| During the course of his long musical career, Rich Matteson touched the lives of many people. He touched them gently, firmly, positively, and permanently. Everyone who experienced contact with Rich Matteson was left with an indelible memory of that contact, no matter how brief.
Professional colleagues were in awe of his musicianship and creative genius. Students were devoted to him: they appreciated (and sometimes feared) his honesty and unwavering integrity. He had concern for and patience with each individual. Colleagues and students alike respected the depth of his knowledge and ability to teach jazz history and improvisation. Audiences were ecstatically entertained by his musicianship and spontaneous humor; they were transfixed by his relaxed and casual manner.
Rich Matteson was a consummate entertainer; he was great fun. I have never experienced anyone who could control a microphone and audience better than Rich. His timing and surprising humor were flawless and always appropriate to the occasion. But always impressive about his exceptional qualities as an entertainer were his musicianship, his spellbinding performances, his astonishing range, astounding technique, and most especially his creative genius for jazz improvisation.
The admiring reception of his performances by such jazz giants as Clark Terry, Louie Bellson, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Milt Hinton, Count Basie, Stan Kenton, Rufus Reid, and others brought him the ecstasy of playing with the greatest. Their acceptance of Rich made up for a lot of hurtful snubs from agents and club owners; for despite the acme of jazz performance he achieved, his chosen instruments (the tuba and euphonium) have yet to be accepted as jazz equals of saxophone, trumpet, and trombone. This prejudice and inequality was a constant irritant and frustration for Rich. And although colleagues and jazz enthusiasts were amazed (and often embarrassed) by his incredible artistry on his chosen instruments, they listened in disbelief and amazement. It obviously never occurred to them that he should be invited to perform as a special feature in the major jazz festivals around the world. With tongue in cheek Rich would state, “I’m the greatest jazz euphonium player in the world!…Hell, I’m the only jazz euphonium player in the world!” Thanks to Rich’s performance examples and his teaching, euphonium-player disciples (most notably John Allred) are starting to appear on the scene.
Fortunately, examples of Rich Matteson’s incredible artistry are preserved on recordings. However, the labels are not well known, with occasional re-releases generally made on yet another little-known label. Distribution is usually by word of mouth and the postal service. Rich would jokingly tell an audience which had inquired about his recordings, “My records are on the Oblivion Label and are available at your local Fat Chance record store.” It is significant that Rich Matteson has been honored as an Ambassador of Jazz by Disney World; and in 1992 he was Down Beat magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner, well-deserved recognition of one of the greatest exponents of American jazz performance.
For many years Rich Matteson was one of the best-kept secrets in jazz. The first time I heard Rich perform I was absolutely blown away. I had been a professional tubist for twenty years and had never before heard of Rich Matteson. Here I was hearing him for the first time in the late sixties in a Chicago jazz club. I was embarrassed. One hearing made me a Rich Matteson fan for life!
The obscure status that went along with Rich’s confinement to jazz clubs in Las Vegas and elsewhere was changed immediately when he became a jazz clinician/educator. After our first meeting it was my pleasure to find myself booked as a clinician/soloist at the same conference where Rich served in a similar capacity. We had a great time and sought opportunities to work together thereafter. In the fall of 1975 we were featured artists at a wonderful T.U.B.A. Conference hosted by William Winkle at Chadron State College in Chadron, Nebraska. On the final evening, after listening to Don Little’s University of Northern Iowa Tuba Ensemble play at the closing reception, we pondered ways to work together in the future. At the time I was planning the program content for the First International Brass Congress in Montreux, Switzerland the following June and suggested that we form a group of three euphoniums and three tubas with rhythm section to debut there. Rich flipped out about the whole idea. He then told me about Ashley Alexander and Jack Petersen, whom he volunteered to recruit and assist in recruiting a rhythm section. I suggested we call the group the Tubajazz Consort, and Rich agreed.
The third euphonium player for that debut performance of the Tubajazz Consort was John Marcellus; the pianist was Steve Harlos; the bassist and drummer were from the Bobby Lewis Band (Chicago). I then recruited the other Tubists, Daniel Perantoni and R. Winston Morris. Rich volunteered to write several arrangements. I will never forget that first rehearsal and the wide grin on Rich’s face; “It works, it really works!”
