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Cracking the NYC jazz scene with PDA winner Matthew Sheens

Published Tuesday 13 September 2016
: Matthew Sheens looking at camera
Matthew Sheens relocated to NYC in 2011 to further his career as a Jazz musician. Photo by Charles Quiles

Rage Against the Dying of the Light

Cloud Appreciation Day


What’s your favourite place to play?

A place called the Shapeshifter Lab in Brooklyn which is really cool for chamber music. Although it's not in the heart of the city so it's really hard to get people out there. My favourite clubs in the city are in the West Village - that's kind of the heart of things. I do this rehearsal at the Lincoln Center every week and I haven't played an actual concert there but it's an amazing space. Anywhere I don't have to bring a keyboard is amazing, typically.

Where do you rehearse?

I try to do that in my apartment (Uptown, on the border of Harlem and Washington Heights) which is really tricky because the sound between people's apartments travels very fast, especially in my apartment, and my neighbours hate me! I have a piano and I would love to have a drum kit in there as well but I don't think that's going to happen. The sound just travels so much. I hear everything that goes on in their apartment as well!

How often do you play?

It goes in seasons, really. Sometimes there's almost too much going on and then sometimes, typically summer, I find very quiet because I think a lot of people go out of town. It turns into a different city in the summer. So I find myself here (in Australia) a lot of the time in the summer months - I get perpetual winter and no summer.

How has the city influenced your composition work?

It's hard to say because it's just become my home now, but - this might sound clichéd - maybe the urgency of the city might have some sort of impact. I guess there's this condition that New Yorkers have, I can't remember the exact term, but it's this fear of missing out on something. So when you're not out at night, you know you're missing out on something awesome. If I'm not playing, I try to spend a lot of time out at people's concerts, just getting a constant stream of really interesting music. I think I probably write more after being really inspired by stuff like that. The city just constantly throws amazing things at you if you want it to.

As for the less exciting practicalities of being an Australian in the US, Matthew has a key piece of advice for other artists wanting to relocate.

“Apply for the Green Card lottery when you’re not even there!” he says, referring to the Diversity Visa Lottery, which provides the opportunity to enter a draw for permanent residence in the US.

Matthew counts himself lucky to have “stumbled upon” a Green Card this way, after spending many years jumping through hoops to get various different visas, including an E-3 visa which he obtained as a music teacher. He sees visas and immigration as the only roadblock for artists considering the move.

“If you have the drive to uproot your life and go somewhere, then you're probably going to have the drive to make something happen for yourself,” he says.