Baldoni by numbers

Former Chico guitarist talks about music, his move to L.A. and the upcoming ETHOS music camp at CSUC

FANTASTIC FRETTING Guitarist Matt Baldoni playing classical guitar at home in L.A.

FANTASTIC FRETTING Guitarist Matt Baldoni playing classical guitar at home in L.A.

Courtesy Of Matt Baldoni

ETHOS Benefit Dinner & Concert
Matt Baldoni, along with fellow guitarists Tobin Roye, Dave Elke and Warren Haskell, plays a special dinner concert--Masters of the Guitar--Wednesday, July 17, in the BMU Theatre, on the CSUC campus. Dinner begins at 6 p.m.; the concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: Dinner & concert, $35; concert only, $6. Available at Zucchini & Vine or by calling (530) 898-5153. Proceeds benefit the ETHOS Music Camp.

Chances are you’ve heard guitarist Matt Baldoni. From spotless classical pieces performed at the Redwood Forest to rock at LaSalles or scintillating runs with Jazz Laboratory at Moxie’s, you’ve likely heard this young man’s playing. And very likely you’ve been impressed.

Unfortunately, you haven’t heard Baldoni around Chico for several months now. He’s relocated to Los Angeles, and in a recent phone interview he explained why he moved.

After graduating from CSU, Chico, with a classical and jazz performance bachelor’s degree in 2001, Baldoni auditioned for the studio guitar program at the University of Southern California.

“It’s a really great program designed for contemporary guitarists,” Baldoni says. “For electric guitar, specifically.” Baldoni auditioned and eventually returned to Chico, picking up where he’d left off—group and solo projects, guitar instruction at Herreid Music.

That fall, the department chairman of the USC studio guitar program, Richard Smith, called Baldoni, offering a full-ride scholarship. Initially, Baldoni refused; he wasn’t ready to leave Chico yet. However, in December, he received another call. The department wanted Baldoni. And it wanted a yes or no.

This time Baldoni said yes. And then promptly went about his Chico business. Then, in January 2002, when the young guitarist was almost literally out the door to a gig, the phone rang. Insistently. It was Richard Smith again. “He said, ‘School starts Monday. Are you ready?’” Baldoni had 48 hours to sub out 60 previously arranged gigs and tell 40 kids they didn’t have a guitar teacher any more. Plus, he had to find a place to live in Southern California. “I just packed up my car and a U-Haul trailer and moved!”

The University of Southern California has recently awarded Baldoni a grant to research the origins of Jimi Hendrix’ guitar style, allowing him direct access to the Hendrix family archives and the Experience Music Project in Seattle.

Courtesy Of Matt Baldoni

He currently rooms with another former Chicoan, Jason Schweitzer, now an audio-mixing engineer who has worked with such artists as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Limp Bizkit. “He [Schweitzer] was very instrumental in helping me make the decision to move down here,” Baldoni admits. “He told me, ‘Nothing against Chico, but here is where you need to be if you really want to take the next step forward.’”

Matt Baldoni’s first musical step forward happened at the age of 8, in his native Grass Valley. He was at a friend’s home, watching MTV, when a video featuring Van Halen burst onto the screen. Something of a shy bookworm, Baldoni was nonetheless impressed with guitarist Eddie Van Halen.

“After seeing this guy come blasting out onto the stage,” Baldoni says, his voice still enthusiastic, “playing guitar with just this amazing prowess and technique and musical sensibility and energy, I just thought that was it.”

Baldoni went home and announced that he wanted to play the guitar. Baldoni’s mother, in turn, took some music appreciation classes at the local community college, to better understand possible learning styles for her child. A year later, Baldoni was receiving classical guitar lessons in the Suzuki Method. This style of teaching emphasizes learning to play by ear before learning to read music.

“I didn’t start out just screwing around,” emphasizes Baldoni. “I had formalized training that got my ears in shape first, even before my hands. Consequently, these days I get hired because I can use my ears to figure stuff out right away. More so than the fact that I can read music well or that I can play scales really fast. Getting the ears trained early was the key.”

The key to Baldoni’s temporary return to Chico is the ETHOS Music Camp July 14-20. This will be Baldoni’s third summer instructing at the camp. The event offers young people ages 12-21 hands-on workshops to help develop their music skills under the guidance of excellent musicians, culminating with a live performance. “The whole idea,” explains Baldoni, “came from those of us in the guitar department [at Chico State] who wanted to do something good … for the university. We had a really good circle of players, and we started getting really motivated … in trying to make the department bigger. That was one of the things that started [the camp].”

It is entirely possible that a few of these young musicians could be the music stars of the future.

As far as his own future is concerned, Baldoni admits his dreams of rock stardom have changed to becoming a session man. "These guys are the best guitar players in the world. And I want to be one of them."