Matthew Alec is a jazz and popular music saxophonist, founder and Executive Producer at Cleveland Time Records, and bandleader for the high-energy jazz fusion group Matthew Alec and The Soul Electric.
His debut album Cleveland Time featuring former Saturday Night Live Musical Director Tom “Bones” Malone was released in February of 2021. The album charted for several weeks on the NACC Jazz Radio Chart, peaking at #13, and received international press from Jazziz Magazine, All About Jazz, JazzMonthly.com, SoulTracks.com, Broadway World, WBSS Media, Glide Magazine, and many others. His hard bop blues composition “Blues for McCoy” from the album was a Semi-Finalist in the International Songwriting Competition and was one of All About Jazz’s most “Popular Jazz Songs” for 2021. His 2nd album Live at the Bop Stop! (Which also features Malone) was just released on December 12th. Matthew is proudly sponsored by DeJacques saxophone straps and Remic Microphones.
Tell us a bit about your company and why you do what you do
My company is a record label and production company called Cleveland Time Records. I founded it in 2019 with the purpose of recording jazz artists from the general Cleveland area and promoting and distributing that music to an international audience. Since I founded it, I’ve really expanded the concept to an all-around production company that also produces jazz education-related content. It’s been a slow process, but I think I’m starting build some momentum with a number of projects that I have in the works.
I do it because I love it and it’s what drives me. I’m a creative at heart and as long as I’m working towards creating something I tend to feel fulfilled in life. Over the years, I’ve also discovered that I’m a natural producer. Dreaming up projects and figuring out how to deliver those projects is something that I tremendously enjoy doing. As I see it, my abilities as a musician, artist, and producer are perfect for the work I’m doing.
As a public figure, how do you think being hailed as a role model impacts on others and what pressure does it put on you?
Well, I’m not certain that I’d call myself a public figure per se [laughs]. Even if I were the most successful jazz artist on the planet, I don’t think I’d be much of a public figure [laughs]… at least not in the general population’s eyes, anyway. That said, I have received a good amount of press over the past couple of years as well as a decade ago during my stint in the band Winslow. I’m still learning the ins and outs of how you should act and how you should behave in the public’s eye. It definitely takes some getting used to. The thought that there’s anyone out there that looks up to me in any capacity is completely foreign to me.
I don’t know that there’s external pressure on me at this point to behave any which way, but I absolutely put a lot of internal pressure on myself to act professionally and speak clearly and confidently. In the jazz world, there’s a lot of pressure to perform at an extremely high level as well, so I put a lot of internal pressure on myself to always play as well as I’m able.
In my 20’s when I was in the group Winslow, I didn’t work very hard. I loved music and I played okay, but my focus was on partying and socializing. The music was secondary. If I had been as successful as I had wanted to be at that time, I don’t know that I would have been a very good role model. A decade later, just about everything’s changed for me. I work much, much harder now and I take the music itself very seriously. Coincidentally, I’m a lot better at it now, too! Imagine that [laughs].
So, I guess my answer to the question is that I want to work hard and get really, really good at this music and present that music, my music, at the highest level that I’m able to and have as much fun as I can along the way. I think if I do that and I treat everyone around me with respect and kindness, then my character will speak for itself to the fans out there.
Do you have a motto or a mantra you apply to either work, life, or both?
Oh yes. For me, it’s all about a day in and day out process. It’s about doing the little bit that you can every single day and being consistent. You can miss a day or two or even a week here and there, but then getting back to it as soon as you can. Consistency is absolutely my mantra. I know that doesn’t sound sexy. I know people want to read about celebrity success stories that involve a wild ride to the top and I’m sure it works that way for some people, but not for me. For me, it’s been all about hard work and being consistent. Working on my deficiencies as a musician, working on my deficiencies as a saxophonist, writing music, producing various projects, and drumming up as much media attention as I’ve been able to along the way. It sounds simple, but it’s a daily grind and it’s not often easy. You’ve really got to love what you do.
Can you tell us about a time when you almost gave up, how you felt about that, and what you did instead of giving up?
Yeah, I remember a time when I nearly quit quite distinctly. This would have been about 2014 if I remember correctly. Winslow, the band that I was in for nearly a decade had broken up. The days of multiple gigs a week in various towns around the Eastern U.S. had ended. I had very few contacts and I didn’t really know any of the musicians around town any longer. I was practicing daily, but it was limited to the four walls of my apartment. Bottom line, the phone wasn’t ringing.
During that period, I just began to question why I was still doing it. It felt like I was barely hanging on to my past. That lasted for several months, maybe even a year or so. I did a deep dive into myself, and I prayed about it quite a bit. I don’t discuss it very often, but I’m a very spiritual person. Anyway, I ultimately decided that the music career that I’d had up to that point wasn’t an accident and it wasn’t by chance. I came to the conclusion that it was my life’s work to create music and that I was born to do it. I owed it to the universe to keep going and not throw away the gift I was given.
