Steamboat guitarist Bill Martin releases new solo album ‘Skylark’
December 10, 2010
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs guitarist Bill Martin vividly recalls his mother, Laura, playing the song "Laura" from the 1944 Otto Preminger film of the same name. So it's no coincidence that he included the tune among 14 tracks on his new solo album of jazz standards.
"My mother could rock the house with boogie-woogie," Martin recalled fondly this week.
His new album, "Skylark," is far removed from boogie-woogie. The jazz standard genre includes tunes from another era recognizable for a blend of humable melodies and complex chords up the neck of the guitar. The tracks were recorded by Scott Singer and mastered by Tom Capek.
The most contemporary piece of music on the recording is the 1965 Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic "Alfie" popularized by Dionne Warwick and Cher.
By design, the songs Martin performs in Skylark are ideal for completing the ambience of a fine dining restaurant or a holiday open house. He created his own arrangements of classic jazz for solo guitar specifically because he wanted to fill a niche in Steamboat's live performance scene.
"First and foremost, I created this format because it's what I hear in my head," Martin said. "And you hear this kind of music when you dine in a fine restaurant because it fills in the area and gives a classy ambiance to a restaurant."
Martin doesn't hesitate to describe his approach to jazz as background music. When he performs Fridays and Saturdays at Ragnar's restaurant at Rendezvous Saddle at Steamboat Ski Area, he'll be very careful to not drown out conversation. His intent is to make a contribution to an elegant night out.
But to label Martin's deft guitar playing simply as background music would be to seriously underestimate the musicianship required to improvise on a theme while carrying the bass and melody lines within complex chord structures, on one instrument, and during a live performance.
"In the chord melody style, I play the chords with the melody and bass lines integrated in the body of the chords," Martin said. "I try to play the songs with the phrasing of a vocalist as if the guitar is singing the melody."
Already an accomplished guitarist when he set out to develop his own style of performing jazz standards, Martin practiced diligently for four to six hours a day for two years. The work paid off — there are times when it sounds as if two guitarists are performing on "Skylark."
One of Martin's musical heroes is jazz vocalist Mel Tormé, who was known as "The Velvet Fog." Martin strives to achieve the same velvet tone with his electric Gibson archtop L5 guitar.
"I try to play guitar with Mel Tormé's sensitivity," Martin said. "His singing sounded like a conversation with the audience."
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