Fifteen-year-old singer-songwriter Matt Jaffe has a lot on his plate: in addition to the typical high school workload (he'll be a junior at Branson in the fall), Jaffe racks up an impressive number of live music performances across the Bay Area all year long. You might have seen him at open mic nights around the county, at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco or performing with Bread & Roses, the venerable Marin County nonprofit that brings live music to marginalized communities.
Every few months, he hosts a musical revue at called "Music with Matt Jaffe." The Mill Valley native returns to the stage tomorrow night for the second edition (the first was in March) with a lineup featuring Maddie Ross, Courty Gates and a trio including Jaffe, Jacob Grossfeld and Josh Caine.
Mill Valley Patch recently caught up with the up-an-coming musician. Here's what he had to say:
MVP: At the age of 15, you're already a veteran performer on Marin County stages. Can you tell us how you got your start and how you were "discovered," so to speak?
Matt Jaffe: I first started performing at an open mic in Fairfax at the BookBeat, which infortunately no longer exists. After playing at this open mic and various others around the bay, I eventually started getting gig offers at venues. While initially I didn't pursue such offers, I realized I thoroughly enjoyed performing and began seeking shows more actively. Although I wouldn't necessarily say I've been discovered, I've definitely had some lucky breaks, ranging from better gigs at better venues to important relationships with influential people. While some of these opportunities certainly stem from being in the right place at the right time, most of them have resulted from playing publicly a lot, at lots of different venues for lots of different audiences. To meet the people who will actually support my music and to receive chances to play at better venues, I've had to perform pervasively - sometimes under less than ideal circumstances. However, I believe that every show I've ever done has been absolutely worthwhile.
MVP: How would you characterize your style of music?
MJ: Over the course of the past few years my music has evolved, but has always retained elements of folk and rock. More recently I've incorporated more electric and punk-oriented influences. I think the middle ground between folk and punk would be an apt description.
MVP: And what type of music do you listen to?
MJ: The type of music I play definitely represents the music I enjoy listening to. I really enjoy acoustic groups (The Decemberists, The Tallest Man on Earth, The Secret Stars), but also groups with a more aggressive edge (Talking Heads, Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, The Clash, Arcade Fire). Another musician who has greatly informed my guitar playing Django Reinhardt. While his influence may not be as obvious, I consider him very significant in the development of my own guitar style. [Matt performed at this past weekend.]
MVP: You come from a musical family. What role did that play ?
MJ: I started playing music (on the violin) because of my sister's choice to study on that instrument. Also, many of the bands I love were introduced to me through family members. Moreover, I'm very lucky to have a family that's given me support for my music. However, most of my music comes from my own experiences and is not directly influenced by family members.
MVP: How do you balance your performances and musical ambitions with the busy life of a high school student?
MJ: I typically put schoolwork first, using music as incentive to finish homework efficiently. However on a broader scale, I usually plan my completion of schoolwork around gigs that I have lined up. In reality, though, it all comes down to getting work done with minimal procrastination. The possibility of doing something musical in the evening has often served as fantastic motivation.
MVP: What are some recent highlights, including recent shows and awards?
MJ: In the past few months I've been very lucky to play at some magnificent venues, including the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco and 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley... A group that I've been very fortunate to be a part of is Bread & Roses, a nonprofit that brings live entertainment to people with limited opportunities to see it on their own. The organization does incredible work and the shows I do for them (typically in smaller spaces for smaller groups of people) are always very rewarding. In the category of awards, I did receive [one] from Bread & Roses for my work with them this year.
MVP: What grade are you in? Do you perform or study music at school?
MJ: I'll be a junior [at Branson High School] this fall. I've been fortunate to have a fantastic music teacher who shares similar musical tastes and sensibilities. For the past two years I've taken a "Rock History and Performance" class from him. After learning about music and learning how to play it, we've had a culminating concert once a year to demonstrate our repertoire. While I haven't done much original work in these shows, I've had a few opportunities at school functions to perform my own compositions.
MVP: What are your long-term ambitions with music?
MJ: I would love to make a career out of music. Obviously this is very difficult as many people surely share a similar ambition. However I'm certain that music will always be a significant part of my life, even if it isn't my "job." I thoroughly enjoy writing music and performing it and know I will continue to do this, even if it doesn't prove to be a reliable source of income.
MVP: Are there any popular musicians that have been influential or inspiring?
MJ: Talking Heads has been particularly influential for me. [They have] inspired me continuously and extensively. Another musician who has profoundly influenced me recently is a guy named Ted Leo. While I've definitely made efforts to emulate these musicians, I hope that I have a large enough variety of influences that I don't sound too much like any one group.
MVP: What should our readers know about Friday night's show?
MJ: The show will be comprised of three sets by three different singer-songwriters. [It's] part of a series at the Throckmortonm, which has an event roughly every four months. This will be the second performance of the group that I'm playing with; for me, it's very exciting. It's been really interesting to bring additional musicians into my songs and see how they interpret them. It's been particularly special when these musicians have similar ideas or ideas that really augment the piece. Fortunately, I am playing with people who have such ideas and I'm really looking forward to it.
The 411: "Music with Matt Jaffe: A Singer/Songwriter Evening featuring Maddie Ross, Courty Gates and the trio Matt Jaffe, Jacob Grossfeld and Josh Caine" takes place this Friday, June 17 at 8:00pm. Tickets are $12 General Admission, $8 Students. Click here to buy tickets or call 415.383.9600 for more information.