Matthias Lupri: Shadow of the Vibe
While vibraphonist Matthias Lupri is a relative newcomer to his chosen instrument, he has managed in the space of a only few short years, to emerge as an artist who is garnering increasing respect, not only as a player, but equally as a writer. With four albums under his belt, including the recently-released Transition Sonic , Lupri is amassing a remarkable amount of positive press for his work, which combines an interest in the jazz tradition with broader concerns. Truth be told, in fact, while he's somewhat new to jazz, he's been involved in the music industry for a considerably longer stretch, first as a drummer supporting rock, folk and country artists. And it's his broader reach, his interest in a vast diversity of music that is reflected in how he approaches his own work.
Early Musical Experiences
"I was born in Germany," says Lupri, "came to Manhattan, Kansas in the States, then eventually ended up in Canada in Alberta and grew up primarily in Cochrane, Alberta in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and started playing country music. I started playing drums through the school music programme and went through that whole scene, started getting into rock and roll as a drummer, and started playing country music with people like George Fox, before he was big. I did a lot of blues, folk, country and rock things around Western Canada for years. At the very end I was playing in some really hard rock bands in the '80s, and did that for five years."
But while Lupri could have continued on as a moderately successful working drummer, when he was in the recording studio he felt a certain deficiency. "I was doing a lot of recording sessions as a drummer," Lupri explains, "but never contributing pieces of my own music, so I decided I wanted to learn how to write and enrolled in a college programme where I was introduced to the vibes there for the first time."
Switching to Vibes and Gaining an Education
"It was basically hell for me," continues Lupri, "because I had no harmony or theory background at all and by this time I was already 24 years old and a drummer for years. I went into this programme and the funniest thing was that even though I was getting C's and D's I loved it so much. All my life I'd been getting A's and B's, but I didn't really care for some reason. I was in this music programme and getting Cs and Ds but I loved it so much; it was such a contradiction for some reason that I knew something special going on here. And I got introduced to Gary Burton's music by a teacher. The first record I bought by him was the Times Square record and also Bill Evans' Portrait in Jazz , I bought that album on the same day. And it was like, "Wow, what is this music?" I'd heard some Milt Jackson earlier and I wasn't really blown away, but when I heard that Gary Burton album it was just incredible. So I really just dug into it for a couple of years. But I was starting out at age 24, and I hadn't listened to any jazz at all up to that time. It started getting me to think of music other than rock and roll and also not as a drummer any more, but more as a musician."
But while Lupri was now introduced to the vibes and the world of jazz, he had yet to give up the rock and roll life. "That was a 2-year programme," explains Lupri, "and when I graduated I actually formed another rock band and went on the road for another five years in Canada, playing rock and roll in these hard rock bands. We did the whole circuit in Western Canada full time; I gave up my apartment because I was never home, we lived on the road. So I did that for years, but I always had some jazz with me and eventually I started bringing my vibes with me, thinking I should really stay on top of it. So for a couple of years, at the end, I brought my vibes with me on the road and practiced a lot during the day as we had a lot of free time. I did that for a number of years but ultimately decided I couldn't do this rock and roll lifestyle anymore and enrolled into Berklee and I went full steam ahead from there.
"I went through the whole four year programme," continues Lupri, "taking all kinds of courses which included theory, harmony, ear training, and history. I studied with vibraphonists including Victor Mendoza and took some master classes with Dave Samuels. Then I studied with Gary, which was great because he was more about the music and not the technique, the stuff you learned from the previous teachers. Gary was coming from a different perspective attitude, how you approached music in general, that kind of thing."
Being close to New York City, Lupri also spent a lot of time checking out other vibes players for inspiration. "I used to go check Joe Locke out in the Village in New York all the time," Lupri says, "when I was first learning. I'd just go down to New York and sit all weekend watching him play. I learned so much from watching Joe play all those guys, I'd go see Bobby Hutcherson, Gary Burton, Mike Manieri anybody I could."