Take Five With Martin Uherek

Martin Uherek By

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Meet Martin Uherek:
I am a young professional saxophonist from Slovakia. I have a deep admiration for the legendary jazz musicians of the '40s through the '60s. I am a leader of several bands— notably the Martin Uherek Quartet and Jazz Pianoless Trio.

My newest project is Stories of Jazz (Self Produced, 2014), which combines music performed by my trio and tells stories about jazz musicians, tunes, history and much more.

Tenor saxophone.

Teachers and/or influences?
My teacher has been for the past six years is the great Slovak pianist Klaudius Kovac, who taught me everything there is to know. He mainly taught me to listen, transcribe, and learn from all the greats that lived and played jazz.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I heard Charlie Parker's recording of "Confirmation" and it blew my mind. I always liked music, but did not think of becoming a musician. I was around 18 when heard that tune and I got into it deeply.

Your sound and approach to music:
I like the big sound of Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins. I liked the power and authority that they possessed in their playing. I try to have similar approach, but I am also trying to find my own way. I am trying to create nice melodic lines in the bebop style, utilizing my knowledge of harmony to get some tension and release as well as call and response.

Your teaching approach:
I do not actively teach, but in my project Stories of Jazz, I am try to help people get closer to jazz. My goal is to win wider audience of lay people that do not have the opportunity to get in touch with jazz before.

Your dream band:
My dream band would probably include a lot of the great musicians, that have been deceased for a long time. I would love to have played with Bird, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk and many more. Maybe I will one day in jazz heaven!

Road story: Your best or worst experience:
One evening we got something that looked like punctured tire on the front wheel of our car after arriving at a gig. After we finished playing, we went on to try to put on the spare tire, but we realized we did not have one. Then we spent about three hours running around town trying to get someone to lend us the spare. After we finally found someone, we came back to our car and realized that we couldn't take the punctured tire off since the nuts were all corroded. After we tried to take the wheel off for about half an hour, we gave up around 2 a.m. There was no possibility of accommodation for the night, so we decided we will have to try to blow/inflate the tire with a manual tire pump and hope it will last for at least couple minutes, then we'd do it again—on the road—and again until we hopefully get home.

We later realized that it was just a faulty valve that caused it and it was only a temporary thing. The tire just needed to be inflated again! So that's how we got home at 5 a.m. after finishing a gig at 10 p.m.

Favorite venue:
My favorite venue is Jazz klub 12 in my hometown. It was founded by a local trumpeter who is a good friend of mine. It is the best place for a musician to play. People that attend there love jazz and appreciate it, the waitresses love the music also, and we get treated very well with a lot of respect for the music we are creating. The most important thing is to value and respect the musicians and their art, which is what Jazz klub 12 does perfectly!

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
Last year, my band and I played at the biggest jazz festival in Slovakia called Bratislava Jazz Days. Our performance was taped. We played a special program called Remembering Monk, as a tribute to the great pianist and composer Thelonious Monk. I love Monk's music and the atmosphere was great!

The first Jazz album I bought was:
I think it was Charlie Parker's Chasing the Bird (Proper Box, 2005), or Bud Powell's session with Sonny Rollins and Fats Navarro. Either way I'm sure it was bebop!

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
I think it is the project Stories of Jazz and myself sharing jazz with wider audience of new listeners. I feel a call to spread jazz music and that is what I am doing.

Did you know...
Did you know that I have only really started to play saxophone and jazz at age 18, after listening to Charlie Parker? Sometimes I miss all the years that I could have used to practice, but I am glad I ended up playing!

CDs you are listening to now:
Sonny Rollins, Live in Europe (Solar Records, 2011);
Sonny Rollins, Freedom Suite (Riverside, 1958).

Desert Island picks:
Sonny Rollins!

How would you describe the state of jazz today?
I think jazz, in the minds of people, is becoming something like classical music—music that was played in the past and is dead now. I think it is important to bring these people to realize that jazz is still alive and the music—in its core—can never be dead because its origin is in improvisation, constant renewal, and invention of new things.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
I think it is exactly was I am trying to do, which is to share jazz. Especially good quality jazz with lay people that had not gotten a chance to get to know jazz before.

What is in the near future?
I am focusing on new tunes with my Jazz Pianoless Trio, which is formed on the example of Sonny Rollins' piano less projects. Combined with telling stories and constantly looking for new ways to reach the public, my trio gets pretty intense.

What's your greatest fear when you perform?
I do not feel fear when I am performing, but if I had to pick, I would say the non-acceptance of people. I believe in my playing—as every musician should—but sometimes the audience can make it pretty hard for all of us.

What song would you like played at your funeral?
I think if Charlie Parker accepted the offer, I would have him play "Parker's Mood."

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?
"Harlem Nocturne" as often quoted in playing of Sonny Rollins. For a long time I did not know what the tune was that he quoted so frequently and when I finally found out, I could not get rid of it anymore.

By Day:
I am working in a family company. It has nothing with music, but it gives me freedom to not be dependent on music having to earn me living. I can focus on giving out value to people without the need to get paid for it immediately.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
I really don't know. Becoming a musician was sort of a surprise for me after I fell in love with Bird. I sometimes wonder what I would do if that moment did not happen or happened differently. Who knows?

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