Festival rises to challenge of Blakey tribute


Philip Elwood
Friday, November 6, 1998
©1998 San Francisco Examiner

THIS YEAR'S S.F. Jazz Festival is on a "tribute" kick, presenting concerts honoring four generations of jazz violinist stylists; three generations of vibists; two generations of Havana pianists; composer George Gershwin; and legendary band leaders - bassist-composer Charles Mingus and drummer Art Blakey.

Organizing a tribute concert to Mingus, compared to Blakey, is relatively easy, since the Mingus Big Band, Mingus Amungus and various of his side men's groups have been perpetuating his music since 1979, when he died.But presenting an Art Blakey Jazz Messengers tribute, as happened at Bimbo's on Wednesday, is a tricky undertaking. For one thing, Blakey was not a composer to come close to matching the prolific Mingus. For another, the Jazz Messengers' musical structures and rhythmic patterns were in the hands (and feet) of Blakey, with the group's consistently brilliant front-line horn men and pianists propelled to unbelievable instrumental heights. Blakey, whose career went back to the pre-bebop years, utilized the best composers, hiring some of them. He died at 70 in 1990.Two bands filled the bill at Bimbo's on Wednesday - alto saxist Bobby Watson's "Art Blakey Project," a sextet including four alumni of the Messengers, and Mel Martin's Bebop and Beyond 2000 quintet, with which Watson participated.The Mel Martin band Wednesday was exciting, rewarding and more in Blakey's bop blues spirit than the headliners. Drummer Winard Harper was more into Blakey's rise-and-fall rolling style than Peterson, with Watson, and some of the Martin band's original material really cooked. Trumpeter Jack Walrath not only played a scorching horn, he composed the whole evening's best number, "Butt," a funky-blues number with a 1,2,3,4-5 beat that Blakey would have loved. Watson's alto solo on this was better than his best with his own group.Martin, on tenor, with Walrath (muted) behind him, sounded fine, and on Monk's "Evidence," pianist Rob Schneiderman romped through a superb solo as Martin backed him on soprano sax. It was a thrill even for aging, crusty critics (I sat with Bob Blumenthal from Boston and Howard Reich from Chicago) to catch the Blakey spirit from these two groups. Hopefully, many in the audience (a sell out) discovered the magic of Blakey's overall sound. He and the Jazz Messengers were a wonder - I loved 'em.©1998 San Francisco Examiner

Tres Hombres at SF Jazz Festival

The jazzman cometh

By Mary Connell September 26, 2001

He's been on stage with the greatest of the greats. This Sunday, Mel Martin will play close to home, the Fairfax Jazz Festival, a gig he's honored every year since its inception.

That the national mood is somber may be an advantage to us all, he says.

"People are definitely looking to be lifted spiritually."

A tenor saxophone master and teacher whose audiences have included jazz lovers in Japan, at Yale and Stanford and at San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall, Martin believes that on Sept. 11, "People's attention went to a different place. Everybody just stopped and listened. The appreciation level rose. Humanity is definitely looking for reality. People's perceptions have changed and art has a chance to change and grow."

The longtime Novato resident, a fixture of the Bay Area jazz scene since the 1960s, is the founder and artistic director of Bebop & Beyond. Over the years he's been a Bay Area Music Awards recipient and garnered grants from such prestigious organizations as the National Endowment for the Arts.

His technique, sometimes blistering, sometimes melodic, has won high praise from jazz critics around the country and from such artists as Dizzy Gillespie, with whom he recorded Bebop & Beyond Plays Dizzy Gillespie.

"Duke Ellington used to say there are only two kinds of music: good music and bad music," said Martin, who also has a deep appreciation of classical music. A lot of youngsters coming up in the jazz world have the technical expertise but no life experience in which to give their music depth of feeling. Not so the masters, he said.
"Isaac Stern and Horowitz could put you in tears by playing the phone book."

Photo by Christian Abraham

January 19, 2002

Mel Martin Charges Up Standards
The veteran Bebop and Beyond saxophonist and the Jon Mayer trio romp through a hard-swinging set of bebop variations.

By DON HECKMAN, Special to The Times

Saxophonist Mel Martin is one of a number of first-rate jazz artists whose residence in the Bay Area--outside the major jazz media centers of New York and Los Angeles--has tended to reduce his visibility. Which is not to say that he hasn't had a busy career, working with such pop performers as Santana, Boz Scaggs and Van Morrison, and leading his own group, Bebop and Beyond, on a series of tribute albums to Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Benny Carter.

