He’s Biddeford’s Jazz Man

from The Journal Tribune; January 7, 2000 by Tammy Wells

Matthew Fogg was just 16 years old when he took a job as the piano player in a Top 40 band on weekends at the Red Jacket Inn in North Conway, N.H.

His parents gulped. But they bought him a car phone in case he had trouble driving home alone from the White Mountains.

“I was the youngest in the band,” Fogg, now 21, recalls about the six-month gig. “The rest of the group were in their 40s. Ladies tried to pick me up… It was a baptism by fire.”

Once, the band got a mid-week gig at The Big Easy blues club in Portland. He studied for a Spanish test at the bar during intermissions.

Now Fogg is in his thrid year in the Music Education Department at the University of New Hampshire. He is an accomplished jazz pianist who teaches elementary school students the basics of music, and still plays professional gigs.

He is also the first recipient of the Tommy Gallant Scholarship, established by Gallant’s family to help young jazz musicians through school and keep alive the memory of Gallant, who taught at the Berklee College of Music, Phillips Exeter Academy and UNH. He died of cancer at age 63 in 1998.

The Tommy Gallant Trio and the Tommy Gallant All-Stars were regular performers at the Press Room and the Metro in Portsmouth, N.H., and at Saunders in Rye Harbor, N.H. When the Portsmouth Jazz Festival floundered in 1996, Gallant and another musician, David Seiler of the UNH Jazz Band, revived the tradition by establishing the summer Seacoast Jazz Festival in Portsmouth’s Prescott Park.

When Fogg was a freshman at Biddeford High School, he had a chance to meet Gallant – an event that inspired the young musician – through the efforts of then band director Terry White.

“White took an interest in me and others, and invited us to a jam session at the Bridgeway Club in South Portland,” Fogg says. “I was listening to Don Doane on trombone and Tommy Gallant on piano and others. I was totally amazed. I said, ‘this guy is a pro.’

“It was great. When you see something that makes you so happy, you just smile and glow. I knew that was it. That was my life.”

When he was very young, Fogg took basic piano lessons from his grandmother. But he put piano aside in fifth grade, when he took trumpet in the school band program, and played the horn until eighth grade.

“I was really bad at it,” he says.

Fogg remembers auditioning on the trumpet at the Southern Maine Music Festival – “I didn’t make it” – and passing by the room where the jazz auditions were taking place.

“I thought, wow – what is this all about, with the piano and everything. I was mesmerized,” he says. “It was the kind of thing, you look at it and you know what you want to do.”

He asked White to help him learn jazz piano, and was able to study with the Portland musician Alex Johns for four years. After looking ar a couple of colleges, he chose UNH for its music education program.

Fogg was home in Biddeford during the university’s winter break, working for the city of Saco to help pay his college bills. For the past four summers he has been the pianist at Seascapes Restaurant in Cape Porpoise in the evening, and has worked as a landscaper during summer days.

Often, people don’t listen when he’s playing a restaurant engagement; it’s the nature of the work. They’re talking with their dinner companions, choosing from the menu.

“I used to be able to play for an hour before reaching my saturation point,” he says. “If no one’s listening, well, I go on auto pilot for a while and just play.”

Lately he says, he’s been trying to infuse some pop into jazz harmony.

“I love all kinds of music,” Fogg says. “I let it come out in my playing.”

Right now, he’s focused on finishing his undergraduate degree.

“I like the idea of having a master’s at 23 or 24,” he says, “I ought to do it while I have the energy.”

Then again, he went to a psychic to celebrate his 21st birthday. “She says within six months I would get an offer I couldn’t refuse, really far away,” Fogg says.

In the meantime, he’s plugging away at school and teaching music courses in Durham, N.H. Teaching elementary school youngsters began as part of his UNH program, but Fogg liked it, so he signed on to teach again.

“I love it, I love little kids,” he says.

The young ones have short attention spans, so his goal is mainly to have them keep the instrument playing as long as possible. With the other children, they can play and then you have a conversation, he says.

At the end of the classes, Fogg introduces students to constructive criticism.

“I want them to be specific, rather than just say it was good or bad,” he says.

Fogg, who used to practice six hours a day, is trying to work his own practice time up to four hours a day – although it’s tough during vacation when he’s lucky to get one. Nonetheless, he’s been doing some music arrangements and composing, writing his first voice arrangement and learning other instruments.

After a recent recording session, where musicians had taped tunes for UNH, Fogg and some other musicians held an informal jam session.

On the tape, Fogg is playing his piano while singer Julie Hardy belts out “My Foolish Heart”.

“This one really makes me smile,” he says. “There was no rehearsel, no nothing. It was the best thing we did.”