Kansas City native
Will Matthews is the guitarist for the world famous Count Basie Orchestra, joining the group in 1996 under the direction of
trombonist Grover Mitchell to fill the coveted chair of the late legendary guitarist and composer, Freddie Green who was with
the band for over fifty years.
Matthews has traveled and toured all over the world and has played on many studio
recordings with the group, including two 'Grammy' winning recordings, Count Basie Orchestra Live at Manchester Guild in 1997
and Count Plays Duke 1999, as well as the 'Grammy' nominated recording Swing Shift in 2000
The Guitarist has played
every major festival, concert hall and theatre in the world and has also had the opportunity to play one-nighters with a variety
of artists coming through Kansas City such as Charles Earland, Freda Payne,
Arthur Prysock, Jimmy Witherspoon, Carmen
Bradford, Kevin Mahogany, and Bobby Watson.
In 1996 Matthews was invited to perform at the Royal Palace in Bangkok,
Thailand for King Bhumbibol, along with other members of the Basie Orchestra, Benny Carter and Frank Foster. In 1997 he performed
with the group for President William J. Clinton's second inaugural.
During his tenure with the band Matthews has
performed with a who's who of artists such as Joe Williams, Frank Wess, Curtis Fuller, George Benson, Kenny Burrell, Milt
Jackson, Jimmy Cobb, Hank Jones, Rufus Reed, John Faddis, Harry 'Sweets' Edison, Lou Donaldson, Dorothy Donegan, Tom Scott,
John Pizzarelli, Regina Carter, Nancy Wilson, Patti Austin, Rosemary Clooney, Dianne Reeves, Nnenna Freelon, Marlena Shaw,
and Ledisi to name a few.
During the 1950's and 60's the classic Hammond B-3 organ,
guitar, drums format
emerged and has played a big role in the evolution of jazz music, and with the addition of the saxophone to the line-up augmenting
it to a quartet, the sound became very popular with players ranging from Wild Bill Davis, Bill Doggett to Jimmy Smith. Most
of the great jazz guitarists have recorded using this format as it seems that the guitar and organ go together like hand in
glove and so I felt the need to be a part of the continuum of this great tradition with the release of my latest recording
on the ARC label with the legendary organist from the Wes Montgomery Trio, Mel Rhyne and saxman Bobby Watson who was a member
of the Art Blakey Jazz Messenger group and later formed his own groups, Horizon and the Live and Learn band.
also holds the guitar chair with the 18th Vine St.
Big Band lead by Watson.
Those who know me have always
heard me say that Will’s tone and phrasing is a perfect blend of George Benson, Grant Green, and Wes Montgomery, supported
by his strong chordal concept, which, unavoidably, is pure Kenny Burrell (and why would anyone want to go around that?)
His debut CD, Solo, was released in 2000 to critical acclaim, and the audience has since been waiting for his return,
long overdue as a solo artist. In the most beautiful sense, Will’s phrasing is downhill, leaning forward, he waits for
nothing; there’s a real sense of urgency here—he’s gotta get it to ya’, and now! With respect to that
sense of urgency, let me give you a thumbnail sketch of the swinging tunes that are on this long awaited recording.
The appropriately titled, “Count on Swingin’” (I assume you get the inherent implication!) which finds
Will blowin’ some mad blues riffs, even finding a way to insert Duke’s quote of “It Don’t Mean A Thing”
while the cascade of boppish lines rain down—meanwhile, alto sax master Bobby Watson was sent as a true Jazz Messenger
(‘77 to ‘81) to celebrate Will’s most recent jazz party.
“Corner Pocket,” an obvious
nod to his Basie boss, which prominently promotes his mastery of the Freddie Green comping style, for which Will is literally
the absolute best suited in the world today; “Can’t Help It,” which, is, unfortunately, so well-timed in
light of the recent dimming of our brightest pop star, M.J.; and “Mikayla’s Song,” a beautiful chord-melody
laid down over a bed of funk that Will composed for his daughter.
Then there’s “Up and At It,”
which best displays Will’s deftness and dexterity in the hard bop tradition. But just dig the chattery talk that drummer
Kenny Phelps is laying down! His graceful presence is fully felt not only here, but throughout the entire album.
Of course, you gotta have some blues, baby…and so Will’s licks on “The Grease” gets us all well-lubricated,
yes? And, sure,
Will pays his respect to the great tradition of Miles with the sophisticated, yet cool jazz approach
to the changes of “Old Milestones,” where Bobby Watson glides through like a summer breeze.
Hammond organ king Mel Rhynes makes his contribution to the collection with “Soul Changes,” and just listening
to the gargle of that gargantuan instrument on the opening track reminds us all of the greatness that he lent to Wes for so
Finally, “Where There’s A Will” is one of five Matthews original contributions,
with such swing that allows no one to ignore the direct descent in the line of greats—Wes, Kenny, Grant, and George.
And, of course, that’s the only way.
So what now?….Well, now there’s a Will.