|After years of performing at small jazz clubs, saxophonist
Dennis Mitcheltree is realizing the rewards for his years of work, study
and persistence. With an abundance of recent concert and club appearances,
combined with his 4th CD/DVD release as a leader and constant touring,
Mitcheltree is in a position to do what he does best; play his music.
"Things seem to have just taken off…I've played concerts and jazz festivals with Bob Moses, Jim McNeely, Howard Johnson, Gary Bartz, George Cables, Odean Pope, Kenny Werner, Ingrid Jensen, James Williams, Don Sickler, Charli Persip, Pete Yellin, Uri Caine and Ronnie Mathews. I've had the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall a number of times. My quartet and trio have been touring North America and Europe and the music has never been better and I'm receiving some press attention. That kind of stuff is great for the soul after years of being discouraged by the lack of opportunities available to creative musicians."
The tenor and soprano saxophonist and composer was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Starting on oboe at the age of 12 and picking up the baritone sax for his school jazz band, Mitcheltree was interested in music from the outset. By the time he was in high school he concentrated exclusively on the tenor saxophone and discovering the rich history of jazz through recordings.
"The first jazz recording I owned was Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. I'll never forget the chills that traveled down my spine the first time I heard Coltrane play on that album. Like most teenagers, I was looking for something in life that made sense to me and I had this wonderful connection with Trane's sound and attitude."
Mitcheltree became a frequent visitor to Milwaukee's few jazz record stores, using his hard earned cash to discover the music of swing, bebop, hardbop and 60's free jazz.
"I tended to lean towards the music of the 60s because of it's spiritual sense, but Charlie Parker showed me the blueprint of the music and it's soul. Sonny Rollins showed my the swing but still I was totally into Trane. When I heard A Love Supreme I knew that I wanted to be a jazz musician. It showed me that there were no bounds to the feelings that could be expressed in music; that communicating with people by performing this music can bring about so many ideas and connections. Communication is what I strive for in the performance of my music. It's the ultimate goal."
Turning down a scholarship to the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music's Jazz Program, Mitcheltree headed east where jazz is centered, choosing to enroll at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. There he met like-minded students and could be found in the ensemble rooms of the college working on his music on a daily basis.
"I didn't have much of a chance to play in Milwaukee. I would practice about eight to ten hours each day but aside from one or two small jazz clubs where I could sit in there really wasn't much of a scene. Going to Boston really opened up my eyes as to what's going on in the jazz scene. I was out listening to live music until three in the morning almost every night and up by eight to go to class."
After two years at Berklee, Mitcheltree decided that school was a bit restricting and that he needed a change of scenery. He decided to go to Japan and perform as a free-lance musician while exploring a different culture.
"I had more fun in the three months that I was in Japan than I ever had up to that point in my life. I got a chance to do some wild, crazy things and meet and play with some really great musicians. I got to play with bassist Chin Suzuki and saxophonist Tosh Inoue, who are two of Japan's greatest jazz musicians. When I returned to Boston I hoped that I could start gigging with regularity and just perform."
Unfortunately it didn't go quite as planned. With the absence of steady, decent paying gigs Mitcheltree decided to re-enroll at Berklee with the assistance of a hefty scholarship. He graduated Magna Cum Laude with a major in performance in 1987, and then made the big move to New York.
Mitcheltree organized his own quartet that continues to perform at clubs, concerts and jazz festivals throughout the North America and Europe. His composition for jazz sextet and string quartet, "Suite No.1", was presented at Carnegie Hall in 1995. His quartet has been featured on televised jazz specials and live radio performance and interview programs worldwide.
Mitcheltree is also the Artistic Director of the American Music Group, widely known for it’s INFLUENCES series presenting original arrangements of compositions by jazz masters including Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Thelonious Monk, Tadd Dameron, Bud Powell, John Coltrane and Miles Davis.
“Over the last few years my music has taken a decided twist towards the topical. The political climate since the turn of the millennium has provided me with a wealth of material to inspire my musical direction. It’s only by in-depth study of the past jazz masters have I been able to take the music into my own personal direction…and for that I will be forever in their debt!”
A former student of Joe Lovano, Billy Pierce, George Garzone and Ralph Lalama, Mitcheltree teaches private lessons and group classes at the Greenwich House Music School, NYU and for Long Island University in addition to conducting jazz clinics at colleges and other jazz organizations.
"As for the future, I'll continue performing and composing, developing the musical base that I've established. My main goal is to present whatever I'm playing, whether it's standards or original compositions, with the level of intensity and spirituality established by Coltrane and his quartet. It's a real pleasure to perform and have a listener come up to me afterward and tell me that they could really feel my music; that it spoke to them. When I hear this I know I'm on the right track."
Mitcheltree has been a panelist for the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Jazz Fellowship program and the Brooklyn Arts Council Regrant Program. He has twice been a recipient of the Eubie Blake Award, a 2004 Meet The Composer award winner(for Tenor Of The Times), a New York State Council on the Arts grant recipient and the alternate finalist for the 1996 Evansville International Jazz Saxophone Competition. His debut recording, Brooklyn, on the Top Ten Jazz List at KZSU Jazz in Stanford, the Top 40 Jazz List at WNUR Jazz in Chicago and jazz playlists worldwide, is available on CD at local jazz outlets and via secure online purchase at the dennismitcheltree.com MusicStore along with more recent audio CD and video DVD releases.