Readers might not be familiar with the flugelhorn, but it’s been Dmitri Matheny’s passion for decades.
Art Farmer, Matheny’s mentor and teacher convinced him to abandon the trumpet and take on the flugelhorn full time.
“He had this incredible sound on the flugelhorn, just big fat warm Technicolor, just incredible,” Matheny told Lake Tahoe Action. “And I said, ‘Man, how do you get that sound,’ and he said, ‘Listen, if you want to get a good sound on the big horn you’ve got to put away the little trumpet. Just practice the flugelhorn.’”
Since then, Matheny has devoted himself to the study of the horn, becoming “one of the jazz world’s most talented horn players,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Dmitri Matheny Group is headed to Moody’s Bistro, Bar & Beats in Truckee for two shows, the first on Friday, Aug. 2 and Saturday, Aug. 3. The flugelhorn player is backed by Brad Buethe (guitar), Fred Randolph (bass) and Jim Zimmerman (drums).
Born in Nashville in 1965, Matheny was exposed to jazz through his father’s eclectic record collection, becoming particularly enthralled with the Miles Davis recording “Kind of Blue.”
“According to my dad, when I was like five, I said, ‘Dad what’s that sound?’ He said, ‘Oh, that’s Miles Davis,’ and I said, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” Matheny said.
He went on to attend Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where he studied flugelhorn technique under Farmer.
“I learned it from my teacher, Art Farmer, who was a great jazz flugelhorn player,” Matheny said. “I was his protégé, which means I carried his case around for 10 years and took lessons from him. Back then it was a real one-on-one kind of thing. That mentor-protégé tradition in jazz is so important.”
Now Matheny tours the world, having appeared in 19 countries with a wide array of guest musicians. He has recorded nine albums, several of which have featured the musicians appearing at Moody’s.
In the last year, Matheny has been at work on a new approach to jazz, infusing portions of his music with the flavor of film noir.
“The music that we’re playing right now, we’re kind of doing a special thing called ‘jazz noir,’” Matheny said. “In addition to our own original compositions and then jazz standards from the ‘Great American Songbook,’ we’re also putting our spin on familiar TV and movie themes like spy thrillers and crime dramas.
“One of the things that we’re doing is kind of a spoken word thing,” he said. “You know when you’re watching a movie like ‘Taxi Driver’ or ‘Touch of Evil’ or one of these hard-boiled detective, kind of, noir thriller movies, there’s this voice-over narrative. It’s usually the cop on the beat…..talking about the mysterious female and the shadowy streets and the doomed protagonist, sort of story elements of crime drama.”
Matheny wrote and recites the narratives, consciously emulating the works of authors like Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler, he said.
He is also taking his time with this project, refining his tunes based on audience feedback during performances.
“While you’re on tour the music will kind of grow and morph and develop in new and interesting ways, and then you end up thinking, ‘Aw man, I wish we had recorded now,’” Matheny said. “So this time I’m trying it a little differently. I actually wrote the music and have been kind of massaging it and changing it on the road based on what happens live.”
Despite living for decades in the Bay Area, Matheny has never played a general admission show in the Lake Tahoe region.
“I’ve played in Tahoe, but always for private parties or at a ski resort,” Matheny said. “This is the first time that I’m doing a public performance there, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Matheny has known Moody’s owner J.J. Morgan for years, having worked on productions together in San Francisco, he said.
“He has great taste. He has very eclectic taste too, which is rare,” Matheny said of Morgan. “I find that a lot of people that love jazz get kind of fixated on a particular kind of jazz. It’s kind of a narrow and deep taste. J.J. has very broad listening habits and likes a lot of different sorts of music that’s influenced by jazz, but isn’t necessarily straight-ahead jazz.”
Thinking back on his own music education, Matheny also had high praise for Moody’s Summer Jazz Camp, run by Morgan.
“It’s really great because you have all these talented young people that are learning the tradition very early,” Matheny said. “The combination of that plus opportunities available now through the internet and social media for staying in touch with people directly, it kind of cuts out the middle man. It’s making it possible for talented young musicians to get started early and really learn it.”