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Interviews

John di Martino: Piano Man In/On Demand

By Published: March 31, 2009
AAJ: You got to play for all these singers

JdM: Yes. Who else? Jack Sheldon
Jack Sheldon
Jack Sheldon
b.1931
trumpet
. And then it would go from the sublime to the ridiculous. One day it would be a comedian. I remember playing behind Charlie Callas, people like that. I remember even Milton Berle. This is really bizarre. And sometimes there would be R&B kind of singers. So learned so much music and I learned not to be a snob about anything. Whatever I was asked to do, not to condescend, but to say: "Okay, this is a challenge. Meet the challenge." So what that did for me, besides being an education, it let me make contacts. It was a magnet place. At that time there was a lot of employment there. I'm talking about the early eighties.

AAJ: Yes. There were a lot of acts playing there then. I used to go there a lot.

JdM: You remember then.

AAJ: I saw Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan
1924 - 1990
vocalist
there and Tony Bennett
Tony Bennett
Tony Bennett
b.1926
vocalist
.

JdM: I remember Sarah Vaughan's rhythm section came and sat in with me. Andy Simkins and Harold Jones
Harold Jones
b.1940
. I became very tight with Billy Eckstine and Bobby Tucker. In fact, that's how I met Freddy Cole
Freddy Cole
Freddy Cole
b.1931
piano
. That's how that all started. Freddy was playing in the lounges when I met him. It's before his career had started off. In fact, Freddy Cole had been telling Todd Barkan about me for years, but it wasn't until Todd Barkan heard me with Grady Tate
Grady Tate
Grady Tate
b.1932
drums
. And he went: Oh, this is the guy that Freddy's been telling me about. And next thing I know, like a week later, I get a call from Todd Barkan. It was a project for the Venus Record label to accompany this singer. Hence, now, that's 2003, it's 20 records later. I've got about 20 records with Todd. I mean, Gloria Lynne
Gloria Lynne
Gloria Lynne
b.1931
vocalist
, Freddy Cole.

AAJ: You just did a CD with Gloria.

JdM: There's a young singer from Europe, from Austria, Simone. We've done four records. The last one I did is also for strings.

AAJ: Speaking of Europe, you also did Othella Dallas.

JdM: Oh, yes, Othella. Right. Nicki Parrott is now singing. We've done two records with her. The other person I studied with was Don Sebesky
Don Sebesky
b.1937
arranger
. Because I also arrange. So now I write a lot for Diva. They recorded two arrangements for their last CD,

John di MartinoAAJ: But you did all the arrangements for the Othella Dallas album.

JdM: Yes. That I did. I did the whole thing. And they recorded another one for XM Radio. So, back to Atlantic City. I had the house band gig at the Golden Nugget for three years. Then after that there were a lot of little hip, little jazz-oriented lounge gigs. And I had a name in town, so all the singers that would come in from wherever, I played for them. So it was almost like I started to have a house band again, even though technically it wasn't, at Trump's Castle. But then I started to get really bored and depressed being in Atlantic City. It would start to feel like Alaska in the winter. It was like, what are we doing here?



So finally I pushed myself to move to New York in 1988 and it was a little weird though, because Atlantic City is close enough that I could run back to do gigs. So I was running back and forth a lot. And I thought if I keep doing that, what's the point of living in New York? So then I started to, like, close one door and open another. And I was working with Jon Hendricks

Jon Hendricks
Jon Hendricks
b.1921
vocalist
before I moved here, who I met through Marion Cowlings. But that gives you a little sense... I'm sort of more of a street fighter which is more how my older colleagues learned.

AAJ: That's it. You didn't sit in a classroom somewhere.

JdM: Although I have a total academic understanding of what I do, but I didn't approach it that way. I approached it more through the heart and soul and I think that's why I can relate to people like Houston Person, people of that generation.

AAJ: Well, that's how they learned. It was on the job training.

JdM: Right. Lennie Tristano's thing was singing the great jazz solos. Because his theory....what we know about Bird is that Bird would listen to Prez's recordings and learned to play every note of Prez's solos. So what Lennie would make you do was he'd make you sing along with the records. He'd take a great solo by Lester Young
Lester Young
Lester Young
1909 - 1959
saxophone
or Charlie Christian
Charlie Christian
Charlie Christian
1916 - 1942
guitar, electric
and sing along with it until you could just mirror not only the notes, but the feeling and inflections. Because he said you wanted to get something of the soul of the player.



I remember him saying: "You want to get something of the soul of the player, whatever the f__k that is." He was so pretentious like he knew what that was. So I remember the first solo I sang was a Lee Konitz

Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz
b.1927
sax, alto
solo on "These Foolish Things." It was a beautiful solo. He said: "You're singing all the notes. You've got a great ear, you know. But I'm not getting the feeling. I want you to go back and really get that." And then the next part was to sing it without the record which is really hard to do. And the next step was to play the solo. But he felt that you internalized it by singing it because he thought the mistake of the so-called bebop players was that they would just take the licks right from the record right to the horn. And he thought they were destined to just repeat it without internalizing it.


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