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John di Martino: Piano Man In/On Demand

By Published: March 31, 2009
AAJ: That's very interesting because I find that with any good vocalist, if you really want to do a song right the first thing you do is you read the lyric. You speak the lyric. Forget about the music.

JdM: I wish all the singers that I work with would do that.

AAJ: Because if it's a good lyric, it's a conversation...

JdM: Hello...

AAJ: And also, the other thing is if you're a musician and you're doing a song, you should know the lyric.

JdM: Miles knew all the lyrics. Prez knew all the lyrics.

AAJ: Okay. Joe Derise, the guy I used to write with, people used to come in to see him all the time because Joe knew 20,000 songs. He knew songs that nobody even did anymore. [Stan] Getz used to come in and hear him sing because he wanted to hear the lyric. Mundell Lowe
Mundell Lowe
Mundell Lowe
used to come in.

JdM: You know, I coach singers all the time. I wish they would make that number one. In fact, they should read the lyric simply to decide can I do the song. Can I relate to the sentiment. That should be number one.

AAJ: Of course, it should.

Giacomo Gates / John di MartinoJdM: It's too often backwards. So when somebody says they don't remember the lyrics, there's no excuse for that. That should be number one. In fact, that should inform every decision made about phrasing. What notes you sing. How you phrase. That's everything.

AAJ: That kind of thinking is probably why you work so well with vocalists.

JdM: Unless you're going to be Bobby McFerrin
Bobby McFerrin
Bobby McFerrin
and just be this instrumental virtuoso and totally obliterate the song. And be another instrument. That's his thing.

AAJ: But if you're a vocalist, you don't do that. You're singing a song. A song is half lyric, half music. You can't ignore one for the other.

JdM: Right. And lyric is the most important thing. I mean that's why somebody without a very great voice...

AAJ: You don't have to have great chops...

JdM: If they have the feeling.

AAJ: I saw Annie Ross
Annie Ross
Annie Ross
. Annie's voice at this point is not where it used to be...but she's a storyteller. She gets up there and does a silly old song, "One Meatball." And it's a silly song. It was a novelty song. And you sit there and you listen to this thing, but you listen to this because of what she does. It's how she interprets.

JdM: Sylvia Sims called it "having a brain in your head." You have to have a brain in your head.

AAJ: But this is probably why you do well with vocalists because you do look at what you're playing and what you hear from that perspective.

JdM: Yes. It's totally theater. And unfortunately too many quote-unquote jazz singers, they're not thinking about that enough.'

AAJ: Aside from the fact that you do a lot of work with vocalists, you have your own group. That's a totally different approach. How you can do both because it's a different thing. And how that comes about and what the difference is for you. A lot of people don't know that about you. They think of you as an accompanist and that's it.

JdM: Exactly. Yes, that's true. Well, one of the things I do is I record every year for Venus Records—the trio does. They have themes. The last one that was released was all Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
. But I did one that was all jazz treatments of Mozart themes. I have one that's all new Broadway and I did one recently that's all classic Latin music. But probably the most personal statement that I've done so far is called Birds of the Heart (Panda Moon, 2004), and it's available on CDBaby. And it's a bit eclectic. Some of it is Latin and some of it is straight-ahead and some of it is sort of like film music. I have a classical violinist and this duo for violin and piano.

Film music is something I'm real interested in. I want to get more involved. I'm working on a film project with an actress that's turned to directing. And that's something that really interests me because I like working with film and I like working with poets for the same reason. Because it's like a total blank check. You're basing the music on whatever the emotion or dramatic context is, but you're not forced necessarily into being in any style. And that's where composition gets to be really interesting because every gig I'm at, there are certain things that define what style it is. Okay, it's a very traditional, straight-ahead gig. Is it a Latin gig. Is it an avant-garde gig. Is it a blues singer or a cabaret singer? Because I even have a life with cabaret singers. It's all music. Of course, the cabaret singers that hire me want to go more in a jazz direction. But I like the idea of being given a total blank check creatively.

AAJ: You get a chance to do that when you do your own CDs, don't you?

JdM: Yes. But these trio CDs only come out in Japan. They really don't get circulated here. It's been good for me. I tour Japan once a year.

AAJ: That's the label with the blondes on the covers?

JdM: That's it. I've got the real sexy covers that someone of the DJs put stickers on. I toured Japan in November—it's my trio but with special guest Red Holloway

Red Holloway
Red Holloway
1927 - 2012
and a great singer from Florida, Nicole Henry.

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