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Montreal’s Exciting Young Guitarist, Mathieu Soucy

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In this exclusive interview, Jazz Guitar Today contributor Joe Barth talks to Montreal guitarist Mathieu Soucy.

Mathieu Soucy is an exciting new guitarist and excellent composer from Montreal, Quebec.  Having graduated with a degree in jazz performance from McGill University in 2019 he is quickly making a name for himself. His debut album Recollecting is being released by Inner Bop Records this month (November 2022).

JB: How old were you when you started to play jazz guitar and what was most helpful in your personal development as a guitarist?

MS: I got into jazz guitar around age 18. My former guitar teacher, Greg Amirault hipped me to Jim Hall, John Scofield, and Grant Green. Shortly thereafter, I discovered contemporary players like Kurt Rosenwinkel and Jonathan Kreisberg, who spoke a language a wee bit more intelligible to me. Kurt and Jonathan was my portal to the world of jazz guitar. I’m glad I found in them a certain, much-needed, meditation as I was just coming out of the world of progressive metal/rock. 

Montreal guitarist Mathieu Soucy

JB:  You studied with Peter Bernstein, tell us how he was helpful to you.

MS:  I met Peter in the Fall of 2016, when Andres Vial, a superb Montreal pianist, brought him up from New York to play a few dates in Montreal. Peter arrived pretty early in my developmental years and that’s something I hold for good. Peter was very kind to me and spoke well of my ability to play lines. Yet his comment about my comping was more revealing. It needed some work. I needed to learn to phrase when accompanying. He suggested that I refer to the classic big band albums to learn how to be interesting rhythmically. He advised that I do the same with drummers’ comping on the snare drum. 

I also picked his mind about playing duo with a pianist, which was a big challenge for me, and which I thought he was doing beautifully along with pianist Michael Kanan. “Things need to be moving” that’s what I retained. And I understood it vastly: a) you need to be rhythmically driving; b) static harmony need not be static; and again, c) you need to be able to phrase when comping. 

JB:  What are three of the most influential jazz guitar albums and why

MS:  Barney Kessel: The Poll Winners Ride Again

To me, that’s the best-sounding guitar record ever made. Barney Kessel has been growing on me for a couple of years now. I have transcribed quite a few of his lines, chords, accompaniments, intros, and arrangements. As far as I know, Barney comes out in my playing in the form of a drive: he surely knows how to drive a band rhythmically and how to pluck the strings energetically. I’ve absorbed some of this quality.

Billy Bauer:  Plectrist 

Billy Bauer is rarely talked about, but he’s a great bop player coming out of the school of Lennie Tristano. He’s also a player on the first credited free jazz recording, namely the track “Intuition”. Plectrist is a nice showcase of Billy’s ability to lead a band, of his sophisticated language, rhythmically, among other things, and of his beautiful voice. I think I’ve mostly got from him (and from Lennie Tristano and his disciples) a fresh way to speak bop. 

Peter Bernstein:  Signs of Life

MS:  Modern innovation, modern-sounding old-fashioned tunes and I love Peter’s tone. I’ve got a lot of chordal stuff from him and, in fact, I often look for his recordings of standard tunes to learn a neat way of playing the harmony to these tunes. Peter was a great mediator of Thelonious Monk’s music.

JB:  Practice and listening aside, can you pinpoint one or two ‘things’ that really boosted your profile and career toward where it’s at today?

 MS: First, I am very grateful for having had the chance to play and perform my music with a professor during my time at McGill University (Montreal, Canada), Andre White. He has been very supportive of my development and has contributed very much to it. 

I have recently collaborated with Canadian singer Caity Gyorgy, and it has been a real pleasure and learning experience. Before entering the studio to record “Recollecting” we had had quite a few performances together as a duo. I’ve learned a great deal, and this ties in with Peter Bernstein’s advice as to what I needed to work on back in 2016. The role of accompaniment in a duo setting is challenging, yet very fun. 

JB:  You hold high the bebop tradition.  Tell us about your goals in making your new CD album, “Recollecting”?

 MS: I wanted my first record to be swinging in a bop manner. I hold dearly the music of Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Sonny Clark, Lennie Tristano, Dizzy Gillespie, Barry Harris, etc, and I wanted mine to be listened to as coming from the longstanding tradition of bop. My music sounds different than that of the ‘old cats’, but it comes from the same practice. “Recollecting” recognizes the rich tradition of bop and takes it over in a personal fashion. 


JB:  Tell us about the guitar and amp that you use.

I’ve been playing a 1945 (acoustic) Gibson L-5 for exactly two years. On the recording date, I had it mounted with a DeArmond Rhythm Chief 1000 from the early ’60s. The guitar alone has a full, punchy, and dry tone and is a real pleasure to play. The pickup has a nice presence and clarity, together with an ‘acoustic’ signature that is reminiscent of the swing era. I think they form a great duo.

I use a Polytone Mini-Brute II from the late 70’s/early ’80s. It is a very dynamic amp and colors the sound beautifully. 

 JB:  As a gigging musician, talk about the jazz scene in Canada. 

Montreal, in particular, has an important jazz scene fueled by professional players, students, and amateurs. I think more and more people are getting into jazz, thanks to the education system we have here in Québec.  Making enough money as a local gigging musician is hard. In fact, most professional gigging jazz musicians in Canada earn a living by teaching. That being said, I love teaching and would do it even if gigging could guarantee a decent revenue. 


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