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Dennis Mitcheltree

Jazz saxophonist, composer and educator

About Me

Dennis Mitcheltree is back on the jazz scene. Instead of NYC, the scene is in Los Angeles. Moving from NYC to LA in 2007 to raise his children, Mitcheltree’s 5th recording as a leader, Nevermind The Circus, his first since 2006, has just been released.

“I wanted to put the focus on raising my children. My goal in life is to bring as much beauty into the world as I can. Focusing on the kids, and the beauty that they could add to the world would be the biggest contribution I could make. Now that they’re getting older and don’t need my input as much, I'm being given the opportunity to focus on myself a bit again. Being a full time Dad is amazing - my kids have taught me more than I could ever teach them. They’ve shown me more about how to be a good human being than I could learn at any other endeavor - and it shows in the music.”

In 2017 Mitcheltree was given the opportunity to establish a residency with his trio at Trip Santa Monica, opening for the Julian Coryell/Andy Sanesi group, eventually taking over the headliner time slot. “I played with Julian and Andy quite a bit for those gigs and I was grateful to have the chance to bring in my group to perform the compositions I’d been writing as the kids were growing up...their presence in my life has really influenced the way I compose.”

That residency allowed Mitcheltree to work on his new compositions, culminating in the 2021 release of Nevermind The Circus. The release features these compositions recorded with long-time NYC band members of his trio, Jesse Crawford and Bill McClellan. “I’ve been performing with incredible LA musicians in my trio – Benjamin Shepherd and Dan Schnelle, or Edwin Livingston and Steve Hass – but doing the recording with Bill and Jesse while they were in LA doing a few gigs with me just felt right.”

While Mitcheltree did take time out of his career to raise his children, he didn’t stop playing completely. He practiced constantly to stay on top of the horn, performing and recording as a sideman with LA bandleaders Bill Holman and Ron Jones, saxophonists Pete Christlieb and Doug Webb, brass players Carl Saunders and Scott Whitfield along with rhythm section players Joe Labarbera, John Clayton, Christian Jacob and Bruce Forman. He’s also gigged and recorded as a sideman in the Midwest along with short tours with his group on the East Coast and in Europe.

Before having children, while living in New York City, Mitcheltree performed and recorded with a virtual Who's Who of the jazz world: Clark Terry, Billy Taylor, George Cables, Bill Holman, Bob Moses, Jim McNeely, Howard Johnson, Gary Bartz, Kenny Werner, James Williams, Don Sickler, Charli Persip, Ronnie Matthews, Pete Yellin, Richie Cole along with contemporaries Uri Caine, Ingrid Jensen, Johannes Wallmann, Andy Milne and David Binney. “Things seemed to have just taken off… I had the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall a number of times. My quartet and trio was regularly touring and I was receiving some press attention. That was food for the soul after years of being discouraged by the lack of opportunities available to play creative music.”

The saxophonist and composer was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Starting on oboe at the age of 12 and picking up the baritone sax for his school jazz band, Mitcheltree was interested in music from the outset. By the time he was in high school he concentrated exclusively on the tenor saxophone and discovering the rich history of jazz through recordings.

“The first jazz recording I owned was Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. I'll never forget the chills that traveled down my spine the first time I heard Coltrane play on that album. Like most teenagers, I was looking for something in life that made sense to me and I had this wonderful connection with Trane's sound and attitude. When I heard A Love Supreme I knew that I wanted to be a jazz musician. It showed me that there were no bounds to the feelings that could be expressed in music; that communicating with people by performing this music can bring about so many ideas and connections. Communication is what I strive for in the performance of my music. It's the ultimate goal.”

Turning down a scholarship to the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music's Jazz Program, Mitcheltree headed to the east coast, choosing to enroll at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. There he met like-minded students and could be found in the ensemble rooms of the college working on his music on a daily basis. He graduated Magna Cum Laude with a major in performance in 1987, and then made the move to New York.

Mitcheltree organized his own group that continues to perform at clubs, concerts and jazz festivals throughout North America and Europe. A prolific composer, his work for jazz sextet and string quartet, “Suite No.1”, was presented at Carnegie Hall in 1995. His quartet has been featured on televised jazz specials and live radio performance and interview programs worldwide. Dennis is also the Artistic Director of the American Music Group, widely known for it’s INFLUENCES series presenting original arrangements of compositions by jazz masters including Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Thelonious Monk, Tadd Dameron, Bud Powell, John Coltrane and Miles Davis.

A former student of Joe Lovano, Billy Pierce, George Garzone, Joe Viola and Ralph Lalama, Mitcheltree teaches private jazz improv lessons and conducts jazz clinics at colleges and jazz organizations. He’s been a panelist for the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Jazz Fellowship program and the Brooklyn Arts Council Regrant Program. He has twice been a recipient of the Eubie Blake Award, a Meet The Composer award winner, a New York State Council on the Arts and NYC Dept of Cultural Affairs grant recipient and a finalist for the Evansville International Jazz Saxophone Competition.

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