Dmitri Matheny Group Makes Jazz a Family-Friendly Party
Thursday, July 1, 2010
By Holly La Pat

The Dmitri Matheny Group is having a party Tuesday night at the Redlands Bowl, and everyone's invited.

The concert is part of the 87th Redlands Bowl Summer Music Festival, the oldest continuous music festival in the United States to charge no admission fee.

"We play mainstream jazz, which is also called classic jazz," Matheny said in a recent phone interview. He says their sound is very accessible to all audiences.

The band focuses on instrumentals of jazz standards, including many from the Great American Songbook. Tuesday night, Matheny and his group will draw from a repertoire that includes favorites such as Gershwin's "Summertime," Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine," and Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got that Swing."

Matheny says he loves leading the band, but not in the way you might expect.

"I treat it differently from some band leaders," he said. "It's not really an opportunity to direct everything that happens -- it's the opportunity to be surrounded by some good musicians and let them do what they do. It's like doing an intimate dinner party with your closest friends."

He picked up that approach as a music student in Boston. During his college years, Matheny had the chance to back up touring Motown musicians such as the Temptations and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.

Matheny said Reeves treated every show as a party, with the audience as her guests. And when he backed up the Temptations, it was all he could do to keep his eyes on his sheet music, instead of watching the performers dance in their gold lamé suits.

"Those were great experiences for me. I learned something that informs my music now: People don't just want to hear music, they want to see a show."

Today, Matheny describes his show as "a family-friendly party. It's something that children can enjoy."

During a concert, Matheny might leave the stage during another performer's instrumental solo -- and when he starts to play again after the solo is over, he'll be in the audience.

"It's a little bit of showmanship and some people think it's corny, but I don't care," Matheny said good-naturedly.

The Dmitri Matheny Group is a quintet with Charles McNeal on saxophone, Nick Manson on piano, Ruth Davies on bass, John Lewis on drums and Matheny on his signature instrument, the flugelhorn.

The flugelhorn is more often a secondary instrument for trumpet players, but Matheny was led to it by his musical mentor, the late jazz master Art Farmer.

"I started out playing the trumpet, and the trumpet is a very brassy, edgy, bright horn," Matheny said. "Whether it's in a classical or jazz context or a bugle call, there's a bravado to the trumpet."

He found he was always trying to soften the sound -- taking a Brillo pad to the finish, stuffing socks in the bell. When he started studying with Farmer, who was playing the flugelhorn exclusively, Farmer encouraged him to focus on that instrument.

"It has more of a warm sound," Matheny said. "Instead of a clarion call, it's like your mother's voice, comforting and warm. It just feels right."

When: 8:15 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Redlands Bowl, in Smiley Park off Brookside Avenue between Eureka and Grant streets, Redlands
Admission: Free to the public
Information: 909-793-7316,

Next: the Glenn Miller Orchestra, July 9-10