On Thursday night at Spazio in Sherman Oaks, Martin made one of his occasional Southland appearances, combining participation at the International Assn. for Jazz Education and the National Assn. of Music Manufacturers with a few local gigs. Leading a Los Angeles rhythm section consisting of pianist Jon Mayer, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Roy McCurdy, he romped confidently through a hard-swinging set mostly devoted to bebop variations on a group of familiar standards.
Martin's big, muscular sound, reminiscent at times of Dexter Gordon, was especially effective with the flowing melodic lines of "There Is No Greater Love." And, on another standard, "Polka Dots and Moon Beams," he switched to the curved soprano saxophone, using the rarely heard instrument to deliver a somewhat more tempered, if no less rhythmically urgent, set of variations.
Martin couldn't have asked for a better stylistic partner than Mayer, whose ever-present sense of swing and articulate bop improvising provided a creative counter and an empathetic backup support. Oles and McCurdy, two of the Southland's most dependable rhythm section artists, held the music together with their characteristic creative ease.
Interestingly, despite the no-nonsense, straight-ahead bebop nature of the music, a medium-tempo version of "All the Things You Are" drew a mobile, middle-aged couple to the dance floor. Their presence, along with their sheer terpsichorean energy, was a reminder of a time when jazz--even extremely adventurous jazz--and dancing were enthusiastically compatible musical partners.

Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times

Photo by Christian Abraham

LA JAZZ SCENE – November, 2003


By Bob Comden

Saxophonist Mel Martin performed at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in October, working with a local rhythm section. He was on a small tour that had him appearing at Fitzgerald's the following night, then on to San Jose and Cambria with Charlie Shoemake.

Martin plays alto, tenor and soprano but on the evening I heard him, he played soprano and tenor only. He was born in the Sacramento area and has lived in San Francisco since '70s, Martin attended San Francisco State College. In his early youth, he was on the rock scene working with such groups as Santana, Azteca, Boz Scaggs, Van Morrison and Cold Blood.

He got more interested in performing jazz forming his own groups, Listen and then Bebop and Beyond which has recorded for Concord and Blue Moon doing many tribute albums to famous musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk  and Benny Carter. Martin is also a writer and has written for many publications.

At the Crowne plaza, Martin put together a very inventive set of straight-ahead jazz, accompanied by Chris Colangelo on bass, pianist Jon Mayer and drummer Roy McCurdy. Each contributed fine solo work gave Martin excellent support. A very enthusiastic crowd was on hand to listen to the group. As I arrived they were playing Bobby Timinon's "Moanin" in a swinging, straight-ahead fashion. There was some lively hand-clapping and heads bobbing as McCurdy dug into a solid solo. Martin was very aggressive in his approach, using a flurry of notes. Mayer is one of the strongest pianists on the scene here in LA. He never fails to deliver a potent performance. The crowd was enjoying the sheer energy of the group. The musicians took a dinner break and I got a chance to chat with them.

The final set started off with a fast-paced "All Or Nothing At All," as Martin demonstrated his melodic ideas on tenor sax. Mayer created another gem with his solo, using lots of space. Colangelo held it all together with a steady pulse. "Song For M," (from a recent Bebop and Beyond CD) was written for McCoy Tyner. The tune breezed along at a nice clip. Mayer had some tasty ideas while Colangelo and McCurdy held a cookin' groove. Martin burned on his blistering solo and then McCurdy took charge on his solo. Singer Bobby Gantt joined the group for a lively "Green Dolphin Street." "Dearly Beloved" was beautifully played by Martin, using his curved soprano sax. The set ended with a blues tune and thus ended an enjoyable evening of jazz. Mel Martin may not be known to everyone in L.A. but he's well worth hearing, whenever he appears.


  Sunday, November 17, 2002



Joshua Sanders' interview with Randall Kline landed on a painful point concerning resident Bay Area jazz artists. Mr. Kline was quoted as saying he doesn't showcase as many local artists as he used to because "they don't show up." He goes on to point out that is so because there are fewer and fewer venues each year which is a sore truth. When asked, we do show up and do take care of business. We, who have been doing this for a long time, also show up in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Europe and Japan. The Chronicle must bear some responsibility with its recent policy of near total lack of jazz reviews. At one time, there were venues such as the old Yoshis, the Keystone Corner and the Both And where resident artists could develop the music and the audience. The media was there to help including several radio stations and a number of newspapers including the Chronicle and Examiner. Writers such as Ralph J. Gleason, John Wasserman, Conrad Silvert, Phil Elwood and even the great vocalist Jon Hendricks would expound on both national and resident jazz acts and help build situations where a group could become a draw, record and do some things of significance. San Francisco was second only to New York as a jazz town. Other than the San Francisco and Monterey Festivals, Yoshis and the Pete Douglas Beach House, jazz has mostly become "wallpaper music" at restaurants. Most of us can get, perhaps, one night a year at the new Yoshis and it is clear that they are also suffering from lack of reviews so they have to book more non-jazz or near-jazz acts to survive. I would suggest that Bay Area jazz artists be booked on the quality of their output and the merits of helping to build an audience not just the tried and true. The old days are gone and, most likely, won't return. We are reliant upon the festivals and relatively few concert venues. The Chronicle needs to reconsider its policies and get away from acting as if jazz was just another trendy diversion instead of the Bay Area treasure it is. Every major metropolitan newspaper takes the art form seriously and features regular reviews and articles of both national and regional artists. Why should San Francisco, which was once considered a cultural Mecca, be any different?

