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John di Martino: Piano Man In/On Demand

By Published: March 31, 2009
Houston Person / John di MartinoAAJ: I saw Nicole at Arturo Sandoval
Arturo Sandoval
Arturo Sandoval
's club—it's closed now—but I saw her when they were celebrating their first anniversary.

JdM: Something I need to do here is I need to record—I'd like to do a solo record and trio record and do it here and release it in the United States. I've recorded lately a couple of times in Rudy Van Gelder's studio over in Englewood with Houston Person. I just love Rudy's piano. He's said, "Come on over here and do it," because I guess he's happy with how I play the piano. But I need to release something for here. But it's always I'm always so busy helping everybody else with their project so sometimes the challenge for me is to be disciplined enough to allocate time for myself.

AAJ: You write, too. What kind of stuff do you write?

JdM: I sure do. It kind of runs the gamut. Like some of it sounds like film music. What else am I doing on my own?

AAJ: I know there's always something coming up with you with singers and stuff like that. You're getting a reputation and everybody wants to work with you.

JdM: That's true. A lot of singers call. But, actually, I love working with singers because I'm an arranger. I like to orchestrate. But the thing about playing piano for them is it's like spontaneous orchestration.

AAJ: Yes. That's the beauty of what you. It's because of your ears and what you hear and how you learned your trade and all the years of on the job training and working with singers. You play just enough. It's the singer that's out there and you know just how to support them. And that, to me, is a gift.

JdM: Well, thank you. That's real important and creating a frame—I call it an environment for the text to breathe. Because music always has a focal point. It's always what's the focal point. When the singer is singing, that's the focal point. So everything has to support that. I'm always thinking about that. And I tend to think, too, what's the minimum—what's the minimum I can do. And you get a lot of record dates because in a recording situation, it's a very valuable thing. Because subtlety and nuance are very important. I make the comparison that playing live is more like theater and playing in the studio is more like film. Live theater is more over the top. And in film you have the equivalent of the close-up.

AAJ: That's a very good analogy.

JdM: I always think of it that way. Because you're relaxed. Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
1940 - 1993
guitar, electric
called it "a movie for your ears."

AAJ: I know you always have things coming up. What's on your project list?

JdM: I think the next record with the trio that I make for Venus is going to be jazz interpretations—it's probably going to be the music of Paul Simon.

AAJ: Does he know about it?

JdM: He probably does.

AAJ: He's probably going to want to play guitar on it.

JdM: This Japanese label, they like to give you themes and at first I kind of resented it. But then I started to enjoy the challenge of it. The first them was like take recent Broadway hits like Le Miz and Andrew Lloyd Weber. But I had to get really creative.

AAJ: They really don't write songs.

JdM: They write eight bars and they modulate. The next one was Mozart and that was kind of fun and I did that with a drummer from Cuba who played a lot of different world rhythms. So I kind of took Mozart around the world.

AAJ: Well, that's interesting. It's not the same old, same old. But did they have these nude blondes on the cover?

JdM: Well, the Mozart record—out of respect for Mozart—I didn't know what . I was anticipating a nude woman with a wig. But out of respect to good old Mo, there's a picture of Mo on the front and a picture of me in the back. I think they didn't want to offend anybody. Then there's the Monk record and there's a woman on the front but she has her clothes on. So I've graduated to color photos and now the women have clothes as opposed to being nude. Female artists, they don't make them do that. They just take a good photo shoot. But it is called Venus I guess that's the correlation.

AAJ: You're lucky you're not doing "One Touch Of Venus."

JdM: Right. Kurt Weill. "Speak Low." I would like to do a Kurt Weill record. There's "Lost In The Stars." I'll tell you one that's really neglected—"It Never Was You." You know who recorded it? Kiri Te Kanawa. She recorded it but I don't know anyone else who recorded it. It's a great tune. I did it with Barbara Fasano
Barbara Fasano
Barbara Fasano

. I did a Harold Arlen
Harold Arlen
Harold Arlen
1905 - 1986
record with her, but she was in a cabaret show we did it in. I enjoy playing with cabaret singers. Something that cabaret singers have sometimes that we miss in jazz singers, they realize that idea we talked about—that text is number one. They're thinking about that above it all. Sometimes I think jazz singers ought to think about that a little bit more.

AAJ: Billie Holiday.

JdM: Yes. The great ones did.

AAJ: Ella [Fitzgerals] did. Carmen [McRae] did.

JdM: Oh, yeah. She was amazing. Sarah did, too.

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