Mel Martin is a composer, arranger, bandleader, saxophonist and flute player - one of the most versatile and creative musicians to ever emerge from the San Francisco Bay Area. In his long career, he’s played a part in many of the innovative movements that have come out of that creative community. He sat in with Wes Montgomery and his brothers while he was still a teenager, played in John Handy’s Freedom Band in 1962 upon moving to San Francisco, worked and recorded with many of the progressive rock and Latin rock bands of the late 60s and early 70s including The Loading Zone, Cold Blood, Santana, Azteca and Boz Scaggs. He founded the award winning Listen, one of the early West Coast jazz-fusion bands in 1976. He’s currently artistic director of Bebop and Beyond, a group he founded in 1983, as well as leading the Mel Martin Band, The Tenor Conclave, the Mel Martin Big Band and the Benny Carter All Star Tribute Band.
Mel has recently completed the new Mel Martin Band recording Where The Warm Winds Blow to be released on Jazzed Media and distributed by Allegro-Music. “It is quite different from anything I've recorded since the early '90s and is reminiscent in ways to my early Listen recordings but with much more of a jazz slant.” It was recorded in July, 2008 when the great jazz pianist Don Friedman came out from New York to do a California tour with the group including guitarist Brad Buethe, bassist Robb Fisher and drummer extrordinaire Jeff Marrs. Besides Don, special guests include John Santos on percussion and Barry Finnerty on guitar. The repertoire is broad and varied from the fiery Latin-tinged Rhythm Man (Do Not Disturb) to the contemporary classical piece with a jazz breakout In The Stars by Stephen Mellilo, I Have A Dream by the great Grammy Award winning Herbie Hancock including Mel’s adaptation for woodwinds of his original horn arrangement, the funky, Bitches Brew style of Silly Hawk Walk, a beautiful live version of Blue In Green, George Russell's inventive take on Love For Sale: Ezz-Thetic, The great Benny Carter composition Where The Warm Winds Blow, my personal tribute in 6/8 to my lovely wife Catey: To Catey With Love, and the chestnut Victor Young composition Weaver of Dreams. On many of the pieces, Mel overdubbed special woodwind arrangements appropriate to the particular composition or just featured the sextet and quartet. "I'm very excited about getting it out there and hope that people will enjoy it."
Martin’s previous album, Just Friends, (Downbeat ****) was a live recording by the Mel Martin/Benny Carter Quintet. It was released in July to coincide with Carter’s 100th birthday. The sessions were cut live at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in Oakland in 1994 and feature Carter on alto sax; Martin on sax and flute; Roger Kellaway on piano; bassist Jeff Chambers and drummer Harold Jones. Three tunes from this date appeared on Mel Martin Plays Benny Carter (Enja, 1994) and these tracks are just as compelling. “The mastering tools let us bring out the quality of the performance,” Martin says, “but it was all there in the grooves.
Martin was born into a musical family in Sacramento in 1942. Both parents were singers and early piano and clarinet lessons led him to Benny Goodman and Glen Church’s Jazz Rhythm & Blues radio program. The big bands passing through town – Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Woody Herman, Shelly Manne and His Men, Cannonball Adderley – kept his interest high. “Seeing those bands live, especially Goodman, made me want to play jazz. His sax man Bud Johnson had an incredibly big sound; he didn’t have to have a mike to fill the hall. I had a small combo – clarinet, accordion and drums – and my father got me my first gig. Afterwards we played at Mel’s drive in for tips.”
While still a teenager, Martin was good enough to sit in with Wes Montgomery and his brothers. “Monk and Buddy Montgomery moved to Sacramento after The Mastersounds [their successful quartet with Ritchie Crabtree and Bennie Barth] disbanded. They brought Wes out from back East, and drove around to gigs in a pink Caddy. I was already jamming with musicians in the Black community and I’d go listen to [the Montgomery Brothers] when they played The Swinging Lantern or the Iron Sandal. I showed up with my flute one night, got up my nerve and asked if I could sit in. All of a sudden I was up there and I noticed I’d never sounded so good in my life. When you play with great musicians, you tend to up your game. It was a seminal moment; they were very encouraging. At another gig Wes wrote out the changes to ‘West Cost Blues’ on a napkin that I still have.”
While majoring in music at San Francisco State in 1962, Martin met John Handy, a fellow undergraduate, and played with him in his Freedom Band. “I knew his work from his time with Mingus and own records on Roulette. He played alto, but influenced me as much as any tenor player. We played demonstrations and colleges. There wasn’t a lot of money involved but we played music by Mingus and Handy, my first time working within a real jazz situation. John was always pushing us: ‘Whatever you got, bring it and let’s go. Now!’”
