Matt Dusk and All That Swings

As a singer, songwriter, producer and arranger, there isn’t much that acclaimed jazz vocalist Matt Dusk cannot do. The 32-year-old Toronto native has made an impressive mark on the Canadian jazz and pop music scenes, reanimating classic tracks from the Great American songbook, while also delivering a generous helping of his own quirky pop songs.

As a part of P.E.I.’s Jazz and Blues Festival, Matt Dusk will perform tomorrow August 21 at the Confederation Centre of the Arts, located at 145 Richmond Street in Charlottetown.

Given the success that Matt has found, it is interesting to note that jazz wasn’t actually his first love. As a student of the esteemed St. Michael’s Choir School, Matt was a classically trained student and was, in fact, headed toward a career in opera.

“I used to frequently listen to a jazz station in Toronto and as time went by, I started discovering more and more jazz artists,” an affable Matt says from his Ontario home. “Funnily enough though, I had thought a lot of jazz vocalists and the whole crooning era was kind of cheesy so I would often joke around with friends, singing many of these tunes and turning them into a bit of a joke. And finally one day, one of my friends suggested I seriously pursue jazz.”

After his first jazz vocal performance at an all-girls’ school in the Toronto area, Matt wasn’t mocking jazz vocalists any longer.

“I got up on stage and sang some of these crooning songs and was thrown into the world of girls fighting for my phone number,” he laughs, recalling the memory. “It was actually that night while I was still in high school that I started down the path of wanting to perform. I completely fell in love with it.”

“If I look at my career over the last 10 years, I have had three major releases and have been very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to evolve as vocalist as well as an artist. With each year that goes by, I learn more of myself, get more comfortable in my skin and get a little more honest with each release.”

Before signing with American jazz label Decca early in the 1990s, Matt had released a number of independent records; those paved the way for his major label debut, Two Shots, in 2004. Matt has since released two other studio albums in addition to this year’s Live In Las Vegas CD and DVD set and has the unique honour of being the first male jazz vocalist to top the pop charts in Japan with the title track from his 2006 record, Back In Town.

Even though he acknowledges the fact that being given the opportunity to make music is a “rarity,” he chooses to license his records to various labels throughout the world. This arrangement affords him the benefits of major label promotion while getting to call virtually all the shots on the direction of his career.

“The music industry of today wants instant hits and they are not giving artists the chance to develop themselves,” he says. “The problem with the industry now is that it is based on hits; no one is looking at career artists anymore – they are looking at instant profit at a time when label returns and profits are diminishing.

“The way my record deal is structured, I have creative control over my music and that is, in turn, licensed out to different companies all over the world. It is very difficult to get every single person at any given record company excited about what you’re doing so I have found it most beneficial to find partners who care about what I am doing. That really is most important.

“As a performer at the end of the day though, I want my music to come out. I have a huge support team below me at every label and if someone were ever to say that they were not feeling something in my music, I would have to take a serious look at why that was. I’m not one of these guys who would hand over my record and insist they promote it if they weren’t feeling it.”

Noting that he is in the midst of preparing a new studio record now, Matt says that the process of song selection for any record is an important one since the touring cycle that will inevitably follow the release of the record will be largely comprised of these songs.

“I am in the demo stages of my new record, seeing what works and what doesn’t work so well,” he says. “It is one thing to be creative as a performer but it is another to be realistic and true to the brand that you are putting forth. I might think that I am really great at singing reggae but it is most likely not going to work for my audience.”

With a release date currently pencilled in for the early part of 2012, Dusk insists that should the record release need to be pushed back for any reason, he is willing to allow it to happen.

“I am trying to make a record that really authentically embraces who I am as a performer and what I believe I do best,” he says. “It is tough because I also want to make sure that I am giving something new to my fans and be creative through the whole process. It is definitely an interesting exercise.”

Article published in August 20, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript