Matt Jenson: music educator
Educational Statement download PDF
Music is the deepest passion of my life and as an experienced and inspiring educator, I love sharing it!
About 20 years ago I joined the piano faculty at one of the world’s leading colleges dedicated to the study of contemporary music; Berklee College of Music (Boston, MA). As a result, I have learned a great deal about the art of teaching and I realize that learning is ultimately as much about discovering individual identity as it is about the discipline of developing technique and learning repertoire, theory, etc. From an artistic perspective I believe that developing musicians must learn the harmonic, melodic and theoretical rules of whatever style they are interested in only to break them in the name of expressing their deepest selves with an eye (or ear as it were!) to expressing the universal.
My very first musical loves came in discovering the piano stylings of Bill Evans and Thelonius Monk and everything I play and teach is influenced heavily by jazz but soon after completing my master’s degree at New England Conservatory of Music where I studied with Geri Allen, Ran Blake and Dave Holland, I fell in love with African Diasporic groove music developed in the US in the form of roots blues, rock/southern rock and funk, and then with the music of the Caribbean crossing between the islands of Jamaica (reggae) and Cuba (Latin jazz and montuno-based dance music; salsa).
My approach to teaching piano begins with helping students develop proper technique with disciplined practice routines to help build smooth and efficient muscle memory so as to avoid injury and allow for greater and greater technical ability to develop. When diving into popular musical styles I always start with the blues because nearly all western popular music has its roots there. Absorbing the blues language is one of the most effective ways to learn both about how to ‘speak’ when improvising and about participating in a groove-based band collective.
From here I can take students in a jazz or a pop direction. My approach to jazz is to work on foundational aspects with the II V I chord progression vocabulary, to develop the deeply swinging feel of the late 50’s and early 60’s emulating artists such as Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Red Garland, and to explore the standard jazz repertoire. If a student’s interest is more towards pop styles I will work with developing stylistically appropriate vocabulary for artists such as the Beatles, Elton John, Billy Joel, The Meters, Stevie Wonder and on up to modern artists such as Prince, Bruno Mars, Alicia Keys and the like. I can take pretty much any song in any popular style and use it as a teaching tool.
I feel deeply in love with Afro-Cuban Son music of 1950/60’s Cuba and especially with the piano stylings of Eddie Palmieri (with whom I studied), Li Li Martinez, Peruchin. As a non-Latino musician, I have had to dissect Cuban rhythms and montuno-based harmonies with a fine-toothed comb which has in turn allowed me to be able to explain it well. For years I have been challenged in salsa bands and then lead my own group so I know what kind of obstacles one needs to overcome to execute this music authentically. My approach to this music lies with learning how to play an effective montuno, in a 2-3 or 3-2 clave direction, across a set of chord changes and to develop authentic Afro-Cuban language when comping and improvising. I pay particularly close attention to getting the feel right.
My love of reggae started with a deep obsession with the music of Bob Marley and has since expanded to a deep love and understanding of nearly all Jamaican musical styles. I have been to Jamaica many times and have had the opportunity to work with many who were in Marley’s inner circle including working closely with Rita Marley in 2006. Each year I co-lead a group to Kingston called “Inside Reggae” where we inject participants directly into the ‘roots and culture’ of this music. I developed a very popular class and ensemble at Berklee (having taught it elsewhere as well) called “The Music and Life of Bob Marley” that focuses not only on the proper playing of reggae and Marley’s music (with arrangements I’ve written for 13 piece ensemble) but also takes a deep look at Marley’s revolutionary life and how all of his music sprung from his commitment to resisting social/economic/political injustice. I am currently in the process of completing an entire educational platform that will be available on line, with fantastic educational videos, called “The Art of Reggae.” My approach to teaching this art form is through ensemble coaching where each player and singer commits to their part to create a disciplined, grooving, collective team with the proper feel. Recently I’ve been doing some international touring with Groundation, the renowned Bay Area reggae band where I share the lead keyboard seat (Hammond organ, clavinet and Moog synth) playing to 1000’s of VERY enthusiastic fans! I also lead my own progressive reggae band, the Liquid Revolution.
I also have a deep love of the Hammond organ and teach a lab focusing on all aspects of playing this instrument well, which in turn allows players to achieve a more authentic Hammond sound on modern digital keyboards that mimic the Hammond organ. I own a Moog Subsequent 37 synthesizer and have a good knowledge of analog sound design using wave forms, filters and oscillators. I am very much part of the world of digital music applications using Kontakt sound libraries (and many others), various types of control surfaces, creating loops, beats, sequences and samples. I mostly use Ableton Live software. Lastly, I’ve even dabbled in doing some creative DJ work!
A few years ago I took a semester-long intensive course for educators entitled, “Training Transformational Teachers” and the overarching thrust was that teaching is most effective if the student is put directly into the driver’s seat of the learning process while the role of the teacher is to be a ‘guide on the side, not a sage on the stage.’ I implement this approach in all my teaching whether in the one-on-one or ensemble modes with a focus on sharing and developing musical passion. Almost always I incorporate some degree of historical/cultural/socio-political information about any of the musical styles being taught. I create an inclusive and casual yet disciplined atmosphere in all my classes/lessons and have created numerous excellent study guides which provide clear educational road maps.
Some quotes about my teaching.
“You were one of the best private piano teachers I had at Berklee! You took the time to find out who I was as an artist, helped identify my weaknesses and then provided an incredibly clear path to achieving my musical goals. Each lesson was a perfect combination of serious discipline and absolute sharing of what we were both passionate about….and fun!”
- Maureen Choi (student)
“Matt is such a talented and soulful artist and teacher. I wanted to learn from him after overhearing how he taught a friend. Generous with his trove of knowledge, he teaches what you want to learn. But first, he goes through the history and culture to fully understand the meaning behind the music, especially important for someone like me who comes from a different culture. It was the blues for me and honestly, I’ve never learned so much from one teacher. In the end, what matters to him is not the grades earned but the lessons learned. Learning to play what moves you. I count myself so fortunate to be under his guidance. I can’t thank you enough Matt!”
- Krishelle Seng (student)
“You are a truly inspiring teacher which is pretty rare among teachers in my experience. I feel more complete not only as a keyboardist but as a socially conscious artist who now feels more confident to express my deepest thoughts and feelings through performance and song writing. Thank you for challenging me on nearly every level. I will take with me what I learned in my lessons with you forever!”
- Darcy Davis (student)
“I can’t begin to tell you how much of an impression you made on me with your musicianship, laid back teaching style, and all-around coolness. You really inspired me to buckle down and take this thing to the next level.”
- Gregory Walls (student)
“Matt Jenson has done a remarkable public service for all those budding musicians who want to penetrate the mysteries of Bob Marley’s consciousness-raising accomplishments. With equal emphasis on the facts of the reggae prophet’s life, and the technical details of playing his ground-breaking compositions, Jenson ushers Marley’s work into a new generation and new century, helping to assure its immortality.”
- Roger Steffens, chairman, Reggae Grammy Committee & founding editor, The Beat Magazine