At the same time, Martin was learning how to play bop with the musicians who hung out at Bop City, Soulville, the Jazz Workshop, Shelton’s Blue Mirror, Jack’s on Sutter and later the Both/And. “The greats would go there after their gigs to hang with the local musicians, eat chicken and waffles and play jazz. The Jack’s and Shelton’s had jams from six am to 11 am. You could catch a gig on Friday, then go to a club and play from 2-6 AM and then some more from 6-11AM, get some sleep and do it all over again on Saturday. If someone called out a tune you didn’t know, you’d learn it and go back the next night and if they saw you were serious, they’d accept you. Bop City and Soulville were my schools.”
In the late 60s/early 70s Martin played with progressive rock and Latin bands including The Loading Zone, Cold Blood, Azteca and Boz Scaggs.
“I made five albums with Boz, all before he made it big, three with Cold Blood, Two with Azteca and with Doug Sahm’s Honky Blues Band, Wayne Talberty, Chuck Berry, Dr. John and others. Rock in those days was wide open and damn interesting. I had a lot of studio work and had an offer to tour with Van Morrison, but I was already in Azteca”, [the co-operative Latin jazz band that featured Santana associates The Escovedo Brothers. Armando Peraza and Neal Schon.]
In 1977 Martin created Listen, part of the early West Coast jazz fusion scene whose first album has just been released in CD format. “The Fourth Way, Jerry Hahn Brotherhood and the John Handy Quintet were all based here. Chick Corea was putting Return to Forever together and Herbie Hancock started The Headhunters in San Francisco, so there’s a rich lineage of fusion in the Bay Area.” Listen made three albums, two for the Inner City label: Listen featuring Mel Martin (1977) and Growing (1978) and She Who Listens (1979) for the small Scottish label Move. Martin received a Musician Of The Year award from the San Francisco chapter of NARAS (Grammy) in 1977 as well as a Bammy for Best Jazz Album of 1977 for Listen featuring Mel Martin. Illustrious Listen alumni include steel pan player Andy Narell and drummers Terry Bozzio and George Marsh.
Martin has been artistic director of Bebop and Beyond, a group he founded, since 1983. Eddie Marshal, John Handy, George Cables, Ed Kelly, Charles McPherson and Warren Gale have passed through the ranks and their discography includes Bebop and Beyond (Concord, 1984), Bebop and BeyondPlays Thelonious Monk, (Blue Moon, 1990) Bebop and Beyond Plays Dizzy Gillespie (Blue Moon, 1991) with special guest Dizzy Gillespie and Friends and Mentors - Bebop and Beyond Plays the Music of Mel Martin (Quixotic, 2000).
Martin has received five National Endowment for the Arts grants – a Compositional Grant in 1976 and funding to help preserve the music of Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk and Benny Carter for the recordings Bebop and BeyondPlays Thelonious Monk, Bebop and Beyond Plays Dizzy Gillespie , Mel Martin Plays Benny Carter and Just Friends – The bc QMel MartBenny Carter Quintet. He was also honored by the San Francisco Jewish Museum as part of their Jewish Presence in Jazz Series. Other projects include The Tenor Conclave, currently on hiatus, a sextet featuring the foremost tenor saxophonists of the day - Tim Armacost, Mark Levine, Robb Fisher and Akira Tana - focusing on the repertoire of the great saxophonists of the past, especially Joe Henderson and The Mel Martin All-Star Big Band, which plays new arrangements of standards as well as the music of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Carter, Jimmy Heath and Mel Martin.
As performer, composer-arranger and multi-instrumentalist (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, flute, piccolo and alto flute, clarinet and bass clarinet) Martin has contributed music to the CBS Television Series The Twilight Zone and films including Rumblefish, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Warriors and Street Music. As a bandleader, contractor and sideman, Martin has put together (and played in) big bands for McCoy Tyner and Dizzy Gillespie and played with the Freddie Hubbard Quintet and Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra.
On the educational front, Martin taught the Stanford Jazz Workshop at Stanford University from 1984 to 1995, produced a series of Jazz Workshops for the Marin Jewish Community Center and regularly conducts workshops at his studio in Novato and in the Marin public schools. “I get a chance to feed my students various classics from the jazz repertoire and in the process discover some of the young talents that will take up the music in the future.
