Viewing: Dmitri Matheny Group - View all posts
Destination: Yreka CA
Distance: 413 miles
Scout and I are hitting the road today for California, Arizona, and New Mexico.
The first leg of our journey will take us all the way from Centralia, Washington to Yreka, California.
$5 per gallon for gas is no joke!
Heartfelt thanks and a "free" music download for all our generous tour support contributors!
Recommit to OMAD, black coffee, and portion control.
Plant new salad vegetables in the garden.
Walk every day before the evening meal.
Curtail alcohol consumption.
Prioritize memory work.
Perform mostly songs from the new album.
Expand melodic range in both directions.
Arrange Joni Mitchell material for Holly.
Write songs for top Indiegogo backers.
Study Nelson Riddle's orchestration.
Practice Beleza duo repertoire.
Arrange for album design, distribution, promotion, and marketing.
Maintain tourbus with regular servicing, repairs, and upgrades.
Apply for touring, residency, and commissioning grants.
Schedule tours and album release events.
Purchase a backup horn.
Reduce debt by 25%.
Make an emergency response plan.
Write a blog post every week.
Invest in home security.
Make time for friends.
“All of us labor in webs spun
long before we were born.”
The next morning I asked Lela the question that had kept me awake most of the night. “Same repertoire? What did you mean by that?”
She smiled. “Well, you played Stormy Weather, My One And Only Love, and I’m Beginning To See The Light ... I did all those same tunes!”
“What do you mean, you did those tunes?” I asked. “When? How? Where?”
Her face registered genuine surprise. “You knew I was a singer, didn’t you?”
“No, ma’am. I mean, I found some pictures of you in high school,” I stammered, “you know, singing musical theater stuff, but…”
“Oh, honey! I was a jazz singer! Your father used to come to my gigs. That’s how we met!” she laughed. “Where did you think your gifts came from?”
You could have knocked me over with a feather.
“Lela, honestly, I always figured it was Dad’s record collection that set me on this path. Sketches of Spain, Round About Midnight, Kind of Blue…”
“Ooh, that’s just like him!” she interrupted, shaking her head. “First of all, those were my Miles Davis records.” She paused a moment. “He never told you? Really?”
Nope. He told me you were crazy. He said you were a criminal. He said you “ran off in the middle of the night” and told me we were better off without you. But no, he never once mentioned anything about you singing jazz.
Was it even true? Or was this just another of Lela’s tall tales?
I was determined to find out. After she returned home to the midwest, I drove out to Daddy Bill's Hermit House to see if I could verify her story. I was a man on a mission. The three-hour drive through the Lonesome Desert gave me plenty of time to consider how I might broach the subject with my old man.
I arrived in the late afternoon to find him hunched over a bucket on his front porch, methodically shelling and cracking pecans with his blistered, blackened fingers. Pecan trees grew wild in the scrubby chaparral of Graham County. It had become Dad’s habit to harvest the nuts each autumn and gift large bags of them to family and friends during the winter holidays. I admired his resourcefulness.
“Hey Bub!” Daddy Bill greeted me cheerily. “You’re just in time.”
He handed me a Sam Adams from the cooler. “Don't tell the Mormons,” he said with a wink.
Another glorious Arizona sunset.
“So. Dad. How did it feel to see Lela again after all these years?”
He gazed thoughtfully into the distance. “Welp. She got old.”
“You and I aren’t getting any younger either,” I laughed. “Anyway, did y’all have a good talk at the concert?”
“She did most of the talking,” he said, adding “you know how she is.” He kicked a pile of pecan shells off the porch.
“Right. Listen, Dad. Lela told me she used to be a jazz singer.”
My father rolled his eyes. “Aww, she was what we used to call a torch singer. But that was a long time ago. Before you were born.”
“So it’s true?” I asked, astonished. “You didn't think your son -- the musician -- might want to know about that?”
“Why would you care?” he said dismissively. “She wasn’t a big deal or anything. She just sang in nightclubs with her little combo.”
“Dad…what exactly do you think I do for a living?”
“Myths are lies and therefore worthless,” CS Lewis told
JRR Tolkien, “even though breathed through silver.”
“No,” Tolkien replied, “they are not lies.”
“Dmitri, I can’t believe it! How on earth did you find me!!?”
