Three time Grammy winning guitarist Will Matthews is a native Kansas City Missourian growing up on the East side of town. He developed a love for the sound of the guitar from listening to his grandfather (Joseph Matthews Sr. aka Little Joe Matthews) play, who was born in 1900 and grew up in the Mississippi Delta area and played the Delta blues style. By age 13 Will got his first guitar and started taking private lessons and learning r&b, pop and funk songs from listening to the radio and recordings, and by take 15 he was playing for church and playing for r&b, pop and funk bands that would do short regional tours in the summer months when school was not in session, chaperoned by adult family members.
Matthews soon discovered jazz and started listening to all the great jazz guitarist starting with Kenny Burrell’s ‘Round Midnight’ album. Next it was Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Grant Green, Pat Martino, Joe Pass and many more. At age 18 he started studying jazz guitar with guitar instructor Hurley Dennis at the Mutual Musicians Foundation, formerly the home of the Musicians Protective Union Local 627.
By the mid 1970’s and 1980’s Matthews had already performed with vocalist Arthur Prysock, Jay McShan, Claude ‘Fiddler’ Williams, Carmell Jones (another Kansas City native) as well as vocalist/actress Queen Bey, Luqman Hamza, Ahmad Alaadeen, The Bloodstones and Eddie Baker’s New Breed Orchestra. Around 1985 Matthews was approached by Eddie Baker (Founder of the Charlie Parker Foundation) to play for his New Breed Orchestra, that performed a lot of Basie Orchestra charts. Eddie gave him a cassette tape and told him… ‘listen to this guitar player’…(Freddie Green) this is what I want you to do with my band’…that’s when Matthews started investigating the Freddie Green style guitar approach. On into the early 1990’s he also worked with Freda Payne, Carmen Bradford (vocalist with the Count Basie Orchestra) Charles Earland and Ronnell Bright.
Matthews joined the Legendary Count Basie Orchestra in 1996 under the direction of former Basie band lead trombonist Grover Mitchell, to fill the coveted chair of the late legendary guitarist and composer Freddie Green, who performed with the Orchestra for 50 years before his passing.
The guitarist has played on many live and studio recordings with the Orchestra, including three “Grammy Winning “ recordings…’Count Basie Orchestra Live at Manchester Guild’ in 1997, ‘Count Plays Duke’ in 1999 and ‘Basie Swings the Blues’ 2024, as well as the “Grammy Nominated” recording titled ‘Swing Shift’ in the year 2000.
Matthews has performed at every major jazz festival, concert hall, theatre and night club in the world, touring across Africa, Asia, Australia, South America, North America and Europe, as well as the rare honor of performing at the Royal Palace in Bangkok, Thailand for King Bhumbibol in 1996. He has also performed for President William J. Clinton’s second inaugural 1997 in Washington, DC. Matthews has also had the distinct honor of performing for First Lady Michelle Obama at a Campaign Fundraiser for President Barack Obama in Kansas City 2012 at the American Jazz Museum.
Since joining the Orchestra Matthews has performed with a who’s who list of artists starting with Joe Williams, Frank Foster, Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, Frank Wess, Benny Powell, Curtis Fuller, Benny Carter, Hank Jones, Milt Jackson, Lou Donaldson, Kenny Burrell, George Benson, Rufus Reid, Jimmy Cobb, Jon Hendricks, Ernie Andrews, Barbara Morrison, Johnny Mathis, Nancy Wilson, Mary Stallings, Marlena Shaw, Patti Austin, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ledisi, Andra Day, Dianne Reeves, Nnenna Freelon, Vanessa Rubin, Rosemary Clooney, Dorothy Donegan, Diane Schuur, Kurt Elling, Geri Allen, Chick Corea, Gary Bartz, John Faddis, Regina Carter, Marcus Roberts, Wynton Marsalis, Ellis Marsalis, Llew Matthews, Norman Simmons, Joey DeFrancesco, Tom Scott, John Pizzarelli, Tito Puente, Neal Hefti, Janis Siegel, Buddy Guy, Bobby Rush, Bettye Lavette, Robert Cray, Jamie Davis, Ken Mo’, Christian McBride and many more.
The guitarist released his debut cd, Will Matthews ‘Solo’ in November 2000, and his second cd project titled ‘Count on Swingin’ was released in 2009 featuring Organist Mel Rhyne (original Wes Montgomery Trio) for Art Blakey Jazz Messenger saxophonist Bobby Watson and Indianapolis drummer Kenny Phelps.
Matthews was also one of several guest artists featured in a 2010 documentary film broadcast on the PBS network titled ‘From Separate to Equal’ The Creation of Truman Medical Center, that featured a song composed by the guitarist titled ‘Mikayla’s Song’ from his ‘Count on Swingin’ recording. Matthews also performed a song in a night club scene in the Kevin Willmott film titled ‘Jayhawker’ with vocalist/actress Queen Bey.
When on break from touring Matthews performs with his own groups, The Saturday Night Trio, Mood Swings and the B-3 Organ Project. He also endorses D’Angelico Guitars Japan and D’Addario Strings.