“I’ve always loved music from jazz, to rock, to classical and I’ve been blessed to be able to make a living at it.” After five decades of playing, Martin is still growing, still restless, still exploring the limitless possibilities of musical expression with the same enthusiasm he felt when he first picked up a clarinet as a boy. Thanks to the magic of recording technology, we’re all able to go along with him on his everlasting journey.
For more information and booking contact:
PO Box 2758
Novato CA 94948-2758
Look out world! Here comes the baddest new drummer...Zachy!
Click here to here Zachy play the guitar(?) and sing.
"Mel Martin has been seen as a leading interpreter of Benny Carter's music."
Jazz Greats Magazine - Vol.58
" I am most impressed with Mel Martin's musicianship." Benny Carter
"Mr. Martin displays a dazzling technique and
an awesome command of jazz harmony. His approach to playing is unique. He
doesn't sound like anyone else" Saxophone Journal
"Blistering bebop chops...his tenor speaks in
romantic, sculptured phrases..upbeat, naturally fluent melodic qualities." Owen Cordle - Jazz Times Magazine
"Martin is a solid workmanlike, improviser with
a facile technique, a firm rhythmic feel, and a vivid harmonic vision." Don Heckman - Los Angeles Times
"An amazing tenor and soprano saxophone player,
sophisticated with a fresh point of view." Saxophone Journal
"The Mel Martin Band was exciting, rewarding
and more." Phil Elwood - San Francisco Examiner
"The Whirlwind with the woodwinds" San Francisco Chronicle
"Mel Martin's interpretation of his own tune
'Longhorn' was a wailing, logically constructed chain of phrases. His arrangements
were clean and straight forward. Downbeat Magazine
"Martin's ballad work shows a remarkable feeling
for styles associated with a couple of generations before he was born...his
sound is as inherently attractive as anyone I can think of ." Phil Elwood - San Francisco Examiner
"Mel Martin is one of the few reedmen who has
really developed a big, pure, shimmering flute tone and his breathtaking work
soars majestically." Jesse Hamlin - San Francisco Chronicle
"A great Teacher" Stan Getz
"A hidden treasure - invaluable." Jeff Kaliss - San Francisco Chronicle
"You really play your ass off!" Dizzy Gillespie
“I grew up in the neighborhood and went to school with Benny’s daughter. As to Benny - I wish I could be as great as Benny Carter.”
Sonny Rollins - 2007
“It is obvious on this great recording that Mel Martin was finely mentored by Benny Carter, my number one saxophone hero, due to the clear Carter influence on Mel’s playing. His flute playing is also quite good on People Time.” Jimmy Heath - 2007
Mel Martin and Bebop and Beyond
Bebop and Beyond is an acclaimed classical repertory jazz ensemble
committed to working with some of the foremost performers and composers in jazz.
Formed in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1983 by reed player, composer/arranger
Mel Martin, the group has garnered international attention
for their dynamic and innovative presentations and finely produced recordings
of new arrangements of classic bop compositions by Thelonious
Monk,Dizzy Gillespie , Charlie
Tadd Dameron, Charles Mingus
and others as well as forward looking originals by members of the group.
Bebop and Beyond strives to bring an authentic interpretation to the classic
repertoire and to invigorate the music with a broad and entertaining approach,
drawing the audience into a musical environment that brings together the musical
lineage of modern jazz including many of the later innovations of the music.The
collective musical experiences of members of the band reads like a Who's Who
of jazz. Ranging from Bud
Powell and John Coltrane
to McCoy Tyner and
Freddie Hubbard, the list also includes
Benny Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, Joe
Hutcherson, Jimmy Smith, Milt Jackson and many more.
In 2002, Bebop and Beyond released Friends
and Mentors - Bebop and Beyond Plays the Music of Mel Martin on the
Quixotic label. It features Mel Martin -saxophones, Bobby Watson - alto
saxophone, Jack Walrath - trumpet, MIke Longo or George Cables - piano,
Ray Drummond - bass and Billy Hart or Winard Harper - drums. Bebop and
Beyond's previous recording was a collaboration with bop innovator Dizzy
Gillespie which was his final studio date. The results of this can be heard
on their recording BEBOP
AND BEYOND PLAYS DIZZY GILLESPIE (Bluemoon R2 79170). They were also presented
in performance with him in Jazz In The City's Jazz Master's Series as well
as the Monterey Jazz Festival. Their previous recording BEBOP AND BEYOND
PLAYS THELONIOUS MONK (Bluemoon R2 79154) was produced by Monk's original
producer Orrin Keepnews and featured special guests Joe Henderson on tenor
saxophone and Howard Johnson on tuba and baritone sax as well as faithful
arrangements of many of Monk's more obscure works. Both of these recordings
as well as the concert were funded in part for being of the highest artistic
caliber by the
National Endowment for the Arts and have
been highly acclaimed. They recorded their first album BEBOP AND BEYOND
(Concord CJ244) in 1984. Bebop and Beyond is currently working on developing
their own original compositions for their next recording project.
