June 25, 2024

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Interview with Marty Elkins: The soul comes with getting inside the song and conveying the feeling: Video

Jazz interview with jazz singer Marty Elkins. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Marty Elkins: – I was born in Jersey City, New Jersey. I used to listen to the radio at night when I was growing up.  I had trouble sleeping and would listen to the soul station in the New York area, WWRL.  I loved the R&B of the day and the gospel music. I sang a little bit with my friends in the park and we would go into hallways where there was good echo and sing doo-wop. I was interested in folk music for a while in late high school and played guitar and sang a bit. When I got to college I borrowed a copy of Billie Holiday’s recordings that she made when she was young with Teddy Wilson’s band. I also had some Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald and Lee Wiley recordings. I used to sit in my room for hours listening to those recordings. When I found “Lady in Satin” by Billie Holiday in a bin at Woolworth’s in Cambridge, Massachusetts my life kind of changed.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the jazz vocal? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the jazz vocal?

ME: – I met some jazz musicians when I lived in Boston, including Herb Pomeroy and Dave McKenna. Dave had a solo gig at the Copley Plaza hotel, and he would encourage me to come in and sing with him. We were close friends for the rest of his life and I got to pick his brains about songs and music in general, and he had lots of entertaining stories about his career. My piano teacher, Johnny Solo taught me the most about harmony, but honestly most of my real teachers were musician friends I knew or played with – Spanky Davis, Tardo Hammer, Joel Diamond, Dave McKenna and my singer friends – Amy London and Judy Niemack (I studied with them both, actually) who were around when I first started and they shared their knowledge and experience with me and helped me develop technically.

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

ME: – When I was in Boston I studied privately with several voice teachers, but the most helpful thing for me was to tape my performances and really listen critically for what was good and what was not so good.  In the beginning that was a scary thing, but a saxophone player friend of mine told me “if you don’t listen to how you sound, you are just kidding yourself”. Good advice and very true. Working in the past years with Joel Diamond, the piano/organ player and producer of my last two recordings was the most helpful experience with developing my sound. He is such an accomplished musician and was musical director for many good singers and has a lot of recording experience. We are such old friends that he could pretty much give criticism in a way that would make me laugh, after which I would carefully consider his advice. I also have been working with a couple of groups steadily in the past several years and that really helped my sound develop more. Mike Richmond is one of the musicians I have played with most in the past few years and he is an amazing resource for me.

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

ME: – I think all those years of listening to the R&B stations when I was a kid developed my sense of rhythm, which I must say people mention it all the time when they compliment my work. My whole family has it, although they are not musicians. Also, Joel Diamond has helped me sing on the beat sometimes, and not always behind it. On some songs you need to do that. I don’t really do excercises or anything to develop my rhythm. I studied piano for some years to develop my sense of harmony and to understand how music works better.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?

ME: – I loves blues, old R&B and gospel harmonies. I studied modes with Johnny Solo and Judy Niemack, but not sure if any of it sunk in!

JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2018: <Fat Daddy>, how it was formed andwhat you are working on today.

ME: – I love the band!!!  What a great combination. I have worked with all of them in different settings over the years, know they like to play with one another and put them together with that in mind.  Jon-Erik Kellso is the perfect trumpet player for me nowadays, and really knows how to play with a singer. He is a great all-around player and a great guy. The rhythm section was so ebullient. Lee Hudon has a great sound and feel on the bass and I always love to sing with him.  Steve Ash helped me organize the charts and I picked the repertoire. Taro is a great all-around drummer and is a great “brush man”! I gave this one the most thought of all my recordings regarding the choice of tunes. The guitarist James Chirillo added a great beat to the entire ensemble. Joel played organ on most tunes on this one. On the previous one, “Walkin’ By The River”,  he played on a few of them but he played on most of them on this one. That added a lot. I guess the thing I love MOST was the fact that the musicians were really playing for me and they worked really hard.   I think they enjoyed themselves.

JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

ME: – I have seen and heard people’s personalities come right through in their music. If they have a tender soul, you will hear it in their playing or singing. If they are fiesty, you will hear that.  I think intelligence plays a huge role in playing with taste and picking good material. The soul comes with getting inside the song and conveying the feeling that the writers felt when they wrote it. Also, if a song brings memories up for you, the emotion connected with that memory will be revisited in the song.

JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

ME: – My favorite memory is singing with Dave McKenna when I was just starting out. He would say, “just start singin’, baby. I’ll follow you”. And he would play in any key I starting in.  One evening he warned me, “when you get out there and start singing with other musicians, don’t expect them to do that for you.  They probably won’t want to play in the key of B!”. Also, I sat in at Jimmy Ryans on 54th Street when I was just starting out. I got to sing with these older, experienced guys – many of whom were active in the big band era – who all took me under their wing and gave me great advice and support. The club owners would throw me a few bucks to sing and I generally had a fabulous time there.  It was one of the very last clubs from the days of 52nd street. One of the guys, bassist Bucky Calabrese, advised me to go study piano.  That was the best advice ever given. He recommended his friend from Brooklyn, Johnny Solo. That guy was such a sweetheart and gave three-hour lessons. It gave me enough knowledge of basic keyboard harmony to get me through a lot of things. Also, mixing and picking takes in the studio with Mike Marciano and Joel Diamond was my “happy place”.

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

ME: – Records.  Period. (I still call them records). Now videos on Youtube are available. When I started out, there were only the vinyl records and the radio.

JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

ME: – Music is for communication. Touching other people. Allowing them to feel their stories in your stories.  It’s comforting and normalizing for people to realize that other people experience the same emotions that you have felt. I experineced that so deeply listening to Ray Charles, Billie Holiday and many others who sang with a lot of feeling. Or instrumentalists like Pharoah Sanders, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker.  I think the meaning of life is just to connect with others and realize that we are all from the same universe with the same shining souls.

JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

ME: – I would love it if there were enough places to play, be paid enough to continue to play and live and not to be in a dead-heat competition with your colleagues for work.

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

ME: – I always find myself going back to the queen of jazz, Ella Fitzgerald.

JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

ME: – I’d want to go back to the fifties when all the jazz clubs on 52nd Street were around and there were tons of places to play and get better all around the city.

JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

ME: – How did you get interested in Jazz?

JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. Since 2003, after live concerts …

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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