Renowned Alumnus Musician Hosts New Show on KCUR

Hermon Mehari hopes to engage listeners with old favorites and new discoveries

Trumpeter Hermon Mehari (BM, ‘10) is launching, “The Session,” a new show on KCUR 89.3 from his home base in Europe. While he has deep roots and high credibility in the jazz world, his show will be a mix of old favorites and new finds.

One of Hermon Mehari’s first musical memories is his aunt giving him the Michael Jackson cassette of “HIStory.”

“I think my first favorite song was ‘You Are Not Alone.’”

While he loved Jackson and grew up listening to a lot of Motown, he did not know he wanted to be a musician until he joined the band in 7th grade. That is when his passion for the trumpet began.

“I started playing the trumpet after about a year,” he says. “I fell in love with improvisation and jazz through my classes in school. I hadn’t known anything about jazz before and started buying records and was very purposeful about it. I was reading about the history and learning the stories of the musicians. It naturally grew into an obsession.”

He had developed a passion for jazz so deep, that he applied to the top three schools known for their jazz programs.

“I was impressed by his spirit and his playing,” - Bobby Watson

“I auditioned at all of them. I got scholarships at all of them,” he says. “Then I received a phone call from Bobby Watson. Bobby is legendary and worked with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. When I got his call, I had an Art Blakey and the Messengers CD on my nightstand and I was looking at it as I talked to him on the phone. He said he wanted me to come to UMKC. And I thought, ‘I want to work with someone who cares enough to call me as a result of my audition. I came to UMKC because of Bobby Watson.”

Bobby Watson, William D. and Mary Grant/Missouri professor of Jazz Studies, had heard Mehari play at a festival the year before he applied to the UMKC Conservatory.

“I was impressed by his spirit and his playing,” Watson says. “I had the chance to talk to him and it was clear he was very industrious. He has a business mind. He’s a natural entrepreneur. Even then he was always hustling, and you have to hustle.”

Once he was at UMKC, Mehari found himself surrounded by incredible musicians.

“I was immediately in a place with people who not only inspired me, but who took us out on the scene immediately. We were connected to the jazz tradition of Kansas City and the older generation that was there. But we learned from each other. I was inspired by my fellow students then and still am.”

Mehari received significant attention for his skills while he was at the Conservatory, including winning the 2008 National Trumpet Competition, but he never considered quitting school to play.

“That wasn’t a question for me,” he says. “I was a good student and my parents, who were refugees, would have been so disappointed if had quit school. In our community you don’t do that. I mean, you also don’t become a musician…”

After graduation Mehari went to Paris to explore the city and get to know the jazz scene.

“I’d been to Europe, but I’d never been to Paris. By the end of 2016 I’d moved there.”

As cities in Europe began to shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mehari and a few friends had the opportunity to rent a farmhouse in the French countryside. While he was there, he recorded his latest album, “Change for the Dreamlike.”

“I was in a good mental state. I’d written the music and had practiced a lot. I put it out for free on Bandcamp originally, because I knew that a lot of people might not be able to afford it.”

“Radio is meant to make you feel good and that’s my mission with what I do musically on the horn. I want people to feel or feel strongly, but most of all to feel good. That’s the beautiful thing about “The Session.” - Hermon Mehari

As the pandemic wore on, Mehari began to feel the strain. While he comes Kansas City three or four times a year to perform, he’s been unable to come for the last year. That makes strengthening his connection to home through his new show “The Session” on KCUR 89.3 even sweeter.

“Radio is meant to make you feel good and that’s my mission with what I do musically on the horn. I want people to feel or feel strongly, but most of all to feel good. That’s the beautiful thing about “The Session.”

Mehari had never thought he’d do a radio show, but he jumped at the opportunity.

“We’ll be celebrating Black music, which is really cool and important. But I’m also excited to showcase the diversity within this music. Some people may be familiar with jazz, but maybe they don’t know anything about music from Africa or blues, R&B or hip-hop. I want to stretch the listener. The idea is – check this out. Maybe you’ll like it or maybe you’ll like the next one.”

Mehari plans to feature a Kansas City artist in each show as well as new music, obscure music and popular music.

“It’s been really fun,” he says. “I love the curation. There’s a fine balance and I am always aware of having a few songs that are familiar to a wide range of people. The greatest compliment I could receive would be, ‘I never thought I’d like ‘X’ music, but now I realize I do.”

“The Session” with Hermon Mehari airs Saturdays at 7 p.m. CST on KCUR 89.3.

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Published: Mar 12, 2021
Posted In: Our People

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