Above all else, Billy Martin believes in the power of unguarded expression to capture glimpses of the truth – sometimes only fleetingly, sometimes for extended, intoxicating stretches. He pursues the ecstatic and the insightful from a variety of vantage points: as a drummer and percussionist, as a composer, as a filmmaker, sculptor, visual artist, and even as a carpenter. To varying degrees, each endeavor is marked by Martin’s dearly held belief that unfettered improvisation and an honest commitment to the moment at hand can bring about new levels of understanding, new perspectives, new sonic textures, and a more profound emotional impact. “In any circumstance, any medium,” he reflects, “you need to be sincere with yourself and with your audience. This is who you are, and you’ve got to be trying as hard as you can to create something for the situation that’s new and fresh. There are going to be some mistakes, it may not be perfect, but you’ve got to be willing to take that chance at any given moment.”
While Billy Martin’s own creative journey has had innumerable forks and bends, he is best known to music enthusiasts as one-third of the indescribable Medeski Martin & Wood. About to enter their twentieth year as a performing and recording aggregation, Medeski Martin & Wood are an entirely unique instrumental ensemble, able to apply principles from a staggering range of traditions (from free and modern jazz to classic R&B and well beyond) while remaining eminently accessible. Via fifteen albums, tireless touring (performing everywhere from jazz clubs to jamband festivals), and collaborations with the likes of John Scofield and John Zorn, the trio has united audiences from disparate corners of the musical universe who react with equal awe and enthusiasm to the band’s infectious grooves and undiminished exploratory zeal.
Few if any major acts are able to simultaneously function so successfully – both artistically and commercially – as a laboratory as Medeski Martin & Wood have, and their work exemplifies many of Martin’s ideals and principles as an improvising composer/performer. Forever refining and rediscovering his own signature sound, Martin vividly explores these notions of creative identity, of surrendering to the moment, of developing one’s own artistic voice, in Life on Drums, his feature-length directorial debut, which will be released on DVD by Vongole Films on October 8th, 2010. Sumptuously filmed in a disused New Jersey radio station, both informative and atmospheric, Life on Drums combines conversations with solo and group performances (some improvised, some composed) to create an engrossing portrait of Martin’s evolving musical aesthetic.
“Life on Drums is my reaction to all the bad instructional videos I’ve seen,” Martin elaborates. “Much of what’s out there tends to put a lot of focus on technique, but most creative things don’t come from technique. I want the viewer to see this and come away with the idea that they can be an artist – you don’t need this full spectrum of technique before you can start thinking creatively.” Accompanying Martin on this voyage is Allen Herman, Martin’s first drum teacher. The two converse about matters both practical and artistic, and it is their easy yet insightful rapport that helps to illuminate even the most elusive ideas. “It’s this strange kind of karma, this nurturing feeling I get from him,” Martin continues. “We first met in 1974, when he was my teacher. He has been in and out of my life a few times since then. He even stopped playing drums for a while. But now he’s turned it around, saying I am the one who is nurturing him. He is ecstatic to be back in the drumming world…
When Martin first began studying with Herman, he was an energized, precocious teenager, residing in New Jersey – having relocated from Manhattan at age ten. His father, a classical violinist, photographer, and audiophile, ensured that Martin was surrounded by music for as long has he can remember. When recorded music wasn’t blasting from the ample sound system in the basement, the Martin home was alive with rehearsals and young Billy’s growing percussive prowess – initially sparked by the discovery of his older brother’s abandoned trap set. By high school, Martin’s musical obsessions began to flower: he was writing percussion cadences for the school marching band, performing with the student jazz ensemble, and had his first garage band – a power trio whose repertoire ranged from George Benson to Van Halen. He even subbed for Herman in the pit band of the Broadway show Bob Fosse’s Dancin’.
