Matthew Alec - Decide What You Want to Accomplish and Take Control of Your Own Fate (Jazz and Popular Music Saxophonist from USA)

Matthew Alec

I want the company to serve two purposes: 1) help preserve jazz as an American art form and work to bring it back to prominence in world society and 2) help make the city of Cleveland relevant or at least more relevant in jazz in the world scene. I may or may not succeed, but it’s going to be damn fun trying. I love a challenge.

1. Tell us about your background and journey.

Oh boy, well, I’m an Ohio kid for one. I was born in a town called Richfield, the Cleveland Cavaliers used to play in the Coliseum there and I’ve resided in the general Northeast Ohio area my whole life. I grew up in a middle-class home with my mother and my maternal half-brother. My father left the picture when I was very young. 

Thankfully, mom valued travel and culture quite a bit so I was subjected to both in large quantities growing up. I also spent a lot of time alone as a kid and I think that eventually led to me being very independent and free-thinking. I think anyone who gets to know me well will tell you that I’m ‘different’ and I don’t act or think like most others. I think my childhood had a lot to do with that. 

My mother had a strong impact on me as well and she’s also a very unique human being. I was in a couple of rock/pop bands in high school and then went on to study classical and jazz music at Kent State University. Learned a lot there from some great professors and formed the band ‘Winslow’ with the singer Maurice Martin, which hurdled me down the path of a music career with a couple of records and some touring. 

That group broke up after about a decade and I started freelancing as a saxophonist which then led to my own group and now my own record label. Everything has snowballed from there. I also got engaged a few months ago to a professor at Cleveland State University. Lately, it seems like everything’s happening all at once. I suppose life can be like that.

2. What inspired you to pursue music?

My path towards music has been a very gradual one that’s had a number of twists and turns. I’ve one brother, my only sibling who’s ten years older than I am and he had been playing clarinet and a little saxophone in his high school band program so I think the initial impetus came from wanting to emulate him to some degree. 

Our school system started us in the fifth grade on instruments so when I got to that age playing his mostly unused alto saxophone made a lot of sense. It was not love at first sight. I loved music as a child, particularly soul music, but I did not take the saxophone seriously for quite some time. In high school, I became massively influenced by classic rock Hendrix, The Beatles, Queen, etc. and I desperately wanted to learn the guitar as a result but I didn’t have one. 

Fate struck at about sixteen when I befriended a freshman that was an advanced saxophone student well versed in bebop and a huge fan of Charlie Parker. He introduced me to a whole new world with jazz and I’ve been hooked ever since.

distinctly remember the first time listening to Bird, I’d never heard anything like it. I had no idea music could be so intricate and so elegant. It was mesmerizing. That’s what led me to the music program at Kent State and eventually to form the band Winslow, the first professional group that I was with for several years. 

3. What was the idea and inspiration behind 'Clevel and Time Records'? 

With the record label, I put the proverbial cart before the horse. I had already started recording my group’s (Matthew Alec and The Soul Electric) first record Cleveland Time this past year, but it was at that time an independent label-less release. I believe one morning at about 4am I awoke to the idea of starting my own label, do some of my best thinking waking up randomly at that time

The name itself refers to “the time of Cleveland,” as if I were imagining the pulse of the city as played by a jazz rhythm section. That’s what was in my head at the time, anyway. Cleveland has played a major role in my life and in the life of my family so I wanted to directly tie it into what I was doing. 

I was also doing quite a bit of work with a local nonprofit company iN Education, Inc. so going the route of a nonprofit seemed like a logical next step for the company. I view the label as much more of an all-around production company as opposed to a traditional record label. My group’s release was its first release and I wanted to show the world what I could do with that release.

I think I more or less accomplished that goal. Next up I have the first audiobook version of Louis Armstrong’s autobiography “Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans,” which is almost done and will be released this year. I’m also breaking ground this year on the label’s next record which will be a jazz/hip-hop fusion record with artist Minus the Alien who appeared on my album. 

A Cleveland jazz documentary which I’m really excited about is also in the beginning stages. In the end, I want the company to serve two purposes: 1) help preserve jazz as an American art form and work to bring it back to prominence in world society and 2) help make the city of Cleveland relevant or at least more relevant in jazz on the world scene. I may or may not succeed, but it’s going to be damn fun trying. I love a challenge. 

