Jazz saxophonist Stephen Martin is putting the finishing touches on his debut album, “Vision”, set to be released this summer. Martin says the process of creating the album has been a long one but well worth the hard work. His goal is to represent a great combination of jazz standards along with original compositions.
“While it’s rooted in tradition,” Martin said, “I’m not shy about being adventurous.”
The Stephen Martin Quartet performs every Saturday night at the Green Lady Lounge. Martin classifies the group’s style as high-energy power jazz, pulling inspiration from the John Coltrane Quartet and the Kenny Garrett Quartet. The band has been playing together for about a year and a half; along with Martin includes pianist Matt Villinger, bassist Karl McComas-Reichl and drummer John Kizilarmut.
Martin received his training at the UMKC Conservatory of Music & Dance under the world-renowned Bobby Watson. After earning his Bachelor’s in Jazz Performance, he went on to get his Master’s in Music at Webster University in St Louis under the direction of Paul DeMarinis. He says he got lucky choosing UMKC and greatly values the time he spent there.
Martin took advantage of the time he had with Watson and went on to continue his training at Webster University, where he got a different but equally important perspective from DeMarinis.
“They are both great musicians and great people, but they approach the music entirely differently,” he said. “So to have those two perspectives come together, for me, it was great.”
After graduation, Martin said it made sense to go back to Kansas City, where he finds good opportunities while appreciating the vibrant music scene.
“There is almost like an arts revolution going on, to some degree, in Kansas City,” he said. “You have people investing in that infrastructure and you couldn’t ask for more than that being a musician.”
Martin said that Kansas City people care about the arts and can see how investing in the arts benefits and enriches the community. However, he said it is a natural part of growth as an artist to want to go other places and experience other things.
“It’s not so much that I want to leave Kansas City,” he said. “As I just want to go other places and share the music and have all those experiences inform my art.” He said the schedule of an independent artist is sometimes crazy. “Then you just stop for brief moments,” he said, “and you realize, wow, this is really great.”
The artists especially enjoys his time with the band every Saturday night at Green Lady Lounge.
“Most of my favorite performances of us playing together have been there,” he said. “Especially the last few months, around the time that we recorded this album, every Saturday has been the best Saturday the band has had.”
Martin said that music should reflect the times, so there is a sensitivity to that in the upcoming album. He is conscious not to pander to the audience too much and ensures that his music is genuine. He said the audience’s emotional reaction to the music is the most important thing.
“If you can tap into that and really get that connection going with the audience,” he said, “then you don’t need to pander to them because they will be right there with you, along for the ride.”
He said he just wants the music to have an impact on people. “The worst thing that can happen for me is somebody that responds in an apathetic way,” he said. “As long as somebody loves it or hates it, then I feel like it’s doing something.”
Martin has enjoyed the process of creating every aspect of the album. As an independent artist, he has been hands-on in everything; from conceptualizing the album to creating the cover art. He said he wanted to create this album as a snapshot of his career in the very beginning as well as the other musicians who are further in their careers.
“People want to be able to look back at your lineage,” he said, “I just thought there is no better time than the present to record a great band playing your stuff so well and really committed to your idea.”
In his eight months leading up to recording the album in January, they just let the music come naturally.
“I would of course have melodies and things written out that I sort of wanted the band to follow,” he said, “but I wanted it to be open, completely free for everybody in the band to use as a vehicle for themselves and play the best improvised music that they felt was inside them.”
He said the recording process is just half of what it takes to put out an album.
“We have spent the last three months just mixing and mastering in the studio,” he said. It has been a slow process but he said being able to produce the album themselves has been ideal. Martin said that, as the release date is nearing, he appreciates the guys in the band who continue to give him the confidence to put the album out there.
Martin wants his music to enrich and uplift people in Kansas City and all over the world.
“That’s how I know the music will grow even further is just the ability to meet people in every walk of life,” he said, “that’s really what the music is about.”
(Photo credit stevenmartinjazz.com)