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 www.livenote.ie and www.alexmathias.com
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.