CONTRA COSTA TIMES
UC Program to Get Lift From Bay Area Jazzman Matheny
By Andrew Gilbert
Monday, July 14, 1997
Over the past two decades, the East Bay has produced some of the leading jazz musicians in the country, from pianist Benny Green and tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman to keyboardist Rodney Franklin and Yellowjackets drummer Will Kennedy.
Each of these musicians has participated in UC Berkeley’s Young Musicians Program, now celebrating its 30th year of offering talented low-income students conservatory-quality musical education.
A seven-week summer program for students 11 to 17, the program gives ambitious young musicians the training to compete and get into some of the country’s best conservatories and universities.
As part of a $3 million fund-raising campaign, the program is holding a benefit concert at Yoshi’s on Monday with jazz flugelhornist Dmitri Matheny and special guests, including innovative guitarist Larry Coryell, Bay Area saxophonist John Handy and experimental young tenor saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum.
“Since 1968, we’ve had over 500 kids go through, but it costs about $5,000 a student, since we take care of every single need, transportation, meals and music lessons,” said Caryl Levine, the program’s director of development.
It offers a comprehensive music education, covering the classic Western tradition and gospel and jazz. The program draws students from all over the Bay Area, but most come from Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
“The students start their morning at chorus,” Levine said. “Everybody does piano, composition, music theory and ear training, then they specialize in an instrument or voice.” After attending the summer session, students continue to take classes and perform community outreach concerts throughout the year.
Like Redman, Green and Franklin, many of the students are also part of the Berkeley High School jazz program. But most students don’t have access to the private lessons that are so crucial to the development of young talent.
“What we’re seeing now is that in the public schools the music programs are all but gone,” said Matheny from Seattle, where his band was playing at the Jazz Alley club. “So for the last few years, I’ve been getting involved in jazz education.
“People like Art Farmer come from a generation when musicians learned their craft on the bandstand or on the road, in mentor/protege relationships,” Matheny said. “I’m 31 and just about everybody playing now that’s my age or younger has had some kind of formal jazz education in an academic setting.”
A noted composer who has received many commissions, Matheny is one of the most lyrical and creative musicians on the Bay Area jazz scene. His latest recording, Penumbra: The Moon Sessions on Monarch Records, is a ravishingly beautiful album of standards, pop tunes and his own finely crafted pieces, all linked by the lunar theme.
Young Musicians Program benefit concerts have featured alumni such as the Yellowjackets, up-and-coming Bay Area tenor saxophonist Dave Ellis and Craig Handy, one of the top young saxophonists in New York.
Though Matheny, who grew up on the East Coast, isn’t a program alumnus, he participated in the past two benefit concerts, playing first with Ellis and later with Handy in a concert that also featured the YMP Jazz Combo, a group of students from the program.
Guitarist Nick Ruth was one of the students who played at Yoshi’s last year. Although the chance to perform next to successful professionals was thrilling, the most profound changes have come through the day-to-day training and guidance he’s received during his three summers with the program, he said.
“It’s really helped me understand what my priorities are, and it’s helped shape me as a musician,” said Ruth, 18. “I came into the program with very little musical knowledge. I could play some chords on the guitar and I knew a piece to audition for the program with, but it’s really transformed me from somebody who played guitar into a guitarist.”
In the fall, Ruth will attend the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio on a full scholarship.