Sheila Landis & Rick Matle: “Detroit’s Dynamic Jazz Duo”

Like clockwork, every Sunday at 6:30pm for the past couple years singer-songwriter/ percussionist Sheila Landis and multi-faceted guitarist Rick Matle have plied their musical wares for the dinner and cocktails crowd at Johnny’s Speakeasy , 215 S. Main St., downtown Royal Oak. The charming and cool relaxed and, appropriately, dimly lit club is housed in the basement of the Alchemi restaurant.

Even before you enter the dark venue, a bit of whimsical intrigue accompanies your rite of passage. When you make required reservations you’re texted back with a password that you must use at the back door of the building for the doorman to let you in. After you enter the gray door you’re led down a brief flight of stairs that take you through part of the kitchen, which leads into the club.

The ambience of the venue is certainly upscale, without being pretentious or snooty. The classy long wood bar and mood lighting combined with vintage photos of Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe indicate you’re in for a noir-laden and somewhat throwback experience; an era where elegance and style were not mutually exclusive.


Amid cushy, comfortable seating and the mild buzz of conversation, Landis and Matle position themselves in a small footprint that serves as center stage within the club. A small table of percussive accoutrements is part of the singer’s personal arsenal. And she is as adept at creating supportive rhythms as utilizing her immense vocal skills. Matle plays a seven-string electric hollow body guitar and has it tuned so he can create bass lines with his thumb and melodic solos and lead lines on the top strings.

Recently Landis and Matle played upstairs at Alchemi for a special event celebrating the singer-songwriter’s 50 years in show business. Hers is a career that all began in 1974 when she was a budding young singer working in downtown Detroit at the Top of the Pontchartrain Hotel. It was with an easy-listening pop combo called Joe Rosanova and The Vineyards where they would do a wide swath of material by artists such as Roberta Flack, Billie Holiday and Diana Ross. That stint served her well early on. But where she was able to really develop her vocal chops, save some money and invest in her future was the five years she spent singing with the band “F-Troop” at Mr. F’s Beef and Bourbon on 14 and Van Dyke in Sterling Heights. She set her sights on the future and the best was yet to come.

All along Landis had been writing her own songs and more jazz-oriented material. And she knew if the world was gonna hear her stuff she would have to do it herself. That was no small feat for a young independent woman at that point in time. But, undaunted, the vivacious and resourceful Landis launched her own record label and solo career. Hence, SheLan Records was born in 1981.

Oakland County musician Sheila Landis marks 50th anniversary with pending  memoir – The Oakland Press

“It was the only route I could see from my standpoint,” recalls Landis. “Actually bebop vocalist Betty Carter was my inspiration. I had seen her a few times at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge. She was impeccably dressed, had complete control of the bandstand and would kick off tempos with her foot. And she had her own record label called BetCar Records. So I started my label SheLan Records and we’ve done over 20 releases to date. And I have complete control. If someone wants to buy or license my music around the world, we can send it off and do that.”

Landis’ catalog as a solo bandleader, and as a duo with Matle, cover a rich and varied take on all sides of the jazz landscape, be it Brazilian bossa nova, fusion, bebop, blues, ballads and beyond. And that immense original catalog has been fertile ground for sampling sources by record labels in Japan and Europe. Landis also has licensing agreements with overseas labels that have re-released several of her early ‘80s albums, with updated packaging and bonus tracks. And a number of Japanese labels also reissued an edition of “Colors of Brazil,” a CD released by both Landis and Matle in 2001.

Fine Fat Daddy

“I was advised against starting my own label back then from some of the other musicians out there at the time,” says Landis. “But I said, ‘Why not?!’ And it proved to be quite a catalyst. I’ve got five three-ring binders of reviews. It really gives you a name. All you have to do is just take that first step.”

And that first step has blossomed into a pathway to success that has earned Landis and Matle a plethora of local and national awards and recognition for their commitment to excellence and innovation in the jazz idiom. And they have performed at countless venues and with numerous musicians. But when they work in the format of what they are doing at Johnny’s Speakeasy, it is a unique treat for the senses. Perhaps the primary thing you have to keep telling yourself is that there is just the two of them up there. The Landis/Matle mix of organic sounds and technology is something truly magical.

Sheila Landis - Jazz Vocalist

Matle is an Oakland University music performance graduate who has worked with Landis for over 30 years. He is also an accomplished producer and recording engineer that has been on the ground floor of many of the duo’s projects as well as many other Detroit area jazz, rock and blues artists. And, no doubt, it is that innate sense of production and improvising on the fly that makes him a well versed musical threat on so many levels.

Brazilian Bossa Nova

That diversity is reflected in a comprehensive song list that often merges familiar iconic tunes and themes, with totally inventive and unique arrangements. On any typical night expect the unexpected from Landis and Matle. Standards such as “Teach Me Tonight,” “Summertime” and “Puttin’ On the Ritz” flow nicely with ‘60s fare like Herman’s Hermits’ “A Kind of Hush” and George Benson’s ‘80s hit “Gimme the Night.”

The duo is known to begin with a basic structure of a tune and then, once Landis unleashes some vocalese and Matle steps out for an extended solo, all bets are off! They are both adept, vocally and instrumentally, at using a looper, which allows guitar lines and vocal sounds to be repeated. So, hence, they are able to accompany themselves by recording portions of their performance in “real time” and then play over that section. Landis and Matle are masters at this technology and deftly craft a sound that literally makes them evolve into a larger ensemble.

On Broadway

If you close your eyes references to classic artists like Joe Pass, Ella Fitzgerald, Wes Montgomery, Annie Ross, Carlos Santana and Sarah Vaughn easily come to mind. And it is that blend of the past and the present that keeps them vibrant and universally appealing.

“We’ve done a lot of unusual gigs that most people probably wouldn’t touch because they wouldn’t know what to do,” says Landis. “I think the key to longevity is varying your repertoire enough to appeal to a multiplicity of musical tastes and also bringing in extra instruments like little percussive things or playing the kazoo. And let’s not forget that your most requested song is always going to be ‘Happy Birthday.’”

Landis is currently working on a memoir with Matle. It will account her solo and collective exploits and adventures of over 50 years; performing and recording in the Detroit area and beyond.

For more information on Sheila Landis and Rick Matle please visit

Eric Harabadian
Eric Harabadian
Eric Harabadian has been a freelance journalist for over 30 years. He’s written for several publications, including Media News Group, Progression, Music Connection, Detroit Metro Times, Big City Rhythm & Blues, Downbeat, and many others. He is also a singer-songwriter/guitarist, public relations consultant, and documentary filmmaker.

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