Remembering Matthew: Tim Perkis

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 Tim Perkis‘ contribution.


I know that what I’m about to say is absurd, since death can come to any of us at any time. But I think the shock of Matthew Sperry’s death is so doubly great because Matthew seemed the least likely candidate — it’s hard to imagine someone more open, loving and alive.

I jumped at every chance I ever had to play with him, knowing that the music he would bring would be clear, exciting, and full of the good humor that he always radiated in every sphere of his life. He had the kind of skill that never looked like mere skill, that disappeared in a larger musicianship that reflected who he was, that made everyone sound good, and, just as in even the briefest conversation with him, would leave you feeling happy and alive.

It actually took me a few times playing with him to realize just how good he was. This may sound strange, but I mean it as a high compliment — Matthew’s playing was so responsive, egoless, and well integrated with what everyone else was doing that his superior skill didn’t set him apart from the rest of us. His playing was never about showing off, cutting, getting over on anyone else, busting anyone’s ass, none of that obnoxious jazz shit. The impression I got the first few times was that this session just happened to be one of those great ones that come along from time to time, unpredictably, when everything clicks and the music and feeling of communal creation was great. What I soon came to understand was that it generally “just happened” to be great like that every time Matthew was one of the players. When I started to pay closer attention to what he was doing, I was astounded, trying to reconcile the image of this young, happy, carefree, easygoing guy who doesn’t seem like he’s working very hard at all, with the deep and virtuosic music I was hearing.

In the memorial service for Matthew his wife Stacia told a wonderful story about scuba diving with him on their honeymoon. He was a natural, she was a beginner and felt awkward in the water: “He held me, an arm around my waist. We swam like that the whole time. He could have gone out further, swam faster, but he said he enjoyed it better when he was with me.”

This was also the way he played music, and the way he lived his life. With all his great competence and skill, I really don’t think he ever felt he was sacrificing anything by adjusting to those less capable than himself — he truly loved to connect with people, and creating joy around him seemed always his greatest skill and his greatest love.

I know I didn’t properly appreciate him while we had him here. I hope that out of the shock of losing him we can all turn to truly appreciate and express our love for all the other extraordinary people we have around us, the people we still have nearby. Temporarily.