Bebop and Beyond is a 501(c)3 Not-for Profit Corporation
Board of Advisors
"Bebop and Beyond remains solidly committed to
mining a deep vein of modern American music for nothing more than the joy
of the art. It's about time for the band's recognition to catch up with it's
accomplishments." Derk Richardson - Bay Guardian
"This is some of Dizzy's best recorded work in
years, a case of mutual inspiration. Mel Martin has cooked up personalized
charts that retain the essence of Gillespiana. The honored guest can't go
wrong with these cats who have done their homework." Owen Cordle - Downbeat ****
"This inspiring project of the music of Thelonious
Monk will stand as an important contribution to the legacy of bebop." Dave Liebman- Saxophone Journal
"It is fascinating to witness the creation of
a repertory approach to Monk's music." CD Review
"This is one of the 'big thinker' recordings
of the year." Linda Gruno - Jazz Link
"This is very exciting, tricky, complex, unusual
music beautifully played by an out-of-the-ordinary group of musicians." Mike Ferro - Victory Review
"Mel Martin has done a beautiful job with the
material which is most significant. It is an outstanding tribute to the memory
of Monk. The performance was excellent as well. I am most impressed with Mel
's musicianship." Benny Carter
"Bebop and Beyond are very serious
musicians......and I think they did a wonderful job with my material." Dizzy Gillespie
“The Mel Martin Big Band was exciting, rewarding, and more.”
Philip Elwood - San Francisco Chronicle
The Bay Area has always been a hotbed of jazz talent. Many of its brightest stars have moved on to the greener pastures of New York and beyond. Saxophonist/composer/arranger Mel Martin has chosen to maintain his permanent residence in the green pastures of Marin County. Mel still travels quite a bit doing performances and educational clinics world-wide but has made a commitment to forming a swinging, “in-your-face”, volatile big band. The roots of the band began in the early ‘nineties when Mel Martin was contacted by such jazz greats as Benny Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, Charles Mingus’ Epitaph and Joe Henderson to help them put together high-level big bands for Bay Area performances at venues such as Davies Symphony Hall, Kimball’s, Filoli Gardens, Yoshi’s and the San Francisco Jazz Festival. These experiences were the seeds of what has become a truly all-star ensemble. The new band features Bay Area multi-generational jazz stars Dayna Stephens and Rob Roth on tenors, Andrew Speight and Tim Devine on altos and Howard Cespedes on baritone saxophones & flute, Mike Olmos, John Worley, Lou Fasman and Erik Jekabson trumpets, Rick Walsh, Al Bent, Joel Behrman and Chuck Bennett on trombones and pianist Art Khu, bassist Robb Fisher, and drummer Jeff Marrs. The band has performed sold-out engagements at The Russian River Jazz Festival, The Filoli Summer Series, Jazz at Pearl’s and Yoshi’s.
Mel Martin is widely known as the artistic director and driving force of the group Bebop and Beyond, The Tenor Conclave and The Mel Martin Band. He has lent his extraordinary woodwind talents to many recordings and performances by artists such as Benny Carter, Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Gillespie, The Count Basie orchestra, McCoy Tyner, Joe Henderson, Mingus Epitaph, Kenny Barron, Mongo Santamaria, Santana, Freddie Cole, Cal Tjader, Vince Guaraldi, Louie Bellson, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King, Sarah Vaughan, Joe Williams and many, many more. Mel Martin is a recipient of several National Endowment for the Arts Awards including jazz composition, jazz fellowship, recording and jazz ensemble categories. Hearing Mel Martin performing his own powerhouse compositions in the big band setting is a riveting and fiery listening experience not to be missed!
The repertoire of The Mel Martin All-Star Big Band consists of new arrangements of many standards in addition to music by Count Basie, Benny Carter, Jimmy Heath, Joe Henderson, Gerry Mulligan and Oliver Nelson favorites and new arrangements of Mel Martin’s original compositions. The emphasis is on Swing and fire as in “it don’t mean a thing” (if it ain’t got it!) Their debut performance was at the 24th annual Russian River Jazz Festival in Guerneville, California on Saturday, September 9, 2000 with special guest vocalist Jamie Davis of the legendary Count Basie Band.