Upon graduation from high school, Martin bypassed full-time college, electing to make a go at being a professional musician in New York City. His arrival there in 1981 coincided with the emergence of a downtown music scene that dovetailed perfectly with Martin’s own sensibilities, holding equal reverence (or irreverence) for free improvisation, classic jazz, film music, and even the kitschiest of pop culture. Embracing every possible opportunity, Martin performed alongside such luminaries as John Scofield, Bob Moses, Bill Frissel, Cyro Baptista, Dave Liebman, Jerome Harris, and more. He went on his first tour as a member of Moses’s ensemble, and indulged his fascination with Brazilian rhythms by co-founding the group Batucada, who were a fixture on New York’s Brazilian scene for two years. After touring and recording with Chuck Mangione for two years (1987-1989), Martin reinvested himself in the downtown scene, participating in John Zorn’s Cobra improvisational game pieces and performing with John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards.
Medeski Martin & Wood first convened in 1991, embarking on their remarkable journey, which continues to this day. By then, Martin was a formidable musician, armed with a rich cultural understanding of rhythm and a vast, tastefully deployed technical vocabulary. Over the past ten years, he has begun to impart unique musical philosophy in instructional contexts ranging from master classes to private instruction to his book, Riddim: Claves of African Origin, released in 2006. “I think that teaching can be as creative as performing and composing,” he explains. “I believe strongly that creativity and individual style is important. I feel so strongly about that, and the only way to be active or push people in that direction is to offer my teaching. Hopefully that will have a little ripple effect on the next generation of musicians.”
When not performing with Medeski Martin & Wood, Martin continues to collaborate with other musicians in improvisational projects, many of which are documented on his own Amulet Records imprint, which he founded in 1995. He also records and performs solo – with results ranging from the exploratory to the downright funky, as heard on his triple-LP/CD breakbeat extravaganza illy B Eats – and has taken an increased interest in composing for both percussion and chamber ensembles. An album of Martin’s chamber works, Starlings, was released by John Zorn’s Tzadik label in 2006. “My way of composing is to write sketches out to musicians,” he explains, “and to then let them work in a way that allows them to improvise based on the limitations I have given. Even when I work with my students and my percussion ensembles, there is always a little room for them to interpret my compositions. It’s exciting to me because you never know exactly what’s going to happen – it’s more rewarding for me and for the listener.”
Parallel to his musical adventures, Martin is an accomplished visual artist, whose drawings have been featured on album covers and in gallery exhibitions. His burgeoning interest in filmmaking has resulted in several music videos and short subjects, with Life on Drums being his first feature-length project. “Making videos and films – the whole idea of images moving along in a time frame: that’s very musical and rhythmic,” he reflects. “Whether it’s music or films or my drawings, I take the same approach: I improvise. I do have conceptual ideas I try to realize, but I think the best stuff comes out of improvisation. It comes from the same place, the same creative part of myself in the moment.”
With so many outlets existing for his creative energies, Martin is always in the midst of multiple projects. Even now, as he is helping to formulate Medeski Martin & Wood’s upcoming 20th anniversary celebrations, he is working to bring to light recently-recorded chamber compositions for a bass clarinet quartet, a documentary of the making of Medeski Martin & Wood’s Shackman album from recently-recovered videotape footage, and a sculpture project that combines composition with visual arts via graphically notated scores welded to oversized metal canvases. “It’s all more complicated than ever,” Martin concludes, “because now I have two boys, who are going to turn seven and ten soon. Handling the family life and home life with my work and creative projects is a delicate balance – but I have a studio-slash-shed in my backyard that I can use to get away and still be home. Honestly, I try not to keep everything too separate: it’s all creative living, it’s all satisfying. It feels good with each little thing I accomplish. I just have to give myself the time to improvise, to experiment. Usually I find the meaning later, after I’ve created it.”
Founder and director of the nonprofit Creative Music Foundation, Inc., and creative leader of the legendary Creative Music Studio, Karl Berger is dedicated to the research of the power of music and sound and the elements common to all of the world's music forms. In addition to his composing and playing, Karl is known around the world for educational presentations through workshops, concerts, recordings, and with a growing network of artists and CMS members worldwide.
