Matt Sircely is a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and independent journalist living in the shadow of the Olympic Mountains near Port Townsend, Washington. Sircely is best known for his work as a founding member of Hot Club Sandwich, a Django-inspired ensemble in Seattle, and a leading acoustic jazz band in the US for more than a decade.
Sircely has performed with many of the his major influences, including David Grisman, David Bromberg, Buell Neidlinger and Danny Barnes. His first teacher, Barry Mitterhoff, has invited Sircely to stand in for him at major venues from New York’s City Center to the Kentucky Performing Arts Center. In 2010, Mandolin Magazine placed Sircely on the cover.
With mandolin work characterized by a full, warm tone and the ability to express emotion in a broad range of music forms and traditions, Sircely’s discography covers everything from old-time to classic country, jazz to bluegrass, folk, blues and rock. Currently, Sircely is cutting his first solo recording under the wing of renowned composer, producer and banjoist Danny Barnes for Barnes’ Minner Bucket Records label. Many of the songs on the forthcoming recording represent more than a decade of work and refinement.
Born to a family of journalists in the Victorian-era village of Wycombe, Pennsylvania, Sircely started young as a songwriter, inspired by the history and landscape surrounding his hometown. When he was about eight years old, Matt’s photojournalist father took him to the Philadelphia Folk Festival, letting him climb high on the mainstage scaffolding, which left Matt with the impression that music could become a career. Soon after, Matt found his mother’s vinyl relics, left over from her days as a college radio DJ during the folk revival. His mother showed him a few guitar chords, Sircely began writing songs at age thirteen.
By the time he saved enough to buy a mandolin at age 20, Matt was already working through Hamilton College as a musician playing folk, rock and blues, often on electric slide guitar. While studying sustainable development and investigating the shady secrets of global agricultural trade, Sircely traveled to Costa Rica, where he received his first formal guitar instruction from an elderly master don Serman Zunica, who taught him mostly classic Mexican boleros. He then took a job community organizing in Idaho, where he found his first mandolin. Returning to his senior year in college, Sircely proposed bringing a mandolin to his jazz improvisation class. The professor, “Doctuh” Mike Woods, was hesitant but agreed.
After graduating in 1998, Sircely moved back to Pennsylvania and secured a daily gig playing old-time music on the mule barges in Delaware Canal State Park. After learning old-time fiddle music, he later discovered that his ancestors in western Pennsylvania had actually hosted a traditional dance hall in the pre-war era. Pursuing serious guidance on his mandolin technique, Sircely sought out Barry Mitterhoff for lessons in North Jersey. Inspired by a few adventurous friends, Sircely realized that he could leave his hometown with little more than his instruments to street perform across the country until he found the perfect place to settle. He packed his F-5 and his guitar to traverse the country, eventually settling in Port Townsend, WA.
On the West Coast, Sircely found swing to be standard jam fare among acoustic musicians at parties and festivals, and he began to put jazz concepts he had learned into practice. In 2000, he joined Hot Club Sandwich, a young band of creative individuals who shared a love of Django Reinhardt’s music and the Gypsy jazz tradition it inspired. Operating as a collective, Hot Club Sandwich also incorporates other influences that members bring into the mix, including Latin American folkloric traditions. Within two years, the group was performing at some of the first Gypsy jazz festivals to appear on the West Coast.
In 2004, Sircely teamed up with James Seward, a fellow songwriter who he previously had worked with in Pennsylvania. The two recorded First Born Son, produced by British punk rock pioneer Steve Garvey. They toured swing states, organizing voter drives, and taking their their politically-charged folk songs to independent radio stations. At one benefit in Philadelphia, Sircely met David Bromberg, who invited him to accompany him in the Concerts for Change series. Philadelphia’s legendary folk DJ Gene Shay, who Sircely had listened to while growing up, also supported the duo and invited them to perform for the DJ showcase at the 2004 Northeast Regional Folk Alliance.
At the Folk Alliance, Barry Mitterhoff referred Sircely as a potential sub to clarinetist Margot Leverett and The Klezmer Mountain Boys, comprised of great New York City pickers, including Marty Confurius, Kenny Kosek and Joe Selly. Sircely performed with the Klezmer Mountain Boys, playing both klezmer and bluegrass in venues including New York’s City Center and the Kentucky Performing Arts Center.
Back in Port Townsend, Sircely began to play some gigs with master banjoist and songwriter Danny Barnes, which inspired him to the core. In 2004, when he applied to the first Mandolin Symposium, David Grisman and Mike Marshall hired Matt on as a teaching assistant. Sircely assisted in arranging “Minor Swing” for a mandolin ensemble, which he directed alongside Don Stiernberg. For the 2005 Mandolin Symposium, Sircely wrote copy for the student manual and led the swing jams with Hot Club Sandwich guitarist (at the time) Greg Ruby. Sircely assisted throughout the first six years of the Mandolin Symposium.
