KLW, Time Out New York
Although success stories are something of a New York cliche, you'd be hard-pressed to find one more peculiar than avant-garde jazz pianist Matthew Shipp's . Yes, he arrived here some 11 years ago, with, as he says, "big-time career aspirations." And yes, after many day jobs and setbacks, the 35-year- old Wilmington, Delaware, native is now touring Europe (with tenor saxophonist David S. Ware) and seeing standing-room-only crowds when his trio plays the Knitting Factory.
But when asked how a jazz man living in the jazz capital of the world finds a home on the fringes of what you might call the alternative rock world -- Shipp records for 2l3CD, a label owned by Henry Rollins -- Shipp is still not quite sure.
"I wish I knew how to explain it," the pianist said recently at 2A, his favorite East Village bar. "But then when you analyze everything, [my success] probably had to happen this way. There really is no commercial paradigm in the jazz world as we know it for a young musician to come to this city, play weird piano and get hired at a club like the Village Vanguard. The very week I got here [from the New England Conservatory in Boston], I saw three musicians I'd read about in the major jazz magazines put money together to get a pack of cigarettes. That was a real wake-up call."
If Shipp was at all discouraged by his first taste of New York, what it did was focus him. He kept practicing and networking, and he now has four albums under his own name-with three more on the way this year. Although he says it took about six years for his phone to start ringing, he remembers being inspired during the downtime by a quote from jazz icon Thelonious Monk. "Monk always said you should just do what you do and let the public catch up," he says. "I'm not sure I would've waited 20 years like he did, but I guess he knew what he was talking about."
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