By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
A protégé of legendary trumpeter and flugelhornist Art Farmer, musician Dmitri Matheny said it’s important to persuade youngsters to listen to jazz. If he hadn’t indulged as a kid, he may not have moved on to be dubbed “one of the jazz world’s most talented horn players” or “unquestionably a master.”
A former Chandler resident, Matheny is doing his part with “The SnowCat,” a heartwarming tale of a little girl’s search for her wandering white cat on a chilly afternoon. Each year, the musician and his friends bring “The SnowCat” to life in a series of performances for families, including 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, at the Chandler Center for the Arts.
“We used to do shows every Christmas, where we would take a children’s story like ‘Santa Claus’ or ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ or ‘The Grinch’ and set it to music,” Matheny said. “We did these in San Francisco just about every year for 10 years. They were pretty popular among kids and grandparents.”
But when lawyers asked him to license the characters, he created an original story.
“The SnowCat is based on an ancient Japanese parable about an ox herder, a little boy who goes looking for his lost ox,” said Matheny, who changed the story to a little girl and a cat.
The show explores a wide range of genres, including reggae, jazz, hip hop, funk and calypso.
“It’s really lively,” he said. “We’re able to keep the attention of the little kids.”
There are coloring books and plush toys to enhance the experience. As vocalist Holly Pyle performs the songs, images and text from the book are being projected on the wall behind the musicians.
“It encourages literacy,” Matheny said. “Parents can read along with kids. While we’re performing, some of the people are sitting like a typical audience. Some are dancing, though, and some are lying on the stage around us, coloring. It’s a wild time, man.”
Born on Dec. 25, 1965, in Nashville, Matheny was raised in Georgia before his family moved to Tucson, where his father took a job as a teacher.
Attracted to his father’s collection of jazz and classical LP records, Matheny began piano lessons at age 5 and switched to the trumpet at age 9. While in his teens, he fell in love with the flugelhorn and left home to attend Michigan’s prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy and then Boston’s Berklee College of Music.
After private studies with Carmine Caruso in New York City, Matheny became the protégé of Farmer, a formative relationship that lasted over a decade.
Matheny has more than 60 recordings in his discography.
“We’re able to do this for a living,” he said. “It’s nice to play music for people, travel around and make friends.”
IF YOU GO
What: Dmitri Matheny’s “The SnowCat”
When: 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 10
Where: Chandler Center for the Arts, 250 N. Arizona Ave., Chandler
Information: 480-782-2680, chandlercenter.org
Jazz artist returns for concerts Dec. 10-19
Jazz flugelhornist Dmitri Matheny is also performing at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16, at Chandler Art Walk.
A former Chandler resident, Matheny will perform seven additional Arizona WinterFest concerts through Dec. 19 at various venues across the state, including those in Phoenix, Sedona, Scottsdale and Tucson.
Acclaimed for his warm tone, soaring lyricism and masterful technique, Matheny has been called “one of the most emotionally expressive improvisers of his generation” by the International Review of Music. An honor graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston, he came onto the jazz scene in the 1990s as the protégé of jazz legend Art Farmer. Since then, he has released 11 CDs and toured extensively throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. The San Francisco Chronicle calls Matheny “one of the jazz world’s most talented horn players.” Info: dmitrimatheny.com.