French-Malagasy pianist, composer, producer, and bandleader MATHIS just released, his first EP, MATHIS Sound Orchestra:World Unity. The five tracks feature some talented and exciting artist, namely flutist Melanie Charles; trumpeters Giveton Gelin and Benny Benack III; alto saxophonists Anthony Orji and Patrick Bartley, tenor saxophonists Ruben Fox and Julian Lee, pianist Julius Rodriguezon Rhodes and synth, bassist Daniel Winshall, drummer Savannah Harris, and percussionist Fernando Saci.
We got the chance to talk to MATHIS before his biweekly Youtube show, The History of Piano. Here he sends his guest backing tracks that they than contribute too. Each week has a different theme whether it be dance music, flowers, or trees. His artistic soul shows through immediately as he beautifully explains the tree episode. MATHIS talks about the magic of all kinds of trees, “They have the ability to hear and move. There is a great study that shows that the seeds of trees when growing are admitting a particular sound and frequency. If you omit these frequencies the trees move towards that sound.”
Born in the mountains of South Eastern France, to a French father and a Malagasy mother, MATHIS quickly started playing the piano at the very early age of three. Picking it up at home, he soon gravitated to synths. One of his earliest influences were, Earth Wind and Fire. He notes their album, I Am. “They are uplifting, sharing a high message about our potential.” Moving around a lot as a child, at ten he ended up in Glasgow. There he was mentored by Tommy Smith, a jazz cat, and started competing in competitions. At age eleven, MATHIS attended a music boarding school in Manchester, England. While he was learning Jazz and Classical music at school it was a different style that really caught his ear. Here he discovered house step, dub step, and techno. He instantly feel in love with the pulse and rhythm of the music, which is what he loved about Earth Wind and Fire. Under the alias Jaona, he started producing his own techno music, releasing a EP, Midnight Drummer.
"I wanted to find out ways to incorporate that style (Stride) with how people are playing today but keeping that focus on the left hand. To figure out how to merge using the left hand style of Fats Waller, while using a modal expression in the right hand that is more reminiscent of Geri Allen, Herbie Hancock, and McCoy Tyner."
At 17, MATHIS eventually ended up at The Juilliard and got deeper into playing live. He notes Kenny Barron and Ron Carter as his mentors there. Eventually even getting to play with the latter at Blue Note. “I got into live music in New York. I felt like I was missing a part of the experience of being out there, playing with other musician. I wanted to take the pulse and rhythm and recreate it with people." MATHIS started to merge sounds, specifically the older stride piano style he so loved.
When asked what got him into stride he was quick to reply, "Oscar Peterson, it was actually a boogie-woogie video and what he was doing with his left hand was just so unbelievable." MATHIS had to figure out how he did it, running out to get a book on Peterson. This lead him to discover Art Tatum and Fats Waller. "I wanted to find out ways to incorporate that style with how people are playing today but keeping that focus on the left hand. To figure out how to merge using the left hand style of Fats Waller, while using a modal expression in the right hand that is more reminiscent of Geri Allen, Herbie Hancock, and McCoy Tyner."
MATHIS found himself wondering if the artist he admired most Fats Waller and James P. Johnson had found themselves playing with synths. He pondered what would stride piano sound like on the synth? It was this question that lead to World Unity. “It was the first manifestation of all these merging, my love of electronic sounds, dance rhythms, collective improv, and classical piano.”
"There is so much going on these days that is trying to separate us from each other. These five songs represent five ideas that unit us.”
World Unity, a conceptual EP, has each song representing a planet. "There is so much going on these days that is trying to separate us from each other. These five songs represent five ideas that unit us.”
The title track, "World Unity", played by a trio, is represented by Earth. Here the stride style can be heard with a mix of the modern funk sound of Earth Wind and Fire.
"Glitter Eyes,” which seeks to invoke joy, is represented by Jupiter. Preformed full band style, it is a song all about rejoicing in celebration and dance.
"Pjanno" which was written by producer Eric Prydz, is the most personal on the album. Represented by the moon, he considers it the planet piano. It encompasses everything he loves, "House music, my childhood in France, the stride piano, those are my moons, my elements, my guides, they shine on my earth.” It is in this song you can really hear his love of Fats Waller come through.
"House music, my childhood in France, the stride piano, those are my moons, my elements, my guides, they shine on my earth.”
“Tranquility” represents Venus and was composed by master pianist Barry Harris. Played as a quartet using flute, piano, brushes, and synth, MATHIS takes a traditional song and changes one element to see what happens. The song invokes looking within, meditating, and pray. "It's that moment of solitude, where we are trying to fix, connect, and understand what is happening within us. This process is shared throughout all cultures.”
The final song on the EP is “Rite of Passage” represented by Mars. It is one of the more hard hitting tunes, a dance track traveling into the house realm. The song takes on the different stages of life. "I chose Mars because it invokes power, force, and change. There is a lot of pain that comes with growth." The song has symbolic tones of being a warrior of life. It brings you on a journey to understand the things you have to go through. A final thought on how to make change, come through on the other side, and manifest unity.
The whole album is the first solar system of MATHIS' work. He explains how he feels every artist has their own universe and throughout their life create whole galaxy’s of work for us to dive into. We can't wait to hear MATHIS' next universe of work. In the meantime MATHIS can be heard all around the internet. Aside from History of Piano, he also does YogaPiano and a number of live streams.
Finishing out our Interview we ask what's MATHIS' favorite jazz album of all time. It is a hard question and he answers not only with his favorite jazz album but also some of his non favorite jazz albums. A blend as prefect as MATHIS' music, "The Prisoner by Herbie Hancock, Music on my Mind by Willie "The Lion" Smith, and Crush by the Floating Points."
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