Featured Musician - December 2005
Name: Johnny Martin
Early Years/Education: I grew up in Portland listening to AM top 40. Contrary to what a lot of people think, big band records and singers were never played in my house. There was music in my grandfather's house, which was a few blocks away.
He sang bass in the choir, played the saxophone, and had a piano. It was a musical place and the fact he had a deep bass voice impressed me. I came to jazz from rock and roll. In 1996, I made an "about face" when I heard the Nelson Riddle arrangement of "Summer Wind." I listened to it over and over again and I said to myself ...the lyrics are poetry. The melody was strong; the support of the vocal was so subdued but it swung. I also realized that the baritone voice is where my voice lies naturally. Suddenly you're matching your voice to a piano; that was a revelation for a rock guitarist.
The whole Sinatra storytelling thing really got me started. My first gigs were in coffee houses playing for tips, and then I hooked up with Eddie Weid. I paid him for piano lessons but I never touched the piano; I'd go to his house and he'd tutor me about the ins and outs of being a jazz singer. He became my mentor. My first jazz gig was at "Touché" in '97. Eddie Weid was on that gig.
When I first started snooping around and learning about jazz I was appalled to see the musicians standing around after each tune discussing what to play next. I came from dance bands where you play a ballad and then you rock right into the next tune ‘cause you've got an audience on the floor.
Musical Influences: I love Satchmo when he was an old man . . . I love that his voice just screams "I've been on the road forever!" His voice is so rich and I like how he leaves so much out. I'm also a huge Ahmad Jamal fan, I think that's how jazz is supposed to sound, his touch, the space, amazing! Bill Basie also inspires me for dynamics and space, Sinatra for pacing, and Nat Cole for musical styling.
Most Satisfying Experience: Whenever we're swinging the crap out of my sextet book! Another great moment was when my band received a standing ovation before a crowd of 800 during a summer outdoor concert.
Favorite Recordings: "Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing" '58; Nat Cole, "Live at the Circle Room;" Louis Armstrong, "There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon For New York;" Ben Webster, "Music for Loving;" Sinatra, "Point of No Return;"; Johnny Hartman, "Songs from the Heart;" Mel Torme, "Songs from the Disney Institute;" Nancy King and Steve Christofferson, "Dreamlands 2;" Becky Kilgore, "Not a Care in the World;" and everything by Jimmy Scott.
Discography: "Humanly Possible," 2001 all original studio release; "No Picnic," a 2002 live sextet recording done at the Oregon Zoo; "Nothing Personal," 2003 live quartet CD, probably my most popular; "Save As," 2004 live sextet CD/DVD; and "Sugar Pill," an all ballad recording.
Where Playing Currently: Thursdays 7 to 10:30 pm at the Heathman Hotel with a trio that'll include George Mitchell, or Steve Christofferson or Joe Millward; Tuesdays from 6 to 9 pm I'm at Clyde's Prime Rib in a duo setting; Sundays from 6 to 9pm I've got my quartet at Santorini's (11525 SW Barnes Rd.), Ray Tindell, Marty Higgins and Joe Millward are featured. Wednesday, December 7, I'll have a sextet at Museum After Hours from 5:30 to 7:30; Sunday, December 11 I'll be at the Saturday Market Main Stage from 2 to 4 pm; and other private gigs.
Future Plans: I'm about to build my own recording studio. I also want to travel . . . I think I can do this in any city.
Other Comments: When you're starting out, a ballad is so over your head. It exposes you. I'm hoping someday to "own" a ballad. When you hear a good one it moves you like when Jimmy Scott or Nancy King sings. Even good jazz players have trouble with the ballad...like where the "one" is.
A quote from bassist, Ben Wolfe, "Man, that Johnny Martin swings really hard!"
-- Interviewed by Rita Rega