Groovin' on Mount Everest
November 21, 2003 9:23 AM   Subscribe

Matt Savage is a promising young jazz pianist whose trio recently performed at the Blue Note in New York City. He's also autistic. He's also 12.

(Challenges of raising an autistic child previously discussed here.)
posted by emelenjr (16 comments total)
This recalls the story of Blind Tom.
posted by y2karl at 9:53 AM on November 21, 2003

I've heard this kid on the radio. His playing is amazing. Equally amazing is his ability to talk about music. He talks like he just got out of four years of conservatory study.

I hope he holds up to the stress. He's got a lot of gifts.
posted by alms at 10:08 AM on November 21, 2003

"Sometimes we couldn't even get close to the reality of the music because there would be floating rhythms or "ghosted" notes in the middle of an improvisation. (...)
I mean, how does one use a clunky, old European notation system to portray emotional states? In the end, we printed a caveat at the beginning of the book saying 'If you really want to know what this is, you're going to have to listen to the record.'"

Keith Jarrett
posted by matteo at 10:48 AM on November 21, 2003

Actually, he's 11. Otherwise, great post!
posted by languagehat at 11:17 AM on November 21, 2003

He'll keep up with the stress... The wired article mentioned that his parents make sure he gets away from all the hype and is allowed to just be a kid.
posted by da5id at 11:31 AM on November 21, 2003

Thanks for posting the link to my article, emelenjr! For those interested in the minds of savants like Matt, there's a wonderful website here created by Dr. Darold Treffert, who I interviewed for the piece. Dr. Treffert and I just did an hour of live radio for this on KQED in San Francisco, and we got to play some of Matt's music, as well as talk about all the implications of savant study that are revolutionizing our conception of how various areas of the brain function together as a network.
posted by digaman at 11:55 AM on November 21, 2003

Speaking from experience, stories of kids like these completely distort people's understanding of autism. I think Wired did a nice job ensuring that everyone understood that savant and autistic are not the same thing Matt and "Rainman" are by far exceptions not the rule. Good on him though, I wish for great things for him.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:01 PM on November 21, 2003

Pollomacho, I had already written a Wired story a couple of years ago called "The Geek Syndrome" that got much more into depth about autism in specific, including the difficulties that autistic kids and their parents face. This story was more about savant syndrome -- which can be caused by several neurological disorders other than autism, or even by brain damage later in life. The earlier piece is definitely a better introduction to the topic of autism.
posted by digaman at 12:06 PM on November 21, 2003

digaman, the Wired story from 2001 got a lot of coverage and made me rethink a lot of things about what was really important in life, thanks and cool to know your on MeFi.
posted by stbalbach at 2:05 PM on November 21, 2003

um. an 11-years old playing in a concert hall. it's cute. but listening to this particular 11-year old i hear two things: (1) a terrible sense of rhythm. he is only eleven but this sort of things rarely gets better. Ornette Coleman's son played with rhythm when he was 6. (2) Having listened to the excerpts on his page I must say he is surprisingly unimaginative and mainstream for an 11-year old.
People who were 8 when they performed with symphonic orchestras are dime a dozen today (i was one; so were half of my classmates).
What would be unique is if he were 11 and would improvise in a distinctly original style rather than simply following the stylistic conventions of 50+ years ago in the most mundane of ways.
posted by bokononito at 2:53 PM on November 21, 2003

he is only eleven but this sort of things rarely gets better

If this were true, there would be a lot of music teachers out of work.

I must say he is surprisingly unimaginative and mainstream for an 11-year old.

I quite disagree. I'm not sure which tracks you listened to, but I find his playing admirably "out" for even a teenage jazz player. I played a bunch of his music for professional jazz musicians, and they were also impressed.
posted by digaman at 3:24 PM on November 21, 2003

I guess I should be paying more attention to member bios... I didn't realize you were the author of the Wired piece, digaman. Stories about neurology and musical ability are right up my alley.

I'd have to agree with the idea of musicians' rhythm improving over time. As someone who began taking piano lessons at age six and continued with that through the ninth grade when I decided to forego the classical lessons in favor of strengthening my ear and immersing myself in jazz and blues, I know there were things I couldn't do on the piano at 11 that I was able to do in later years (composition being one of them.) I have to say that I wasn't absolutely blown away by Matt's playing in those track samples but, dude, he's only 12 11. I can't remember if I could even comfortably span a full octave with either hand when I was that age, let alone play some of the right-hand runs Matt was playing.
posted by emelenjr at 5:59 PM on November 21, 2003

I started drinking at the age of twelve. My life is worthless, but I hope the best for this kid.
posted by Keyser Soze at 7:55 PM on November 21, 2003

Twelve year old jazz pianist. Fourteen year old soccer pro.
Life begins to imitate Logans Run.
posted by y2karl at 9:25 PM on November 21, 2003

He's an 11-year-old jazz pianist. He's a 14-year-old soccer pro. Together, they fight crime!
posted by emelenjr at 10:20 PM on November 21, 2003

digaman, i listened to all the tracks' excerpts available from his latest albums.
i would disagree about the sense of rhythm improving significantly - i think it can improve somewhat, but what really improves is our ability to cover the drawbacks - e.g. developing a sense of style which is less rhythmical but more melodic.. clearly i'm not talking about the technical aspect of rhythm (that does improve) but about the way we relate to time and play with it (what you could call "groove" or "energy" for a lack of a better term). In his case I fail to see any interesting stylistic beginnings - having which would be impressive for an 11-year old.
posted by bokononito at 4:05 PM on November 23, 2003

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