Flugelhorn player Dmitri Matheny, heralded by the San Francisco Chronicle as “one of the jazz world’s most talented horn players,” performs tonight with The Hillcats, the Hillsdale College Faculty Jazz Ensemble.
The show will be held at 7 p.m. tonight in McNamara Rehearsal Hall at the Howard Music Hall, with free admission and no ticketing. Hillsdale Artist in Residence Sunny Wilkinson will accompany Matheny as vocalist.
The Hillcats will be playing mostly music written by Matheny, selected from the set he currently plays on tour.
“I picked the hardest tunes, the ones that interest me the most,” Director of Jazz Studies Chris McCourry said.
Matheny has been compared to Miles Davis and Chet Baker, major pioneers of the West Coast jazz style, as well as Art Farmer, who AllMusic Guide described as “the bebop master who defined the sound of the flugelhorn in modern jazz.”
“West Coast players favored the blend, warm, laidback sound,” Matheny said. “A lot of trumpet players would play flugelhorn, but only now and then, on a ballad. I loved that sound so much I wanted to play it on everything.”
By choosing to play only the flugelhorn, Matheny has been able to realize a comfortable, mature tone and create a unique sound for himself by experimenting with subtones and lower ranges. Tonight’s show will give listeners Matheny’s melodious take on the essential sounds of West Coast jazz, along with elements of blues and swing.
“The flugelhorn gets a warmer, more lyrical, melodic sound, as opposed to trumpet, which is brassy,” Matheny said.
McCourry originally heard of Matheny because of his distinct method of improvisation from melodies, rather than the harmonic or rhythmic approaches.
“My approach is to render and phrase the melody like a singer, try to get a soulful, vocal quality, not an approach many instrumentalists take,” Matheny said.
McCourry predicted that Matheny’s melodious, vocalist style would make the concert very accessible to listeners.
“The music he writes is mostly blues-based, but the melodies are beautiful and catchy, things people will be singing on their way out,” he said.
Both Matheny and McCourry expressed excitement for tonight’s concert because of the amount of talent packed into one hall.
“It is such a thrill to work with those guys,” Matheny said. “Hillsdale College has a surprisingly great faculty there. Chris is a treasure, I dig that guy. And Sunny Wilkinson, she’s a legendary figure in the Midwest — someone I’ve been listening to but never had the chance to meet.”
“This one is a special concert,” McCourry said. “The band is full of the finest in Michigan. It’d be a shame to miss it, since it’s free.”