Raised by two journalists, Sircely also combines writing and photography with his love of music. In 2005, David Grisman asked him to compile the liner notes for his Tone Poets project, a historic assembly of 42 musicians, each playing Grisman’s mandolin or guitar. In the same year, Sircely began contributing to the Fretboard Journal and Strings, finding deep inspiration in researching the lives and work of some his musical heroes like Wade Mainer, Andy Statman and Juan Reynoso.
In 2008, Sircely contributed an original composition to Galen Garwood’s short film Ed & Ed, which first appeared at the Port Townsend Film Festival. Two of his compositions, written to accompany the poetry of the beloved James Broughton, were included in ‘Letters from James,’ a film by Garwood and Rowan James which was the first film to appear at the first PTFF.
Sircely has performed in the debut of bass legend Buell Neidlinger’s Prairie Ramblers in Washington State, and recorded electric mandolin with Kelley Breiding’s classic country group Kelley and the Cowboys in a session produced by Joel Savoy in Louisiana.
In 2008, Sircely recorded with Lee Stripling, Paul Anastasio and Rich Levine for Swing Cat Records in a session that featured Lee’s approach to the music of his father, Charlie Stripling, Alabama’s most legendary old-time fiddler. Sircely also performed in various formats in groups led by rising star David Jacobs-Strain.
Matt Sircely is also the board president of the Andy Mackie Music Foundation and participates with Songwriting Works on the Olympic Peninsula.
Besides his solo work and performances with Hot Club Sandwich, Matt Sircely has gigged with:
- Danny Barnes – always fun to pick with Barnes
- Orville Johnson – Seattle legend
- Phillips Saylor – nom de plume Stripmall Ballads
- Choroloco – Seattle
- David Jacobs-Strain – roots blues, modern songs and grooves
- Jacob Navarro – co-founder of Spoonshine
- Kelley and the Cowboys – classic country
- Buell Neidlinger and the Prairie Ramblers – Buellgrass
- Faith Petric – the Fort Knox of Folk Music
- Ann Savoy and her Sleepless Knights
- Miho Takekawa & Diego Coy – Japan meets Colombia
- Dan Hicks – w/ Hot Club Sandwich as the backing band
- Margot Leverett & the Klezmer Mountain Boys – filling in for Barry Mitterhoff.
- Shannon Saunders and the Splinters – Great Canadian songwriter
- Peter Seigel – VT songwriter
- Lauren Sheehan – Portland’s String Queen
- Baby Gramps – no description would be adequate
- Blackberry Bushes – produced “Little Bit of Grace”
Matt Sircely appeared as a guest with:
- Paul Anastasio and the Fire of Tierra Caliente – playing guitar parts in the music of Juan Reynoso
- Bobby Black, Mike Dowling and Joel Savoy during the 2006 Port Townsend Slide and Steel Festival
- David Bromberg – PT Blues Fest 2010, Concerts for Change in 2004
- Ray Bonneville – soulful songwriter from Austin
- Almir Cortes – brilliant mandolinist/guitarist from Sao Paulo
- David Grisman Quintet – at the Moore in Seattle
- Jim Hinde – beloved Northwest songwriter
- Kitchen Syncopators – clang bang New Orleans style
- Tcha Limberger and Robin Nolan – Django in June final concert 2013
- Mud Bay Jugglers – With HCS at the Country Fair
- Jim Page – the legendary Seattle songwriter
- Paperboys – convinced Matt to move west in ’99
- Pearl Django – Renowned Seattle Gypsy Jazz Band
- Joey Pipia – magician/comedian
- Smerdvakov Karamazov – at the Moisture Fest
- Dusty Rodz and her Handsome Cowboy – “Let’s put a cowgirl in the White House”
- Greg Ruby – Senior Recital at Cornish College of the Arts
- Members of the Savoy Family Cajun Band and Marley’s Ghost – a dance at the 2005 Festival of American Fiddle Tunes
- Taarka – far-out string thing
- Taos Hum – SF jam band
- Steve Webber – of the Holy Modal Rounders. His 1998 appearance on WBAI was his first in 20 years
- Lee Stripling – Son of legendary AL fiddler Charlie Stripling
- Vagabond Opera – one of Portland’s coolest bands
- Vinyl – SF funk outfit
- Zany Umbrella Circus – at the Country Fair
- Radim Zenkl – renowned Czech mandolin innovator
- Zazou – Seattle Gypsy jazz band