Montana State University

Spring 2013

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Mountains and Minds

Photo by Kelly Gorham

And all that jazz May 07, 2013 • Published 05/07/13

Montana is far from the birthplace of jazz and blues, yet there are important reasons why jazz should be embraced in the Big Sky State, according to Ryan Matzinger, MSU's saxophone instructor who just happens to be a Grammy-winning jazz musician.

Matzinger is also a native Montanan. Born and raised in Bozeman, he left Montana to find musical success on both coasts. A singer-songwriter, jazz saxophonist, recording artist, internationally touring musician, teacher, producer and studio engineer, he is often known by his stage name, Ryan Montana. He remains an active member of the Kings of Rhythm, and as a member of that group won a Grammy Award for best traditional blues album/group. Matzinger is also a jazz scholar. Matzinger's return to his hometown has been a musical boon to Southwest Montana as friends and colleagues from throughout the nation have traveled to Bozeman to play with him.

Matzinger contends that jazz is Montana music. If you've always wanted to know more about jazz, or listen to it critically, Matzinger answers a few questions and offers a few tips.


How do you define jazz?

Jazz music is a living, dynamic and vibrant reflection of the dissonance and harmony of American history. It is all things at once, and a rationally intuitive exploration of diversity in the United States. A time-proven catalyst of people from all backgrounds and races, jazz is the purest form of the American democratic construct and one of the first, only, and lasting stalwart combatants, confusers and deniers of racism.

Why is jazz important?

There is a science of jazz music that underscores and frames the supposition that music has changed and can change the world for the better. It is also the story of a people, and how their unique art originated in American black communities while being stylized by white and black geniuses into an art of universal import.

Why is jazz important to Montanans?

Jazz music is a truly universal language, a barrier-breaking, race-melding, interdisciplinary formula through which people of every possible background and race exist in mutual tolerance and harmony despite their differences in belief or culture. Jazz is alive in all of us. Any truly coherent version of American history includes an in-depth look at the art form of jazz music and its creators.

What should we read or listen to know more about jazz?

Listen to Miles Davis, "Kind of Blue." Here are a few books to read:  Charles Mingus' autobiography, "Beneath the Underdog;" "Really the Blues" by Mezz Mezzrow and Bernard Wolfe; and "Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original" by Robin Kelly.


Watch Matzinger featured on the alto sax on "Caldonia" with Ernest Lane and the Kings of Rhythm