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Marty Sheller

Marty’s first instrument was snare drum which he took up at age 10, and even though he switched to trumpet a year later, his love of percussion has played a major role in his career.

He attended South Side High School in Newark, NJ and in 1957 he began college at Columbia University in New York City where he met fellow student and pianist Myron Schwartzman who introduced him to another student at the school, alto saxophonist Bobby Porcelli. They have all remained close friends since those days, when Sheller and Porcelli could be heard practicing Charlie Parker–Dizzy Gillespie unison lines in Marty’s dorm room.

Marty made his professional debut in 1958, playing a summer gig with Porcelli, Schwartzman, and drummer Wilbur Bailey at the Woodbine Hotel in the Catskill Mountains. As young adults, they were passionate about the emerging music of Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Horace Silver and John Coltrane, and that summer was spent transcribing and playing songs from their recordings.

In the fall, Marty joined a band led by tenor saxophonist Hugo Dickens that played at dances, fashion shows and cocktail sips sponsored by black social clubs in Harlem on Friday and Saturday nights. The clubs hired bands that could play rhythm and blues as well as Latin, and there was a group of musicians in New York that had grown up listening to both kinds of music and knew how to play them authentically. There were three bands working that circuit; Hugo Dickens, Pucho, and Joe Panama. Many musicians who played in these bands went on to become very influential in the jazz and Latin–jazz scene, including drummers Pete “La Roca” Sims, Phil Newsum and Steve Berrios, pianists Rodgers Grant and Arthur Jenkins, bassist Bill Salter, trombonist Barry Rogers, alto saxophonists Bobby Porcelli and Bobby Capers, and Hubert Laws who doubled on tenor sax, flute, guitar and vocals.

In 1959 Marty began playing with composer, arranger, timbalero, vibraharpist and pianist Louie Ramirez, and in 1960 they put together a Latin–jazz band that played jazz songs with a Latin rhythm section, but the band found little work. The group included conga player Frankie Malabe, whom Marty sites as an important early influence. He spent many afternoons at Malabe’s house on Simpson Street in The Bronx (across the street and a few doors down from the infamous police station nicknamed “Fort Apache”) studying African and Afro-Cuban rhythms. Malabe would arrange two seats facing each other, put on a record, and demonstrate the conga parts by playing them on Marty’s knees, explaining the time-keeping patterns and their relationship to the clave. The Sheller/Ramirez band, finding few places that would hire them, discontinued rehearsals until conga player Sabu Martinez hired the entire group, minus Malabe, to play on “Sabu’s Jazz Espagnole” (originally issued on Al Santiago’s Alegre Label), considered by connoisseurs of Latin-jazz to be one of the genre’s quintessential recordings.

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Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson


Self Produced



PVR Records




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