Dmitri Matheny Group JAZZ NOIR Michigan Tour Diary — Day 15 April 25 Detroit
On the final night of our Michigan Tour we performed at one of the oldest jazz clubs in the heart of Detroit's historic entertainment district: the legendary Cliff Bell's.
What a night!
Cliff Bell's fulfilled my fantasy of what a music venue should be.
The lavish 1930s Art Deco decor and swanky supper club atmosphere set exactly the right tone for an evening of live jazz.
From the moment we arrived, each member of the professional staff (door man, hostess, manager, bartender, waiters, everyone) greeted us warmly and put us at ease. They treated us with courtesy and respect throughout the evening, thanked us for the music, and paid us in cash.
The menu was spectacular and the band dined gratis. I had the shrimp and grits with roasted chilies. Spicy, creamy, delicious.
After dinner, we played to a full house of enthusiastic patrons, mostly couples dressed to the nines. Our sound man Alex really took care of business. The band did not disappoint.
According to drummer Sean Dobbins, I'm now an honorary Detroiter. I feel honored, indeed. As my friend Joan Belgrave so eloquently stated, 'Ain't no swang like Dee-troit swang.'
Dmitri Matheny Group JAZZ NOIR Michigan Tour Diary — Day 14 April 24 Midland, Linden
Gave two Melodic Mastery jazz improvisation workshops today: a morning clinic at Herbert Henry Dow HS in Midland, and an afternoon session one hour south at Linden HS in Linden.
I love presenting these workshops at high schools and colleges around the country. It's such a pleasure to hear and meet so many talented young musicians, encourage them in their development as jazz soloists and ensemble players, and pass along some of what I've learned about music and life from Art Farmer.
Friday night is our final Michigan performance at the legendary Cliff Bell's in downtown Detroit. It's my first time at the celebrated venue, and I'm really looking forward to the show.
It's been one hell of a tour: In 2 weeks we did 13 gigs (4 performances, 9 workshops), covering over 3,000 miles throughout the state of Michigan.
With Sassy behind the wheel, we made it safely through snow, ice and rain, along many crocodile-cracked and pothole-laden roads, past big stands of scrubby winter oak, hickory, maple and pine trees, across icy bridges over rivers and muddy fields of grass and cattail, beside frozen grey lakes that stretched to the horizon.
We drove through dozens of picturesque towns and weary cities with names like Arcadia, Cadillac, Pontiac, Garfield, Gaylord, Inkster and Ypsilanti, each name proudly emblazoned on a water tower beside the lonesome road.
We saw wild turkeys, black crows, seagulls, nervous deer, fat squirrels, badgers, beavers, possums, all manner of roadkill, and curiously, dozens of giant wooden bears, carved by chainsaw.
We saw clapboard houses with green shutters and wrap around porches, antiques dealers, country stores, machinist shops, Christmas tree farms, trailer parks, modular homes, farmhouses and churches, ramshackle barns, silos, low stone walls, and lone brick chimneys where houses used to be.
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.
Dmitri Matheny Group JAZZ NOIR Michigan Tour Diary — Day 6 April 13-16 Dearborn to Escanaba to Southfield
Brrrr! Who knew Michigan in April would be a scene from Currier & Ives?
Three cheers for Sassy, my amazing girlfriend, driver and tour manager, who celebrates her birthday today after a harrowing drive to the Upper Peninsula and back!
That's 13 hours and 900 miles in the snow, hands gripping the wheel at 10 and 2, eyes on the icy road ahead, ever vigilant that Kamikaze Bambi could dart out from winter wonderland at any moment.
Not an easy drive, but we made it, safe and sound. Taught two high school workshops on opposite sides of the state. Even had time to pause and enjoy a delicious Yooper Pasty in the quaint little town of Escanaba before heading south again.
Now we're relaxing in a nice warm hotel, car parked, nothing on the schedule... until tomorrow, when it all starts up again.
Dmitri Matheny Group JAZZ NOIR Michigan Tour Diary — Day 2 April 11 Traverse City, MI
After a four-hour flight to Detroit and a four-hour drive north through mist and fog, dodging deer along the way, we've arrived in Traverse City.
TC is a small town (only 15,000 residents) but is the largest city in Northern Michigan, and something of a tourist destination. Situated on Grand Traverse Bay, Traverse is the self-proclaimed Cherry Capital of the US, and also produces wine grapes. Vacationing midwesterners come here for the freshwater beaches, vineyards, hiking and skiing.
Surprisingly, they're here now. Our hotel is full up with families, which seems odd, because it's so cold outside, with ice and snow piled up along the roadside. Why vacation now? Is it spring break? So many kids.
I hope a few of the older folks come to hear us tonight. It's always a white knuckle ride, arriving in a new place, wondering if anyone knows or cares that you're in town. You send announcements to traditional and social media, maybe do a couple of radio interviews, then it's out of your hands, entirely up to the Fates.
This morning at breakfast I perused the local paper, searching vainly for a photo listing or any mention at all. Nope! No arts coverage. Just sports, real estate, gossip and TV listings.
Will they come?
Hope so! Regardless, I'm looking forward to the experience.
Traverse City holds much nostalgia for me.
30 years ago, when I was a teenager at Interlochen, we would come here on semi-chaperoned weekend bus trips to stroll around the shops, go to the movies and hang out away from campus.
I held hands with my high school crush here.
I also played my first ever paid gig in this town, a private party at the Maritime Hall.
Our little jazz quintet only knew six tunes from memory.