Steamboat Springs jazz guitarist Bill Martin interprets the American songbook
February 22, 2017
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs jazz guitarist Bill Martin wants to take his listeners on an emotional journey with his third CD, "Mr. Lucky."
"The four emotions — happiness, sadness, fear and hope — you can create this with melody," Martin said. "In a set list, I move between those emotions, so I try to take my listeners on an emotional journey."
Unlike so many current jazz guitarists who are easiest to follow on streaming music channels, Martin does not interpret contemporary pop songs of the last two decades. Instead, he dips into the mid-20th century songbook to bring new life to classic tunes — many that were originally written for motion pictures and television shows.
The title track of the CD is a prime example. "Mr. Lucky" was written by Henry Mancini for a 1959-60 television series about an honest gambler.
Another track, "Moonlight in Vermont," was recorded in 1956 by jazz guitarist Johnny Smith but might have reached its zenith when Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald performed a duet of the tune that you can still find on YouTube.
“Hi-lili, Hi-lo” was first recorded by Dina Shore with an orchestra in 1952, but dozens of artists have recorded it since, from the Everly Brothers to the inventive country guitar picker Chet Atkins to Canadian country/pop singer Anne Murray.
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If your parents are in their 70s, or even 60s, they might remember “Hi-Lili Hi-lo,” but Martin is able to make those classic tunes relevant again.
He said pop standards from another era are fertile ground for jazz instrumentalists who don't necessarily feel bound to adhere to the original score. Even "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from the "Wizard of Oz” gets a subtle re-interpretation from Martin.
One difference between classical music and jazz, Martin said, is that the latter is intended to feature the composer and performances are faithful to the score. Jazz, on the other hand, is intended to feature the artist.
"I play the first verse pretty straight so that people recognize the song," Martin said.
When it comes to the second verse, he plays with different melodies, sometimes weaving together two melodies at the same time.
Even the liner notes to "Mr. Lucky" break the rules — some of Martin's phrases lack a verb.
"I love subliminal stuff," he explains.
"Mr. Lucky" was recorded by engineer Scott Singer at his studio in Steamboat Springs and mastered at Colorado Sound by Tom Capek.
Martin, who had a regular gig at Hazie's atop the gondola in the summer of 2016, has developed his own right-hand technique to allow him to evoke a a jazz trio or quartet while performing solo. At first listen, it's easy to recognize that he is playing a base line even as he plays chords and melodies.
Using all of the digits on his right hand, Martin strives to replicate the musical complexity of a combo, playing the melody with a chord under it, both by plucking and individually striking each note in the chord (arpeggio), while keeping the bass line going and varying the rhythm to keep things interesting.
It sounds complicated, but the music doesn't. Lately, Martin has entertained at Casey's Pond, but with his expertise at blending into the conversation at a fine dining establishment, Martin is sure to land another steady gig this summer.
In the meantime, songs from "Mr Lucky" can be downloaded for free from Martin's website — billmartinguitarist.com. CDs can also be purchased online or at All That, 601 Lincoln Ave. in downtown Steamboat.