How indeed! I cannot account for the bizarre sequence of events that led me to Mr. Bill’s Adventureland, nor can I rationally explain how I knew that Mr. Bill’s Lela and mine were one and the same. But somehow, whether by fate, synchronicity or merely coincidence, at the age of 43 I became penpals with my long lost mother.
We didn’t converse so much as trade soliloquies. She ignored my questions, so I volunteered details from my own life hoping she might respond in kind. I told her about my successful music career and failed marriage. I shared all my hopes, dreams and fears.
Lela answered these confessional data dumps with imaginative tall tales in which distant relations appeared as folk heroes. Often embedded within these homespun legends were non sequiturs of a more personal nature (e.g. “the scent of oranges always reminds me of Christmas”). I jumped at these crumbs like a starving orphan.
One day an envelope arrived with no letter at all. Inside were a one page single-spaced typewritten genealogy labeled “The Brown Family” and two photos. In one of the images a group of adults stands in a distant row facing the camera. On the back, in crayon block letters, they are identified as “(L-R) Mama Zulah, Brownie, Jo, Allene, Sissy, Evelyn, Frances, Sara, Jim, Willard.” The reverse of the other photo, a mother with two children, is annotated in Lela's handwriting, “I was about 8 and my little brother was 6 when this was taken, so it was about 1950.”
A close study of The Brown Family genealogy reveals “Mama Zulah” to be Lela's maternal grandmother. Following is the final paragraph, together with Lela's pencil notations in bold italics: “James Andrew Jackson Brown (1877-1961) PAPA son of William J. and Sarah Catherine, married Cornie Perdue around 1900. They had 2 children, V. R. (Brownie) 1904- and Vera Estelle (Sissy) 1906-. After the death of Cornie, James Andrew married Zulah Estes Cummings (1888-1963) MAMA in 1908. She was the daughter of Nancy Docia Brown who was the 13th child of Jeremiah Brown and Nancy Hodges Brown. Jeremiah Brown was the great grandfather of James Andrew and the grandfather of Zulah. James Andrew and Zulah had 7 children, Evelyn 1909-, Allene 1912-1972 MY MOM, 5 FEET TALL, BIG BOOBS, TINY WAIST, Josephine 1913-, Frances 1920, Sara 1923, James Andrew Jr. 1927- MY UNCLE WWII PURPLE HEART and Willard 1929-1977.”
This convoluted “kissing cousins” report represents the sum total of what I know about Lela's roots. More often than not her letters would only recount the superhuman exploits of America McGee, the larger-than-life (and likely imaginary) Native American ancestor who, according to family lore, worked miracles, healed the sick, communed with animals and angels, predicted future events, and inspired everyone in the community with her wise counsel.
I doubted the very existence of this messianic figure, but eventually came to appreciate her significance as a mythic hero. Fictional or not, America McGee was my mother’s personal avatar, the embodiment of her highest aspirations. Perhaps McGee was, to Lela, what the Green Lantern is to me.
I’ve never had much use for religion but I must admit to enjoying these quasi-biblical stories a bit more after having experienced McGee’s magic for myself. After all, a Google search on her name was the deus ex machina that brought Lela and me together again. Even if I never find confirmation of America McGee as an actual historical figure, I will always be grateful to her mythos for moving our plot along. #AmericaMacGuffin
Every once and awhile my mother would let her guard down and reveal something personal. I briefly regarded each of these revelations as precious nuggets of truth until they, too, were inevitably contradicted by Lela herself.
For example, in one of her letters, Lela cast herself as a child prodigy and honor student who “tested at the genius level” and graduated from a prestigious university while still a teenager. In another she appears as a college dropout who never took school seriously and scandalized everyone by “running off with a professor” during her freshman year. In yet a third version of events Lela skips college entirely, having been recruited right out of high school to join a prestigious national advertising firm as a professional commercial artist.
Lela mentioned my father exactly twice. “Bill Matheny was a hopeless romantic,” she complained, “and I was his child bride. He smothered me with too much affection.” In a subsequent email she wrote “The man never said I love you, and I was the kind of girl who needed to hear that from time to time.”
Bill Matheny: Hopeless Romantic?
The two of us corresponded regularly for the next four years.
When you consider the sheer volume of words we exchanged, it’s really quite remarkable how little I learned about my mother’s actual thoughts, feelings or life experiences. Her fraught relationship with the truth was frustrating, but after so many years of silence, I was grateful for any contact at all.
