Featured Musician - June 2009

Name : Martin Zar Zar

Martin Zar Zar

Instrument: drums

Early Years/Education: When I was very young my parents moved from Peru to England so that my Dad could study at Cambridge. My Mom didn't want to stay in Cambridge, so she and I moved to London. I had no musical aspirations but was always surrounded by musicians who were working with my mother (professional dancer Luciana Proano). At this time, the early 1980s, most of the musicians working with my mother were from South Africa. There was a favorite group called “District Six.” They played a combination of Afro-Pop and African folkloric music. The drummer from this group would put me on his drum kit and let me improvise. I also did the same thing at the piano. I also saw Stanley Clarke and was so impressed. He played a solo bass concert, I must have been four years old. I was so amazed at what he was doing. We bounced between London and Peru. When I was eight we moved to France. Mom was working for the National Choreographic Center of France as assistant director. Great job for her, so we moved back to Europe and London again. I was about to turn ten, and we got reacquainted with the old friends. By then I was playing piano. Often my musical education had to do with what instruments were available to me at the time.

Portland: Around 1988, my mother met Portland guitarist John (JB) Butler at a “New Music America” festival in Miami. That's what brought us to Portland. Before I could play anything I was writing songs. JB has them written down in his notebooks from when I was a kid. He taught me how to play my first guitar chords. In high school I was in the concert, marching and jazz bands. Even though I went to Lincoln, I was involved with the music program at Jefferson. There they'd hire the local musicians as teachers, so I learned from Anthony Jones, Israel Anno, Kurt Deutscher, etc. After high school I was undecided as to what to do with my life so I took a year off. I was performing a lot and thinking about studying physics (my Grandad would read out of Carl Sagan's “Cosmos” book to me). In the meantime, my Mom and JB said, why don't you take this audition from Berkelee College of Music? So I did. I was in Peru when this huge fax came and they offered me a scholarship. So that was it. I went to Berkelee and got a performance degree on drums.

First Gigs: I started thinking of music in terms of a career when I started getting paid for it. My first gig was with Tarik Banzi, founder of Al-Andalus. I met Tarik when I was fifteen at a family party, and I've been playing with him ever since. I also work with singer/bassist Belinda Underwood on her albums, with Gavin Bondy and the Shanghai Willies; I'm a sub for Pepe and the Bottle Blonds, do hand percussion for the group Shabava, I'm in Go Gringo Go and still work with Al-Andalus.

Pink Martini: I've been with them for eight years. I knew Derek Rieth and Brian Davis from playing around town. They had a crisis on the road and needed a drummer. I was in college in Boston and got a call from Thomas Lauderdale. He wanted me to fly to France the next day. I went to the French consulate and begged them for a visa. I pretty much camped out there until they gave me one. I had a great time with the band and played two weeks with them and thought that was it. Thomas and China Forbes do a lot of writing for the band, but it's a collaboration guided by Thomas. We all contribute.

Musical Influences: It's interesting what sorts of influences one has, and not always musicians. My dad, as a fan, has always been a big influence. My grandfather, Guillermo Proano, was a big influence in terms of music composition. He would blast the classical music station in our house in Peru, I liked it a lot. JB Butler, my step dad, taught about jazz harmony, which helped me when I went to college. At Berkelee, Jamey Haddad and Kenwood Dennard were influential as well as Ernesto Diaz, Casey Scheuerell, Eusebio Sirio “Pititi,” “Chocolate” Algendones, and Dave Di Censo. Portland drummer Reinhardt Melz is a great motivator for me. Another influence has to be my Great Aunt Chabuca Granda who was a famous songwriter from Peru. I grew up listening to her music. There is a long tradition of Afro-Peruvian music on the coast of Peru ... two of my teachers were from this tradition. My composition, “Mar Desconocido,” on the recent Pink Martini album was, without a doubt, influenced by Chabuca's music.

Most Satisfying Experience: Those moments when you discover something new, or when the stuff you've been working on comes together in a fresh way. The process is really the reward. There's a constant dialog with the music you're creating, and you sometimes think, who's creating who? I've never really longed for performing ... I enjoy it but don't crave it. As I've gotten older, I've embraced the idea of performing. I'm learning more about it and see the importance of it, that it’s bringing a work of art to life.

Favorite Recordings: The Beatles: “White Album”; Paco de Lucia: “Ziryab”; Richard Bona: “Bonatology”; Caetano Veloso: “Livro”; Miles Davis: “Live at the Plugged Nickel” and “Cookin' with the Miles Davis Quintet”; Glenn Gould: “Bach-The Well Tempered Clavier, Book II”; Bob Marley:   “Legend”; Sting: “Ten Summoner's Tales”; Chabuca Granda: “Cada Cancion Con Su Razon”; Nat King Cole: The Complete Capitol Recordings”; Toto IV: “Toto” and The Police: “Regatta de Blanc”; Stevie Wonder: “Innervisions.”

Discography: “Winter Jazz II”: Tall Jazz with Rebecca Kilgore, 1997; “Genetic Memories”: Al-Andalus, 2000; “Roots and Effect”: Leo Blanco, 2003; “Hang on Little Tomato”: Pink Martini, 2004 Heinz Records; “Underwood Uncurling”: Belinda Underwood, 2005 Cosmik Muse Records; “Beliss”: Beliss, 2007 Cosmik Muse Records; “Hey Eugene”: Pink Martini, 2007 Heinz Records; “Greenspace”: Belinda Underwood, 2008 Cosmik Muse Records; “Voy Con Fusion”: Toshi Onizuka, 2008; “The Sinatra Project”: Michael Feinstein, 2008. A fourth studio Pink Martini recording will be out soon.

Gigs: Pink Martini U.S. Tour 2009 begins at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on May 31, June 1 and 2, where they will be recording live with the Oregon Symphony. The tour continues to Atlanta GA; Raleigh NC; Knoxville TN; Vienna VA; Hyannis MA. June 11; Boston MA; Carnegie Hall, etc.

Future Plans: I'm working on a duo album with my roommate, Mario Diaz, who is a fantastic classical guitarist and singer-songwriter. His father is from Peru, so we have a lot in common. I'm also putting a band together with pianist Ben Darwish. And who knows, I might go back to school for an MA in composition.

Other: I don't categorize music in genres, I think of music as a whole. In some cultures music is taken for granted because it's a part of life, they don't watch TV as much, they have to entertain themselves.  We're very fortunate in Portland to have what we have, lots of music. I've been really fortunate with the people I've met here.

-- by Rita Rega


Copyright 2009, Jazz Society of Oregon