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Martin Wind: Appreciating Bill Evans


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I always thought that 'Turn Out the Stars' was one of the most amazing songs ever written
—Martin Wind
Bassist Martin Wind had already gigged with American jazz musicians prior to moving to New York City in 1996 to advance his musical studies. Though classically trained, Wind is highly versatile, having played in orchestras, small jazz groups, crossing genres on the electric bass prior to departing his native Germany.

Now, years later, he is a well-established player on the New York scene, having performed with stalwarts like Monty Alexander, Pat Metheny, Clark Terry, Slide Hampton, Toots Thielemans, the Metropole Orchestra, Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Phil Woods and more. He's cut albums under his own name and since 2007 he's been leading his own quartet with Scott Robinson on reeds, Bill Cunliffe on piano and Tim Horner on drums.

"It's one of the things I love about being in New York. I get to play with so many different groups," he said during a June weekend in which he was playing a trio gig at the Village Vanguard in New York City with Anat Cohen on reeds and Matt Wilson on drums. (The Vanguard agreed to record some of the music for a future release). Later in the month, he played with pianist Ted Rosenthal, with whom he performed on Rhapsody in Gershwin (Playscape Recordings, 2014), a record on which Rosenthal arranged the entire "Rhapsody in Blue" for trio. He also works frequently with Don Friedman's group, and occasionally with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, where he has filled the bass chair off and on for some time.

"I'm living my dream, playing with all those different groups," he said. Part of Wind's dream is a recording that came out this year, done with a grand orchestra in Europe, as a tribute to the great Bill Evans.

The Martin Wind Quartet, featuring Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana, plays Turn Out the Stars; Music written or inspired by Bill Evans on What If? Music. It comes from a live concert of tunes arranged for the orchestra by Wind and performed at Theatro Rossini, Pisaro, Italy, in May 2011. It took some time to make the recording commercially available, but the elegant, thoughtful music can finally be heard.

"I always thought that 'Turn Out the Stars' was one of the most amazing songs ever written," says Wind." I thought that would be a powerful title for the whole project."

Wind says the project idea came about via a friend in Italy who has been producing jazz concerts in the Aconoa region, on the Adriatic Sea. "I was in the beautiful town of Assisi with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra," recalls Wind. "He came over and had lunch with me. During our conversation, he mentioned that he was organizing one concert a season with an orchestra from the region. He suggested that if I had an idea, he would run it by them. I always thought that Bill Evans' music and his style of playing and his romantic approach would lend itself to a project like this ... Bill Evans was very popular in Italy. Fortunately, they were biting."

Selecting the tunes came naturally, he says. "I always wanted to play 'My Foolish Heart' with an orchestra accompaniment. So that was kind of selfish. I always wanted to be a soloist with the strings playing underneath. It was also the first song that pulled me into Bill Evans' world. I can't explain it, but when I heard that for the first time I was in love. That sensitive, beautiful touch and that romantic kind of sad underlying quality. It was just something that hit me."

"I did not only want to do songs that he'd written himself, but songs that were part of his regular repertoire. I've been playing with Don Friedman, who wrote this song for Scott LaFaro [a famed Evans bassist] that I wanted to bring in. Bill Mays once exposed me to 'Goodbye Mr. Evans,' which I think is an incredibly beautiful song by Phil Woods. Joe La Barbera wrote a song ['Kind of Bill']. You have so many other songs you could perform. But let's start with a few. It's not a double album ... I'm happy about the mix of songs on the album."

The daunting project also sent Wind back to the drawing board to study more about orchestrating.

"I'm a string player and I have a diploma as an orchestra musician from the Music Conservatory in Cologne. I think I always had an idea how to write for strings. But I had to go back and study scores and read orchestration books and find out about the other sections. How you write for a woodwind section. How you write for brass. How you write for percussion. How you write for harp. How do you write so that everything actually blends?" he says. "It was exciting going back to being a student again. I worked with the music notation program Sibelius so that I had some kind of feedback and was able to hear my attempts. But it was nothing like the first rehearsal where I actually heard the result of my labor. It was overwhelming."

His quartet also helped bring the music to life. There was one change, however. Joe LaBarbera, the last drummer to play in the Bill Evans Trio, was brought in for the project. Martin had met the drummer before and they had talked about working together. Wind saw this as the opportunity.

"That was a no-brainer to bring him into this project. It worked out beautifully. He knows how to play. We had one concert where we had no sound system whatsoever, but we played this beautiful 200-year, 300-year-old theaters in the region. You really need to know how to play with an orchestra. You don't want to overwhelm anybody, but you still want to be energetic. He was the perfect choice."

Robinson, a mainstay in many New York large bands like the Maria Schneider Orchestra, gets to stretch more with Wind's quartet and his voice on the new recording is exquisite. "Not only with this project, but when we're playing more of my compositions, he's the voice of my music," says Wind of Robinson. "It's as simple as that. He brings it all to life."

The quartet only had a couple days to rehearse with the orchestra before they did three concerts in Europe, one of which became the music on the CD. "It was a big project. Amazing. And fantastic when it finally happened."

Wind says there is talk of possibly going back to Europe next year for more performances of the music. In the United States, he is finding that orchestras in the various cities are more interested in pop-oriented things if they are going to cross over away from the classical repertoire. He has contacted many, but with little positive response. "I wish they would show a little more courage to present something different," he says.

