Jazz Artist Hermon Mehari Now Lives In Paris, But He Returns To Kansas City As Often As He Can
Trumpeter Hermon Mehari, 31, is a Missouri native, who’s now based in Paris.
In 2010, Mehari graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance where, as a student, he earned early acclaim as one of the founders of Diverse. The jazz group released two CDs, and toured the U.S. and Europe.
Mehari released his own debut album, "Bleu," in 2017. He spoke with Fish Fry host Chuck Haddix about his career and his ties to Kansas City:
HADDIX: Hermon, to quote saxophonist John Coltrane, your life has been a series of "Giant Steps," from Jefferson City to Kansas City, Missouri, and now Paris, France. Tell us about your life and musical journey.
MEHARI: Yeah, I mean, there's a certain amount of surrealism to it that I kind of witness when I just take a moment to look back.
So I started in Jefferson City in the band program, and I fell in love with music immediately. And then eventually I made my way to Kansas City to study with Bobby Watson at UMKC. I lived here in KC for about 10 years. I was doing quite a bit, including going to Europe for tours and stuff, and eventually I just made the move.
I've been in Paris for two years now. It was just kind of a natural evolution for me.
HADDIX: You had offers from Berklee (College of Music) and Eastman (School of Music). Why the Conservatory of Music and Dance at UMKC?
"I went to school at UMKC, and I learned a lot about the music there ... But I also learned so much from the city itself." - Hermon Mehari
MEHARI: At the time, I would say the biggest factor was Bobby Watson.
I like to relate the story: He called me after I did my audition, telling me that he wanted me to come to the Conservatory. While literally on my nightstand was one of his albums sitting there. And I'm just like, yeah, if I'm going to get this kind of direct attention from someone that's part of the tree — you know, he is jazz — I'm not going to get anything better than this.
I tell people that, yeah, I went to school at UMKC, and I learned a lot about the music there and it's amazing. But I also learned so much from the city itself, the scene, the jazz scene here and the musicians here, and the history that's been upheld. Both parts of it were a school for me.
HADDIX: Your most recent release, "Bleu," was influenced by your father's passing. Tell us about how "Bleu" came about.
MEHARI: It was kind of a moment, you know. A couple of things kind of aligned in terms of a timeline. My dad's passing really was sobering and kind of a growing-up type of situation where I had to look at my career and say, "Ok, I did this thing, I did this stuff with Diverse, but I need my own — I need Hermon. I need an album that's me." So I said, "I need to do this. I really need to make this happen."
At the same time, I got approached by a guy named Daniel Edwards, who has a group called KC Jazz LP. Their idea is to build up the east side of Kansas City, build up neighborhoods there, make them more cultural. And so, he came to me and said, "Hey, do you have a project in mind? I can help you fund it, but the proceeds can go to help benefit what we're doing on the east side." And I said, "Yeah, this is great."
And I put together literally the band that I wanted. I could pick anybody I wanted and put together the band that I wanted. And I'm really proud of that project.
HADDIX: You make your home now in Paris, yet you often return to Kansas City. What brings you back?
MEHARI: Ah, Kansas City is the best (laughs). I feel grateful because I love Kansas City. When I was leaving, I said, "I feel sad that I won't be here." But to kind of balance that, I made sure that I would still come back here as often as I could.
Open Spaces, Kansas City's new city-wide arts festival, hosts The Weekend, October 12 - 14 at Starlight Theatre. Friday: The Roots, The Soul Rebels and Red Baraat; Saturday: Janelle Monae, Marcus Lewis Big Band, McFadden Brothers and Sankofa Danzafro; and Sunday: Vijay Iyer Quartet, Hermon Mehari Quartet, DakhaBrakha and Innov Gnawa.
Chuck Haddix is host of the Fish Fry, 8 p.m. - midnight on Friday and Saturday nights on KCUR 89.3.
Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.