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Edy Martínez, the Music Architect Behind the Piano

If you go to New York City and ask any Latin jazz legend about Edy Martínez they will tell you about him. Edy Martínez is a Colombian…

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Edy Martinez

If you go to New York City and ask any Latin jazz legend about Edy Martínez they will tell you about him

Edy Martínez is a Colombian pianist, percussionist, composer, arranger and musical director who has been living and creating music in New York for over 50 years. You, as a reader or listener, could say that his name does not sound familiar, and you could be right because this artist has not appeared on the majority of the covers of the works he has participated in. Edy Martínez is a humble musician who loves to help other artists create their own magic. Behind the greatest of legends there will always be brilliant people working together around the love for music, and Mr. Martínez is one of those passionate people. His passion for composition and arrangement art goes farther than being the leading protagonist or being noticed on an album cover or in the credit list.

His talent has been translated as a pianist, arranger and director on more than 100 albums of jazz, salsa, and Latin jazz. Many of his arrangements have been nominated for Grammy Awards. As a musical director he has accompanied musical icons like Ray Barreto, Gato Barbieri, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaría and Dizzy Gillespie. As a pianist he has played with almost all the legends and icons of the salsa and Latin jazz world including Rubén Blades, Jerry Gonzalez, Celia Cruz, Alfredito de la Fé, Paquito de Rivera and many others. His story from the beginning has been exciting and full of amazing challenges and magical experiences. Here we go.

A Little Child in Search of His Own Path

Eduardo Martínez Bastidas, better known as Edy Martínez, was born in 1942, in San Juan de Pasto, Colombia. He grew up in a family deeply rooted in music, and was exposed to all kinds of music right from the very beginning. His father was a trombonist and musical director, and his mother, a disciplined pianist.

When he was just a little baby the family had to leave Pasto and decided to settle in Bogota. His father had won a competition to be a trombonist as part of the National Band.

The first instrument Edy had was an accordion; with it his mother gave him the first basic ideas about chords and harmony. He started formally playing an instrument when he was eight years old. In his father´s orchestra little Edy played the conga. By that time Manuel Martínez Pollit, Edy´s father, was already a respectable musician and musical director in the capital. At the age of ten Edy was accepted into the National Conservatory of Colombia where he started studying with a Russian piano teacher. From the beginning he thought that the teacher was too severe and strict for him. One year later young Edy expressed his feelings about the teacher and begged his parents to find another way for him to keep learning music. He promised his parents to do whatever it took to learn music as long as he could have a different teacher. So, Edy’s mother became in charge of his musical learning and his father sat beside him to check his practice of the piano.

A Curious Little One Becoming a Musician

Four years later, after listening, appreciating and studying the basics of music, he became the pianist and drummer of Américo Belloto’s orchestra. Mr. Belloto, an Argentinian violinist, was the director of the famous orchestra Don Américo y sus Caribes, who played tropical music and boleros. During this time Edy also had the chance to play with Pepe Reyes´ band and with the Cuban singer Alex Tovar.

The young Edy was now ready to be part of a record and in 1954 this came to fruition. He played the piano on the album of the Colombian singer Yolima Pérez. He started showing his honest love for music and by the next year was playing the drums with the Chilean pianist Mario Ahumada. The rumors about Edy’s talent were spreading fast and some months later the adolescent appeared as the drummer in a television show with Mexican songwriter Consuelo Velásquez.

The End of the 50´s

Before Edy Martínez, other Colombian musicians had already been playing with international Latin stars. Colombian musicians like Hernando Becerra, an experienced artist who, by the 50´s, had already played with Tito Puente and Machito. For musical reasons Mr. Martínez Pollit and Mr. Becerra had already formed a strong friendship.

One day, while walking by a downtown street in Bogota, his father bumped into Mr. Becerra. After a warm hug Mr. Becerra invited him to play together at the “Festival de Blancos y Negros” (Black and White Festival) in Pasto. It was during this festival that Mr. Becerra heard young Edy playing the drums. After the concert he, excited, approached the young drummer to ask him about his musical skills. By this time Edy was already reflecting the natural effects of the musical environment that he had grown up in. As a child he had serious exposure to three kinds of music; classical, jazz and Latin music. That pure contact had given him a musical richness that no one in those days could easily obtain. Furthermore his father´s initiative to build a small studio where he could listen, study and play, was the perfect refuge to travel to other worlds and explore new sounds. For Martínez the best teachers were not only in the conservatory, but in that little studio. There were constant meetings with teachers like Tito Puente, Count Basie, Machito and Miles Davis. Martínez started to understand the logic of the two musical worlds which formed in his mind; jazz and Afro Latin music.

