Matt Dusk
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Matt Dusk

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Dusk does it his way
On his latest record, the young jazz crooner offers a fresh take on some old chestnuts by using original arrangements, J.D. CONSIDINE writes

J.D. CONSIDINE

Matt Dusk still remembers the day he went in to audition for the music program at York University in Toronto. "I was listening to Sinatra and Tony Bennett and Harry Connick. Those are my biggest influences, for sure," he says. So, like any aspiring crooner, he wanted to show the York faculty how well he knew the masters.
"I basically sang these two Sinatra songs verbatim, with every 'koo-koo' and all of that," he says. "I was snapping my fingers on one and three, and doing all the wrong things." He laughs. "I look back now, and -- how embarrassing! To walk into a bunch of educated people, and sing that to them?
"But the teacher said, 'We think you've got a great voice. You can't sing jazz' --You can't sing jazz worth shit, was the exact quotation -- 'but we're going to teach you to be a singer.' "
True to their word, his teachers did just that, and four years later Dusk has a gold record under his belt (for the 2004 release Two Shots), and is touring behind his fourth album, Back in Town. True, there's still a touch of Frank Sinatra about him, from his suit-and-tie wardrobe to the ease with which his satiny baritone switches from punchy swing phrasing to limpid balladry. But at 27, Dusk is clearly his own man, and much rather do it his way.

Not that it's easy for a young crooner to find his own path in this day and age. When Sinatra and Bennett were coming up, it was easy to find work as a big band singer, and to hear the music develop as something fresh and new. But as Dusk admits, for anyone his age, "your only reference is through recordings."
Dusk, however, is blessed with the training and skill to manoeuvre past such obstacles.
As a child, he attended St. Michael's Choir School in Toronto, and learned to read music at an early age. "I started when I was seven years old," he says. "I was an alto. And it's funny for me, because I thought everyone read music. And then I started learning that not only do most singers not read, most musicians outside of the jazz genre have no idea what a chord is."
Later, as an undergraduate, he was warned off trying to learn tunes from recordings. "I was taught was that you have to learn the melody and the lyric the exact way that the authors wrote it," he says. "Most recordings are actually interpretations."
For Back in Town, Dusk took that start-with-the-basics approach a step further. Where other contemporary big band singers like to dust off the classic Nelson Riddle, Billy May and Quincy Jones arrangements used by Sinatra, Dusk wanted to go for a sound that would be completely his.
"I didn't want anybody to say, 'What have we got here? On the Street Where You Live? Yeah, I know that arrangement -- Count Basie with Joe Williams,' " he says. "That's why I said, 'We're going to go out and get all original arrangements.' "
Not only were they new, but they were by some of the best in the business, including Sammy Nestico, who wrote and arranged for the Count Basie Orchestra.
Although understandably proud of the fresh take those arrangements provide on such chestnuts as Get Me to the Church on Time and The Best Is Yet to Come, Dusk nonetheless insists that when singing jazz, the horn charts, harmony, groove and even the melody itself take a backseat to the words.
"For me, jazz music has always been about the lyric," he says. "I learned that through going to university. My teacher was Bob Fenton, and he always said to me, 'It's not about the melody, it's about the lyric. When you sing a song, you're telling a story. If you can make it pretty with a vocal sound, well, good for you. But concentrate on the conversation.'
"That's one of my pet peeves with most jazz musicians," he adds. "I don't agree with most instrumentalists about the way they solo, because I've always been about the lyric. And if you look at some of the best, from Chet Baker to Dexter Gordon to Louis Armstrong, when I hear them play their solos, they're playing the way I'd sing it.
"But if you were to ask most instrumentalists today to quote the lyric, they would have no idea of what they're playing."
- The Globe and Mail (Canada)


Matt Dusk studies his audiences' reaction in the hopes they'll dance
Jul. 20, 2006. 01:00 AM
ASHANTE INFANTRY
ENTERTAINMENT WRITER

