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Matt Wilson Releases ‘Honey & Salt’ – Inspired by the Poetry of Carl Sandburg

‘Honey & Salt’

Wilson succeeds wonderfully, bringing Sandburg’s voice alive with each interpretation on ‘Honey & Salt…

Doug Hall

It’s not often that a musician can find inspiration in his favorite poet, compose a moving palette of jazz interpretations, while also sharing a distant relationship on the very same family tree. Jazz musician, drummer, composer and band leader Matt Wilson can make just that claim, with feeling and love for the American “poet of the people” Carl Sandburg, on his latest release ‘Honey and Salt – (Music inspired by the poetry of Carl Sandburg).’ Both Wilson and Sandburg were born in Knoxville County, Illinois, sharing Midwestern roots but during remarkably different times. Sandburg, born a decade after the American Civil War and witnessing the impact of the industrial age, then WWI, the Great Depression, WWII and onward to the tumultuous 1960’s – supporting the civil rights movement in his 80’s and becoming the first white man to be honored by the NAACP – had witnessed an extraordinary period of history.

An acclaimed jazz drummer and Grammy nominee, Wilson’s musical background has also included many roles as both band leader (the Matt Wilson Quartet, Arts & Crafts, Christmas Tree-O, Topsy Turvy and Big Happy Family), composer and performer. Wilson’s 13th recording as leader for Palmetto Records, ‘Honey and Salt’, received a 5-star review from DownBeat magazine which called it “irresistible.” Wilson points out that this creative thought process has been “germinating since 2001” with other projects and life taking up time. “Keeping it on the back-burner”, he finally settled to complete the music composition process in the spring of 2016, also coinciding with the 50th year anniversary of Sandburg’s death.

Wilson’s Midwestern association with his rural regional surroundings lent itself to reflect on Sandburg’s musings as a poet, and an interconnection to music. Wilson articulates the influence, “as you get older you start to appreciate regional connections a lot more, but I was always fascinated because it (Sandburg’s poetry) didn’t rhyme. That aligned with my taste in music at that time, when I was exploring all different kinds of music.”

Hand picking a selection of poems from Sandburg’s 1963 collection of poetry, ‘Honey and Salt’, Wilson brings to attention Sandburg’s poetry with a small, beautiful and poignant sampling, putting verse to song and musical expression in a jazz context. Importantly as well, listeners may follow this ‘string’ as an attachment to the wider range of contributions by this esteemed man of words. Sandburg won three Pulitzer Prizes, a Grammy Award, wrote the definitive biography of Abraham Lincoln, won the distinguished Robert Frost Medal for poetry, created an anthology of American folk songs, American Songbag, published an endearing and hugely popular ‘American tales’ children’s book, Rootabaga Stories, and performed and travelled the country collecting traditional folk songs. In Wilson’s words, “Sandburg was a renaissance man and poet of the people. I feel sometimes that of all the celebrated American poets, he doesn’t really get his due. Hopefully we can help his work get more recognition in some small way.”

Wilson succeeds wonderfully, bringing Sandburg’s voice alive with each interpretation on ‘Honey and Salt’. The creative result is a stirring, at times gritty, heart-felt reflection in jazz tones, voice, rhythm and beat – that puts the plain-speaking words of the populist poet in front of the listener, (read by guest speakers and sung), evoking a powerful dignity and putting Sandburg in the room with you.

When the band of musicians was forming for this recording, Wilson had already started a musical connection with the powerful and soulful recording artist, vocalist and gritty, rhythmic jazz guitarist Dawn Thomson, who also has loved the verse and poetry of Sandburg (listen to her own “Sleep Impressions” inspired by Sandburg’s poetry). Similarly, an extraordinary multi-reedist, Jeff Lederer, was in the mix as well, and then came bassist, NYU faculty instructor and cultural award winner from Germany, Martin Wind, and prominent jazz faculty member and high-demand trumpeter and cornetist Ron Miles from Denver. Wilson was ecstatic and humbled by the chemistry and talent assembled, “I was overwhelmed by the artistry and passion of the music on this album (Honey and Salt) – and blessed to have them.”

Similar enthusiasm and accolades come from Wilson for the collaboration of guests including household names in jazz (Christian McBride, Bill Frisell, Joe Lavano, John Scofield and others) adding their own voice and inflection as they read aloud verses of Sandburg’s poetry to the accompaniment of paired jazz beat, rhythm and improvisation, as Wilson observed,
“They all brought their own ways of interpretation.”

Some stand-out selections include ‘Soup’ about a celebrity just eating his soup from an observer’s point of view, seen as just ordinary “folk” with a driving beat and sultry ‘talking’ jazz voice from Thomson, with bass and then overlay of horns – and additional gritty guitar from Thomson’s hand. ‘Anywhere and Everywhere People’ remains contemporary in its message of self-adulation – as our leading political figures or other “wanna be famous” social media figures continue to feeding on narcissism. With funky backbeat driven by bass and drums, and competing eclectic trumpet and cornet chorus, a baritone voice delivered by Christian McBride (Grammy award-winning bassist, international jazz performer, educator, and artistic director of the Newport Jazz Festival) adds weight to the feeling. And then with the forlorn refrain in the poem “As Wave Follows Wave”, Sandburg spells out the futility of destiny, “man’s life is a candle in the wind… as wave follows wave… so new men take old men’s places.” With a beautiful dream-like serene trumpet introduction setting the tone, and acoustic guitar accompaniment, we, the listener, contemplate the journey.

