Music News & Reviews

Flugelhorn player Dmitri Matheny in Sacramento on Sunday

The expansive career of flugelhornist Dmitri Matheny should have made his late mentor, the flugelhorn pioneer Art Farmer, extremely proud.

Matheny came up in the 1990s under the tutelage of Farmer, who was a major figure throughout his years as first a bebop trumpeter in the ’50s and ’60s. Farmer later became known for his use and development of the flugelhorn, which is structurally similar to the trumpet but produces a deeper, mellower tone. Matheny is now one of the world’s foremost flugelhorn players and a respected, dedicated jazz educator. He brings his quartet to JB’s Lounge this Sunday night.

Matheny’s playing and teaching are both influenced by his 10 years as Farmer’s student.

“I started out playing the trumpet, but fell in love with the sound of the flugelhorn in my teens when I discovered Art Farmer’s music,” Matheny said.

Farmer wrote the bebop standard “Farmer’s Market” in 1952 and after moving to New York fell in with such musicians as Horace Silver, who died in June, and Sonny Rollins. More than just a bebop player, though, Farmer began playing with experimental jazz composers George Russell and Teddy Charles eventually joining baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan’s progressive quartet. Farmer later co-founded a band called the Jazztet with Benny Golson.

“He was incredibly generous with me, so I like to pass along what I learned from him about music and life,” Matheny said.

Matheny added that all jazz studies are not the same, students who are learning to play need to find teachers and styles suited for them. What’s popular may not be the best fit.

“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.”

Matheny, who makes his home in Arizona, is active in numerous forms of jazz education – curriculum development, classroom teaching, private lessons and creating youth bands. He was director of jazz programs for SFJAZZ from 2003 to 2006. He created Discover Jazz an accessible jazz appreciation course for adults in association with SFJAZZ.

“I try to demystify and convey a sense of pride in this music as one of America’s greatest cultural contributions, invented by African American musicians a century ago, now played and enjoyed by people all over the world,” Matheny said.

“When teaching jazz history and appreciation, I always go to the oral histories of important musicians, and share the observations of those who were there, as my primary resource.”

He cites jazz classics as his all-time favorite records: Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” Art Farmer’s “Warm Valley,” John Coltrane’s “Crescent,” Cannonball Adderley’s “Somethin’ Else,” and Bill Evans’ “Sunday at the Vanguard.”

Matheny comes to Sacramento with his just-released album “Sagebrush Rebellion.” It resulted from the longtime friendship of Farmer and Jim Merod, a sound engineer who founded the independent Blue Port Jazz label. Merod often recorded Farmer, and asked Matheny about recording his band.

“I immediately said yes,” Matheny said. “The result is pure serendipity. This is my kind of album: a relaxed, swinging session with a few good friends who also happen to be great musicians.” Along with Matheny on flugelhorn, the album includes Nick Manson on piano, Justin Grinnell on bass and Duncan Moore on drums.

“It’s all about hiring the best musicians and giving them the freedom to do what they do best,” Matheny said.

For the Sacramento show Matheny has Joe Gilman on piano, Seward McCain on bass and Leon Joyce Jr. on drums.

“Art Farmer used to say, ‘If you’re the smartest cat in the room, you’re in the wrong room!’ I always try to surround myself with talents greater than my own.”