Remembering Matthew: Phillip Gelb

The July 2003 issue of the Transbay Creative Music Calendar was called “Remembering Matthew” and included brief essays/remembrances by some of the creative improvisers who played with Matthew over the years. Here is Phillip Gelb‘s contribution.


Those who know me personally, know that Matthew Sperry was a very close friend for many years as well as a bass player i often worked with.

In 1990, i attended graduate school at the Florida State University School of Music. Shortly after arriving i was looking for a place to live and someone introduced me to Matt who was a junior at the music school, studying bass. I ended up moving into his apartment and for 2 years we were roommates. A close friendship began that we knew would last a lifetime but i had no idea that would be cut short by yesterdays tragedy when he was hit by a truck while riding his bicycle to work in Oakland.

I introduced Matt to new and avant garde music and he joined the New World Ensemble, a new music group that i was directing at the music school. While in this ensemble, Matt had a chance to play with the great composer, Leo Smith before moving to Seattle. This performance obviously influenced his direction that he took his music in. I remember asking him why he was moving to Seattle as neither he nor i had ever been there before. His reply, with his usual smile and great attitude was “Seattle is very far from Florida (a place he grew up and wanted to get far away from”. So shortly after graduating, he packed his car and went far across the country. We remained in close contact and when i first went out west, we played some trio concerts with violist Christian Asplund and other trios with percussionist Gino Robair. Eventually i moved to California I would make semi regular trips to Seattle and always crashed in his living room, sharing many wonderful meals together as we both loved to eat and cook. And always playing music together. Matt helped me to become an invited soloist with the Seattle Creative Orchestra, a group he helped to start. And he would come and visit the Bay area and perform with me, Dana Reason, Pauline Oliveros and numerous others. I was elated when Matt and his fiance, Stacia decided to move to California as well. We were back in the same town together and playing music regularly and spending a lot of time together. Both our music careers were moving along well and we were often either on stage together or one of us was on stage while the other one was in the audience enjoying themselves immensely. Stacia and Matt finally were married and i was asked to be in the wedding band to help them celebrate. The birth of their beautiful daughter, Leila, a little over 2 years ago brought tears to my eyes and i remember coming to their home the following day and seeing the most blissed out expression on Matt’s face. From then on, he was a very dedicated father who loved his daughter immensely. I always thought Leila was very fortunate to have a dad who was so kind and so much fun and so open.

Leila also seems to have a severe fascination with the sound of the shakuhachi and would be transfixed as soon as i let out one note. I will never forget, 2 years ago, at a concert i had with Pauline Oliveros and Dana Reason, i began the concert with a solo piece, playing an old Jewish melody, “Baym Rebbe Sude”. As soon as i played the first note, i heard the sound of Leila in the audience, let out a happy yelp. Right after the concert, Matt came up to me and said, “since when are you playing Jewish music on shakuhachi”?. That question began a new duet project of us playing old Jewish tunes.
Unfortunately we never did get to record this project. We did release one CD together a few years back which is now sadly out of print, a 4tet with Carla Kihlstedt and John Shiurba.

Last year, Matt played a key role in the big Pauline Oliveros 70th birthday party that i was part of the organizing committee by playing in the orchestra as well as putting together a performance of her piece, “Double Basses at 20 paces”

The last several months we have not seen much of each other. We traded many phone calls and emails talking about what each were doing. He became very busy playing in the Hedwig stage show as well as being a very devoted dad and husband and I was on tour alot. In January, we gave what is our last performance and recording together. Christian Asplund, now a professor of music at BYU was out here and wrote some new trio pieces for viola, shakuhachi and bass and we recorded them and performed them in Berkeley.

Matt and i planned to meet next week and maybe have dinner together at Chaya, one of our favorite places to eat.

Yesterday afternoon i received the devastating phone call about his accident.

I love Matt. He is one of the most important friends i will ever have!