Take Five With Martha J.

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Meet Martha J.:

I started my career in Milan, Italy and in 1990 I took part in Sanremo Music Festival (that is the most important festival in Italy dedicated to Italian pop music). After that, I recorded two CDs and I took part in many radio and TV shows. I gave concerts in Italy and abroad.

From 1999, I turned almost exclusively to jazz music, and since then I have been playing with many famous musicians in jazz clubs, festivals and events in Italy and abroad.

In 2005, I was invited to sing in saxophonist Carol Sudhalter's new CD, Shades of Carol.

In 2008 I released two CDs dedicated to jazz standards—That's It and No one but you.



Teachers and/or influences?

I was fourteen and I was on holiday at the seaside with my parents. One day I was on the beach with some friends, playing guitar and singing songs by the Beatles and Bob Dylan. A man stopped, listened for a while and said: "You know, you sing like Joni Mitchell". I stared at him and did not answer, because I didn't know who Joni Mitchell was. But I kept the name in mind and when I went back to Milan I bought all the records of Joni Mitchell I could find!

I liked them so much that I learned to sing and play most of her songs. "Little Green," "A Case of You" and "The Circle Game" were the first songs I recorded, two years later. I don't know if I could really sing like Joni Mitchell, but her music surely influenced my way of singing and my vision of music.

Chet Baker has been another great teacher for me. When I started to learn to sing jazz standards Chet Baker's way of singing was the model I kept referring to (and he still is, in many ways!). I liked the smooth sound of Chet's voice, the effortless way of singing note after note, the apparently subtle but elegant and original variations in the themes, the way he didn't need to sing a lot of notes or to sing loudly to underline the meaning of the words... Chet Baker's voice always reminds me that singing it is not just a question of technique or range, but is mostly something you have to find in your heart.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

This is a difficult question!

I very deeply feel that my voice and the wish to sing have always been part of me, as are my face, arms, legs....

I can't remember a beginning, a turning point, a striking vision that started it all: as far as I can remember, I have always been singing! My teacher at primary school still has a tape where I sing some child song.

I can't imagine myself doing anything else...

Your sound and approach to music:

I think simplicity is what I try to stick to.

I try to be straightforward and essential. Though I think a good technique is fundamental, I try to forget it all when I sing and concentrate only on the feelings I want to transmit with the song.

I choose songs that touch me, songs that I like, and I try to communicate with my voice why these songs touch me, why I like them so much.

Your teaching approach:

The most important thing is help every student to find his own voice and his own way of singing.

A good technique is a means not a goal: in my opinion, a teacher must give the students all the means they need to express themselves and then let them free to choose their goals and eventually, help them to understand how to use the technique to reach their goals.

I try not to impose my style and I never show a student how I would sing a song: they must find their own style, use their own voice without imitating somebody else's voice or style.

Your dream band:

There are very many famous artists I would love to work with!

At the moment I am really looking forward to record another CD with the musicians I worked on my last CD, That's It!: Francesco Chebat (piano); Roberto Piccolo (double-bass); Stefano Bertoli (drums).

Only, this time it won't be just jazz standards, but also some songs I wrote with Francesco Chebat. Anecdote from the road:

Some years ago, I was singing in a little place with a pianist and a double-bassist. We used to go to this place every Wednesday. That night, I had called as a guest a very good friend of mine, Simeone Riva, who plays flugelhorn.

The wife of the owner of the place came to me while I was singing (why people always come and talk to you while you are singing? How do they think you can answer???), and candidly told me: "I am so happy to have here tonight Simeone and his unicorn!" Favorite venue:

I have been working for many years in a restaurant in Milan that is called Frantoi Celletti. Mr. Celletti is a great expert of Italian cuisine, wine, oil and of course jazz music! We gave him and his costumers the best music we could and he gave us good food, good wine and most of all a good time! Now Mr. Celletti is in Beijing, where he opened a new restaurant: I hope he will ask me to go and sing there, one day!

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

I only recorded two CDs...can this be considered a discography???

From the CD No one but you, I like "Sophisticated Lady," "Lush Life," "No one but you," that I wrote with pianist Francesco Chebat, and "Gota de Lluvia," that is a very, very old song from Argentina and which, even if it can't be classified as jazz, I had to put in the CD because I like it too much!

From That's It! I like "Almost Like Being in Love," "You Go to My Head," "Angel Eyes," "The Very Thought of You" and "Stompin' at the Savoy."

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

I don't know if I am really contributing...I just do the things I like and that me feel happy and whole, and try to make people feel the same as I do.

How do you use the internet to help your career?

I send emails to a mailing list of fans and friends. I have a page on MySpace and a website.

CDs you are listening to now:

Nancy Wilson & Cannonball Adderley (Capitol)

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

The situation is fluid, unstable: some things change here and there, melt together, take inspiration from other cultures, go back to the past, try to anticipate the future... but I don't think that something (or someone) is really sticking out, making the difference and acting as a real innovator.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

The essential requirement is to keep jazz musicians alive and growing! Most musicians must play, study, write music or make CDs in bits of free time, because, to earn their living, they have got to do another job.

This obviously doesn't help to improve the skill of the musicians, the quality of the music and the production of new music and new ideas. We should have more places to play, best paid gigs, more schools, more attention from press and television...

What is in the near future?

I am writing new songs for a CD I am going to record next December.

By Day:

I teach: I am a vocal trainer for singers and actors.

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