Karl Berger is a six time winner of the Downbeat Critics Poll as a jazz soloist, recipient of numerous Composition Awards (commissions by the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, European Radio and Television: WDR, NDR, SWF, Radio France, Rai Italy. SWF-Prize 1994). Professor of Composition, Artist-in- Residence at universities, schools and festivals worldwide, PhD in Music Esthetics.
Karl Berger became noted for his innovative arrangements for recordings by Jeff Buckley ("Grace"), Natalie Merchant ("Ophelia"), Better Than Ezra, The Cardigans, Jonatha Brooke, Buckethead, Bootsie Collins, The Swans, Sly + Robbie, Angelique Kidjo and others; and for his collaborations with producers Bill Laswell, Alan Douglas ("Operazone"), Peter Collins, Andy Wallace, Craig Street, Alain Mallet, Malcolm Burn, Bob Marlett and many others in Woodstock, New York City, Los Angeles, Tokyo, London, Paris and Rome.
He recorded and performed with Don Cherry, Lee Konitz, John McLaughlin, Gunther Schuller, the Mingus Epitaph Orchestra, Dave Brubeck, Ingrid Sertso, Dave Holland, Ed Blackwell, Ray Anderson, Carlos Ward, Pharoah Sanders, Blood Ulmer, Hozan Yamamoto and many others at festivals and concerts in the US, Canada, Europe, Africa, India, Phillippines, Japan, Mexico and Brazil.
His recordings and arrangements appear on the Atlantic, Axiom, Black Saint, Blue Note, Capitol, CBS, Columbia Double Moon, Douglas Music, Elektra, EMI, Enja, Island, JVC, Knitting Factory, In&Out, MCA, Milestone, Polygram, Pye, RCA, SONY, Stockholm, Vogue and others.
Through her work with such avant-jazz musicians as Don Cherry and Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso established herself as a captivating, adventurous vocalist, capable of blending jazz, African, South American and other worldbeat influences into a distinctive, hypnotic sound.
Although Sertso didn't become well-known until the release of Dance with It in 1994, she spent over 20 years honing her art. During the late '60s, she lived in Europe, leading her own trios and performing with the likes of Eric Dolphy, Don Cherry, Steve Lacy, Karl Berger and Leo Wright; she also worked as a music teacher at several institutions in Europe. In 1972, she became a permanent resident of the United States and she released her first album, We Are You, on Calig Records. Over the next few years she taught, while she performed in North America and Europe with the likes of Cherry, Ed Blackwell, Lee Konitz, Sam Rivers, Jimmy Giuffre, Bob Moses, Dave Holland, Perry Robinson and Jumma Santos. In 1974, she released Kalaparush on Trio Records in Japan. It was followed in 1975 by Peace Church Concerts on India Navigation/CMC Records.
In 1975, Sertso became a faculty member at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. She stayed there through 1975 and 1976, before moving to the Banff Centre of Fine Arts in Calgary, Canada. She had two residencies at Banff before moving to the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, New York, where she became the co-director. While working at the Creative Music Studio, she began singing in the Art of Improvisation with Berger and David Inzenon. In 1979, she toured major European cities as a solo artists, supported by the Woodstock Workshop Orchestra. She also released an album on MPS Records that year.
During the early '80s, Sertso remained a co-director at the Creative Music Studio, while continuing to record and perform with a variety of musicians, including such mainstays as Don Cherry and Karl Berger, as well as Paulo Moura, Nana Vasconcelos, Steve Gorn, Dan Brubeck and Mike Richmond. In 1984, she performed with the Music Universe Orchestra at the Kool Festival in New York and released a duet album, Changing the Time, with Berger on Horo Records in Italy. She also toured Europe twice during this time and she also toured West Africa with Olatunji and Aiyb Dieng.
