As a promoter, producer, jazz historian and journalist, I’ve been fortunate to witness first-hand, many of the evolving trends in a genre that is never stagnant. But clearly, the most gratifying aspect in all of this, are the opportunities to witness emerging talent. One such artist is Marlon Martinez, a prolific bassist, composer, arranger and bandleader. He’s steeped in both jazz and classical traditions, yet versatile enough to fuse funk, rock, blues, r&b and other styles into his music.
An L.A. native, Marlon Martinez is an accomplished virtuoso who is mature beyond his years. He garnered a Master’s degree at the prestigious Colburn Conservatory of Music, in Los Angeles. Mr. Martinez has performed for world-class conductors such as James Conlon, Nicholas McGegan, David Newman, Sir Neville Marriner, Gerard Schwarz, Bramwell Tovey, Giancarlo Guerrero and Gustavo Dudamel, among others. In addition, Marlon has studied with Dennis Trembly, Co-Principal Bass of the L.A. Philharmonic and Leigh Mesh, Associate Principal Bass of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, in New York.
In 2010, and again the following year, Marlon was named to the critically-acclaimed Verbier Festival Orchestra in Switzerland. He performed with stellar soloists such as Mischa Maisky, Charles Dutoit, Valery Gergiev and Yuja Wang, among others.
A protégé of mentor Stanley Clarke, Marlon also studies with Ron Carter. Mr. Martinez played for Burt Bacharach at the San Diego Pops and for Ellis Marsalis in New Orleans. He has appeared with Mike Garson, David Bowie’s pianist, and was a sideman with various jazz legends and Quatuor Ebéne, a popular, French string quartet. It’s classical and jazz renditions are equally masterful, worldwide. Bob Sheppard, Jim Walker, Fred Moyer and Bernard Fowler, are also among this elite group. Marlon’s mother, Josie James, sang with George Duke, Stevie Wonder, Al Jarreau, Burt Bacharach and the Jazz Crusaders. Marlon’s pedigree is firmly rooted.
Marlon has launched his own ensembles, the Jazz Marlonius Quartet and the Marlonius Jazz Orchestra (MJO). Each eclectic gathering is easily adaptable. Martinez reveals, “My debut album, Yours Truly, showcases how I express myself as a composer. It’s an exploration of both sides of my bass playing — the improvisational and the written elements. I sought to approach jazz and the bass in different ways, through personal collaborations”. He met pianist Isaac Wilson, saxophonist Jacob Scesney and Aaron Blumenthal, as well as drummer Cam Johnson, during his undergrad days at Colburn.
Like teammates who pursue success during heated competition or troops tested by combat, musicians also develop peer chemistry in the studio, on the bandstand and often, away from the spotlight. In 2009, after forming such a genuine bond with Isaac, Marlon was introduced to the local jazz scene. Soon, the same camaraderie quickly occurred with the entire band. They ultimately became a cohesive unit, sharing a single vision without foregoing their own identities. “I developed such personal friendships with them that the music feels organic and conversational”, says Martinez. While sharing these exact sentiments, Stewart Copeland and Judd Miller, embellish the ensemble, both individually and collectively.
Pianist Patrice Rushen explains, “I’ve known Marlon most of his life. I’ve watched him mature into an expressive, passionate musician who is also reliable, dedicated, diligent and an open young man. Marlon’s sense of composition, increasing awareness about ensemble sound and feel as a player, are in part, what he brings to the group setting. He’s also developing into an inventive soloist.”
On his maiden voyage, Marlon ushers the unsuspecting listener on a mystical odyssey. The journey descends to the depths of our souls and soars to lofty plateaus. Although Martinez is steeped in rich traditions, his unique approach is always fresh.
The first track, Jazz Marlonius, depicts an intimate venue in contrast with a bustling, urban backdrop. Due to its chord structure, inherent grove and playful interaction, Marlon has dubbed it a “feel-good vibe.”
The melodic chord structures of Fay, are based on the 12-note chromatic scale. This was actually Marlon’s first experience writing on the piano. Prior to that, he used his trusty bass to compose. As the tune gradually became more familiar, Marlon deployed it as a learning tool to pass his piano class. This is why Marlon always feels a special connection to Fay. The soprano player sets the tone for the rest throughout this offering.
Saint-Pierre-de-Maillé, features a compelling duet as Isaac Wilson’s piano intro, creates a haunting refrain, while Marlon’s solo is peppered with contrasting intervals. For Martinez, this composition is particularly significant. As he trekked through the French countryside, Marlon observed local graveyards, quaint, sleepy hamlets and ancient churches. His journey inspired him to ponder the true meaning of life, death, joy, anguish and the human condition.
Some enduring standards like Invitation have been recorded and performed thousands of times, for decades, by a multitude of artists. Marlon’s jagged bassline underscores this shrewd treatment. The alternating Latin-swing groove, precedes Cam Johnson’s crisp cymbal work and a salvo of bombs. Meanwhile, Marlon’s brisk pizzicato, clearly displays his complete command of the instrument. Finally, the guys flip the time to 6/8, before abruptly closing, without a cadenza.
HD was recorded at Stewart Copeland’s home studio and Judd Miller sat-in for some added flair. A synthesized foray is accented by the drummer’s syncopated hi-hat. This joint venture resulted exactly in the risk-taking, energetic approach that Martinez had hoped for
Marlon opens I Hear a Rhapsody, with a brilliant, intriguing solo that immediately indulges the unsuspecting listener. He masterfully weaves an intricate tapestry, making a poignant statement. This is simply Martinez, at his very best.
Inspired by his first summer in Paris, Marlon composed the title track, Yours Truly. It’s a romantic melody that includes an adventurous Coltrane vamp, rhythmic textures, strategic comping and some conceptual input from producer Nigel Martinez. Cam Johnson’s brushwork should also be noted as he lends solid support to the ensemble.
Paying homage to Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry and Paul Chambers, Martinez penned a contrasting, playful piece. Isaac Wilson’s soulful, blues-infused solo, is evident. In unison, like starving diners at a Southern eatery, the band emphatically asked, “Where dem biscuits at?”
La Cancion de Sofia, is Marlon’s heart-felt tribute to his mentor, and close friend, Stanley Clarke. Martinez began studying with Clarke at age 15. Under Stanley’s watchful tutelage, Marlon was encouraged to develop an advanced arco technique that adds sophistication and boundless possibilities to his vast repertoire. In Marlon’s masterful hand, the bow ultimately becomes an extension of himself.
Open Gate, is a reflective interlude that speaks to one’s faith and spiritual path. The framework is anchored by bass harmonics that have gradually evolved from spontaneous improvisation.
Remotely grounded in 70’s fusion, Sensation opens with a bass riff. Aaron Blumenthal adds texture on soprano saxophone while Jacob Scesney chimes in on alto. Mirroring that nostalgic era, this selection finds Isaac Wilson on a vintage Fender Rhodes piano. Cam Johnson’s rousing backbeat drives the band as the scat-singing is actually done by a device, called a Vocoder. An unconventional groove, keeps things edgy with a hip-hop feel.
On the verge of stardom, Marlon Martinez is poised on destiny’s doorstep. His tireless work ethic, meticulous preparation and relentless pursuit of excellence, will propel him to stardom. Marlon’s initial outing, not only celebrates his technique and robust tone, but each phrase will remind you, why he’s — Yours Truly! For more information, visit www.marlonmartinezmusic.com
By Jeffrey Winston an L.A.-based journalist, jazz historian and producer.