Then, in October 2012, Lela called with big news:
“I bought an airline ticket today,” she said. “I’m coming to your next show.”
memoria praeteritorum bonorum
As we approach the first anniversary of this damndemic, I grow ever wistful for my old life on the road.
My propensity for rosy retrospection is well-documented, but I’m often surprised by where the waves of nostalgia choose to make landfall. Curiously, I don’t miss the big cosmopolitan cities so much as the funky little towns, especially those special places that made a mark on my heart, the places to which I loved returning, year after year.
Of late I think of Santa Cruz.
I love this dirty town!
About 75 miles south of San Francisco, and just over the hill from San Jose, the colorful seaside hamlet of Santa Cruz, California was one of my early discoveries when I first began traveling for music in the 1990s.
Among its myriad charms, Santa Cruz is home to Kuumbwa Jazz Center, a great little concert venue managed by true believers Tim Jackson and Bobbi Todaro. Named for the Swahili concept of creative spontaneity, Kuumbwa is much beloved in the community of musicians. Where else can you perform for an enthusiastic listening audience, in a convivial room with an expert sound engineer and a recently tuned, well-maintained grand piano? You’d be surprised how seldom such a confluence occurs.
(L-R) Tim Jackson, Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Bobbi Todaro
But the magic runs far deeper than professional production values. Established in the nonprofit arts boom of the 1970s, Kuumbwa is one of those places that genuinely treats everyone like family. Dig: after an easy breezy soundcheck, Tim (an excellent flautist who also happens to be artistic director of the Monterey Jazz Festival) stops by to greet the band and give us a tour of the new black and white photography exhibit in the hall. A few minutes later, Bobbi (simply the coolest) sits down with us in the green room, enthusing all about the expansion of Kuumbwa’s educational programs for kids and families. Then a friendly volunteer arrives, serving up a hot, homemade meal for the band. Now that's how it's done, friends!
I remember hearing about Santa Cruz back in my Boston days. I was interested to learn that three of the best musicians I knew at Berklee -- David Valdez, Donny McCaslin and Kenny Wollesen -- all happened to be from Santa Cruz. I wondered if there might be something in the water out there.
When I first visited Santa Cruz after the big earthquake in 1989, the downtown area was a post-apocalyptic hellscape of white tents and rubble. Even then, the town’s groovy bohemian spirit shone through. A cute girl with a nose piercing offered me grapes in front of the Catalyst. A street vendor in the alley by Sylvan Music told my fortune and sold me some incense. A soulful little combo called Warmth was busking valiantly on Cooper Street. I thought to myself, “This place is heaven.”
(L-R) Vibraphonist Don McCaslin, leader of Warmth and father of saxophonist Donny
Claudia Villela, a favorite recording artist who happens to live and work in the area
The other Ray Brown: flugelhornist, composer and Cabrillo College jazz educator
After that, I routed my tours through Santa Cruz whenever possible, playing one night at Kuumbwa between shows in Oakland and Los Angeles. I would always make sure to arrive a few days early for a little advance work, usually a KUSP radio interview and workshops for music students at UC Santa Cruz and Cabrillo College. Then, after checking the arts section and calendar listings in the Sentinel, Metro and Good Times, I would put up fliers on all the bulletin boards downtown.
gig fliers ... the original social media posts
The promotional rain dance now complete, it was time to chill and enjoy the town. I called these mini-residencies “composition retreats” for tax purposes, but they were really just delightful little solo vacations.
Each year I’d spend a little longer among the hippies, dot com millionaires and homeless hackysack teens that populate Pacific Avenue. By day I’d browse lazily in the vintage shops, galleries and bookstores. Afternoons I’d take a picnic lunch out to Natural Bridges and play my horn as the sun set on Monterey Bay. At night I’d ramble down to the wharf for fresh seafood, then catch a terrific set of live music (Claudia Villela!) before retiring to my cozy Boardwalk motel.
My favorite hang was this big warehouse downtown that had been converted into a funky cafe and community gathering place, with high, vaulted ceilings, giant windows, lots of leafy green plants, and a large, sunny patio deck out back. I’d sit in that joint for hours, sipping coffee, reading, scribbling in my journal, and people-watching. It was glorious!
To this day, whenever I catch the scent of patchouli, I’m immediately transported there again … to my happy place.
“Kuumbwa Blues” from Red Reflections
“Stars twinkle until they wrinkle.”