At some point that year I began hearing about this exclusive one-of-a-kind camp for professional saxophonists called the Inside-Outside Retreat that was being put on by Bob Reynolds, the world-famous saxophonist that worked with John Mayer. It was held at Wooten Woods near Nashville, which is owned by Victor Wooten, yet another world-renowned musician. I’d never heard of anything else like it and I knew I had to go. I was scared shitless being there the first year in 2015; studying and playing with the likes of Bob Reynolds, Bob Franceschini, Victor Wooten, and Futureman, but damn I learned a lot! So much so that I went back a second time in 2016. I was a lot more comfortable my second year there and I think I played a lot better as a result, but either way, looking back on it, those two years at that camp completely changed my career trajectory.
After that, back at home in Akron, I began to formulate what I called my “ten-year plan.” The plan has evolved significantly since its inception, but it’s led to the formation of my own fusion group Matthew Alec and The Soul Electric, the Cleveland Time Records label, the first studio album Cleveland Time, the live album Live at the Bop Stop! and at least two more studio albums that I have in the works for the next two years. I think I’m about four years into the ten-year plan at this point. It’s honestly going extremely well. Not everything’s worked out exactly as I had hoped, but I’m pretty close to where I thought I would be.
How do you generate new ideas?
So, I’ve a funny story about that. Many, many of the ideas and concepts in both music and business that I’ve thought up have come to me at 3am after waking up unexpectedly and not being able to fall back asleep. For whatever reason, I do some of my most creative thinking at that time. Song concepts and melodies, the Cleveland Time Records label, the name of the Cleveland Time album, the collaboration with Tom “Bones” Malone, and several other things have come about at the witching hour. I’ve no idea why. It could be spiritual.
Aside from that, melodies come to me with some regularity. Sometimes they’re an idea that pops up when I play the saxophone and other times, I’ll simply start humming something that sounds like it could work. I use my iPhone to record the idea quickly and then I revisit it and write chords for it at a later date. I keep a Dropbox folder of those sound recordings. A lot of nice songs have come out of that process for me.
Do you have a cherished childhood teddy bear or other stuffed animal sitting on your bed at home?
Okay, so, no judgement, please! I’ve a small stuffed monkey named “Boobie.” My wife bought him for me. He’s gone with me on the road twice now. I had him on stage with us in New Orleans this past summer. I like him, he’s a good egg. I think the band likes him, too, or least they better or I’ll fire them and hire someone who does [laughs].
What’s your most expensive piece of clothing?
I’m a bit of a fancy man, so I had to think about this one for a second! I believe the answer to the question is a pair of gold and ruby cufflinks that were my grandfather’s. I believe they date back to the 1950s. As a side note, he was an important figure in Cleveland’s labor unions during the ‘50s and ‘60s. Frank E. Glovan. The cufflinks are aptly engraved with his initials “FEG.” They’re beautiful. I wore them the night that the Live at the Bop Stop! album was recorded with Tom “Bones” Malone.
What’s your favorite board game?
Who has time for board games any longer [laughs]? Anyway, I haven’t played it in eons, but my favorite board game was always Monopoly. I absolutely loved playing that as a kid and if I’m being honest with myself, I’d probably still enjoy it to this day. I’m sure readers out there already know, but it takes forever to play an entire game and I used to annoy the piss out of my family as a kid trying to get them to play it with me. Oh, the memories.
What was the last TV series you watched on TV?
The wife and I get into a new series every few weeks. The last one we caught was season two of “The White Lotus” on HBO. Wow! What an amazing show. We loved season one, so we had very high expectations for season two. It did not disappoint. Something as seemingly fun and innocuous as a family vacation gets distorted through a complex and often tragic series of events. The show’s writer and creator Mike White certainly seems to have a keen eye for the ugliness of humanity and he’s able to display that through a very thoughtful and well-crafted satirical lens. The ensemble cast for both seasons has been absolutely perfect as well I might add. I think it’s one of my all-time favorite shows.
If you could change anything about yourself what would it be?
Are we talking something physical, psychological, or ability-wise? Anyone I’ve ever mentioned this to tells me I’m crazy, but the top part of my left ear sticks out more than my right ear. Honestly, I’m not kidding! It does. I’m told I used to roll over on it as an infant and I would sleep on that side with my ear bent inward as a result. Over time it developed into the deformity that it is today [laughs]. I have grown into it more as an adult, but it was very noticeable as a kiddo. Still bothers me to this day! My wife says it makes me… well, me. Whatever.