Dmitri Matheny Group JAZZ NOIR Michigan Tour Diary — Day 11 April 19-21 Kalamazoo, Potterville, Traverse City, Hillsdale
On Saturday Sassy and I checked into the 'Billy Hart Suite' at the home of Tom and Renata Knific in Kalamazoo, a distinctly modern two-story house with soaring cathedral ceilings, clerestory windows and musical instruments in every room.
We had a wonderful time visiting with the Knifics, two very well-traveled and respected musicians who also happen to be warm, soulful people, sharing stories around their table and playing with their beautiful Weimaraner Lara.
Tom, a world class bassist and educator who chairs the jazz department at Western Michigan University, is a very important person to me. 30 years ago he was my teacher at Interlochen Arts Academy and one of the first people to take my jazz aspirations seriously. When I say that Interlochen changed my life, I'm talking about Tom Knific.
We've stayed in touch over the years and have run into one another from time to time at industry events, but this week was our first opportunity to work together. For me it was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
The Union Cabaret & Grille is a beautiful venue, a joint venture between a visionary group of investors and the WMU music department. We had a magical night. The band (featuring Corey Kendrick, Marcus Elliot and Sean Dobbins) was in fine form, playing with heart and finesse. WMU jazz bought us all dinner, and Tom presided over everything --- the Jazz Mayor of Kalamazoo!
On Easter Sunday we visited Lela Horton and her husband Bill in Potterville. Lela made us a late breakfast of biscuits and gravy. It was interesting to meet Bill, to see where they live, and find out what it's like to enjoy a home cooked meal prepared by my own mother (not bad).
Monday was another big driving day for Sassy. At 7 AM (zero hour) I gave a master class at Traverse City West High School. At 7 PM I did the same at Hillsdale College, 250 miles south.
Dmitri Matheny Group JAZZ NOIR Michigan Tour Diary — Day 8 April 18 Interlochen
Today I returned to Interlochen Arts Academy for the first time in 30 years.
When I first came to Interlochen as a high school student in the mid-1980s, I loved it instantly. It seemed to me a magical place populated by social misfits and eccentrics, kids who, like me, were passionate about art and music.
Interlochen changed my life. For the first time I was surrounded by creative people my own age. Interlochen was where I learned the discipline required to build a life in the arts, and where I learned how rewarding an artist’s life can be.
Jazz was still something of a novelty at the academy back then. It's gratifying to see how much the school, and in particular the jazz program, has grown since those days.
Heartfelt thanks to my friend Bill Sears, director of jazz studies, for inviting me to come and spend the afternoon with his improv and combo classes.
Bill is a phenomenally gifted musician and educator. His students are serious and dedicated. Several of them already play like pros.
It was a giant joy for me to sit-in with them, present a workshop, and share some of my experiences as an IAA alumnus and working musician.
On a more personal note, coming back to Interlochen after all these years was soul-stirring. To spend the night in the campus hotel, dine in the cafeteria with the students, sit by the lake, stroll the grounds, see my old haunts, and share it all with Sassy, filled my heart with joy.
Dmitri Matheny Group JAZZ NOIR Michigan Tour Diary — Day 7 April 17 Berkley and Ann Arbor
Returning to Southern Michigan after our adventures in the Great White North, today I led a workshop at Berkley High School and played a concert at Ann Arbor's celebrated Kerrytown Concert House.
Warmest thanks to founder and artistic director Deanna Relyea for creating such a beautiful listening room and including us on the KCH schedule.
What a privilege to collaborate with such talents as these: the brilliant young Detroit saxophonist Marcus Elliot,whose debut album I absolutely love; Quad Cities pianist Corey Kendrick, enthusiastically recommended to me by Reggie Thomas; veteran bassist Tom Knific, a world class musician, mentor and friend since my Interlochen days; and rising star Sean Dobbins, that all-too-rare sort of drummer who simmers with quiet intensity, and then—at just the right moment—turns on the swang!
And what an honor to perform for and meet one of my longtime idols, jazz master Marcus Belgrave!
Mr. Belgrave and his lovely wife Joan (a vocalist I knew years ago in San Francisco) are pillars of the Michigan arts community and two of the warmest, most soulful people on the planet. Sassy and I are looking forward to getting together with them again next week.
If I accomplish nothing else on this tour, I did at least survive the terrifying and humbling (yet thrilling) experience of playing 'Stardust' in front of the great Marcus Belgrave.