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Behind the Mic: Matt Berger

Every Wednesday night from 7-9pm, Matt Berger explores the diaspora of Caribbean Jazz, from its inception through the 1960s.  Exploring music created in Cuba, Haiti, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and beyond, the roots of the music we call “jazz” pulses with “The Latin Tinge.”  

How did you first get into radio?  

I have been a musician and music collector since I was a teenager, but radio is a newer thing for me. About a year ago I was telling Scott Magee (aka DJ Cooky Parker), host of “Friday Flashback,” about all the amazing ‘30s and ‘40s Cuban jazz I was digging up for my musicology master’s thesis on the history of the drum set in Cuba. I played him a few songs during a party at my house and he told me I should have a radio show. At that point, I had thought about recording podcasts to support my research, but I hadn’t considered a weekly show. Turned out KMHD was looking to fill a spot on Wednesday nights and I jumped at the chance. I really owe it to Scott for connecting me and making it happen.  

What would surprise people most about what you do in your personal life?  

I grew up on boats and have been a certified sailing instructor since I was 17. Sailing in the Virgin Islands at a young age is definitely part of how I caught the Caribbean music bug.  

When you aren’t listening to the music you play on KMHD what are you tuned in to?  

As a drummer, I am always attracted to music with exciting and interesting rhythm. North Indian classical music hits me very deeply. I’ve been really into the hip hop producer J Dilla lately, too. The Chopin Nocturnes are my go-to flying and relaxation tracks. OPB is my drive-time news source.  

Tell us about an interesting hobby you have.  

I’m fascinated by quantum mechanics and astrophysics. I’m no mathematician (although music can be very mathematical), but I love the theory.    

Where do you live and what are some of your favorite neighborhood spots?  

I’ve lived in Sellwood for almost a decade. Having a view of the river through the trees and being able to walk to the beach are the clinchers for me living where I live. The Woods was really the spot down here for music, but since then it’s Corkscrew for good wine and jazz. Food-wise, it’s Jade for Vietnamese and Saburo’s for giant sushi.  

If you could bring someone back to life from jazz history and hang out with them for an afternoon, who would it be and why?  

Tough question. This list is long, but I’ll limit it to Latin jazz. The tres player, composer, and percussionist, Arsenio Rodriguez, wrote some of the most important Cuban songs of the first half of the 20th century and played with many of the biggest Cuban jazz bands of that era. His song “Bruca Manigua” was the first commercial hit on the island to address Afro-Cuban culture, he revolutionized the son montuno, and he laid the foundation for salsa. He was a Latin jazz giant to say the least! I’d love to listen to him play and hear his stories.

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