Montreal—Matt Dusk couldn't have planned it better himself: four songs into his Club Soda set at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, a waiter arrived at the foot of the stage with a shot of Jack Daniels, courtesy of a fan.
Clad in a milky linen suit, looking very much the wedding singer he once was, Dusk, 27, gleefully accepted in "wink, wink, see you after the show" fashion.
But it was neither the donor's potential comeliness, nor thirst that aroused the "in love with being single" performer, who took just a sip of the whisky before reverting to bottled water.
The bar shot was the ultimate validation for an artist who thrives on "the cycle of giving between a performer and an audience."
"I like performing club dates more; there's usually a bar there and people usually get a little drunk, which absolutely helps," says Dusk in an interview. "They're looser, they'll get up and dance. And that's what I strive for: keeping people knowing that I'm just trying to enjoy myself with them."
On Wednesday, the Toronto native will play his first local gig since the June release of his sophomore album, Back in Town.
Dusk, a York University grad who cut his teeth in Toronto jazz clubs was a 2005 Juno-nominee, appeared on the U.S. reality show The Casino and recently completed a sold-out cross-Canada tour.
But, the day before his Montreal gig, he attracts little attention sitting on a bench among the crowds near the main outdoor stage.
All the better for the singer, at the festival for the fifth consecutive year — only his second performing — to sample its "musical food court," snap pictures for his MySpace page and anonymously collect data about the relationship between musicians and their audiences.
"I'm starting my thesis on the performer's point of view of performance versus the audience's reaction," explains Dusk, who's planning to pursue a correspondence Master's degree in music.
"I notice that when you get an audience where there are no seats, people will be more open to expressing themselves. When you put them in a situation where there are tables and chairs, they are usually more quiet, because they don't want to bring attention to themselves."
As he travels around the world, Dusk, an earnest boy-next-door type who quotes motivational speaker Stephen Covey and speaks with the faintest of lisps, documents his findings in a private online journal.
"Who knows where it will go? I would like to get my Master's and then my PhD, but I'm in no rush, that's like my 30-year plan."
Right now, there's a new record to promote.
Back in Town is a melange of quintessential jazz ballads and original pop tunes that will meet expectations with the big band treatment and Sinatra-esque tone of "The Best is Yet to Come" and "Learnin' the Blues," and raise eyebrows with the electro-pop bent of "History Repeating."
On stage, Dusk jokingly addressed his "musical cocktail": "What kind of music do I sing? Pop? Croon? I admit it, I'm a pooner!"
What is clear is that those classic tunes designated The Great American Songbook are still appealing, with pop-soul veterans Michael Bolton and Smokey Robinson the latest to weigh in with albums of reinterpretations.
"I don't think the field is crowded at all," said Dusk. "I think there's a huge vacuum for this music. If you look at rock, rap, hip hop — hundreds of artists are released in North America a week in each genre. How many jazz singers release albums?
"I think the genre of the American Songbook is so powerful because these lyrics lend themselves to being so general that you could paint your own picture.
"For example, the line could be `And then I saw her'; one guy could see her in a red dress, another guy could see her in a pair of jeans. With most music nowadays, the artists usually complete the sentence — `You were wearing your dress so tight and fine' — they've already painted a specific look.
"I chose all the songs based upon song — melody and lyric. Everything has to be able to be stripped down to piano and vocal. I didn't make it complicated, I didn't do any crazy vocal stuff, because I wanted the listener to be able to sing along with every song."
An avid reader of online forums, Dusk is particularly sensitive to critics who dismiss him because of his 2004 TV role as a Las Vegas hotel entertainer on The Casino, produced by reality show guru Mark Burnett.
"The Casino experience was positive because it allowed me to be exposed to people who normally would not have entered a record store. The bad part was that my musical peers did not accept me as being an artist. People are like `You got your break from the show.' And I'm like, `Dude, I was singing in clubs seven, eight years before that!'
"The one thing I ask from this record is that it's given the exposure to the people to make a choice.
"So, make sure the product is available to be found in stores, make sure if you are reviewing the record and you don't like it, you give it a specific reason; just don't say he's trying to be another Frank Sinatra — you know what, f--k off, seriously. Then every saxophone player is just trying to be another John Coltrane."
That's about as much rancour Dusk will succumb to these days, given the happy-go-lucky vibe that permeates his record — a more upbeat effort than its darker, melancholy predecessor 2004's Two Shots.
"That was an absolutely terrible time. I was going through a horrible break-up and two people very close to me passed away, so I couldn't sing anything happy. It took me about three years to get out of that slump. Now I'm back to who I am normally: I'm happy, I don't take things too seriously, I make fun of myself."
Yet, he only contributed lyrics to the title track.
"I wrote a whole bunch of songs, but I was not going to put anything on the record that I did not think was good enough. I'm not going to put myself up against Cole Porter, Cy Coleman, Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Lowe.
"I do enjoy original music, but as long as I can communicate what I feel, that's what I'll be singing. Right now, I'm really focused on the performance side of things, because it is literally orgasmic. That's all I want to do."
And he's looking forward to doing it before a hometown crowd at the Mod Club.
"I really want to see them singing, see them dancing. I encourage people to have a couple of glasses of wine before they come in."
- Toronto Star


