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.