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Matt Smiley
Matt Smiley

If you go
What: Matt Smiley’s Quartet
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Dazzle Restaurant and Lounge, 930 Lincoln St., Denver, 303-839-5100
Cost: $5

Upright bass player Matt Smiley came to Colorado to get his master’s degree in music from the University of Northern Colorado and found every reason to stick around after graduation. He’s involved with a funk band called Soul Proprietor, two jazz groups called The Mark Sloniker Trio/Quartet and Square Peg, and he plays three nights a week with the Subterranean Jazz Trio/Quartet. This Sunday, he’ll perform his arrangement of the game-changing jazz piece “Conference of the Birds” at Denver’s Dazzle Restaurant and Lounge.

You came to Colorado to get your master’s degree at UNC — What made you want to stay?

Part of the reason is I am the house bass player at a restaurant called Ace Gillet’s in Fort Collins and it just so happened the restaurant opened up right around the time I graduated and I was asked to be part of the band. Where I’m from originally is kind of in the country in Virginia and as a musician there a lot of great opportunities out here, with Boulder and Denver and Fort Collins and the mountains there’s a lot of gigs.

It seems like you’re constantly performing and with a lot of different groups. How do you keep up?

Well it’s really fun and a lot of those bands, too, don’t do rehearsals either, so it’s a lot of just showing up at the gig and maybe checking in with a couple recordings before hand. A lot of it is having a really large office calendar. It’s just scrawled with black ink of rehearsals and gigs … Just having an open schedule allows me to do that because I’m able to just play and make money on weekend nights.

Are you still involved in the Open Space Music Festival?

Tentatively so. I actually just performed last night in Greeley with the composition teacher at UNC who’s a banjo player, and he’s the one who hosts the festival. Last year I was invited as a guest artist to perform with these French musicians. We did some silent film music and some free improvisation stuff. And I’m working on right now trying to be involved with the festival for this coming year. I’ve been playing with a group called MPM – it’s just our first initials. So we’re working on getting in to perform — not sure what kind of music yet. It’s a kind of a string trio — a guitar player, I play bass, and another guitar player. We do stuff with electronics. It’s pretty experimental.

Tell me about The Conference of the Birds.

So the title of it comes from the bass player Dave Holland, who is from England, and I guess he lived at a house where every morning these birds would be out in a tree outside his window and it would be like his alarm clock, and I guess that inspired him musically to write something in that time period that was influenced by bird songs or sounds of birds chirping. He did a couple performances with a completely different band before deciding to use the band he used to record. And that kind of music became one of the most influential experimental jazz compositions of all time. You would play a melody and everything would be really open and free to play on. Whatever the musicians were feeling in the moment, they could play.

So how did you approach the new arrangements? What’s your take on it?

I listened to the album a lot and tried to listen to the music and do my own arrangements. If I could find it I’d try to listen to different recordings. Some of my arrangements might be based on other albums’ versions of those tunes. The main difference is the original is with drums, bass and two saxophone players, and I’m not even sure why I chose to do it this way, but I decided instead of saxophones to do it with guitar players. In the original you have these saxophone players switching between different things, playing flute or clarinet. I told the guitar players to try to emulate that, so we can have a bunch of different guitar sounds instead of saxophone players switching instruments.