Vol. 1 no. 3
AW: How did you first get involved in music?
MM: Well, to begin with, my father was a musician. He played the guitar. My mom played some piano, and my brother played trumpet. I started getting interested in music when I was in the high school band. The high school band director became friends with my father; they still play together in a Dixie band. The band director, Brian Johnston, was always over at the house, and in grade seven I used to play saxophone, Brian would play piano, and Dad would play bass. We played the blues! It was great to be able to do that as a kid. I also started playing bass around that time, which helped me later; it allowed me to transfer that information on to the saxophone.
I started playing in rock bands; I had a BTO clone band called THUD. Then I started playing bass in country-rock bands. I was working quite a lot on the weekends. For a kid, it was great. By the time I got to be sixteen, I was more into the saxophone. I started getting more gigs on sax. I played in some disco bands, went on the road, played in four horn sections doing Top 40 stuff. I had just finished high school.
I went to Acadia University for a couple of years, through their Music Education program. It was there that I met Don Palmer, and he got me on the right track. I also went to a couple of the Aebersold clinics. Around that time I met Kevin Dean, because the St. Francis Xavier University jazz program had just begun. I moved to Toronto when I was 18.
AW: Why Toronto?
MM: I figured if I wanted to learn how to play, I should go to a big city. That's what Donnie Palmer encouraged me to do.
AW: And what was that like at first?
MM: Oh man, culturally...weird. The whole first year was really out there. I didn't work very much. I went to Humber and I met some people I still play with, like Brian Dickenson and John McLeod. Eventually I got some jobbing work, and I went to Nova Scotia in the summer.
I went to York and finished my degree part-time, and also learned from a lot of the musicians I met in Toronto. Two summers in Banff were a big help as well.
AW: Who were your early influences?
MM: Up until I was 17 or 18, I'd never even heard Sonny Rollins, and the first record I did hear belonged to my band director, "Sonny meets Hawk." At the time I thought it was really weird, but now I love it. I'd also heard a little bit of Bird and Trane in high school. I went from BTO to Chicago to Weather Report to Chick Corea. Nobody really turned me on to the tradition until Aebersold said, "Okay, do you have any records?" He was a great guy, he said, "Send me fifty bucks and I'll send you some records." They were like three bucks each, I've still got some of them, records like Kind of Blue, Sonny Rollins live at the Village Vanguard, etc.
I couldn't believe it. When I heard those records I thought, "this is it!" Donnie helped me with transcribing. I transcribed some Lester Young and Sonny Rollins. I was hesitant with Sonny. At that time, in the late seventies and early eighties, everything was Trane. His influence was so strong; everybody wanted to play like that. Part of me did too, but I really got into Sonny, and studied him.
AW: The first time you saw him live, did it seem a lot different?
MM: Oh yeah. It was still great, but very different. In Banff, Dave Liebman recommended that I transcribe some more Sonny. Liebman is really into transcription too, and at the end of the session, he recommended to the various saxophone players who he thought we should study. He told me to study Sonny, that that's what I needed. I'd already transcribed Sonny, but I hadn't gotten into it the way Liebman thought I should. He wanted us to totally immerse ourselves.
AW: Who else was in Banff that summer?
MM: Jim Vivian, Jon Ballantyne, John Nugent, Phil Dwyer, a lot of guys from North Texas State, Jeff Johnston, Rob Frayne, Mike Billard. It was really good.