Each song arrangement is a balance of interplay between the musicians and Sandburg’s ‘voice’, setting a tone for the listener to experience the poetry as more than lyrics overlaying instrumental accompaniment. Instead, the musicianship and featured instrument or solos don’t interfere with the sparse verse but punctuate the line breaks, with a driving drum beat or soft coronate solo – and when they mix together – both word and note – the impact of the weight and meaning of each verse is never lost. Delivering these lines with diverse and distinctive voices, the relevance of the poetic words from ‘Honey and Salt’ forces you to process an ‘Americana’ of Sandburg’s generation that is still a reflection of who we are today.

Besides poetry, as Wilson points out, Sandburg loved jazz (played guitar and sang) –, and above all ‘appreciated the moment’ – which is exactly where Wilson’s ‘Honey and Salt’ takes us.

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Doug Hall
My lifelong passion for writing and literature (which are wed to each other) continues to stay active, with art and cultural freelance writing assignments for on-line entertainment web sites. Home has been New England, Rocky Mountains, and London and lots of places travelled through books and points of view. “Creativity is a continual surprise.” ― Ray Bradbury

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Bumi Thomas

We met Bumi Thomas purely by fate.

Lost in the dark of the night on a recent trip to London we searched for the flat of our next interview.
Bumi was the only person in sight when we asked her where the address was and she coyly replied , “I think I know who you are looking for (with a smile we would soon recognize) follow me…” it turned out Bumi was the assistant to the subject we were searching for.

Check- out another song, “Mother Tongue” 

Bumi, your music is a gift to the world and it likely was exactly at the stroke of midnight you surprised us with your voice one night.

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True Love Is…

A favourite question in our interviews with answers cut straight from the heart. 

Adam Cohen-  A state, a place, a noun a verb, the most beautiful word that you ever heard- A line from Hallelujah, Jesus and Buddha, love is a faded sign that you don’t see sometimes. 

Hozier-  Something tangible & real – to love someone as a human being

MAY- I believe that true love is honest, unwavering and immortal.

Marcus Foster- True Love is… Hard to find.

Caitlin Crosby- SERVICE. Selfless. Sacrifice

Brandon Malone- Loving someone right where their at, while inspiring one another to be more.

Ben Rothbard- Empowering the one you love.

Rayland Baxter- – True Love is… true Love is… a couple walking around their neighborhood after dinner hoLding hands and wanting nothing but each other… true Love is a huge fight… true Love is what the worLd and all her inhabitants are born with… its a feeLing that i cant expLain… its the most speciaL type of excitement.

Nicholas & the Pessimistics- When you would rather have a bad day with someone over a good day without them.

JP Maurice- For Lovers

Yamir- Understanding, trust, valuing one another, and passion.

Mick Evans- Anything you can’t give up.

Andrew Maxwell Morris- Knowing that you are safe and with someone who completes you in every way. Like a blanket but a very comfy one!

Dave Cheetham- Something everyone one deserves and no one should have to settle for less.

Devin Cuddy- Hard to find, but out there, its a journey not a destination.

Zane Carney- A choice that has become fearlessly unconditional.

Matt Costa- A bottle of Brandy and a good guitar.

Lenka- It’s everywhere. Just let it in.

Francesca Tamellini- Painful

David Newberry- Irresistable

Blue Sky Miners- A myth. Love is all around.

Poor Remy- “True love” now that we’re reading it seems kind of redundant. When you find truth, you find love. I think thats true with anything. Thats why love is so powerful, cause its true. 

Augustines- There are many kinds of love. A mother’s, a friends’, a lover, a wife’s, a brother’s.  True love?  Probably being connected with the life you are living, the actual life.  Not the life that is purchased or justified from the outside.

Griffin House- I honestly do not know.  That’s not a sexy answer, I know.  But it’s honest.  I should go look up “love” in the dictionary. That in and of it’s self would be an act of love, to me. Trying to find a proper definition is a great place to begin. I do know this.  I think I have had a bit of an incorrect definition of true love for most of my life. I think we look to other people to fill a big void in ourselves and we think that if we meet “the one” that we’ll feel happy forever and life will be wonderful.  But I don’t think that’s love, I think that is using another person to make yourself feel good.  The closest thing I could maybe venture to say is that true love is unconditional.

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Marty McConnell – Chicago

Marty McConnell – her poetry, readings and interpretations leave you feeling inspired and lost in thought from another time and place – yet she remains ever so relevant today. A true inspiration as she pushes the boundaries of the imagination and leaves you feeling it is perfectly alright to dream.
She became an unknown legend with her poem ‘Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell’ – a brilliant look through the eyes of a woman in angst yet never more sure of what she needs.

Inspiring women around the world with her honest revelations in 2016.

MARTY MCCONNELL

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