A little swing was all it took for Matt Dusk to hit and connect last night. The suave 27-year-old neo-crooner played the big room -- the Burton Cummings Theatre -- as part of the Jazz Winnipeg Festival last night for a crowd of 1,050 middle-aged fans, surprisingly split almost evenly along gender lines, with a slight edge going to his female admirers.
It's a testament to how far he's come in his career that he was playing the theatre, and drawing male fans while at it. Two years ago he was an unknown performing at the Bull & Bear as part of the festival, but after a high-profile stint on the reality show Casino and a hit album, his profile has grown.
Following a hectic drum solo, Dusk, dressed sharply in a black suit and pink tie, took the stage to wild applause and launched into Back in Town, the title track from his new album.
The upbeat jazzy number was followed by the swingin' Who's Got the Action, which had the liquidy smooth-voiced vocalist snapping his fingers as he visited each member of his five-piece band.
The set was divided between numbers written especially for him and new arrangements of schmaltzy pop standards like The Best is Yet to Come and For Once In My Life, along with a jump, jive and wail rendition of Get Me to the Church On Time and a subdued take on the Beatles' Please Please Me.
Having honed his chops in Sin City, he is a confident, charismatic performer able to look men in the eyes while their wives swoon beside them. And like those legendary Vegas performers he was charming and witty between numbers, easily winning the audience over with his laid-back manner and sense of humour.
"You guys are fun. I might even say you guys are full of spirited energy," he said, taking a shot at the province's new branding campaign which had the audience laughing in approval.
He noted he's a fan of the classics but when looking for songs for the new album wondered if he should cover some contemporary artists like 50 Cent or Eminem.
"So right now we're going to do a song called Smack My Bitch Up," he said to more laughter.
He didn't (although I was secretly hoping he might give it a try) but instead paid tribute to his Rat Pack mentor with Two Shots, a song written for Frank Sinatra by Bono. Midway through the set Dusk took the stage alone with only piano accompaniment to mesh the new ballad April Moon with Five, a track from his debut album.
Dusk is the star of the show but his band -- guitarist, bassist, drummer, pianist and saxophonist -- deserves mention, holding back and providing tension when called for, or letting it rip and going for broke when the songs picked up.
rob.williams@freepress.mb.ca
- Winnipeg Free Press


FORT WORTH -- You could cut the pheromones with a knife Thursday night at McDavid Studio -- and not just because it was Valentine's Day.

Although, that had a lot to do with it, Canadian jazz vocalist Matt Dusk, in town for the first performance of a three-night stand, did his fair share as well.

With a delicious three-course dinner and champagne on all of the two-person tables and candlelight suffusing the room with a soft glow, Dusk, 29, in his first Texas performance, serenaded a sold-out crowd that applauded happily. At least one couple became engaged just as the concert was wrapping up.

The brisk, 80-minute set was relaxed and charming, thanks in no small part to Dusk's breezy, engaging demeanor. Quick with a joke, he sprinkled amusing asides throughout his standard-heavy set (plenty of Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Chet Baker) and graciously posed for pictures afterward.

Dusk's unforced cool worked in tandem with his smooth tenor voice; classics such as I've Got You Under My Skin and As Time Goes By felt fresh. Dusk's cracking trio -- piano, bass and saxophone -- provided plenty of fizz, often playing straight men to the singer's wisecracks.

The mood was buoyant without being cloying. Dusk acknowledged the day's romantic significance but kept the proceedings light, dipping into melancholy only a few times. Like a thoughtful Valentine's gift of roses or chocolate, his performance was familiar, touching and very satisfying.

Matt Dusk

7 tonight; 7 and 10 p.m. Saturday at Fort Worth's McDavid Studio

$75 tonight; the early Saturday show is sold out, but some tickets remain for 10 p.m., which is $25

817-212-4280, www.basshall.com <http://www.basshall.com>

Best reason to go: If you're looking for a romantic interlude, this Canadian crooner offers seductive tunes in an intimate atmosphere. - Star-Telegram


Discography

Back In Town (2006) - Decca Records
Peace on Earth (2005) - Decca Records
Two Shots (2004) - Decca Records
The Way It Is (2001) - Independent Release

Photos

Bio

Matt Dusk is a bundle of "timeless songs, stylish arrangements, cutting-edge production and powerhouse vocals" that has brought his major label debut album "Two Shots" and follow-up album "Back in Town" to Gold status in his homeland of Canada.

Having studied at Toronto's famed St. Michael's Choir School, he went on to take master classes with Oscar Peterson in the jazz program at York University. Influenced by jazz crooners like Frank Sinatra, he takes his talents, coupled with unique arrangements to create a style of his own -- paying homage to the swing/big band jazz genre and adding to it a contemporary twist.

He was chosen to perform as the in-house entertainer for FOX's reality television show, "The Casino" during filming at the Golden Nugget Casino (Las Vegas, NV) in 2004.