Sertso's career picked up momentum during the latter half of the '90s. She held a series of concerts and workshops in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and she regularly tour the US on club and festival circuit. Sertso also toured Europe twice and sang solo vocals on Berger's orchestral ballet, The Bird. She was one of the co-leaders of Rhythm Changes, who released the Jazzdance album on ITM Records. During these five years, she also performed and recorded with a variety of artists, including Pauline Oliveros, Lee Konitz, Frank Luther, Anthony Cox, Leroy Jenkins, Jimmy Cobber, Linda Montano and Karl Berger.
In 1990, Sertso catapulted back into the mainstream jazz spotlight through her version "Until the Rain Comes" on Don Cherry's Multi Kulti album. Shortly afterward, she began working on a new album, but she became sidetracked by collaborating with Karl Berger and guitarist Paul Koji Shigihara. The trio blended original compositions with Sertso's poetry, improvisations and interpretations of traditional tune. Sertso also regularly performed poetry readings at the Tinker Street Cafe in Woodstock and the Knitting Factory in New York, and she also regularly played clubs along the Northeast coast. In 1994, she released her comeback album Dance with It, which earned postitive reviews. - Stephen Thomas Erlewine (All Music Guide)
Steven Bernstein is a trumpeter/slide trumpeter, bandleader, arranger, and composer who lives outside of musical convention. He has released four critically acclaimed CDs; Diaspora Soul, Diaspora Blues (featuring the Sam Rivers trio), Diaspora Hollywood, and Diaspora Suite. All four are on John Zorn’s Tzadik label.
His band Sex Mob has been together since 1995 touring the world, winning numerous awards, and has had their music featured on MTV, Saturday Night Live and NPR. Sexotica, recorded for Thirsty Ear’s Blue series, was nominated for a Grammy in 2006. Their most recent CD, Sex Mob meets Medeskiwas recorded live at the Willisau Jazz Festival.
His nine-piece ensemble, the Millennial Territory Orchestra, has released two CDs, MTO Vol 1 and We Are MTO. Their upcoming CD, MTO Plays Sly, features Bernie Worrell, Vernon Reid, Antony, Martha Wainwright, Dean Bowman, Sandra St. Victor and Shilpa Ray, and is slated for a September 2011 release. MTO was formed in 1999 for a series of Midnight shows at Tonic, and spent a year and a half long residency at the Jazz Standard. Bernstein also arranged and co-produced Baby Loves Jazz,featuring vocalists Sharon Jones and Babi Floyd, along with keyboard master John Medeski. The CD is available on Verve records.
Bernstein was the musical director for I’m Your Man, a documentary on Leonard Cohen that focuses on a tribute concert held at the Sydney Opera house, released by Lions Gate films in spring 2006. He was the musical director for the live sequences in the 2009 Bill Withers documentary Still Bill. Other DVDreleases include Solos, originally a Canadian Television program featuring solo performances by musicians including Andrew Hill, Joe Lovano, and John Scofield, as well as Lou Reed’s Berlin (directed by Julian Schnabel) and Levon Helm Ramble at The Ryman. Bernstein was also the subject of a feature entitled “Creative Spaces” on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR in 2002.
Beginning in November 2004 Bernstein was been a member of the Levon Helm band, playing at the Midnight Rambles in Levon’s home in Woodstock. Bernstein wrote horn arrangements for Levon Helm’s Grammy winning 2009 recording Electric Dirt, as well as Bill Frissel’s Grammy winning 2004 recording Unspeakable. Other arranging credits include Lou Reed, Rufus Wainwright, Marianne Faithfull, Elton John, and Marvin Pontiac.
In 1992, musical iconoclast Hal Willner produced the eponymous debut CD by Spanish Fly, a cooperative trio with Bernstein, slide guitarist Dave Tronzo and tubaist Marcus Rojas, and they have been collaborating ever since.
Bernstein has worked as musical director on many Hal Willner projects, including tributes to Leonard Cohen, Doc Pomus, and Harold Arlen, and created the music for Robert Altman’s film Kansas City. He was also the musical director for the touring version of the Kansas City band, which included David “Fathead” Newman, Don Byron, James Carter, Christian McBride, and Nicholas Payton.
