About Matt Wilson
An ebullient jazz drummer with a wry, somewhat zany sense of humor, Matt Wilson is recognized for his adventurous approach to post-bop. A vital presence on the New York scene since the early '90s, Wilson has worked with such forward-thinking luminaries as Dewey Redman, Lee Konitz, and Charlie Haden, among many others. He is also a member of the Sifter trio with Mary Halvorson and Kirk Knuffke, as well as Trio M with Myra Melford and Mark Dresser. On his own, he has released an eclectic array of small group albums that showcase his love for both straight-ahead and avant-garde traditions, including 2001's Arts & Crafts, 2014's Gathering Call, and 2017's Carl Sandburg-inspired Honey & Salt.
Born in 1964 in Knoxville, Illinois, Wilson first began playing drums in elementary school. After high school, he studied music at Wichita State University and spent time in the Midwest, both as a freelancer and as a teacher. By the late '80s, he had relocated to Boston, where he gained formative experience playing with saxophonist Charlie Kohlhase and as a member of the quirky and ambitious Either/Orchestra. In 1992 Wilson made the move to New York, and quickly found himself in demand as a sideman working with Joshua Redman, Lee Konitz, Fred Hersch, Tim Hagans, Ingrid Jensen, and others. It was also around this time that he made his debut as leader with 1996's As Wave Follows Wave, featuring tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman, bassist Cecil McBee, and organist Larry Goldings. Two years later, he introduced his first quartet on Going Once, Going Twice, playing with tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm, alto/clarinetist Andrew D'Angelo, and bassist Yosuke Inoue. The same group returned in 1999 with Smile.
In 2001, Wilson released Arts & Crafts, his first album showcasing his Arts & Crafts ensemble with trumpeter Terell Stafford and pianist Larry Goldings. After releasing another quartet album with 2003's Humidity, Wilson returned to his Arts & Crafts ensemble with 2004's Wake Up! (To What's Happening). He stuck with the same group for 2007's The Scenic Route. Also that year, he appeared on Big Picture with Trio M, a freewheeling collaborative project with pianist Myra Melford and bassist Mark Dresser. In 2009, he returned to his quartet for That's Gonna Leave a Mark, which found reedist D'Angelo joined by saxophonist Jeff Lederer.
In 2010, he released his first-ever holiday-themed album, Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O. A year later, he reunited with Trio M for Guest House. Wilson then regrouped his Arts & Crafts ensemble for 2012's An Attitude for Gratitude. In 2014, the drummer and his quartet collaborated with pianist John Medeski on Gathering Call. He also stayed busy backing singer/pianist Dena DeRose on We Won't Forget You: An Homage to Shirley Horn, and joining pianist Denny Zeitlin for Stairway to the Stars.
Tragically, in 2014 Wilson lost his wife, violinist and teacher Felicia Wilson, who died after a four-year battle with leukemia. Two years later, he celebrated her life with the album Beginning of a Memory, featuring his Big Happy Family group with trumpeter Stafford, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, saxophonist Frahm, pianist Gary Versace, and others. Also in 2016, he appeared on Time/Life (Songs for the Whales and Other Beings) with the Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra. The following year, he delivered Honey & Salt, which featured compositions inspired by the poetry of Carl Sandburg. Hug!, featuring the drummer's pianoless quartet with Knuffke, saxophonist Lederer, and bassist Chris Lightcap, arrived in 2020. ~ Matt Collar