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Oscar graduated in journalism and education in Colombia, and completed a postgraduate program in Creative Writing in Canada. He works as an English teacher, translator and freelance writer in Bogotá. Oscar is a music collector, explorer and promoter of World Music and Jazz.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Tomas Pena

    Apr 13, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    Bravo Oscar! Great piece on Maestro Edy Martinez.

  2. Mara

    Sep 20, 2015 at 9:46 pm

    Didn’t Edy Martinez have a daughter called Estellita with a lady called Estella? I remember babysitting that little girl when they lived in the Bronx off The Grand Concourse. Crazy times. I also met Artie Webb at their apartment.

  3. Gary Peters

    Mar 14, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    Hi Oscar

    Great piece!

    My name is Gary Peters, author of the Philosophy of Improvisation (Chicago University Press, 2009) and just finishing another book for Chicago U.P. on improvisation. It contains a strange ‘memoir’ of the San Sebastian Jazz festival 1980 where Edy played with Gato. I was playing too in another band. I wondered if you had a contact email for Edy? I need to ask him a couple of questions relating to that night.

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Tribute to the Masters

Tribute to the Masters: Mario Rivera

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Mario Rivera "El Comandante"

Mario Rivera was a gifted musician, composer and arranger that played more than 15 instruments, which included piano, vibraphone, drums, trumpet, timbales, congas, flute, and piccolo. But Rivera was known for how he kissed and caressed the tenor, soprano, alto and baritone saxophones. He could play all of the family of saxophones on a virtuosic level as a soloist and section player and was one of the very few saxophonists who also mastered of the flute in the Cuban charanga style. Unlike most musicians, Rivera played all these instruments at an exceedingly high level of musicianship. Rivera dominated the “straight- ahead” jazz and Latin Jazz, Salsa and many other genres.

Mario Rivera "El Comandante"
Mario Rivera “El Comandante”

Mario was born July 22, 1939 in Santo Domingo, The Dominican Republic. After he arrived in NYC in 1961, he worked with Puerto Rican vocalist Joe Valle. His most significant musical associations through the years include Tito Rodríguez (1963-65), The Machito Orchestra, Sonny Stitt, Charlie Palmieri, Eddie Palmieri, Típica 73, The George Coleman Octet, Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra, Slide Hampton’s Jazz Masters, the Afro Blue Band, Giovanni Hidalgo, Chico O’Farrill’s Orchestra and especially Tito Puente’s Orchestra and Latin Jazz Ensemble with whom he worked for on and off for decades.

Mario Rivera "El Comandante" the merengue-jazz - Guest: George Coleman - Groovin High
Mario Rivera “El Comandante” the merengue-jazz – Guest: George Coleman – Groovin High

Even though Rivera was one of the hardest working sidemen in the jazz and Latin music business he also led two groups of his own Salsa Refugees and The Mario Rivera Sextet. Although having appeared on virtually hundreds of recording, Mario recorded only one disc as a leader named after his sobriquet, “El Comandante.” It has fine examples of combinations of the native rhythm of his homeland, merengue from the Dominican Republic and jazz improvisation. Indeed it can be considered not only a tribute to his homeland and his mastery of jazz harmony but an homage also to one of his inspirations and yet another unsung hero, fellow Dominican saxophone master, Tavito Vásquez.

Mario Rivera "El Comandante" and "The Salsa Refugees" - Back row L-R: Mario Rivera, Andy González, Jorge Dalto, Jerry González, Papo Vázquez, Nicky Marrero - Bottom Row L-R: Elías Peguero, César Ozuna
Mario Rivera “El Comandante” and “The Salsa Refugees” – Back row L-R: Mario Rivera, Andy González, Jorge Dalto, Jerry González, Papo Vázquez, Nicky Marrero – Bottom Row L-R: Elías Peguero, César Ozuna

Rivera’s passing has been felt very hard in the Latin music and jazz community and he is sorely missed. But we have his stories, music recordings, photos, and videos to remember this grand musician because what he left us makes him truly immortal.


We leave the readers with these final thoughts from Mario himself: “In my case, the day becomes the night and the night becomes the day. There are no vehicles on the street; there are no sirens at night. There is nothing that could block the inspiration. My home is like a musical laboratory because I have to accomplish so many things, I have to learn to play so many instruments. I spend all of my free time at home, practicing like a maniac, refining my chops. This is why I play 24 instruments. When it comes to music, one must be actively militant. Music demands your entire attention and dedication. If a musician is not willing to make that commitment, he will end up floating on a sea of turds, along with the other idle and mediocre characters.”

Mario Rivera passed in August, 2007, may he play on.

Content source: James Nadal

Photos from the Facebook Tribute Page: Mario Rivera “el Comandante”

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