That was well over 20 years ago. Since then I’ve weathered many career ups and downs, working both with and without the support of managers, agents, publicists and investors.
Although I’m now a far better musician, I can definitely confirm that the accolades are much harder-won after middle age. Youth isn’t the only thing that’s wasted on the young.
I’ve learned that good fortune is evanescent, and fame, like the TV show, is fleeting. Our desire to to be known is really just the struggle to be seen. When we chase respect or renown, deep down what we really want is love.
I once heard an interview with veteran actor Sidney Poitier, in which he was asked what it’s like to be famous. “People don’t really know the man so much as the name,” he replied.
Sidney Poitier is an actor, director, producer, author, humanitarian and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom
He went on to describe a recent experience at a cafe. After taking his coffee order at the counter, the barista, an attractive young woman with piercings and tattoos, hands Poitier a cardboard voucher. “Have a seat and I’ll let you know when it’s ready,” she says.
A few minutes later she calls out his name. “Sidney Poitier? Macchiato for Sidney Poitier.” Poitier approaches the counter and hands her the chit, pleased to have been recognized. She looks at it and frowns.
“No, no, you’re Joan of Arc ... see?” She points to the name scrawled in black magic marker on the small piece of cardboard.
“Sidney Poitier!” she calls again over his shoulder.
“That’s mine,” says an Asian-American gentleman in the back of the room, handing her his chit as he approaches the counter.
Don’t you love it?
Indeed, people don’t really know the man so much as the name.
Not only that -- sometimes they don’t even know the name!
Case in point, here’s a cafe story of my own:
Not that long ago I was performing in New Mexico, one of my favorite southwest touring hubs. Following successful shows in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, I arrived in Taos, a small mountain village with a population of about 5,000. I got to town early as was my custom; the rest of my band would arrive just before soundcheck.
Holly Pyle and Dmitri Matheny at The Outpost (Albuquerque NM) photo by Joseph Berg
Upon checking in at the hotel, I went out in search of coffee and found the perfect spot. I settled into a corner table with my book and a cup of dark, rich, aromatic happiness.
“First time in Taos?” the barista asked.
“Why, do I look like a tourist?” I laughed.
“I just happen to know most of the other folks in here,” she explained.
“No, I love Taos. Been here many times,” I said.
“Have you heard about the big concert tonight?” she asked. “Everybody’s going.”
“Concert?” I asked, intrigued. “Who’s playing?”
“I dunno,” she said.
“Just some jazz guy.”
The old man was right. Fame is folly. The music business is no meritocracy. But sometimes the good guys do win.
I’m gratified by the success of many of my friends and former schoolmates, now making names for themselves on the world stage. But I no longer expect to join their Olympian order. Age and experience have tempered my aspirations. As comedian Bryan Callen observed, “maturity is the slow acceptance of what you will never be.”
I’m grateful to have at least achieved my dream of making a living as a touring musician and recording artist. And I’m thankful for all the truly extraordinary people I’ve been fortunate to know and collaborate with along the way.
Recently, while sorting through some sheet music, I stumbled upon one of my old newsletters from the late 1990s. It occurs to me that the closest I ever came to any kind of notoriety was during that period, in the years right around the dawn of the new millennium. For that brief little stretch, the universe really seemed to smile on me.
Starlight Cafe (1998) with Darrell Grant and bassist Bill Douglass
Starlight Cafe, my third CD for Monarch Records, was a modest success. The album received very good reviews and enough airplay on jazz and college radio that we were able to tour most of the year, returning to San Francisco each spring for our annual home season. Monarch promoted the new release with listening stations at flagship Virgin and Tower record stores, placement on airline in-flight channels, and full page ads in the jazz trades. Meanwhile, our excellent publicist worked wonders for us in the print and broadcast news media. It felt like we were everywhere.
Home Season performance at Yoshi's (Oakland CA) with vocalist Mary Stalling | photo by Stuart Brinin
“My stellar ascension has begun,” I thought naively. Gigs were plentiful. I was traveling internationally and meeting my heroes. Strangers were beginning to recognize me on the street. My phone never stopped ringing. Life was good.
Looking back, I was the oblivious beneficiary of a momentary upsurge in this highly mercurial business. I didn’t know that we were in a boom economy, overdue for a downturn. Nor was I aware of quite how many previously closed doors had opened to me only because good people like Art Farmer, Herb Wong, Orrin Keepnews or Merrilee Trost had “put in a good word.”
