The Piano Man

We were sitting in his dimly lit, brick walled basement. It was exactly what I expected his home to look like.  The lights are low, we’re surrounded by musical instruments hanging on the walls, there’s a pool table in the back corner, and we’re sitting on a large couch in front of a big TV on the wall.  And although this suits his relaxed and calm personality, Matt Blair is not one to meet the expectations of most 22-year old’s.

Matt Playing his piano

Matt is a musician.  Which is not unusual for a 22-year-old to be in today’s world.  Anyone anywhere can be a musician. Our generation is full of “SoundCloud rappers” and young hip hop artists.  But that’s where the unexpectedness comes in.  Matt loves, and always has loved jazz music.  It’s his bread and butter, and it’s what he spends most of his time doing.

Matt started playing music when he was eight years old.  He started out on guitar, then learned drums and eventually started playing piano at the age of eleven, which is his favourite instrument to play.

“You can just do the most on it.  Plus, it’s of those instruments that when people see you playing it, it just looks cool.  Everyone wants to know how to play piano,” he says.

Matt’s hands on his piano

Matt considers himself lucky that his dad is also a musician.  It was never pushed on him, but it was always around when he was a kid, and that influenced him.  His dad has been very helpful along the way and has always supported his musical endeavours.

“I remember in sixth grade my dad said if I learned how to play ‘What I’d Say’ by Ray Charles, he’d buy me a long-board.  So, I definitely grinded that out,” he says.

When I ask Matt who some of his favourite artists are, he gives me a list of names.  He mentions Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Billy Joel and even Mozart.  Matt is into genres like jazz, blues and funk –not the most popular genres among Matt’s age group.  And although Matt recognizes these genres are niche, he does wish they were more popular.

“I think most people like it when they hear it, they just don’t actively seek it out,” he says.

Matt doesn’t get flustered when we start talking about money.  He adjusts his light brown hair and his blue eyes stay focused.  He tells me that if people go into music looking for money, they’re going into it for all the wrong reasons.  But he doesn’t worry about being a “starving artist.”

“I don’t worry about money.  I see plenty of people that don’t work as hard as me making a lot more than me.  As long as I can support myself and live a middle-class life, I’m happy,” he says.

Matt then takes me upstairs to a room filled with window light. There is nothing but a grand piano in the middle and big paintings and photos on the walls.  He sits down and starts playing.  I don’t need to prompt him.  It’s obvious he’s confident in his abilities. It’s even more obvious why.  Matt knows what he is doing.

Matt spends an average of twenty hours a week practicing, and sometimes even more if he has a show coming up soon.

“I’ve definitely done my ten-thousand hours, but the more I study and the more I learn, the more I notice how much better I can be,” he says.

Although the music is very artistic and comes naturally to him, when Matt describes how he does what he does, it comes across as very analytical.  He makes sense of patterns in songs and draws connections between notes and chords.  He understands why things are in certain places and what purpose they serve.  He even mentions that when he’s learning a new song, he’ll spend at least an hour just reading the sheet music before even touching any piano keys.

Matt playing his grand piano

Matt has no intention of quitting music or pursuing anything else.  It’s been his passion since he was a kid and will continue to be for a very long time.  As I leave his house, I find the music I heard him play stuck in my head.