There are days when you win the ‘Double’ as they say in the gambling jargon. I hit the ‘Double’ the day I interviewed Trumpeter Warren Vache and John Di Martino, the legendary pianist. Di Martino is not only an established pianist but also a well known composer, arranger and producer.
To say that Di Martino is one of the most sought-after pianist would be an understatement. John studied with Lennie Tristano and Don Sebesky. He has accompanied some of the best names in Jazz music like Keely Smith, Janis Siegel as a composer. Along with Gloria Lynn and Grady Tate he has perfected his skills as an arranger. The versatile pianist has performed and composed music across many genres like Afro Cuban jazz, Traditional, Experimental Jazz, Fusion and World Music. This earned him the title ‘The Shape Shifter’.
“I am basically a jazz musician, that’s my root but I love all styles of music. The defining thing about jazz to is it brings your own personality to whatever music you are doing or performing. I try to find myself in whatever genre that I am performing” says Di Martino.
Being a multidimensional artist would have its toll on an individual. Apart from getting your focus right on the role you are performing at the moment, one may also tend to lean towards his preferred role. But Di Martino has other thoughts. According to him all the roles he plays are intertwined and that’s what makes them work. Not every individual may carry a similar chain of thought.
“I hate to say but there are producers who aren’t really hands on with music. They just have a thesaurus full of adjectives and don’t quite get music” admits Di Martino.
It must take a lot of mental strength to shuffle between the roles effectively and Di Martino loves doing just that.
“As a jazz musician you are always composing because you are always inventing. Composition is always a team game. Arranging is just composing at the highest level. But somebody has to do the nuts and bolts and I am that man. I write the arrangements and adapting everything into the direction of the project” says the pianist.
Di Martino’s discography is as impressive as its gets. Three of his albums, ‘Love’ with Issac Delgado, ‘Freddy Cole sings Mr. B’ and ‘Live and InClave’ with Bobby Sanabria have been nominated for the Grammys. Unfortunately none made it past the nominations list. Is there a secret ingredient to winning the Grammy that Di Martino lacks?
“I don’t know what the answer to that is,” he laughs off the question.
Dwelling on the importance of awards, Di Martino said
“I did a record with Cuban singer Issac Delgado (‘Love’) as a tribute to Nat King Cole. When that record was nominated Issac was not excited as I was. He had been nominated like 15 times and never won. It gives you an idea not too put much importance on things like these.”
Di Martino was a long- time member of Ray Barretto’s ‘New World Spirit’, an experimental and fun project. Di Martino started off as a substitute musician on the project but Rays and his common love for ‘The American Song Book’ drew them closer. Di Martino has also featured as a pianist and arranger on many of Ray’s recordings.
Versatility – The Key
Di Martino believes that versatility is the key to performing with a spectrum of musicians throughout his career. When the subject shifted to aspiring pianists, he was more than happy to share his views for the aspiring talents.
“Learn and perform as many genres of music you can deal with. Learning and understanding your role in an ensemble is most important. There is essential element to every style and song you perform. As a pianist you are in the rhythm section, so you should know that essential element is and what to build on from. Let things start softly and let them organically grow from there. Avoid what we call the ‘Kitchen Sink’. That happens when there is too much going on and clutters with the focal point. When this great trumpeter (points to Warren Vache) is doing a solo, he is the focal point. My role is to reinforce what he is playing and not cloud him. This gives music more clarity. The secret ingredient is fun. If we are having fun, we can radiate that out to the audience.”
Di Martino and Vache feel that jazz could be the next big thing in India. For that to happen they have thrown a simple challenge.
“Lets get any adventurous Bollywood star, preferably a female and get them to do a jazz project. I along with the Warren would be happy to be a part of it. Let’s put out a challenge to these stars!”