Ramblin' Man

Listen to Matt Mitchell, and hear the world.

"I've lived in the same house for 11 years," says jazz guitarist Matt Mitchell. "And I haven't gone anywhere else."

But the 32-year-old Mitchell travels extensively on his 7-string guitar, over which he can be seen intently hunched in a variety of Tucson nightclubs and concert venues.

With his band El Creepy, the classically-trained musician explores Balkan, Middle Eastern and klezmer music through the vehicle of heavy metal power trio--yes, that's not a typo.

Another Mitchell project, the increasingly popular D'Oud, is a Moroccan-jazz trio featuring local bassist extraordinaire Ed Friedlander and Moroccan transplant Brahim Fribgane.

Mitchell also plays Latin jazz with the group Sueños and exercises his traditional klezmer muscles with the Borderlands Klezmer Band. In the jazz realm, he maintains a duo with vocalist John Ronstadt, and has played in such ensembles as Slop and The Blue Monks.

Mitchell and fellow ax-man Ed DeLucia recently recorded and released the guitar duets album 13 Strings, which is available at Hear's Music.

He also has played with the Tucson Pops Orchestra, the Amilcar Guevara Latin Jazz Group and funk and R&B artists such as Ozlo and Peaches & the Soul Jazz Session.

"I listen to a lot of music," Mitchell says during a recent lunchtime interview. "And I guess that whatever I listen to I just sort of end up playing. It's all just sort of part of a journey."

He finds equal inspiration in the free-jazz skronk of John Zorn's Masada; The Beatles' Rubber Soul; Pink Floyd's Meddle; electronic music by György Ligeti; the experimental compositions of John Cage; the guitar playing of Fred Frith, Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery and Lenny Breaux; and the electronic textures of Tucson tribal-ambient composer Steve Roach.

Mitchell recently was one of five nominees for the 2002 Arizona Arts Award, which is presented by the Community Foundation of Southern Arizona.

The final award went to Simon Donovan, the public artist whose work includes the flying books on the façade at the Woods Memorial Branch of the Tucson-Pima Library and the new Diamondback pedestrian bridge over Broadway near Downtown.

He received $1,000 for the nomination, but Mitchell politely says, "I was just honored to be included."

Also a guitar teacher at the Southwest Guitar Studio, Mitchell is in the midst of a busy period. Ample opportunities are available for listeners to dig his playing in different contexts during the coming week.

Originally from Phoenix, Mitchell picked up the guitar to pursue his love of hard rock while a student at Camelback High School.

"I played classical piano for like five years. But in the '80s, I got into metal--you know, AC/DC, black T-shirts, Judas Priest. Throughout high school I took jazz class and classical music, but I was still into the rock," he recalls.

He relocated to Tucson in 1989, following some high-school friends--raw blues solo musician Bob Log III and Danny Walker of the eccentric duo Bebe and Serge--who themselves had just moved down from Phoenix. Mitchell also sheepishly admits he also played with the two in a rock band that played college keg parties.

Six months after arriving from Phoenix, Mitchell began to study classical guitar at the University of Arizona, where Tom Patterson runs what Mitchell says is "a pretty killer program."

In college, Mitchell discovered jazz--the standards and the avant-garde. Although he graduated from the program, he says now that "I didn't have the discipline to pursue classical music."

Since 1997, Mitchell has played electric and acoustic versions of the 7-string guitar; the extra string is a low A. This set-up adds a full fifth to the range of the guitar and allows him to play bass lines at the same as the lead melody.

Many fans find the extra string a remarkable anomaly. But it doesn't seem odd to Mitchell, nor does his use of an electronic looping device that allows him to play duets with himself in live settings.

"The number of strings is kind of a non-issue in terms of how experimental you are. It's just another tool," he says.

Not one to get hung up on the technical terms or guitar specs, Mitchell has modest ambitions: "My goal has always been to play good music with good people. Not much more than that, and make a living at it."