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Take Five With Dmitri Matheny

Dmitri Matheny By

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Meet Dmitri Matheny: Celebrated for his warm tone, soaring lyricism and masterful technique, Dmitri Matheny has been lauded as "the first breakthrough flugelhornist since Chuck Mangione" (San Jose Mercury News). An honors graduate of Interlochen Arts Academy and Berklee College of Music, Matheny was first introduced to jazz audiences in the 1990s as the protégé of Art Farmer, and has since matured into "one of the jazz world's most talented horn players" (SF Chronicle). Matheny tours internationally, performing material from his nine critically acclaimed CDs, balancing fresh, original works with familiar jazz classics, hard bop, west coast cool and beloved standards from the Great American Songbook.

Instrument(s):

Flugelhorn.

Teachers and/or influences?

Teachers: Art Farmer, Carmine Caruso.

Major influences: Art Farmer, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Clark Terry, Tom Harrell.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

I credit my father and his hip record collection for kindling my childhood interest in music. There was great music on our turntable all the time, from Rachmaninoff to Ray Charles.

According to Dad, one time when I was about five, he was spinning Kind of Blue. I asked, "Daddy what's that sound?" When he answered, "That's Miles Davis, a great jazz musician." I responded, "That's what I want to be when I grow up." The story may be apocryphal, but Miles is still my man.

Your sound and approach to music:

As a flugelhornist, I play jazz—lyrical, modern, mainstream jazz in the tradition of Miles Davis, Chet Baker and Stan Getz.

My discography as a sideman is mostly a balance of instrumental and vocal jazz, including original straight ahead material, familiar jazz classics, hard bop, west coast cool and standards from the Great American Songbook.

As a composer and bandleader, I like to bring in elements from other genres, such as pan-Asian instruments, Afro-Cuban rhythms, and film music orchestration. I'm a romantic who loves to create an atmosphere, set a mood or establish a scene in the mind of the listener. Jazz alone won't do it.

A critic, reviewing one of my CDs, said "their music is a fertile landscape without boundaries." That assessment feels right to me.

Your teaching approach:

Based on what I learned from my mentor, I advocate a lyrical, melodic approach to jazz which stands in contrast to the chord scale and pattern-based methods currently in vogue.

I believe that the improvised solo is an opportunity to express something entirely new and profoundly personal. I encourage my students to create their own melodies, tell their own stories, sing their own songs. The bandstand is no place to be plugging in recycled, memorized material.

In clinics and private lessons, we explore the mental processes that take place while playing a jazz solo and the skills required for true improvisation.

I emphasize deep listening and jazz-as-conversation, exploring the elements of music (melody, harmony, rhythm and form) from the soloist's perspective, and why the melody should be your guide when improvising.

Your dream band:

I already feel blessed to work with so many gifted musicians, but I hold out hope that one day I might get to meet and make music with Nancy Wilson.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:

I was working with a quintet at the Jazz Bakery in LA some years ago, when the leader called "The Outlaw," a Horace Silver tune. I said, "I've heard it, but I don't really know the tune," and he replied, "Don't worry. Just follow along. You'll pick it up."

I don't know if you've ever heard "The Outlaw," but the piece is kind of tricky. Not really something you can learn on the fly. I did my best to play it by ear, but needless to say, that particular performance was not my shining hour.

Wouldn't you know, after the song ended, the leader announced, "That was 'The Outlaw.' And ladies and gentlemen, we're delighted to have, in the audience tonight, the composer—Horace Silver!" At which point the man himself stood up in the back of the room.

The audience cheered. The band laughed. I was mortified. Needless to say, I apologized to Mr. Silver and after that, I learned the song.

Favorite venue:

My favorite venue in the world is L'inoui,in Redange, Luxembourg. It's a warm, intimate room with outstanding acoustics, run by Paul and Shlomit, two of the hippest people you'll ever meet. Ask anyone who has worked there and they'll tell you the same thing: magic happens at L'inoui.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

Our 2008 anthology, Best of Dmitri Matheny, is a good one because it brings together favorite material from several of our CDs.

The first Jazz album I bought was:

Miles Davis' Round About Midnight, because I liked that picture of Miles on the cover.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

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