Taking Care of Business: Jazzman Dmitri Matheny Storms the East Bay
Thursday, March 18, 1999
By Lee Hildebrand
If flugelhornist Dmitri Matheny's luminous sound and gift for melodic invention aren't enough to get your attention, he's got a few other tricks up his sleeve. A jazz musician who runs his career like an arts institution, the Tucson-raised hornman knows that merely showing up for a gig isn't the most productive way to get ahead in the music business. While he's teaching weekly seminars in March at the Jazzschool, providing other players with tips on landing jobs, wooing the press, selling CDs on the Internet and finding a niche on the radio — "Get Booked," "Get Ink," "Get Hits," and "Get Heard" — Matheny is out there practicing what he preaches.
Taking a page from music festivals and universities, Matheny has instituted his own artist-in-residence program, which allows him to bring a musician with whom he wants to collaborate to the East Bay. Last year the featured guest was Portland-based pianist Darrell Grant. Their concert at the Jazzschool with bassist Bill Douglass was so successful it ended up as Matheny's third Monarch Records release, Starlight Café. Grant will play a key role again this year in Matheny's Jazzschool performance, a concert exploring the music of jazz singer Abbey Lincoln, featuring vocalist Jenna Mammina and guitarist Andre Bush as special guests.
"The idea is, you bring somebody to town, exchange ideas, and make sure you're not in your own little musical rut," Matheny said during an interview at his house in the Berkeley hills. "Next year there's a pianist from Amsterdam, Amina Figarova. She'll come out in March and do a bunch of work with us in 2000."
The Jazzschool concert is part of what Matheny calls his "home season." Following the example of ballet companies and modern dance troupes, the flugelhornist schedules a series of concerts each March before heading out on the road. By concentrating his Bay Area gigs into one period and turning each into a special event, he sets himself musical challenges while ensuring an audience. Monday night's performance at Yoshi's is a prime example; Matheny is assembling a seventeen-piece jazz orchestra in a benefit for UC Berkeley's Young Musicians Program.
George 'N' Duke
For more than three decades, YMP has offered talented low-income students a conservatory quality musical education covering the Western classical tradition, gospel, and jazz. Matheny has made YMP fundraisers part of his annual schedule for the last four years. It's a smart strategy for doing good while at the same time doing well.
This year, the YMP benefit is also a CD release party for Matheny's Gershwin on Monarch, a project put together by his label. The band features a rhythm section with Grant, guitarist John Heller, and drummer Jason Lewis, as well as seasoned Bay Area players such as trombonist Wayne Wallace and trumpeter Khalil Shaheed leading sections with YMP students and alums. Focusing on pieces by George Gershwin and Duke Ellington, the concert keys into both composers' centennials, with Matheny presenting a new Ellington-style work called "Savannah Panorama."
"I wouldn't say I'm trying to write in the style of Ellington, that would be presumptuous," Matheny said. "But he did this thing that everyone has since emulated, where within a big band, rather than having saxophones play this figure and trumpets play that counterpoint, Ellington would create these odd pairings, where he'd have, say, trumpet with a Harmon mute, a clarinet, and soprano sax in tight harmony. I'm just borrowing some of those ideas from Duke."
Dmitri Matheny performs Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at the Jazzschool, 845-5373, in "Talking to the Sun: The Magic of Abbey Lincoln" and on Monday at 8 p.m. at Yoshi's with the Dmitri Matheny Jazz Orchestra.