4. According to you, how is the music industry evolving especially during COVID?

I remember telling a different interviewer recently that musicians may need to revise their definition of what ‘normal’ is going forward. America’s CDC is now saying that fully vaccinated individuals can safely remove their masks indoors, so perhaps we will see some version of normal sooner as opposed to later. 

That said, I can’t help but think that the pandemic has somehow irreparably harmed live music as we knew it for the foreseeable future. Music clubs as a whole and especially jazz clubs who were already hurting with attendance have suffered greatly during the past two years and many of them have shut their doors permanently. 

The ones that have survived will undoubtedly turn to the ‘sure thing’ artists that already have reliable followings so it’s going to be even tougher for the unknown new artists to tour. The industry as a whole is no longer a ‘brick and mortar' establishment. Huge dollars are generated online via Spotify and YouTube and unfortunately, the bulk of that money isn’t going to the artists. 

While monetarily they don’t generate much revenue for artists, they do present incredible opportunities for artists to reach millions of listeners on a worldwide scale; opportunities previously unseen by generations of musicians past. Thanks to these streaming services and social media, now more than ever artists have the ability to take their careers into their own hands and use these platforms to promote themselves.

They just need to be very creative and entrepreneurial in obtaining the funding they need to sustain themselves and their art in doing so. I’m curious like everyone else where things go from here. No matter what happens, I will say a positive attitude and ironclad determination go a long way.

5. What tips and advice would you give to aspiring musicians?

Never, ever, ever, ever give up no matter how much the world beats you down. When you’re young (well, I’m 37… I’m sort of still young I think?), you think that you’re going to start a band and conquer the world overnight. You’re going to play a sold-out show at the big club in town, record executives are going to be there from a said major label, and they’re going to be blown away by your performance and give you a million-dollar contract the very next day. 

Yeah, not so much. The ongoing joke amongst the hardworking musicians out there trying to build their name and brand is that an “overnight success” in the music industry takes ten years. From the time you start as a solo artist or with a band or whatever it is that you do if you do everything right and hit the ground running at full speed, it’s going to be a decade before you’re going to be anywhere near where you initially wanted to be. 

I’ve had so many ‘almosts’ and ‘nearly’ big breaks over the past twenty years that I’ve become a bit numb to the prospect of some fortuitous event changing my musical career forever. Music is an extremely difficult endeavor. There are HUGE egos from everyone involved who think they’re somebody even if they’re no, who will draw satisfaction from your failures. 

Record sales are abysmal and the streaming platforms don’t provide artists the necessary revenue to sustain themselves. Touring while already difficult and costly, came to a complete standstill during the pandemic. If you’re in a band, then there will be a constant need to nurture the needs and wants of your fellow bandmates. Oh, and there’s the actual music itself which takes hours of daily study and thought. 

Don’t wait for some big break. Decide what you want to accomplish and take control of your own fate. Practice your craft daily and try to be better every day than you were the day before. Do all of the necessary daily tasks that you need to. Do a ton of research on marketing and the industry. Listen to criticism but don’t let it stop you. Above all, keep going and don’t ever stop. It might not happen exactly when or how you think, but you’ll get to where you want to be eventually.

6. Who is your favorite artist and why?

I go through periods where I’m listening to different artists, so my answer to this question might change a bit depending on when you ask me. That said, there have been two artists that consistently top my list and they are both saxophonists and both deceased, tragically - Michael Brecker and John Coltrane.

Both of them changed jazz and more broadly, music as a whole, forever. Both of them were never complacent as artists and constantly sought to be better. Both of them were largely humble people with warm hearts. I listen to their music daily and each time I listen to a recording that I’ve heard hundreds of times previously they bring the same emotional exhilaration that they brought the previous hundred times; sometimes even more.

Matthew Alec

Matthew Alec

Matthew Alec is a professional jazz and popular music saxophonist, founder, and Executive Producer at Cleveland Time Records, and bandleader for the high-energy jazz fusion group Matthew Alec and The Soul Electric, whose debut album “Cleveland Time” featuring former Saturday Night Live Musical Director Tom “Bones” Malone was released in February of this year. The album has charted for several weeks on the NACC Jazz Radio Chart, peaking at #13, and received international acclaim from Jazziz Magazine, All About Jazz,,, Broadway World, WBSS Media, Glide Magazine,, and many others.

Interviewed By - Serene Ingle

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