The Tubajazz Consort was such a hit that the packed house of 550 brass players from around the world were standing halfway through our first tune, an original by Rich called “Spoofy.” Since I was already scheduled to appear as s soloist for two weeks at the Adelaide Festival in Australia in February of 1978, I called the festival director, Anthony Steel, and told him about the success of the Matteson-Phillips Tubajazz Consort had experienced at the Brass Congress. Steel immediately booked our group for two weeks, extending my stay there to a month.
The Matteson-Phillips Tubajazz Consort was an overwhelming success in Australia. In addition to the Adelaide Festival, where we played at the After Dark Club every night to capacity crowds, we also gave concerts in Melbourne, Brisbane, and Sydney. There we played a concert in the famous Sydney Opera House and set attendance records at the Basement Jazz Club. (We arrived at the Basement Jazz Club to find a place so packed that it took us one full hour to get to the stage with our instruments.)
In Adelaide, as everywhere else, Rich always had the audience uppermost in his thoughts. The Matteson-Phillips Tubajazz Consort was set up on a bandstand facing the audience in the larger of the two rooms utilized to accommodate sold-out audiences each evening. Rich had solo microphones set up in both rooms and, in tandem with Ashley Alexander, alternated jazz choruses in the two rooms. This proved not too strenuous for a 32-bar chorus; but when they started doing 16’s, 8’s, 4’s and 2’s, traffic became a blur. It was truly an athletic and artistic fear and brought the house down every time…including the rest of the band!
Working with Rich was both a pleasure and a challenge to rise to the performance level he expected and consistently demonstrated. All those legions of young people and music educators who experienced a Rich Matteson clinic or master class will remember the primary musical message he always delivered: “Love what you do. Love it so much that you give it your all. Listen, learn all you can, develop your God given talents to their zenith, share your achievements with all who will listen, and love your audience for without them there is no performance.” Another of Rich’s philosophical beliefs, one he got from Louis Armstrong when he recorded with Louis and the Dukes of Dixieland was, “always play for someone you love.” Rich always did just that! No matter how you look at it, working and being with Rich Matteson was a rich experience. I am one of many friends of Rich Matteson who will be enriched for the rest of my life by memories of our association. There is no doubt that Rich Matteson’s greatest calling was music education. He loved to teach, to enlighten and inspire the full potential of young musicians. The experience and concern he brought to jazz education was impressive. The excitement of successful teaching, “call and response” if you will, was his stimulant. Rich was honored many times by the International Association of Jazz Educators, including his selection for membership in the IAJE Hall of Fame.
His countless clinic/solo appearances throughout the world brought new knowledge and respect for jazz performance and improvisation to students of every age. He would tell his clinic audience, “Jazz improvisation is instant composition: your mind sings an idea, and if you command the technique of your instrument you can express it.” He would also tell starry-eyed kids about his travel around the world and then ask them if they know why he had so many exciting opportunities. When they hesitated to reply, he would say, “…because when I was your age, I practiced.” Rich had a very special way with young people; they loved him.
He would say to music educators, “Music is for fun and relaxation. It is an escape from the harsh realities of life. It is a gift of God that helps us keep our sanity. Let your students taste all of it. If someone is going to deny any student a certain facet of the world of music, make sure that someone isn’t you. Would you be involved in music today if your teachers had forbidden you your favorite music? Did you not find a teacher you looked up to, a person you could communicate with, and through then find the joys of music? Open up then, and show your students the wonderful and varied world of music.”
Rich Matteson spoke often of his concern for music students’ future professional opportunities to perform, to earn a living with their instruments. He was critical of many music programs and often stated, “…in the training of young musicians, we need to bring about a better balance of ‘higher’ and ‘hire’ education. Learn jazz improvisation and read jazz and commercial music and you will have a better chance of survival. Let’s face it, you never know what kind of job you’ll be asked to do when the phone rings…. and you do want it to keep ringing.”