But there will be one concert on November 21 at the New Trier High School, just outside of Chicago. "They arguable have the best music program of any high school in the country," he says." Easily on the conservatory level there. I'm very much looking forward to bringing this music back to life with these young people."

Reflecting on the music of Evans, Wind notes that it's not just the beauty of the iconic pianist's music that drew him in, but " all those amazing bass players" that played in the Evans Trio over the years, like LaFaro, Chuck Israels, Marc Johnson and Eddie Gomez. "That was also pulled me into his world."

Wind's own world of music started in his hometown Flensburg, Germany, the most northern city in Germany, just a few minutes south of Denmark. He was tinkering around with the guitar as a teenager when a band director in school asked if he wanted to play the electric bass in the school band.

"I said, 'Sure. I'm not going to end up being a bassist.' And of course, that's exactly what happened... From my earliest beginnings [on bass], I always played all kinds of genres. I didn't even think in those kinds of terms. It was like, on Friday I had an orchestra rehearsal. On Wednesday it was always big band. We played concerts with orchestra and choir. Playing some pieces by Bach or Handel or whatever, and then three or four days later I might be playing a performance with a jazz trio or a big band. It's always been like that. I really love that."

Wind moved to moved to Cologne and studied classical bass for six years. Meanwhile, he was working more and more as a jazz player and began to come into contact with American musicians. He was asked to go on the road with Slide Hampton for some swings through Europe. He also started working with Bill Mays, "who had heard me at the North Sea Jazz Festival playing with a Dutch group. So more connections started to come together. I thought eventually I didn't want to just play with musicians of that caliber for only four or five weeks out of the year. I want to be around it all the time. I could tell that being around them lifted the level of my playing."

Wind successfully applied for a scholarship through the German Academic Exchange Service, which brought him to NYU as a student in 1996.

"My approach was, I have nothing to lose. If I go back after one academic year, nine months, I'm sure that I will have learned a lot. If I stayed for a year or two or longer, it could only benefit me. Eighteen years later, I'm still here. I'm living in a house in New Jersey. I have two teenaged sons. I'm still here, so it all came together beautifully," he says.

As talented As Wind is, there are many talented musicians in New York. Like most young musicians, it was a struggle at first. "It probably took about five or six years to get to the point where I felt I didn't have to take every little thing that came my way. It's not easy. No one was waiting for me. There were already hundreds of fantastic bass players living here."

Wind appreciated that he had structure in his life during those years, because he was going to school and studying, not just waiting for the phone to ring. He met people at school and managed to play in some of the better clubs, subbing in at first. Connections he made in Europe, like Bill Mays, also brought him work.

"One thing leads to another," he explains. "Somebody recommends you for a rehearsal with a singer. Somebody cancels last minute and you get a call. It takes some time, but that's what it is."

Wind established roots thanks to the woman who eventually became his wife. The fact that he had family stability and became imbedded in the U.S. fabric also provided him with the luxury of being patient during the lean times. Some fellow German musicians had no other focus but music and ended up leaving the U.S. Soon he had a family started "and it gave my life a different meaning. I was here for more than music reasons. There was my family. And the family of my wife. So I belonged to a different social scene. All of these things helped."

Forging relationships with other musicians, as always, is a key for anyone in New York and for Wind, meeting drummer Matt Wilson "was probably the most important thing that happened to me all these years living in New York. He really encouraged me so much and embraced all of my choices that really, through him, I started to trust my musical instincts a lot more. Through him, I started to allow myself to be myself more. Not try to be somebody else. To work with his groups and see how he was leading his bands. His friendship. People saw me and said, 'Matt Wilson's using this guy.' It helped my status. That was incredibly important to me on so many levels. It's wonderful that we're still playing together. It doesn't get old."

Working with the high-profile Vanguard Orchestra has also helped, and Wind still finds time to work with Mays "who is still a great influence and inspiration. I've met so many wonderful musicians over these years. The great thing about New York is that there is always somebody that you haven't worked with, that you're looking forward to working with. It keeps you motivated and keeps you working on your craft. It's a very unique place to be."

Veteran bassist John Clayton, who Wind met in Europe, is another inspiration. "What he does with the bow in jazz, encouraged me. All those hours you put in to get a good sound with the bow, he can use this in jazz too. Then I saw him become this great arranger. So I thought maybe I can write for big band too. He's also a great arranger for orchestral projects. He instilled that belief that even as a bassist, you can be this complete well-rounded musician. It's possible to do many other things and be well-rounded. Maybe go into film music. That keeps it fresh. It's never boring. There's always something else to learn. I learned that from him, along with some other people."

For pure playing of the contrabass, Wind notes his main men are Ray Brown and Ron Carter. "I got a chance to meet both of them and I'm still in awe of their contributions. For me, that's home base right there."

So Wind is a busy New York City musician with various irons in the fire. Another one this year is teaching at the Centrum Jazz Camp in Port Townsend, Washington State. "I'm going there as a faculty member, but 25 years ago I went there as a member of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra in Germany. We went there to perform at the festival and also participate in the camp. That's actually where I met John Clayton. I met Jeff Hamilton, who is also important to me. Ray Brown was there. Monty Alexander. It was incredible how many people I met there. It's wonderful to go back there 25 years later and pass it on to the next generation."

Selected Discography

Martin Wind, Turn Out The Stars (What If? Music, 2014)
Ted Rosenthal Trio, Rhapsody in Gershwin (Playscape Recordings, 2014)
Martin Wind, Salt 'N Pepper (Challenge Records, 2008)

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