Edy Martínez, the Music Architect Behind the Piano

Edy Martínez, as a drummer, with Don Américo y sus Caribes, 1959.
Edy Martínez, as a drummer, with Don Américo y sus Caribes, 1959.

Edy, Ready to Leave his Country

The two friends, Becerra and Martínez Pollit, had said bye after that tour in Pasto. Mr. Becerra continued touring in the United States as an international musician and Edy continued in Bogota with his father. In 1959 he received a telegram from Hernando Becerra who was in Aruba at the time. The message was an invitation to temporarily be part of his orchestra because the band’s drummer had suddenly left. This budding artist accepted the invitation. After that tour in Aruba, Hernando offered him an opportunity to go to the United States to play with his band as a permanent drummer. For the Colombian director Edy was the perfect musician for the part; Mr. Becerra had always had to hire two drummers for his group because he had two repertoires: one about Afro Latin music and the other about jazz. No drummers, so far, had been able to play both repertoires, but Edy was the first.The talented Martínez accepted the offer and started what would be the trip that ignited his career as an international musician.

Welcome to the First World!

In 1960 Edy Martínez played with Becerra´s orchestra for three months in Miami. The young drummer could not believe he was playing in the country of jazz. Unexpectedly, Mr. Becerra changed his plans and decided to go back to Colombia. On the contrary Edy was at an exciting age and wanted to experience and explore what he had studied, jazz and Latin music, and he was in the perfect place to do so; the United States. Though alone, the young musician decided to stay. At that point he felt that he did not want to be a drummer but instead wanted to be a full-fledged pianist. In Miami he started looking for a job as a pianist, he wanted to show everybody his talent. During his search he went to a new club where Cuban musicians used to play. There, Edy went straight up to the director and introduced himself and asked him if he could play for a while. That director accepted and listened to the Colombian pianist.

Coincidence or not, this band’s pianist became very sick so the director asked this young pianist to play with them. This was the first job that he got by himself without having any friend to get help from. This was about conviction and passion for music.

After some weeks working in that club, a show started performing in the city where the host was the singer Rubén Gonzales. Mr. Gonzales was already aware of Edy’s work in the club and invited him to tour with other Cuban musicians. Initially the tour was planned for fourteen weeks in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, but the tour actually extended for two years. He was now experiencing a unique period in New Orleans, he was sharing his knowledge and above all learning from all kinds of jazz musicians in the Boom Boom Room Club, a Latin club on Borbon Street, a particular jazz street where the best of the best played for fun, love and money. There was still more to explore in the exciting city of Louisiana, Edy needed to go to a special place where musicians got together to play. In this place Mr. Martínez met Tatara Vasquez. This time the young musician from Pasto knew that the prestigious artist was looking for a pianist so he did not hesitate to show his interest. That night Mr. Vasquez did not pay too much attention to him. Surprisingly, he was called for an audition which consisted of playing Tito Rodríguez, Machito and Tito Puente’s songs, works that he knew very well. Edy started with a brilliant performance of Puente’s song “Mango del Monte” (Mango of the Mount) which was enough to get him the job as a pianist for Tatara Vasquez and the Ritmo Swing Orchestra.

Mr. Martínez started to express his improvisation skills in the middle of a difficult and hard fought field where there were really virtuous Puerto Rican and Cuban musicians. In 1963 Edy returned to Miami and worked with Pupi Campo and Chico Oréfiche. Being involved in this intense musical moment he had all the elements he needed to make a big decision; to go to New York City to settle.

Oscar Montagut
Oscar Montagut
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

  1. 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.

  2. 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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