Matthew Sheens is a jazz musician from Adelaide, who relocated to NYC in 2011
He won an APRA Professional Development Award in Jazz in 2013, and used part of the prize to record his latest album, Cloud Appreciation Day
He recommends applying for the Green Card lottery early if you want to gain permanent residency, as it’s a long and arduous process.
Hailing from Adelaide, the young composer has found himself in the company of some of the world’s best players since he relocated to NYC in 2011.
“You’re just spoilt for choice,” says Matthew of the pool of musicians available to perform his work in New York. “I've been fortunate to work with a pretty famous bass player, John Patitucci, who plays with Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock,” he says. “I've stumbled into a situation where I get to play with him a lot, so getting him to play on my work has been a nice experience that I wouldn't have been able to get in Australia.”
John Patitucci also appears on Sheens’ new album Cloud Appreciation Day, which was recently released by Berlin label QFTF. The album was recorded over two years across Sydney and New York, and saw Matthew put part of his 2013 APRA Professional Development Award (PDA) Jazz prize – a day of recording at Studios 301 – to very good use.
“I couldn't believe how amazing it was,” he says of the studio. “Because I was living in the US, I had to cram in a day of recording on a trip back, and write the material on that trip.”
Recording in two different cities also meant that he needed to find a studio in NYC with a piano that matched the sound of the one used in Sydney. He ended up settling on two: The Samurai Hotel Recording Studio and Big Orange Sheep.
“In New York, every album, I've had to research as many recording studios as possible because as a piano player, there's an extra element of not only making sure the recording studio is amazing, but seeing what the condition of the piano is like,” says Matthew.
“A lot of these recording studios have a whole lot of history, along with the people that use them. And so sometimes I'm mixing an album and some ridiculously famous person will walk in or the engineer will say, ‘Oh, I've got to set up for Bjork tomorrow.’ That was actually my second album I think. Bjork was coming in the next day and they had to set up for 20 hand drummers.”
So how does a New York newbie make inroads into the local jazz scene?
Body: “It takes a while,” says Matthew. “The typical way that people get a foot in the door in New York these days, just because of the nature of music schools, is that they go to a school in New York and then while they're studying they have a bit of a foot in the actual working music scene,” he says. “Who your friends are is who you play with really.”
But for Matthew, who completed a masters at New England Conservatory in Boston before moving south, it was a little tougher to get a foothold in NYC, given that most of his classmates remained in Boston or returned to Europe after studying. Instead, friends from home helped him get connected.
“Strangely, one of my best friends from high school did his masters at Juilliard in classical music, so I kind of stole all of his classical music friends! They were my first music friends,” he says.
“Just being visible, going to gigs and engaging with the city all the time is really how you make friends and get to play with people and know people. In Adelaide or Melbourne or Sydney, if you live there for maybe two years or so, you'll pretty much know everyone in the scene, but New York is just this weird infinite universe. You'll never know everybody.”
But music schools are definitely not the only way to break into the New York scene he says.
“I have a friend who moved here two years ago. He uprooted his life at 30 and moved to New York from Melbourne, so I was able to witness him go from bare bones nothing to making things happen - without going to music school or any sort of institution. He just went out and made friends and did sessions almost every day…making that almost a career. That becomes your building blocks for getting gigs.
“That can be kind of challenging and scary in an environment and a country where you don't know anyone, but just making that such a priority that it actually becomes part of your career, at least for a little while, is important.”.