July 14, 1997
By Josh Sens
From the day he first picked up a horn at the age of 9, Dmitri Matheny was treated to the kind of musical education that the jazz men he idolized hardly could have imagined.
There were private lessons, for starters, and summer music camps. Then came years of university and conservatory study.
"The older guys, the guys from the previous generation, what they had was the university of the road and the school of hard knocks -- not an academic jazz education," Matheny said. "There's a lot to be said for learning on the street, for picking it up as you go. But I think both kinds of schooling have their place."
No wonder Matheny, 31, leapt at the chance this year to support an unusual local program that provides promising young musicians with formal schooling they couldn't otherwise afford.
When he takes the stage at Yoshi's in Oakland tonight with his band, the Dmitri Matheny Group, the blossoming flugelhorn star will be raising money for the Young Musicians Program of UC Berkeley, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.
Since 1967, the program has been nurturing music prodigies from low-income families, doling out full scholarships for formal training in everything from classical to gospel to rock, opera and jazz.
Although it has turned out a host of internationally celebrated performers — Joshua Redman, Rodney Franklin and Benny Green, to name a few — the program has been struggling on the financial front.
It is now in the middle of a $3.5 million endowment drive, of which benefit shows like Matheny's are an important part.
"It's a wonderful opportunity to contribute to something very important," Matheny said. "Around the country, you have some individuals and the occasional private school or camp that are helping out young musicians. But something like this, an independent program organized around teaching young people, is extremely rare."
Since moving to the Bay Area in 1989, Matheny has emerged as a widely respected composer and performer whose most recent release, Penumbra: The Moon Sessions (Monarch Records) met with great critical success.
But even as he continues to carve out a name for himself in jazz, Matheny has never forgotten about his roots as a young musician, or about the importance of music in young people's lives.
"For the past 10 years, most of my audience was older than me," Matheny said. "But that's no longer the case. Granted, I'm getting older, but I see a growing number of young people coming out to the shows, studying jazz and buying jazz records. That's a good thing not just for music but for the young people involved."
Tonight, Matheny will be playing his moody, reflective tunes with special guests saxophonist John Handy, guitarist Larry Coryell and multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum.
Though it's hard to predict how the show will draw, Carol Levine, director of development for the Young Musicians Program, said she hoped it would raise anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000.
That money will go toward scholarships for 80 young Bay Area musicians, ages 11 and up, to study in a seven-week intensive summer music program at UC Berkeley, followed by a full slate of composition, theory and performance classes throughout the academic year.
The program has been struggling over the last five years, as UC budget cuts forced then-Chancellor Chang-Li Tien to trim university contributions to the program.
"This is a program that the community should really support," Levine said. "These kids are all tremendously talented, and they go on to make wonderful contributions to society. What's more, when you hear them play, it's so beautiful, it makes you want to cry."