During his 10 years as a member of John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards he arranged the music for Get Shorty, Clay Pigeons, Fishing With John and many more film, television and commercial projects with Mr. Lurie.
For composer/Foetus mastermind Jim Thirwell, Bernstein arranged Steroid Maximus to be performed live by a 21 piece ensemble.
Bernstein’s work as a composer includes the documentaries Keep the River On Your Right and Balloonhat, Nickelodeon’s hit TV show The Backyardigans (including an ANNIE nomination for his score to “International Super Spy”), live scores to silent Laurel & Hardy films, theatre scores for Mae West’s Sex and Trouble in Paradise, dance pieces for Alvin Ailey, Body Vox, the Donald Byrd Dance Company, the Flying Karamazov Brothers and the San Francisco Ballet, and commercial jingles.
Bernstein has played trumpet with a diverse group of artists including My Morning Jacket, Linda Ronstadt, David Murray, David Berger, Digable Planets, Sting, Medeski Martin and Wood, Courtney Love, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Don Byron and Mocean Worker.
*DOWNBEAT CRITICS POLL 2006 (#1 Rising Star Arranger, #4 Rising Star Trumpeter)
*DOWNBEAT CRITICS POLL 2005 (#1 Rising Star Arranger)
*DOWNBEAT CRITICS POLL 2004 (#1 Arranger, #2 Big Band – Millennial Territory Orchestra)
*JAZZ JOURNALISTS ASSOCIATION 2003 (Rare Brass)
*DOWNBEAT CRITICS POLL 2002 (Sex Mob #1 Beyond Group, #1 Acoustic Jazz Group)
Peter Apfelbaum (born 1960) is an American avant-garde jazz pianist, tenor saxophonist, drummer and composer born in Berkeley, California. He first emerged on the jazz scene in the late 1970s, performing with Carla Bley from 1978–1982 and touring with Warren Smith and Karl Berger. Around this time Apfelbaum also studied and worked with musicians involved with the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, New York. He graduated from Berkeley High School in 1978 in a class that included jazz pianist Benny Green.
Apfelbaum has made an impact on the avant-garde jazz and world music scene since the late 1970s and 1980s. He is a well known multi-instrumentalist and composer. His three main instruments are tenor saxophone, piano, and drums, but he has recorded and performed with a diverse array of percussion, wind, and other instruments. He has composed suites for various artists (including Don Cherry) as well as his 17-piece group The Hieroglyphics Ensemble. In 1990 Apfelbaum toured and recorded with Cherry in the group Multikulti, playing both piano and saxophone.
In the early 1990s, Apfelbaum opened shows for The Grateful Dead with The Hieroglyphics Ensemble. Apfelbaum formed The Hieroglyphics Ensemble with jazz musicians from the San Francisco Bay Area, including Jeff Cressman, Will Bernard, Norbert Stachel, Jessica Jones, Tony Jones, Peck Almond, Dezon Claiborne, Josh Jones, Jai Uttal, and many others. In 1991 his album Signs Of Life, recorded with The Hieroglyphics Ensemble, went to No. 14 on Billboard (magazine)'s "top contemporary jazz albums.
The latest incarnation of this group, The New York Hieroglyphics, released It Is Written in 2005, featuring members from the original group and New York-based musicians such as Patrice Blanchard, Dafnis Prieto, Josh Roseman, and Abdoulaye Diabate as well as Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio, for whom Peter was music director. His compositions and performances have influenced many artists active in the contemporary jazz fusion scene. His work recombines and synthesizes varieties of world music (i.e. various non-Western diasporic musical traditions) with experimental jazz idioms. Of how his music came into being, Apfelbaum writes: "My vocabulary reflects the fact that I started life as a drummer, was trained in jazz theory, blues and gospel music as a pre-teenager, became absorbed in African and Latin music as a teenager, listened to a lot of contemporary classical music, worked in R&B, reggae, blues, Latin, African, jazz, funk, Middle Eastern and Indian bands and, for as long as I can remember, I've been fascinated by how sounds can be fitted together."