Matt the saxmanPassing Notes with Matt

How did music become a way of life, instead of just a part of it?

As the son of two pastors, music was a lot more than a means of entertainment, but a delivery method for a message. Or, that is to say that if you wanted someone to pay special attention, set it to music and you increase your chances of being heard, seen and remembered.

It wasn’t until I was 12 that I started playing an instrument on my own volition. At first, I dreamed big and reached for the tuba, but after about one month I realized it was, well, way too big to carry. In contrast, I felt that clarinet and flute were too feminine.  The sax seemed cool and they had an opening for one more sax student at school. So, for the past 34 years, I’ve been honing my musical skills. It just seemed as much a part of me as anything. I think I always saw music as more than a hobby, but a “how to…”…how to make money or how to make people feel a certain way. Professionally, I’ve always been a musician, constantly crafting my skill and expanding my repertoire. I cut my eye teeth on acoustic guitar playing with seasoned players at my folks’ church.

Do you have a musical specialty?

Playing by ear—I guess that’s what it would be called. After a few years of playing not-so-by-the-book, I realized that I can pickup most song melodies within a few minutes of listening to them. After a few minutes of fiddling around, I’ve pretty much got it down. But that’s the thing, I don’t give up, or put said instrument down until I’ve got it down. The more I play, the more I want to improve my musical skills—especially on sax and guitar, and also vocally.  I would say my specialty is at creating soulful representations of tunes.

How did you learn to play guitar/sax?

Sax was in the public school system at first. They offered it, so I took…well, took it as far as I could, or they could provide. Then I took private lessons—that’s when I got learned more about the music, as well as the musicians who made it, changed it and transformed music. I started listening to some of the greats and common songs. My mind, emotions and interests went in many new directions. I love music because it has such a variety of expressions. 

Are there any artists you model your playing after

I especially love Cannonball Adderley and Jay Beckenstein (from Spyro Gyra). But the guy I really admired growing up was Bobby Militello (reed man for Dave Brubeck). Maybe in part my attraction was because he was portly, but he could play his heart out. He is a Buffalo native and to me, he’s as hot as Buffalo wings! All jokes aside, he played alto and inspired me with his awesome tone, soul and spirit!

What is your full name? 

Matthew Festa. No more, no less. You see, my mom was a little weird—she thought life was too complex as it was and didn’t give my sister, Suzanne, or me a middle name. You’d think that Matt the Sax Man would have been the original name as it was the first instrument (after the tuba, of course) that I reached for, but that sing-song name came much later. In high school my nickname was scoop because the music teacher would yell at me for getting too jazzy and scooping under the notes. But that’s sort of it really, music is about scooping under this and sliding by that and strumming around the other. My work is to play…for others—play what they want or what the event requires. It’s in the moment and completely manipulative—the best of both worlds.