On Saturday, Washington Park in Centralia will be filled with the mellow tones and deep melodies of Dmitri Matheny’s flugelhorn, Milo Peterson’s guitar, Phil Sparks’ bass and Mark Ivester’s drums.
Together they form the internationally-renowned Dmitri Matheny Group, which is first up in a series of concerts in the park planned for the summer.
“You don’t have to be a jazz lover to dig what we are going to do,” said Matheny, a Centralia resident described as “one of the most emotionally expressive improvisers of his generation" by the International Review of Music.
The group will take the stage at 2 p.m., playing original songs as well as putting a jazz-style twist on familiar melodies from movies and the radio.
This is the first of several concerts in the park to be held throughout the summer. It’s organized by the Centralia Downtown Association.
“We love to see people out and about enjoying everything downtown has to offer,” Tory Graf, the CDA’s promotions committee chairman, said. “We are excited to do this downtown. It is a great way to kick off the summer.”
Performing in parks is something Matheny loves. He has played in San Francisco clubs, concert halls in New York and venues across the world, but he said playing while he can see the faces of the people in the audience gives him great satisfaction.
Playing in Washington Park is especially meaningful for Matheny because he can simply step out of his house in Centralia, walk down the street and step onto the stage.
“It is a really cool thing,” said the musician, who spends around 200 nights a year on the road.
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Matheny moved around the country as a musician and lived in San Francisco for a while. He played a lot of shows in Seattle and Portland and knew he wanted to live in the Northwest, because of the community, the culture and the climate. When he and his girlfriend decided it was time to relocate, they put a pin in a map halfway between Seattle and Portland. As they started house-hunting in the region, they fell in love with Centralia and the community.
Growing up, Matheny’s father listened to the same four or five jazz LPs. At 4 of 5 years old, Matheny asked his father about the music. His father told him it was jazz, Miles Davis to be specific.
This is when he determined he wanted to pursue music.
“Jazz musician ended up being the default,” he said.
At 5, he started playing the piano, at 9 he picked up the trumpet and at 18 he traded the trumpet for a flugelhorn, which he now specializes in.
Not many jazz musicians specialize in the flugelhorn, Matheny said. Many play both it and the trumpet.
After being mentored by famous musician Art Farmer, Matheny decided to focus on the flugelhorn because of its deeper, mellow sound.
That sound creates the melodies, Matheny’s favorite element of music.
“To me, melody is the soul of the song,” he said.
When giving a song a jazz treatment, Matheny does not improvise with high notes similar to an Eddie Van Halen solo. He improvises the melody.
He says it is high risk. If he messes up, the audience will know, but he will still laugh it off and try again the next night. If he succeeds, it can be magical.
“It feels like the music is playing you,” Matheny said. “It is a conversation among the musicians with each other and with the audience as well.”
Matheny has been a celebrated jazz musician for decades, most recently winning the honor of Northwest Jazz Musician of the year at the 2016 Earshot Jazz Golden Ear Awards.
To learn more about him, visit dmitrimatheny.com.