Rich’s professional experience savvy, his simple and thoughtful philosophies, and his boundless love for teaching young people have brought special insights for making music to everyone who has been fortunate to have him as a colleague or teacher. In one of our conversations Rich stated, “I teach because I love it! For twenty-one years I have made my living doing exactly what I wanted to do. I can’t even think about anything else. The opportunities that have been presented to me in working with these beautiful young players is just incredible. I am grateful to music education for these opportunities.” Rich’s many clinics and his teaching at North Texas State University (1972-1985) and the University of North Florida (1086-1992) where he was the first Koger Distinguished Professor of American Music, provided Rich with what he considered his great mission. His teaching touched thousands of young musicians and gave each of them greater prospects for their musical future.
It is never easy to day good-bye to loved ones, especially those whose very presence brought joy and happiness, good times, good music, good jazz, and happy memories. Rich Matteson will be remembered by all who truly know him as one of life’s pied pipers, for always giving to his family, friends, fans, students, and musician colleagues that infectious grin, unlimited original humor, and his enormous talent for creating spellbinding performances. His ballad playing was always from the heart (for someone he loved!), giving every listener their own private thoughts and reflections. His up-tempo jazz improvisations took listeners on a new musical roller coaster with every new chorus. Rich Matteson was one of those rare musician-entertainers who could make an audience transcend individual concerns and share together an uninhibited evening of pleasure, listening to improvisations created especially for them.
The last time I saw Rich was at the May 1992 Tubists Universal Brotherhood Association (T.U.B.A.) International Tuba-Euphonium Conference held at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. I was asked to deliver a tribute to Rich on behalf of the T.U.B.A. membership. I was privileged for such an opportunity to direct heartfelt remarks personally and fraternally to my dear, suffering friend and colleague. I share my remarks with you:
“Mr. President, Executive Committee, T.U.B.A. Membership:
I am privileged to acknowledge our colleague Rich Matteson and to express our admiration, respect, and gratitude for the years of inspiration, wisdom, and service he has given to our organization. We have all benefited from his dedication to our purposes and from his concerns for our future. Most especially, we and future generations have been given a legacy of artistic achievement with his chosen instruments, the tuba and the euphonium. The potential of these instruments in jazz has been clearly defined by him. Young tubists and euphoniumists can aspire to achieve the high performance standards he has established. We are all bumbled by the jazz artistry of Rich Matteson. More than any other, he has added performance options for our professional livelihood.”
“In this room today are close, fraternal, and admiring young friends of Rich Matteson. Rich, you have shared with us your private difficulties of the moment. On behalf of your legions of friends throughout the world we offer you support and strength from our concerns for your recovery, just as you have strengthened each of us for so many years. May God bless you and Mikki through these difficult days; and may you know that we love you very, very much.”
Rich Matteson was a devout and religious man. The basis of his philosophy of live was giving: “My philosophy of life goes with my philosophy of music and sharing it with kids. I’m glad I’m a teacher. I’m glad my parents were teachers. It is a noble profession, and I don’t just mean teaching music. It is very wrong to go through life and not give something back to other people. I definitely believe in God and I think God wants life to be wonderful: but you have to work at it and contribute. You can’t just be a taker; you have to give.”
I suspect Rich has already established jazz education as a required course in heaven and is giving joyful jazz improv classes to all the other angels. Harp playing in heaven will never be the same. Good-bye, Rich—we’ll miss you.
Harvey Phillips is Distinguished Professor of Music at Indiana University, Executive Editor of The Instrumentalist, and Co-Founder and Past President of T.U.B.A. His career as tubist includes the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, the New York City Opera, and 14 years as a founding member of the New York Brass Quintet. He has performed as soloist in 24 Carnegie Hall recitals and hundreds of clinic/recitals throughout the world.
“The Rich and Mikki Matteson Jazz Scholarship Fund” has been established in Rich’s memory at the University of North Texas, University of North Florida, University of Colorado (site of the Rich Matteson Mile-High Summer Camp), T.U.B.A., and IAJE.
This article is reprinted with permission from the Jazz Educators Journal, Volume 26 #2, the official publication of the International Association of Jazz Educators, Box 724, Manhattan, Kansas 66502
|GOOD-BYE RICH - WE'LL MISS YOU
by Harvey Phillips
Jazz Educators Journal - Volume 26 #2