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Big Jazz Nerd

Who was Spider Martin?

By Published: December 9, 2005
Big Jazz Nerd,

I read somewhere that the famous civil rights photographer Spider Martin was also a badass tenor player. True?

Tony Pelligrini
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida





Tony,

I'm afraid yours is a case of mistaken identity. James "Spider" Martin, the photographer, was born in 1939 in a small Alabama town and died April 8, 2003 in Blount Springs, Alabama. He was best known for his civil rights photography, including the March 1965 beating of marchers in Selma, Alabama. That event, known as "Bloody Sunday," influenced LBJ's signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which added thousands of Southern blacks to the voting rolls. Collections of Spider's photographs are on display in the Smithsonian and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

John W. "Spider" Martin Jr., the tenor saxophonist, is not as well-known to the general public, and his contribution to the art of jazz deserves greater appreciation. Born August 18, 1931 in Asheville, North Carolina, Spider Martin moved to Niagara Falls, NY when still a boy. He studied at the Manhattan School of Music and began his professional career in earnest touring with Lionel Hampton's big band. His most ambitious musical period was in the mid-to-late Seventies, when he led a quintet featuring a very youthful Joe Locke. Spider's band toured the east coast and backed numerous jazz giants, including Dizzy Gillespie, Pepper Adams, Jimmy McGriff and Tony Bennett. In fact, Spider cut a number of albums during this time on Bennett's indie jazz label Improv Records. These recordings, all out of print, included Absolutely with Locke on vibes, and Tony Bennett/The McPartlands & Friends Make Magnificent Music, taped live at the now defunct Pine Grill in Buffalo. The latter disc was recently reissued on the Concord record label as part of a four-album Bennett box set titled Tony Bennett: The Complete Improv Recordings. Later in his career Spider performed with his youngest son, drummer Darryl "Pookie" Martin. He died April 21, 2000 in Niagara Falls at the age of 68.

Related Article
Spider Martin Obituary



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