Sunday conversation with … Matthew Kaminski

Braves organist keeps games humming

Even if you haven’t heard of Matthew Kaminski, you likely have heard Matthew Kaminski, especially if you root, root, root for the home team. In his sixth year as organist for the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago transplant greets or sometimes subtly razzes, opposing players as they walk from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box. Last time the Phillies were in town, first basement John Mayberry got serenaded with theme music from the Andy Griffith Show while Dominic Brown got “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter.” But Kaminski is a whole lot more than a song snippet here and there. He is an accomplished jazz musician who also plays the piano and accordion. He talked about his passion for jazz and how Twitter is changing Braves baseball, or at least the music played there.

Q: How long have you been playing the organ?

A: Since I was either five or six. Most kids get a piano. We got an organ.

Q: Did you have a fun teacher who turned you on to music?

A: She was in her 80s, her house smelled like mothballs and she had a dog that would run over the pedals. I don’t know that many things from back then really stuck with me. It wasn’t until high school that I had another teacher who was a jazz musician and I really got into that.

Q: Is playing for the Braves your main job?

A: People think that but the Braves only play from April through hopefully October. I play some games for the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State. I also play with different jazz groups and a salsa band. My main job is teaching the piano, accordion and organ.

Q: What’s your teaching philosophy?

A: I try to teach my students to play by ear, to play chords and understand the harmony of a song, instead of just reading music. My students range from six years old to 82. It is never too late to learn an instrument.

Q: Isn’t it is easier to learn when you are young?

A: There is some truth to that because real life gets in the way of adults learning. A lot of my adult students don’t have the time to put in the work. They also have higher expectations. I’ll get an adult student who thinks they should be playing like Billy Joel in a month.

Q: What’s your favorite place to play in Atlanta?

A: A jazz club called Churchill Grounds next door to the Fox Theatre where I usually play the second Sunday of the month. I have a jazz trio and usually bring out a special guest vocalist.

Q: You just played the “Mighty Mo” organ at the Fox’s summer movies series. What was it like?

A: Playing “Mighty Mo” was an absolutely incredible experience. It’s the second largest theater organ in the world and I love all the sounds it’s capable of creating, along with the power that I can generate with it.

Q: Do you like playing the college games?

A: I love playing all the games but the college games are so much more intimate. You can actually hear the ping of the ball hitting the bat.

Q: Do you have to do a lot of player research to decide what songs to play?

A: I used to but these days with Twitter, I get anywhere from 50 to 100 tweets per game suggesting songs from Braves fans and fans from the other team. I have close to 10,000 followers on Twitter now, which is pretty crazy.

Q: Do all kinds of music work?

A: Certain genres with the spoken word like rap, or even some rock songs, don’t really relate well on the organ. A lot of times people request current songs. I played the song “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen for a guy named Freese. A lot of adults had no clue what I was playing. A lot of classic rock songs seem to go over well.

Q: Do you ever get time to watch the Braves play?

A: I sit in the press box and enjoy watching the game. My brain also is constantly thinking about what to play next. I also have to be ready to play in a moment’s notice when the producer says, “organ.”

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