The one thing cellist Matt Turner can tell you for certain about his Dec. 9 performance to kick off the new Sturgeon Bay music series BEGIN is that he probably won’t be setting his cello on fire.
“But I’m tempted sometimes,” he said.
What you can expect from this Lawrence University professor of jazz and improvisational music is the unexpected. In fact, a 2002 review of his CD Patina in All About Jazz began with this line, “No one will ever accuse Matt Turner of being predictable.”
“It’s hard to describe because it’s different every time,” Turner said of his performances. “It will probably lean more toward the experimental, for lack of a better way to say it. All improvised music. I might do a little bit with electronics and the electric cello. I might do something like an Arab taqsim, which is just a kind of modal improvisation Middle Eastern-style, to something that’s super avant-garde and wild and crazy.”
Turner, who also plays piano, is a musical adventurer who doesn’t enjoy confining labels applied to music.
“I’ve never really liked labels that much,” he said. “If I say I play jazz to someone, they immediately go somewhere in their mind and stamp me. I don’t even like to get into conversations with people about what I do. There are so many stereotypes associated with jazz. They’re so dated or they’re just myths and always have been. I usually just tell people I’m a cellist or that I improvise music. I’m sure a question mark raises in their brain, but that’s the end of the conversation.”
But as a performer and professor of music, Turner likes where jazz is going in the 21st century.
“Jazz has become such a nebulous term now,” he said. “It’s incorporated so many different things, which is great. I embrace that, everything from elements of the avant-garde to hip hop to flamenco music to stuff that we don’t even have names for. I’m following a lot of that because I’m trying to stay ahead of my students, which is really hard, but so far I’m doing OK. I do constant research because I want to be current and be able to address things when they come up. I love it because I learn a lot and that’s what we all should be doing, learning.”
Turner said he is excited to be opening a new musical series in a new venue in a place not normally known for the avant-garde. He said the organizers, Jon Mueller and William Bradley have done “mind-blowing stuff” with music, art and dance.
“It’s amazing the kinds of folks that pop up doing really interesting things. You don’t have to be in a big city to do this, which is great,” he said. “Sturgeon Bay is on the map now, I guess.”
While he has not seen the performance space, he was told it is not a large space, which made him happy.
“I like being close to the audience,” he said. “I like it when people are five feet away from me, getting rid of that you’re the audience and I’m the performer. Here we are, let’s have a beautiful experience together. That’s kind of how I approach things these days. I’m the star and you’re the audience, that’s a drag. I’ve played house concerts where people are sitting so close to me I can hardly move my bow. That’s great. You can sense that energy. Whereas if you’re sitting on a stage in an opera house in Belgium somewhere and you’re 100 yards away from the audience, it’s really hard to have that rapport.
“What I feel is, if people are interested, that really fuels my energy level,” Turner continued. “I never water down what I play for an audience. I think some people do that. They’re afraid if they play in rural Wisconsin, unless they play something people can recognize or something they can relate to, they assume the audience isn’t going to like what they do. I just do what I do and if people like it, that’s great, and if they don’t, well, I don’t try to adapt. It goes through my mind, but I don’t actually do it.”
Turner also exercised his teaching chops as co-author with Stephen Benham of the method book Sound Innovations: Creative Warm-Ups for Cello and String Bass, published by Alfred Music Publishing Co.
“It’s kind of a big deal,” he said. “I’m hoping to sell a million copies.”
The BEGIN Music Series takes place on the second floor of The Artists Guild, 215 N. 3rd Ave. There are 40 seats per event. No advance tickets are available. A suggested donation of $10 at the door will go directly to the performer.