazz Al­bum' has in­flu­enced ev­ery­one who has ever wanted to play jazz. All my inspiration comes from this era and from these mu­si­cians. The Amer­i­can sax player John Coltrane would also be a hero of mine and a huge in­flu­ence and inspiration to me. He was at the fore­front of all de­vel­op­ments in the jazz move­ment un­til his death in 1969.’

Alex and his es­pe­cially formed band are look­ing for­ward to do­ing a 10-day tour in March/April called ‘Alex Mathias plays John Coltrane' when they will be gig­ging all over Ire­land and North­ern Ire­land. Fi­nally, Alex sums up what be­ing a mu­si­cian means to him, ‘Play­ing mu­sic, com­pos­ing and teach­ing is my life and means ev­ery­thing to me. Mu­sic is a ticket to so many things, to meet­ing new peo­ple and to open­ing your mind to so many pos­si­bil­i­ties. Mu­sic to me, is the key to life.’

Alexand­his­ban­dareintheBrayArt­sClubonApril 4. They can also be seen in the But­ton Fac­tory, Tem­ple Bar, on the first Mon­day of ev­ery month and ev­ery Thurs­day in The In­ter­na­tional Bar. See and www.alex­math­

TOP: The whole fam­ily, Paul (dad), Janet (mum), Emma (sis­ter), Leila (my niece) and Alex. MID­DLE: A pen­sive Alex as a 15-year-old teen in his room. BOT­TOM: A 14-year-old Alex and sax­o­phon­ist Michael Buck­ley at Jazz in Clare 1999, a week-long jazz school.

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