Matthew Hartnett : Williamsburg, Brooklyn : New York, USA
“That’s why I do everything I do right now; it’s all for the purpose of having freedom in life. To be able to spend more time with my son. To be able to spend more time with my wife. To be able to spend more time enjoying life; period”
The story of the passionate artist who puts everything on the line by taking a massive personal and professional risk to simply try to make it to the top in New York isn’t a-typical. The city itself takes no responsibility for those who have tried and failed in the past; becoming victim to their own ambitions and willingness to throw caution to the wind to show others what they’re capable of and convince themselves that, in the Big Apple, if you can make it there…well, you know the rest. But as a musician with a varied and impressive background it’s clear that, despite the hurdles, Matthew Hartnett’s focus has remained unwavering to date as he elbows his way to the front of the New York music scene. A Louisiana boy who spent most of his life in Houston (Texas), his passion is driven by many things: an internal drive to lead, an unquestionable ability to move people with his music; and, most importantly of all, his dedication to be a great father to his young son.
As a boy himself, he stumbled into the start of his music story – as many boys often do – because of a girl. Her name was Christine Win, and she would innocently persuade him to turn his back on his ability to play trumpet by ear by simply announcing an intention to play the clarinet herself. By electing the same, Matt unknowingly teetered on the edge of forever adjusting his standing in the popular circle by choosing the woodwind section; fortunately a quick study of the social implications led immediately to persuading the teacher to move him alongside his friends and into the brass section, narrowly avoiding reputational-suicide. And although the decision to take up the trombone specifically was taken out of his hands, when the instrument eventually ended up in them it would, over the years, unknowingly shape his entire future and inevitably drive his decision into a college degree. A college that would see him studying alongside and learning from some of the best musicians in the US.
“Everyone there was a frickin’ rock star in their own world, and they were just coming to school to learn how to be better musicians. So you had cats that had been playing professionally for 15 years…got Grammys…and we’re all in jazz school together. We were in competitions and people would come out to watch us compete and the other college kids would be like “oh man, that’s so and so”; it would be really unfair as they were all professionals, and they were just at school”
Although starting as a classical major, Matt would find his natural groove in jazz, and Texas Southern University in Houston would provide an incredible entry into his career as a full time trombonist. After enjoying many years of success in Houston, a potential opportunity was looming that – although never realised – would be the catalyst he needed to make the move to New York.
“Luke Austin – who I went to school with (and) was also one of the music directors for Destiny’s Child – was like “they’re going to do a reunion tour in 2010 and I’m working on getting you guys on”. And I was like “great, yes….my big break is coming”. It basically didn’t happen….I’m pretty sure you’d know if Destiny’s Child got back together! And I told myself before then that if this doesn’t happen I’m gonna go to New York because that’s where everything is happening at right now. I’m just going to stop waiting around Houston because no-one picks up artists form Houston – nobody does that…at least horn players”
New York is not known for making life easy on those trying to fulfil their dreams, and Matt’s experience was no different as he faced one difficulty after another. The realities of the cost of living in the city of New York proved monolithic and a far cry from his Houston experiences, and he would be forced to improvise and navigate his way through the city’s harsh realities simply to survive from week to week.
“The hustle in New York is real. It puts you back in that space of when that high command was first created: if you don’t work, you don’t eat. That rule is so simple. And the most complex metropolises of the world, that rule is more prevalent here than anywhere else. I mean Houston is easy, you can work at McDonalds and have an apartment and a car and be okay. You won’t have a lot of money, but you can still live. In New York, you can’t live if you don’t at least have two jobs”
Finding a consistent place to call home would also prove to be difficult and draining. From a tiny room he shared with an over-zealous mouse, to a space that would see him become an innocent victim of a rental scam, things would eventually turn a corner. And after accepting the generous offer of a rental from a friend’s Dad to call home, it would be two years before he would move again, but the stability was another sign that all the hard work and sacrifice was definitely starting to reap rewards.
“When I moved to Brooklyn, things got better. I was just working my butt off to get the name and the reputation that I have today. And that meant every single night being out of the house, being at this event, making myself known here, playing there, going here, being there… I had a guy who was a mentor and friend of mine (Ezra Brown) schooling me; this is how you get this, this is how you work this angle, and this is how you play the political game…so he really coached me through a lot of stuff so a lot of things I learned from him was really the key to success here”
In 2013, things would get beautifully complicated for Matt as he celebrated the birth of his son in Houston. An amazing life-change that would inevitably come with an adjustment of priorities and some ground-level considerations for a musician who’d given up so much to establish a career in New York – over 2500 kilometres from his child’s home. In order to try and achieve the balance, he was at no fixed address for a period of time; relying on his network of friends in between flights to balance the commitments in New York City and Houston so as to spend as much time with his new son while also continuing to push for further career success. This translated into months of couch-surfing, favour-asking and plane-catching.
“It was like a trade-off, but it was hard. It’s not something sustainable; I thought it would be, but it’s not. And so now I’m here with my wife and my son still lives in Houston, which is the hardest thing in the world. I was kinda happy going back and forth to Houston cause I could see him, I could be a Dad, and then come back to New York and struggle; but I was fine, because that was my sacrifice – I was okay with that. But now, being married and experiencing a level of success, it doesn’t really feel right because my son is not here. I’m so attached to my son (and) I’m miserable when I can’t see him; it sucks. What I chose to do was establish myself, my career and my life and make that stable to where I could then, later on, be a Dad; be more than just a baby sitter”
And with that newfound vigour to achieve a life balance and provide for his young son and family, capitalising on the years of hard work is the priority. To continue to establish himself and his team as the go-to section out of New York, and ultimately have their reputation resonate all the way through to the major touring acts. Aligning himself with some of best players on the East Coast, he’s leading his own brand – Team Horn Section – to offer a cohesive, tight and functional horn section to acts of all persuasion.
“Over the last 4 years just really been building that brand up, so when the next artist does come out of New York and they need a horn section they have no chance but to look at us; because we’re dominating. Our name is on everyone’s lips, and that’s my job as the section leader; to make sure that our name is in all the right circles, that if a horn job comes up, we’re the first call. It’s really a waiting game now; I’ve done the legwork”
With plenty of gigs on the go, and Matt’s face popping up alongside well-known artists with increasing frequency, it seems a matter of time until his dedication pays off and he’s consistently touring and engaging processes that will inevitably shape his ability to meet his own expectations of maximising quality time with his son; allowing him more freedom to invest in his personal life. And regardless of whether the international acclaim comes, the gigs will always be there for a player of this calibre. He will always be leading the section, hustling to keep the gigs consistent in the crazy New York scene, and ensuring that he and his team of amazing players will always be bringing the funk and keeping music lovers, big-name clients and frenzied crowds wanting more.
Since this conversation with Matt, Team Horn Section is currently in Europe having embarked on an international tour with Grammy award winning artist Lauryn Hill (formerly of the Fugees). It seems that his positive attitude, crazy chops and self-belief is paying dividends and here’s hoping for his continued success (and also that his son enjoys bragging about who his Dad’s playing with this week!). Be sure to check out Matt’s homepage here.
Please support Matt and purchase his new single – Nslc – from iTunes by clicking here