Art Farmer (1928-1999)
hero, mentor, friend
I was too inexperienced to see how my own good fortune was predicated on the hard work, personal connections and financial investments of other people. I was too busy and self-involved to question whether or not I deserved all the attention. I just thought my career was (finally) taking off.
One night, upon arriving at a black tie gala in San Francisco with my bond trader wife, the event photographer crossed the room to greet us. “Well, well, if it isn’t my favorite couple, Rich and Famous,” he said archly. “She’s rich, and he’s famous.” Delightful.
On another occasion I dropped off some clothes at the local dry cleaner. The proprietress, a lovely woman from Hong Kong named Mei, had clipped a recent news article about me from the Chronicle and attached it to the lobby wall.
“Everybody see?” she said to the waiting customers in broken English. “My client! Very famous musician!”
I was astonished. But when I returned a few days later to pick up the dry cleaning, the clipping had vanished. In its place was a New York Times article about composer John Adams!
“Aw, Mei, you replaced me,” I pouted, feigning hurt feelings. “Is Mr. Adams your favorite client now?”
“Oh, yes!” she replied matter-of-factly.
“He much more famous than you.”
Drink water. Eat vegetables. Take naps. Pace yourself.
Cleaner fasts, more colorful feasts, smaller portions.
Spend more time outdoors: walking, riding, fishing.
Expand vegetable garden with new crops.
Get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Prepare arrangements for Cascadia studio album.
Compose Legacy suite showcasing Dad’s poetry.
Add Patsy Cline material to DMG repertoire.
Schedule fourth quarter touring engagements.
Apply for touring and commissioning grants.
Launch Cascadia crowdfunding campaign.
Recruit five more private students.
Collect missing issues of Silver Age Green Lantern.
Launch a new 30-day challenge each month.
Publish a memoir blog post every week.
Invest in home security.
Slept over 300 nights in my own bed
Added 196 new friends and subscribers
Enjoyed 180 homegrown garden salads
Gave 122 private lessons online
Sold 92 books and household items
Directed 33 distance learning workshops
Received 27 grants and contributions
Collected 17 vintage comics by mail
Staged 13 performances (pre-lockdown)
Wrote 10 new arrangements for jazz sextet
Played 7 solo live-stream shows
Created 6 new multimedia presentations
Played 3 big band concerts (pre-lockdown)
Produced 2 virtual arts education festivals
Survived 1 surreal, bottle episode of a year!
jazz + film
Thank you for sharing these memorable milestones.
Here's to more musical adventures ahead.
Happy New Year! ~Dmitri
don't try so hard
enjoy the outdoors
save 10% from each job
take care of home and family
support Dad and his caregivers
mine great melodies from all genres
sleep in my own bed whenever possible
exploit all opportunities to write new music
walk Scout every day, no matter the weather
practice intermittent fasting and portion control
scale back on touring and increase northwest jobs
take full advantage of health care while it’s available
schedule consecutive rejuvenation days every month
begin transition from touring artist to local composer
61,117 miles traveled
342 new friends and subscribers
234 musicians hired
141 performances on tour
46 college and high school workshops
39 sold-out shows
24 feature articles and reviews
19 collaborations with vocalists
17 television and radio broadcasts
14 youth and family concerts
12 bottles of valve oil
9 big band appearances
3 flugelhorn summits
2 new compositions
1 golden ear
33,000+ miles traveled
917 new subscribers
216 musicians hired
114 performances on tour
51 sold-out shows
47 radio stations playing Jazz Noir
34 college and high school workshops
27 feature articles and reviews
17 youth and family concerts
13 collaborations with vocalists
12 CD release celebrations
9 TV and radio appearances
6 bottles of valve oil
5 tributes to jazz legends
3 new compositions
1 perfect road dog
Charles McNeal, Matt Clark, John Wiitala and Leon Joyce Jr.
What a band! Scroll down to check out the radio spot below.
Coming soon to iTunes and Amazon
A fresh spin on crime jazz, film noir and timeless classics:
JAZZ NOIR, the new album by Dmitri Matheny is now available.
Mysterious, melancholy and menacing, the Papillon/BluePort Jazz release is
Matheny's 11th album as leader and his most thrilling to date.
My Baby + My Baby
Warmest thanks to all our friends and fans.