Mel Martin
Bebop and Beyond
Novato, CA

Arts Programs Are Alive and  Well

Marin IJ 12/2/04


Sandy Peterson (A San Marin High School Parent)

I WANT TO SET the record straight regarding the arts programs at "traditional" high schools.

            While the Nov. 14 article in the IJ promoted the Marin School of the Arts, it is important that parents of prospective high school students know that music, drama and visual arts also thrive at Redwood, Tam, Drake, San Rafael, Terra Linda and San Marin high schools.

            The arts are not competitive sports with winners and also-rans. Most high school teachers support each others' programs and applaud each others' accomplishments. Eighth-grade parents should look at the actual records of the other high schools and make informed decisions for their students.

            As a parent of three San Marin music students, I can unequivocally state that the music program offered by Emily Gates at San Marin is the one of the best available.

            Because Mrs. Gates is not a self-promoter, she rarely advertises her groups' successes. As a musician and a teacher, she wants all kids to have a chance to make music. If you ask Mrs. Gates to name a star performer she won't have one -- she sees all her kids as stars. The "budding artists" who have studied music at San Marin High School think that San Marin is the original "school of the arts"!

            For more than 13 years, San Marin Musical Theater has annually produced two complete musical productions, frequently to sold-out audiences. Students sell tickets to cover production costs, also earning money for the annual spring music tours. This fall, Mrs. Gates and a San  Marin alum/professional musical theater actor, Kevin Kiler, directed "Pajama Game."

            The music classroom swarms with kids until late in the evening, almost every day of the week. San Marin's Musical Theater Workshop rehearses on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and Sunday afternoons. San Marin Show Choir rehearses on Wednesday evenings from 5:15 to 7. Jazz combo rehearses after school on Mondays, and, this year, Mrs. Gates meets during lunch with the strings group and the men's chorus.

Amazingly, there is no fee assessed to be in any San  Marin music   group. The highly acclaimed vocal and instrumental performers have been invited to festivals around the world. Recent tours include Australia, Vancouver, Banff, the State Capitol rotunda, and three separate performances at Carnegie Hall. This year's jazz groups will be part of the World Project's Tour during spring break in New Orleans.

            Parents volunteer in the music department not because it is required of them, but because they love seeing their students so excited about music.

            The sense of teamwork in all of Emily Gates' classes is legendary in our community. She is a gifted educator and always encourages her students to bring out the best in each other; "divas" and "stars" are not tolerated!

            At last year's spring concert, a highlight of the performance was the "Star-spangled Banner," where the soloists were two special education students who were backed up by the entire concert choir.

            Because music transcends language, ESL students are welcomed and often put their skills to work teaching other students how to correctly pronounce words in multicultural pieces. The "music kids" emulate the compassion for others and the dedication to excellence they learn from Mrs. Gates.

            The valedictorian/salutatorian at San Marin has been a member of the music department at least five times in the past 10 years. San Marin's music students have gone on to Yale,UC Berkeley, UCLA, USC, Davis, Reed, Tufts, Stanford, the Claremont Colleges, Chapman, and other prestigious institutions.

            Many students who don't major in music continue to perform in college, and some have gone on to professional music careers. Jim Poulos, a San Marin alum, currently can be seen in "Little Shop of Horrors" in San Francisco. He also performed as Mark in "Rent" on Broadway. San Marin's drama department has also won accolades, and puts on fabulous performances in the student center at the high school. The drama students recently presented "You Can't Take It With You."

            Displays of the art of the visual arts students are also wonderful and demonstrate the depth of talent at this "traditional" high school.

            I obviously have great admiration for the students and faculty at San Marin. Other parents can surely point with equal pride to accomplishments at their local high schools. Students in San Marin are fortunate to have so many great options available to them. Parents and teachers should join together to applaud all our students' efforts, and to appreciate the wonderful talents of all our "standout performers."

            Thanks to all the educators who bring out the best in Marin County's talented kids.

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