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Published: 2001/11/19
by Mia Jordan

Memoirs of an Aussie in Los Angeles

Several years ago, during an evening of academic flurry at UCLA, I took a
walk from the east side of campus, past the towering parking structures on
Hilgard Avenue, up to Schoenberg Hall, the hub of artistic lore, for the
university's music students. Suddenly, streaks of lighting and thunder
crowded the sky. Rain poured down from the dismal clouds. I ducked into the
quaintly shaped building, taking notice to the neoclassical-inspired pillars
standing in front of its glass entrance. A weathered breeze accompanied me
through the door sprawling itself out across the slick floor in the deserted
foyer.

Surprisingly enough, I heard the faint sounds of music, muffled behind a set
of double doors. I crept past them. I found myself at the back of a modest
auditorium. A quintet was playing one of Duke Ellington's original
compositions-"Tin Tin Deo"-for dozens of audience members. The arrangement was
engaging; the phrases were elaborate; the man on the tenor saxophone was
extraordinary. I inquired to the usher as to the identity of this exceptional
talent who, shrugged and handed me a program. Skimming it, the band-comprised
of UCLA music students-featured Matt Keegan on the saxophone joined with an
equally impressive constituency-drummer Tim McGregor, guitarist Ross Grant,
trumpeter Brian Switzer and bassist Miles Mosley.

As a self-proclaimed jazz aficionado, the time away from my studies on such a
night proved meritorious for both my sanity and self-interest. Soon after, I
learned Keegan, an Aussie native, arrived in the United States nine weeks
earlier as an exchange student enrolled in UCLA's jazz studies program after
receiving the university sponsored, Chancellor Committee Scholarship. I began
attending every performance organized by UCLA's music department,
highlighting these five musicians, particularly, Grant, Keegan and McGregor,
who shared an uncanny and unspoken connection with one another.
"Matt is an integral part of my playing," McGregor recently said. "He brings
something to the music where I am always challenged and I always have to be
alert because he knows how the play the right thing for that particular
moment. It's not just some guy playing the saxophone. I love listening to him
and having the opportunity to play off of him."

Since its humble inception in 1996, the UCLA jazz studies program has gained
national acclaim due in part to its prestigious list of faculty members.
Keegan studied with guitarist Kenny Burrell who, has recorded with the likes
of Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Tony Bennett, John Coltrane, Miles Davis,
Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington; drummer Billy Higgins-a vital component
to Ornette Coleman's free jazz movement and a collaborator on albums with
both Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins; altoist Gary Foster, who played on
several albums released by Pancho Sanchez and Mel Torme. Famed pianist Herbie
Hancock once said, "UCLA has the best jazz faculty in the country."
After only two quarters at UCLA, Keegan returned to Australia, leaving behind
those rare and enchanting artistic encounters with his fellow American
colleagues. McGregor and Grant-both of whom, I knew as mere
acquaintances-formed a progressive rock band-Pod (now known as
Pseudopod)-etching out a spot for Keegan in the hopes he would eventually
return to the states. That was more than three years ago.
"We have played with many different saxophonists because as a music student
at UCLA, you obviously are exposed to other musicians who you want to play
with," explained Grant. "We have never played with anyone who we thought
meshed with us as well as Matt. He is the best and he is perfect for our
band."

So where is Keegan now? Moreover, why is he not playing with Pseudopod? A
band with the same elaborate and arousing symphonic sensibility and rhetoric
as, Phish, the Dave Matthews Band and Medeski, Martin & Wood. A band that
just recently signed a recording contract with Interscope Records. Pseudopod
members-guitarist Ross Grant, drummer Tim McGregor, bassist Brian Fox and
vocalist Kevin Carlberg-told me Keegan was living in Sweden. He had just
finished an album with several European players all of whom, he met while
attending Malmoe School of Music. One of the tracks from this particular
group founded by Keegan, made its way onto a compilation CD produced by the
JazzGroove Association, a double disc compilation of the premier bands from
Sydney, Australia. Music critic Whitney Youngs thought his style
both impressive and melodious. "Keegan's dulcet, seductive and enthralling
harmonies a collection of intertwined time signatures cavorting back and
forth between major and minor keys through a harmonic and rhythmic
achievement of symphonic moods." Despite his newfound recognition in both his
homeland and in Europe, Keegan has yet to encounter the same level of
artistic kinship that he sustained with his American friends and wishes to
one day, pursue an enlivening career with Pseudopod.

Either as spectators or as players in a world brimming with imagination,
genius and dexterity, people quite often seek refuge in those crafts of
being, transcending territory, ethnicity, race, culture and in some cases,
age. Whether it be, writing a novel, painting a portrait, scoring a
touchdown, dancing in a ballet or playing in a band, the point of origin
where talent is acclaimed, inspiration is unearthed and creation is
transcribed, triumph as a rousing twinkling for humanity. However in the case
of Matt Keegan, the road to such moments may not always serve to be as easy
as producing the moment itself, a notion that many people tend to overlook
because of its apparent contradiction in nature. Music, in its purest form,
outstrips such boundaries but factors outside this undiluted core may
sometimes taint and tarnish it.

There is consensus among organizations, universities, musicians and critics
alike-Keegan's aptitude for his craft surpasses the commonplace of
mediocrity, moreover, it rests on a plateau of phenomenal capability. The
answer to the above questions and observations, resides with procedures and
US immigration policies. Some may think signing with a major label may help
Keegan's chances in gaining acceptance into the country, providing him with
the legal backing for a guaranteed approval of work visa. However, the
Immigration & Naturalization Services (INS) is far more interested in
Keegan's proficiency than with any agency hoping to recruit his services. He
has never won a Grammy, an Academy Award, an Emmy or a Director's Guild
Award-this being one out of two possible qualifications. Keegan is not famous
nor a celebrity, by any stretch of the imagination. He is just an ordinary
guy with an astounding aptness for playing music and he knows this aptness
will be best suited with those music students he so fatefully met during his
two-quarter tenure at UCLA.

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