Will Martin

Will Martin


I'm an accomplished trombonist, but I decline to act like one. I’m not caught up in the whole ‘Trombone Thing’ – the fastest licks, the latest gear. Communicating with an audience is what we jazz musicians need to be thinking about, not playing to practice chord changes.


Although I play the trombone, I’m not sure I’m a “trombone player”. There are a lot of really good players out there who are sort of into keeping up on the latest trombone licks, the latest gear, what the top bone players are doing and which one of them can play Donna Lee the fastest. A bone-playing friend remarked on it once, saying, “Yeah, I’m not sure what that’s all about. I think it’s the Trombone Thing.” And it’s not particular to trombone. It’s easy for all of us to get caught up in the challenges of negotiating a difficult tune or exploring the possibilities in a set of chord changes, i.e. being players, rather than trying to tell a story by communicating with an audience, i.e. being artists. But communicating with an audience is what we jazz musicians need to be thinking about. So I’m not into the Trombone Thing, and I don’t think this is a Trombone Record. It’s a jazz record that happens to be led by a trombonist.

My attitude probably comes in part from my musical background. Although I’ve played a lot of notes over the years, my training is mostly informal, and I write, arrange, and play without a lot of conscious calculation. This is probably both bad and good. A structured approach does push one’s technical growth, and I could probably be ahead of where I am in terms of playing technique and composing theory. On the other hand, not having spent a lot of time being told “how to play” or “how to write”, I’ve always been comfortable establishing my own style. And although I’ve been strongly influenced by a number of masters (the Stan Kenton trombone sections, including Carl Fontana, Kai Winding, Kent Larson; J. J. Johnson, of course; Stan Getz; Joe Pass), I do think I’ve been able to develop my own voice.

I actively listen to a lot of musical styles, especially jazz, salsa, classical, and rock, so my musical ideas probably come from all over. But there are certain characteristics I like in music. One is a strong, lyrical melody. For us jazzers, it’s easy to overlook the melody of a tune, cruising quickly through it almost as a formality in order to get to the solos more efficiently. But staying aware of melody, including during solos, is what leads to communicating in music. The other thing I like is a nice, well-oiled groove that directly involves the whole group. For a lot of quintet tunes, instead of thinking of two horns and a rhythm section, I just think of having five voices to work with. I’m not sure why I’m so drawn to a good groove, but there’s no denying it. I’ve played in salsa bands for years, ever since stumbling upon salsa as a sub in San Diego and being immediately hooked. Talk about groove! I’ve missed many a horn entrance (to this day) because I’ve been entranced by the rhythm section during a good montuno. When they finally invent a day longer than 24 hours, I’m going to use the extra time to learn to play timbales and bass.

My first recording as a leader, “Morning”, is the direct result of the influences I’ve had. Four of the songs on the CD are originals. Free Time and NY Sidewalk are typical of a lot of my compositions in that they have relatively long forms, allowing them room to tell their story. One chorus of either song lasts over a minute and a half. Free time sort of tries to capture the feeling of a mid-afternoon lazy walk, and while I’d never played it before this session, it’s turned out to be one of my favorites. NY Sidewalk started off in my head as a bass line and a set of changes, with no specific melody. When I went to the piano to tighten it up (I tend to sketch out tunes anywhere but in my studio), I realized the bridge didn’t really work, sounding too much like the A section. The bridge you hear came months later – I often need to let new tunes simmer for a while on the back burner.

I wrote Morning, which is all about groove, in a city park a few years ago, and I’ve had a lot of fun with it since. Primarily, of course, it’s just a blues, but there are some rhythmic twists thrown in. The horn parts are actually written in alternating 6/4 – 4/4, to encourage a particular phrasing and flow. The rhythm parts are written in 4/4 (except for a single bar, the first V bar), but the accents are often displaced. None of this was calculated; it’s just the way it came out. But it seems to create a groove that lends itself to a lot of experimentation, and a bunch of musicians have brought a lot of different ideas to this tune. In live performances, where there’s time to really stretch out, it’s gone anywhere from straight-ahead swing through bossa, shuffle, and even towards Metheney-esque and downright rockish beats. Here, it stays pretty true to its basic groove, but each solo section seems to land in a slightly different pocket, which I think makes this a great take.

What the heck is The Saga of Sunfell Mandell, you say? Well, there are a lot worse names for a tune, and it’s sort of a backhanded tribute to my bro


"Morning", Will Martin jazz quintet. MP3's included in this EPK.
Also recorded as a sideman with Steve Guasch and Nueva Era ("Siguiendo la Tradicion"), Mambo Combo ("Mr. Happy"), Joe Garrison (radio broadcast, KSDS FM, San Diego), Jazz Merchants quintet.

Set List

Sets from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Jazz standards and originals. Post-bob style.