Dmitri Matheny has played up and down the California coast, from the Bay Area to San Diego, but somehow he’s never made it to the Central Coast.
That will change Feb. 1, when Matheny brings his flugelhorn to the Cambria Center for the Arts for a pair of shows in the Famous Jazz Artist Series. (A flugelhorn is a brass instrument similar in some respects to a trumpet or coronet.)
Described by the San Jose Mercury News as “the first breakthrough flugelhornist since Chuck Mangione,” Matheny is a disciple of Art Farmer, whose playing stressed warmth and melody.
It’s an approach Matheny has taken, as well.
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“I would say melody is one of the hallmarks of our performances,” he said in an email interview. “There’s a profound absence of melody in a lot of contemporary music, even in what passes for jazz. For me, melody is the soul of a song. It comes first and matters most. It is a precious, heaven-sent thing.”
That dedication to melody has served Matheny well, as he’s toured with such popular acts as The Temptations, Martha Reeves, the Four Tops, Bobby Vinton and the O’Jays — groups known for their hooks and smooth melodies.
“People respond to great melodies from all genres,” Matheny said. “My favorite composers — Brahms, Jobim, Ellington, Wonder — they all emphasize melody. Melody is where the romance lives.
“I also try to phrase like a singer, so I listen to a lot of vocalists, especially Ella Fitzgerald. And because I favor a melodic approach to improvisation, most of the jazz instrumentalists I listen to are also from that lyrical tradition — people like Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Paul Desmond, Art Farmer, Chet Baker and Ben Webster.”
At 29, Matheny launched a recording career on the West Coast before making his New York debut at Carnegie Hall and going on to tour internationally.
During the course of his career, he has released 10 albums as a band leader and has appeared on more than 120 releases as a composer, arranger, producer, annotator or flugelhorn soloist. He began his career playing both trumpet and flugelhorn, but Farmer inspired him to focus on the latter instrument.
“When I first began studying with Art, he’d been playing flugel exclusively for nearly 30 years,” Matheny said. “In that time, he developed a sound so rich and full, it was like no other. … When I asked him to share his big secret, he said, ‘Put away the trumpet and give all your attention to the Big Horn.’ I did, and I’ve never looked back.”
Farmer passed the baton to Matheny in more than a figurative sense. Upon Farmer’s death in 1999, Matheny acquired his copper-bell flugelhorn.
A San Francisco resident for two decades, Matheny has performed in the Monterey-Carmel-Big Sur area and made the trek farther south to Los Angeles and San Diego. But this will be his first concert on the Central Coast.
“I make my living on the road — over 200 nights last year — but this will be my very first time in Cambria. I’m grateful to Charlie Shoemake for making it possible,” Matheny said.
Playing with Shoemake was one of the attractions for Matheny.
“I’ve admired Charlie for years,” he said. “Much like my mentor, Art Farmer, Charlie Shoemake is one of those great gentlemen of jazz for whom the music has always come first. He’s a top-call studio man and a master of melodic bebop on the vibes, beloved by fans of real jazz. And because of his dual influence as both a player and teacher, he’s damn near royalty among the community of musicians.”
Shoemake will join in the performance on vibraphone and keyboard, with Dylan Johnson handling bass duties and Paul Kreibich on drums.
“It’s a coveted gig, largely because you get to work with Charlie Shoemake,” Matheny said. “So I was really honored when he asked me to be part of it this season.”
Matheny said he plans to play a mix of jazz classics and standards such as “Stardust,” “Just In Time” and “Stormy Weather.”
The musician, who has a distinguished background as a music educator, is developing the music for his next project, titled “Jazz Noir,” which he described as “our spin on familiar TV and movie themes — film noir, spy thrillers and crime dramas.”
Charlie and Sandi Shoemake have presented touring musicians on the Central Coast as part of their Famous Jazz Artist Series since 1991.
Jazz Concert in Cambria
- Who: Dmitri Matheny with the Charlie Shoemake Trio
- When: 3 and 7 p.m. (two shows), Sunday, Feb. 1
- Where: Cambria Center for the Arts Theater, 1350 Main St., Cambria CA 93428
- Tickets: $20 each show, $30 both, 800-838-3006 or brownpapertickets.com
- Information: www.cambriacenterforthe arts.org