Up-and-coming artist Matt Lagan is following jazz to Berlin and beyond

Matt Lagan wants to see the world.

He’s off to a great start, too. Already, the 24-year-old saxophonist from Toronto has played at venues and festivals all across Canada. He has toured to places like Australia, New Zealand and Mexico City with Canadian jazz-fusion icons the Shuffle Demons. Nowadays, he’s living in Berlin, playing in the city’s jazz clubs, making connections and expanding his horizons as an artist and as a person.

“I’ve been interested in checking out another city since I finished school,” Lagan says. “I wasn’t sure where exactly but I knew I needed to grow in a cultural way.”

In addition to being featured on upcoming Shuffle Demons music, Lagan is planning to record an album of his own tunes with his long-running band back in Toronto.

Lagan is a winner of the Oscar Peterson Grant for Jazz Performance, a prestigious award given to one student each year from across the country. He has recorded or performed with Larnell Lewis, Kelly Jefferson, Pat LaBarbera, Ted Quinlan, Dave Restivo, Nancy Walker, Kirk MacDonald and many more.

We asked this former participant in our Jazzology program to tell us more about his adventures in music, and what we can expect in the future from this up-and-coming jazz talent.

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The Shuffle Demons are icons in Toronto and throughout Canada. It must have been exciting to become a part of the band. How did you first get involved with them?

It was very exciting getting involved with them. I was recommended by Michael Herring for a tour with them in New Zealand and Australia in October of 2018. It was a wonderful experience.

What’s it like touring with them? Any particularly memorable moments?

Touring with the Shuffle Demons is a blast. The playing is always super fun but the really special part of the Demon tours is hanging out with everyone before and after the shows. Highlights include swimming in a glacial lake in New Zealand, going to Mexican wrestling in Mexico City, and cycling with Rich [Underhill] in the Australian countryside.

So, how crazy do fans go when they hear Spadina Bus?

Spadina Bus is a hit. In Canada, audiences go crazy. Internationally, people may not know the song, but it always gets them going. Everyone loves it. Cheese on Bread seems to be the international hit.

What was it like to go into the studio and play on the new album?

The new record is great. It was super fun being in the studio with them and working on the new material. I grew up hearing these guys play, so it is a true honour playing and recording with my musical heroes.

Credit: Savanna Shea

You’re in Germany now. What made you choose Berlin to spend some time learning and soaking things in?

I’ve been interested in checking out another city since I finished school. I wasn’t sure where exactly, but I knew I needed to grow in a cultural way. Top three cities in my mind were New York, Montreal and Berlin. I have always wanted to live in Europe and learn a new language, so I picked Berlin.

What’s the jazz and music scene like there?

So far I’ve been very impressed by the jazz scene in Berlin. There are great sessions every night and great players from all over the world. People in Berlin love to go out to hear live jazz, so the venues are always packed.

You’re planning a new album of your own. What kind of tunes? What can we expect from that recording?

The Matt Lagan Band has been my main project for about seven years. We have a really solid set of original music. The tunes are in a similar vein as Kneebody, David Binney and Donny McCaslin. Expect a really good record featuring Toronto’s best young musicians: Ewen Farncombe, Mingjia Chen, Sean Clarey, Scott Hunter and Austin Gembora.

What are some of the favourite gigs you’ve played recently?

My favourite gig recently was my going-away show with my band at Burdock on Sept. 12. We were all playing our best. I have also really enjoyed playing at the jam sessions at B-Flat, Zig Zag and The Hat Bar here in Berlin.

How was your experience with the Jazzology program? What did you like about it?

I really enjoyed the Jazzology program. Besides being featured, hearing my peers talk about their own musical experiences was very inspiring and informative.

How did the program help with your personal and professional development?

Jazzology contributed to my reputation as a professional saxophone player in Toronto. The interview helped me better understand my own musical goals by having to articulate exactly what I’m working on and what is important to me.

If you could thank our donors that support the Jazzology program, what would you say?

Thank you donors for your ongoing support. Young musicians, like myself, always appreciate the support.

What about other plans for the future? Where would you like to be years down the road?

Being in Berlin opens up playing in the rest of Europe, too. I want to take advantage of that in the near future. Years down the road I can’t say for sure where I want to be. I want to live in New York at some point, and maybe somewhere warm for a while, too. I want to travel.

You can follow Matt Lagan on Instagram, or visit his website at mattlagan.com.