Matt And The City Limits is the brainchild of Matt Berman, a 20-year-old saxophone wonder child who has a resumé that includes playing and/or studying with jazz legends such as Herbie Hancock and Wynton Marsalis. But his new release, Crash, coming out via Sweet Sounds Music/Island Def Jam Records, is a pop crossover album sounding more like Jason Mraz and John Mayer than the bebop on which he was weaned.

All but two of the songs on Crash were written by Matt, and he co-produced and did most of the arranging as well. His musical pedigree stems from his days at the LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts in New York, as well as the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. Indeed, most of his band, Ian Buss on Tenor Sax, Rick Shipiro on Guitar, Amir Williams on Drums, Sam Weissberg on Bass and Dinos San Pedro on Piano, hail from the New School as well.

Additionally, Matt has found success in the acting world, with appearances on the HBO television series Boardwalk Empire, as well as the hit show Gossip Girl. I caught up with Matt in anticipation of his upcoming CD release party on February 15th at the Bitter End for the following conversation.

Do you think of yourself more as a sax player or a singer/songwriter?

I think of myself as a bit of both. I’ve been playing the saxophone since I was seven and writing songs since I was 13, and I’m focused now on trying to take both of these elements and combine them, my saxophone playing and songwriting, as well as my singing. I don’t think of them as separate entities. When all of these are put together it becomes what I strive for—to make good music.

You have a jazz background, but Crash is very pop oriented. How would you describe the music that you do?

The music that we play isn’t limited to one particular [genre]. It’s pop music with a heavy jazz influence. I want to use pop music as a vehicle to bring jazz into the mainstream. Jazz is America’s art form and people need to recognize it more and really check it out to see what’s going on around them. There’s so much more than just hip-hop in the world, and all kinds of genres, including hip-hop and rock, have roots in jazz.

How does the writing process work for you?

Most of my writing is inspired from real life experience, whether it be good or bad. It could be a relationship, internal hardship or success, or it could just be something happening around the world that inspires me. I don’t like to force myself to write. When I force myself to write a song, it feels forced and there’s less excitement in it for me.

Are there any particular songs that are favorites of fans or yourself?

What immediately comes to mind is “Crash.” The song means so much to me because it’s about a relationship gone bad. It was a very hard time for me and I wrote that song while I was struggling to support someone who I cared so much about, even when she wouldn’t let me help. The song is about her life at the time but also about my own. I also love “Change” because it’s kind of that transitional period between being sad from a relationship that ended into the feeling of everything is going to be okay. It’s supposed to feel like you’re you again. Finally, I love “Beauty Is What Blind Eyes Can See.” It’s a sentimental love song that tells someone that no matter what, you’ll be there for them. All of these songs I’ve written from experiences and people I have encountered and they all mean so much to me.

How did you acting career come about and how do you see it working with your musical endeavors?

I started acting when I attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia School of Performing Arts in New York City. I saw my peers doing it and I wanted to give it a try. It quickly became a passion of mine. I started sending out my headshots to a bunch of agents, and I got picked up and started auditioning for different shows. I’ve been very fortunate to get the opportunity to work on shows such as Boardwalk Empire, Gossip Girl, The Electric Company, Men In Black 3, and more.

What are your goals, musically and professionally?

I want to make a difference with my music. I want to take jazz and combine it with pop music to put jazz back in the mainstream to where it belongs. I hope to take this band to the top of the charts. We have a kind of music that is totally different, which people have never heard before. I want to make a splash and redefine the music. We’re not one of those bands that are just here “for a cup of coffee.” We’re here to stay, to make a change, and to make wonderful music.

Where does the name of the band come from?

We were originally called the Black Tie Event. That was something I came up with while I was on a photo shoot and ironically enough, wearing a black tie. Matt And The City Limits actually came from my bandmates. We were on the train headed to rehearsal one day and I told them I wanted to change the name. They told me that my name should be in the title since the majority of our music is all originals written by me. Soon after we all came up with Matt And The City Limits.

For further information about Matt, his new album, and the upcoming CD release party, check out facebook.com/mattandthecitylimits.

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