The guitar can be a wonderfully forgiving instrument. There are probably billions of us who know three chords and call ourselves guitarists. Then there’s Matt Munisteri.
A musical successor to the likes of Django Reinhardt, Munisteri dances around the fretboard like he owns the place, which indeed he does. Gracious, melodious, but never showy or braggadocious.
How to describe his style, which has a popular sound but from a bygone era?
“The truth is, it’s jazz, but not enough to make people walk out of a bar or slit my tires or anything,” Munisteri says. “It’s more like the kind of music a professional guitarist might’ve played in a hotel lounge in Kansas City in 1962. It’s not school jazz, it’s more roadhouse jazz.”
This sensibility is wonderfully on display in Munisteri’s various recordings, including Love Story recorded with Brock Mumford, his combo named for an obscure New Orleans guitarist from the early 20th century. That album features choice American standards as well as original compositions within the genre.
While clearly capable of fronting his own band, Munisteri has spent much of his career as a sought-after sideman with other musical artists, such as vocalists Kat Edmonson or Catherine Russell with whom he’s currently touring in Europe. He’s also more than proud to have gotten to play with some of his heroes, including keyboardist Bernie Worrell of P-Funk among others.
A Brooklyn native whose family has lived in that borough for four generations, Munisteri literally found his way to Kingston by accident twenty years ago—his mom, who was visiting Woodstock at the time, was unfortunately thrown from a horse and wound up in Kingston Hospital. Visiting her each day, Matt took to wandering Broadway and began frequenting the Shamrock Tavern.
“I’d stop for a beer, a shot and, if I remember correctly, a tin of sardines.”
Kingston had already captured Munisteri’s imagination thanks to a favorite book, Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell. Included in that book is a compelling depiction of Father Divine, the charismatic spiritual leader who opened a mission in Kingston’s Wilbur hamlet in the 1930s.
Finally, after years of daydreams and reconnaissance, Munisteri and his wife found the home they’d been looking for uptown. Not too long afterward, the Kingston Welcome Wagon proved to be a little unconventional.
“I was en route to a gig in Manhattan. Our dog spotted it first, then my wife called out: A bear! There’s A BEAR! It catapulted itself from the neighbor’s tree into our yard and wouldn’t leave. The whole neighborhood peered over the fence. The cops were like: And? What do you want us to do?” Munisteri recalls.
“It was still up our 250-year-old Norwegian Spruce when I got home. We left the gate open, like the person at animal control said we should, and it ambled onto the streets of uptown Kingston, never to be seen again.”
Besides strange visitors and a slower pace in general, has Munisteri’s career changed much since moving here?
“It’s a similar routine of getting myself to airports, but it takes longer. I still head into the city once a week to play a steady gig at The Ear Inn, but I’m not doing a lot of the low-pay-but-fun-to-play gigs that keep jazz musicians growing and in shape…I have to train more at home which takes discipline, but I just love it here. I spend a lot of time on my bike or just walking around.”
Something else that makes Kingston doable for Munisteri is that, before the pandemic made remote learning commonplace, he had the forethought to begin teaching an online guitar class for a website called Peghead Nation.
“The Roots of Jazz Guitar surprised us all by becoming their most popular guitar course. I’m really happy that it serves as a resource for lots of guitar essentials that have fallen by the wayside. I’m always amazed by how many people approach me after shows to discuss the class.”
Matt Munisteri plans to add more shows in the area soon to make it easier for locals to check him out, stay tuned. Meanwhile, for touring information plus links to music and online lessons, check out his website at mattmunisteri.com.