A musician starts young and falls hard for the blues

The Baltimore Sun

It happened in Ellicott City just a little after 5 p.m. Monday.

Anyone on the outside looking in would describe the scene as rather ordinary; a couple of people appeared to be lounging around a home office, listening to something streaming over the speakers of a computer.

But sometimes serendipity is on a reporter's side. In this case, an interview and the beginning of something potentially big in the world of blues and jazz converged. And though the first people to hear it over the airwaves probably were in and around St. Michael's College in Burlington, Vt. -- where station WWPV 88.7 was the first to air cuts from our hometown wunderkind -- the rest of us can hear it live this weekend at the Columbia Festival of the Arts.

It's the foot-tapping, head-swinging, blues-jazz fusion music from Matt Wigler's debut compact disc, XIII.

A jazz/blues pianist, Matt, 13, is a seventh-grader at Mount View Middle School in Marriottsville. He will be the featured guest of the Deanna Bogart Band about 9 p.m. tomorrow at the lakefront, and he will play with his trio about 4 p.m. Sunday.

Wait until you hear this musician.

To use "kid" or "boy" to define Matt seems gimmicky; an easy hook for a story on an individual who is, by most standards, an accomplished musician. Matt has shared a stage with such legends as Buckwheat Zydeco and Tab Benoit, Tommy Castro and Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials. And his first CD is produced by Bogart, whose band features -- besides Bogart herself on saxophone -- Mike Aubin on drums and former Sypro Gyra bass player Scott Ambush.

But like a good blues or jazz song, Matt's story is memorable, not predictable.

"I remember him back in his car seat, always humming, singing," said Matt's mother, Sandy, 46. Matt's father, Steve, 47, played piano and trumpet, and often had music on in the house, usually jazz.

"He [Matt] tried a lot of instruments, he played violin, trumpet -- but he played the piano really well," Steve said.

Matt recalls beginning classical piano lessons at age "4 or 5."

"I went to a camp when I was around 8," he said. "It was a hard-rock camp. I didn't really like the music, except there was this piano player teaching blues stuff. I loved it."

When Matt returned from the camp, his parents contacted the teacher, Chuck Field.

"He taught me all the fundamental blues stuff," Matt said. "I started playing all the time, every day.

"Practicing became playing," he said.

Matt studied with Field for about 2 1/2 years.

"He had an hour lesson a week, which is a lot for an 8-year-old," Sandy said. "But he just fell in love with it [the blues].

"I didn't know anything about the blues," she added.

Sandy and Steve asked Lewis what sort of CDs they should listen to, and they purchased some by Professor Longhair and Dr. John.

"We all fell in love with that music," she said.

"It's blues, with a lot of jazz elements," Steve said.

"It's very rhythmic," he added. "In fact, Deanna Bogart calls it 'bluesion.'"

Which bring us to the unique mentorship of Matt Wigler by Deanna Bogart. When Lewis went back to school, Matt needed another teacher, and his parents went to Barry Enzman, Glenelg High School's jazz band director, to get some information. He suggested the family listen to Bogart's band.

Eventually, the Wiglers met Bogart, and she came to their home and listened to Matt play.

"She's not a teacher -- she's a touring musician," Matt said, an unmistakable note of pride creeping into his voice.

"Now, she's really a close family friend," Steve said.

In July 2006, Bogart's band was playing at Lurman Woodland Theatre in Catonsville, and Deanna called Matt up to play.

"What people don't know," Matt said, "is that when you're on stage, it doesn't matter if it's 10,000 people there -- you can only see the first couple rows."

Matt said he does not get nervous when he plays; he gets involved in the music and does not think about the performance aspect.

"You can feed off the crowds, and sometimes stuff gets cooler," he said.

Things definitely got cooler, which means hot, for Matt on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise that he and his family took at the encouragement of Bogart, in January.

"I was thinking, is it appropriate to take a 13-year-old to this?" Sandy said. "But Deanna said, 'Look, he's a unique person. This will be an incredible experience for him.'"

It is possible that his impromptu performances on the ship launched his career.

"The first night on the cruise, we discovered the piano bar," Steve said. Bogart introduced Matt to Leon Blue, and Matt stepped up to play a little something, wearing his red hat.

There was a lot of talk the next day about the kid in the red hat in the piano bar.

"It was the most incredible experience of our lives," Steve said.

Since that time, Matt has been performing and writing music. His original tune, "Tension Boogie," is track five on his CD, and he co-wrote the first cut with Bogart.

"We were down to our last day of recording, and we still didn't have a 10th song," Matt said. "Deanna said, 'Here's something I've been working on,' and she played [a musical phrase], and then we wrote it in like two minutes.

"It's called 'Track Ten,'" said Matt, grinning the smile of a wry old blues man.

Hear clips of Matt Wigler's music on www.mattwigler.com. He will be a guest performer with the Deanna Bogart Band at the Columbia Festival of the Arts at 9:10 p.m., tomorrow at the lakefront, and he will play with his trio at 4:25 p.m. Sunday. Both performances are free.


Is someone in your neighborhood worth writing about? Is there an event that everyone in Howard County should be aware of? Janet wants to know about it.

E-mail Janet at janetgilbertsun@verizon.net, or call 410-313-8276. Janet also has a Web site: www.janet gilbertonline.com

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