Prodigy drummer to play

Matthew Garstka
By G. Michael Dobbs, Managing Editor

SOUTHWICK At age seven, Matthew Garstka fell in love with the drums and music has been a constant in his life ever since.

Now 17, the young musician, who is headed to the Berklee College of Music in the fall, has studied with prominent drummers, and performs regularly with Jo Sallins. Sallins will be joining Garstka on stage at a benefit for the Sera Mey Tsawa Khangtsen project on June 16. The event will be at 7:30 p.m. at Jester's Coffee House at 124 Elm St. in Westfield. Admission will be $10.

Garstka had been taking piano lessons from age five, but wanted to try out the drums. His reason? "It [the piano] wasn't loud enough, he said with a laugh.

Garstka's father Greg is also a musician and Matthew joined his reggae band playing auxiliary percussion such as congas.

He has since played in a classic rock band and in a ska band, but his favorite type of music is fusion jazz. He explained fusion jazz is rock and jazz combined.

"It's complex jazz ideas put together with straight ahead rock ideas," he said.

He loves performing live and being on stage, although being the center of attention isn't very appealing.

What does motivate him is the "spur of the moment" quality of performing.

Garstka has performed at a number of venues, including schools and festivals throughout the northeast. Two of his most recent appearances were at the Burlington (Vt.) Jazz Festival and at The Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton.

He has received national attention for his work so far. "Drum!" magazine wrote about him, "What's the dang deal with all these child prodigies coming out of the woodwork, ripping licks that we old timers have been trying to parse for the past few decades?"

He released his first CD "Heavy Volume" last year.

Garstka learned about the Sera Mey Tsawa Khangtsen project from his father. The international effort is designed to support and restore Tibet's cultural and spiritual heritage through maintaining the traditional Tibetan educational system.

He said, as a musician, he wants to give back to the communities that have supported him so far.

Although the drums will always remain his first love, Garstka is now taking a second look at the piano.

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