Give a Boy a Trumpet and He Just Might Become a Flugelhorn Player (And a Damn Good One, Too)
August 5, 1999
By Stewart Oksenhorn

When Dmitri Matheny's father put Miles Davis' Kind of Blue on the turntable, the 5-year-old Dmitri instantly knew what he wanted to do with his life. Matheny was going to be a jazz trumpeter, just like Miles.

Or so he thought.

Like so many childhood dreams, Matheny's turned out to be just that, a dream. Yes, Matheny did become proficient at the trumpet. But it is on the flugelhorn, the trumpet's somewhat mellower cousin, that Matheny has focused his attention. Still, Matheny, a Nashville native and now part of the thriving Berkeley, California jazz scene, feels fortunate to have known, approximately, what he wanted to do at such a young age.

"It's something I feel terribly lucky about," said Matheny, an instructor at Jazz Aspen's Thelonious Monk Institute Jazz Colony who will lead his own quartet at Syzygy tonight. "I know people who are jacks of all trades, who are in mid-life and trying to figure out what to do with their lives. I've known since I was 5 exactly what I wanted to do.

"My father played Miles' Kind of Blue and I asked 'what is that?' He said, 'That's Miles, playing jazz trumpet.' Dad got me a teacher and a trumpet and said, 'Get to it.' I never wanted to be an astronaut or a fireman."

Matheny turned from trumpet to flugelhorn at the age of 18, when he came under the tutelage of noted flugelhornist Art Farmer. It seems to have been a good choice for Matheny, a graduate of Boston's Berklee College of Music.

Last year, after releasing his romantic trio CD Starlight Café, Matheny was named a Talent Deserving Wider Recognition in the Downbeat magazine Critics' Poll; he was also named a Best New Artist in the JazzTimes Readers Poll.

He is in his third year as an instructor at the Thelonious Monk Jazz Colony, teaching classes in music business as well as the art of jazz. After his 10-day stay in Snowmass Village ends tomorrow, Matheny and his combo — pianist Bill Bell, bassist Ruth Davies and drummer Eddie Marshall — will head to Telluride, where he'll join trumpeter Terence Blanchard, singer-pianist Les McCann and saxophonist Stanley Turrentine at the Telluride Jazz Celebration.

For Matheny, structuring his schedule to avoid one-nighters is essential to his career and stability. When this weekend's Telluride Celebration ends, Matheny will have finished a two-week stretch in Colorado.

"The way I structure my touring, to stay sane, I try to arrange residencies, one after the other," he said. "I've done the one-nighter thing, and it just wore my out. Doing longer residencies, I get to know the people in the community. That's real nice -- and more fun."