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Matt Wilson Takes Jazz to Carl Sandburg’s Poetry

On his album “Honey and Salt,” drummer Matt Wilson and some very special guests reimagine the work of poet Carl Sandburg

Matt Wilson for Carl Sandburg project
Matt Wilson (photo by John Abbott)

On his first album as a leader, 1996’s As Wave Follows Wave, Matt Wilson and his collaborators Dewey Redman (saxophone) and Cecil McBee (bass) chant poet Carl Sandburg’s titular ode to evanescence and renewal. At the time, it seemed like a hat-tip to a fellow Illinoisan by a brilliant young drummer-composer who brought a singular curiosity to free-jazz situations. But with his latest release, Honey and Salt: Music Inspired by the Poetry of Carl Sandburg (Palmetto), Wilson has clearly found a soul mate in the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, who died in 1967 at age 89.

Growing up on the same Knox County prairielands that provided Sandburg with so much of his inspiration, Wilson had a closer connection to the poet than most members of his generation. More than their shared Scandinavian heritage, Wilson knew that he was distantly related to Sandburg (his great-great aunt married Sandburg’s first cousin): “a family connection, by marriage, that makes [the project] a little more personal,” says Wilson, 53. “But I think I got into Carl Sandburg more when I did this term paper in college and discovered he liked jazz, which made a connection to my world. Also, when you leave home you often get a new sense of pride in your roots. I started revisiting him when I moved to Brooklyn. I wrote ‘Wave Follows Wave’ after I bought a book of Sandburg’s poetry on 7th Street in Brooklyn.”

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