This week on Art of the Song, jazz singer and songwriter Rebecca Martin is featured.
About the artist:
Martin was a young girl when she left her rural hometown of Rumford, Maine to pursue her musical ambitions in New York, where she met fellow singer-songwriter Jesse Harris. The duo formed the group Once Blue, which won a recording contract with EMI. Once Blue’s 1995 debut release won international acclaim, but a second album remained unreleased until 2003.
Martin launched her solo career in 1998 with Thoroughfare, written and produced by Martin. In 2002, she produced a collection of standards, Middlehope, which The New York Times named one of the year’s ten best jazz albums. In 2004, Martin released another album of original compositions, People Behave Like Ballads.
In 2005, Martin recorded with jazz drummer/composer Paul Motian as featured vocalist on Motian’s On Broadway Vol. 4 or The Paradox of Continuity, becoming the first singer to accompany Motian on one of his recordings. Martin credits the experience with informing her attitude toward her own recordings in subsequent years. “The experience of making music with Paul changed my life, and set me on a completely new path in how I approached my own music,” she explains. “It was the first time I’d recorded without a chordal instrument, and that was a revelation for me. It was also liberating to be working with one of my idols in an atmosphere that was completely down to earth and blue-collar. Everybody involved came in to do the job in a couple of takes, and we were always finished by dinnertime. It was a real collaboration and working unit, and it was eye-opening to be a part of something like that.”[this quote needs a citation]
After Motian’s album was release in 2006, Martin was asked to perform with him at Carnegie Hall as part of a tribute concert to the Village Vanguard‘s Lorraine Gordon, and she and Motian subsequently performed music from the project during a two-week run at the Village Vanguard.
Martin began to apply Motian’s less-is-more ethic to work after moving to the Sunnyside label with her 2008 release The Growing Season, produced by Kurt Rosenwinkel and featuring Larry Grenadier and Brian Blade on bass and drums, respectively. The album met with enthusiastic response, including a New York Times critic’s pick, which praised her “warm, unguarded voice, an instrument of modesty and forbearance,” adding, “She can make the same phrase seem philosophical and conversational, and about as natural as sighing… She makes this album feel momentous, in the quietest possible way.”[this quote needs a citation]
The Growing Season‘s success led to an invitation to perform a week’s worth of headlining shows at New York’s Village Vanguard, making Martin the first singer-songwriter to perform at the jazz club in more than 30 years. She followed those career landmarks with When I Was Long Ago (2010), another collection of standards, this one delivered in spare three-piece arrangements featuring Martin, Grenadier and saxophonist Bill McHenry.
Martin and Grenadier recorded most of Twain in a small bedroom in the apartment of longtime cohort and pianist Pete Rende, who produced, engineered and mixed the album. “For the most part, what we did and how we felt on that day became the record,” Martin notes, adding, “Larry placed a great deal of care into making the songs work in a duo context. There were a few that were a bit trickier to pull off that way, and for that reason, we added some drums in places and other textures to help move the album along.”[this quote needs a citation]
In 2010, Martin formed a trio, Tillery, with fellow singer-songwriters Gretchen Parlato and Becca Stevens. The trio continues to work together when schedules permit, including a scheduled 2013 performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Martin has also worked on behalf of her community in her adopted hometown of Kingston, New York, where she has been active in promoting government transparency and civic involvement. In 2009, Martin was named Community Activist of the Year by the Ulster County YWCA, and in 2010, began serving as Executive Director of the Kingston Land Trust, an urban land trust in the Hudson Valley. Marin currently runs a management agency, Larrecca Music Management, that handles her business and that of other artists.