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Take Five With...

Take Five With Dmitri Matheny

By Published: January 7, 2013
As a composer and improviser, I'm all about melody and lyricism. For me, melody is the soul of a song. It comes first and matters most. Anyone can learn orchestration from Adler, or study arranging in school, but a melody is a precious, heaven-sent thing. My band is bringing melody back, and people dig that.

Did you know...

I've had two recurring dreams nearly every night for the past 40 years. One is a nightmare involving a malevolent circus clown. The other is a glorious dream in which I can fly.

CDs you are listening to now:

Nicholas Payton
Nicholas Payton
Nicholas Payton
, Bitches (Concord);

Bernard Herrmann, The Day The Earth Stood Still (Varese);

Ohio Players, Skin Tight (Mercury);

Anne-Sophie Mutter, Beethoven Violin Concerto (DG);

Art Farmer/Bill Evans
Bill Evans
Bill Evans
1929 - 1980
, Modern Art (United Artists).

Desert Island picks:

Miles Davis, Ascenseur Pour L'Chaffaud (Fontana);

Art Farmer, Warm Valley (Concord);

Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal
, The Real Thing (Columbia);

Ella Fitzgerald, The Cole Porter Songbook (Verve);

Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
bass, acoustic
/ Hank Jones
Hank Jones
Hank Jones
1918 - 2010
, Steal Away (Verve).

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

Exciting and challenging: exciting, because of technology, the internet, social media, and all the new opportunities for connecting artists and audiences; challenging, because of the dual struggle to both make a living and make a difference.

In my more ambitious moments, I hope to make a contribution to the culture that will be remembered after I'm gone, the way Art Farmer did.

I would say the most difficult aspect of a career like mine is learning to persevere in the face of adversity. To keep on keeping on despite the manic ups and downs that inevitably occur. To maintain humility and quiet consistency, like the grandfather clock in the corner that steadily ticks away quietly, regardless of the weather outside.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

I can only speak for myself.

As a mid-career jazz artist, I see mentorship as key.

I wrote this the other day and taped it to my music stand:

Advice to Self at Mid-Life

Congratulations, you've made it to the halfway mark. So far, so good. Now consider this:

You're old enough now that they no longer praise your potential. All those years of encouragement about your bright future are over. It's quiet now.

At the same time, you're not yet old enough to join the ranks of those you so admire, the wise elders. You're not yet one of them. You don't speak for the ages. Few look to you for inspiration or advice.

These are the middle years.

Your past accomplishments and your hopes for tomorrow mean nothing. All that matters is what you do now:

Stay agile. Draw up plans, but be nimble enough to abandon them. Be persistent in fulfilling your vision, but also be ready to shift course based on the changing landscape. Be ever-evolving.

Take care of yourself. You're on your own, so be careful. Pace yourself. Cultivate healthy habits. Know your limits.

Pay attention. It's now your turn to provide encouragement. Learn to be a mentor. Look for opportunities to serve, celebrate and share.

What is in the near future?

Lately I've been obsessed with film noir and crime jazz. I've been writing arrangements of familiar movie themes from noir, spy thrillers and underworld crime dramas, as well as original compositions inspired by 1970s television detective crime dramas.

For example, my "Crime Scenes" suite is a dreamlike series of musical vignettes linked together with voiceover narration in the hard-boiled detective style of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. We've been performing this Jazz Noir material on tour, and plan to record it in the coming year.

What's your greatest fear when you perform?

I have no fear when I perform, but off the bandstand, I fear change, loss, my own mortality, circus clowns, shadow people...

What song would you like played at your funeral?

No funeral, please.

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?

"Tell Me Something Good," by Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder
(Chaka Khan & Rufus)

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

Painter, poet or lighthouse keeper.

Photo Credit

Courtesy of Dmitri Matheny
Dmitri Matheny
Dmitri Matheny

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