Edy Martínez, the Music Architect Behind the Piano

Edy Martínez with Ray Barreto’s Orchestra, Maracaibo, Venezuela, 1966.
Edy Martínez with Ray Barreto’s Orchestra, Maracaibo, Venezuela, 1966.

A Big Apple for Edy

In New York, in 1965, Mr. Martínez played with a musician named Louis Barcelo, Joe Quijano’s flautist. In the middle of one of Barcelo’s shows in the Bronx neighborhood, Edy played passionately without any knowledge that moments later he would meet a man named Ray Barreto. Mr. Barreto, had been waiting close by for a meeting with his own band members to play on another stage, when he happened to catch Edy’s performance. After the concert Mr. Barreto came up to Martínez, introduced himself and asked for his phone number. Some days later the percussionist called Edy to ask him if he wanted to work as a pianist and arranger because in two weeks the pianist of La Charanga Moderna, Barreto’s band, would be leaving the group. The Colombian pianist had no doubts about answering positively, so Mr. Barreto gave him the two weeks to study the musical arrangements for his album. The reality was that he did not have any knowledge about arranging music at that time but he decided to take a risk and told Barreto that he could collaborate with part of the arrangements. From that day on, Edy went to Lincoln Center Library everyday to study musical arranging theories. He was prepared to do anything to demonstrate his love and passion for music. After long study sessions, he showed Mr. Barreto his work and very soon the Colombian pianist was recording his first album in North America, called “Señor 007”, in which he played the piano and arranged six songs.

That same year, Edy participated in another of Barreto’s projects, the album “El Ray Criollo”, where he was the pianist, arranger of many songs, and composer of the song “Rareza en Guajira” (Rarity in Guajira). In 1967 Barreto produced a new album, “Latino con soul” (Latin with Soul) where Mr. Martínez played the piano and wrote some arrangements.

The 70’s Coming, a Good Feeling

With the experience he had acquired from working on Barreto’s albums, the musical doors in New York City opened for Mr. Martínez. In 1970 he was the pianist for the icon of Afrolatin music, Mongo Santamaría. Together they recorded the work “Feeling”. He continued to gain more and more experience and a good reputation. The next year Martínez would be part of an expressive live album with Santamaría’s band called “Mongo at Montreaux” recorded at the prestigious Montreaux Jazz Festival, in Switzerland. The same day, after this tremendous concert, the well-known Argentinian saxophonist Gato Barbieri went to Edy’s dressing room to meet him and congratulate him on his piano performance. Behind the stage, in a very short time, the two musicians were laughing and having fun, realizing that Barbieri’s uncle was the saxophonist who participated in the same band where Edy had played as a teenager in the Grill Paris Club, in Bogota. That first meeting was the beginning of an inseparable friendship and musical union. But it wasn’t until 1974 when they officially started working together.

In 1972 he participated in another album for Mr. Santamaría; “Up From the Roots”. A year later Edy reunited with Barreto again and worked together to create a jazz album, an unusual work from Barreto and one of the most brilliant albums Barreto would create, “The Other Road”. This album was produced by Fania Records and garnered a Grammy music award. In this work Edy composed the main title demonstrating his capacity to create melodic music lines. By this time he was making big strides and sharing recording studios with exceptional musicians like Artie Webb and Billy Cobhan. This same year, at the top of his career, Barreto with his help launched “Indestructible”.

As his experience increased more challenging projects continued to emerge. In 1974 Edy participated in four albums. He played the piano for Justo Betancourt (“Justo Betancourt”), Menique (Soy Hijo de Changó), and Monguito Rivera (“Es Una Nota”). During this year Edy recorded his first album with Gato Barbieri called “Viva Emiliano Zapata”.

1975 was a fantastic time for Mr. Martínez in terms of production and creation. He continued working with Mr. Barbieri playing the piano on the album “Chapter Four”. After this work a series of salsa albums came dancing into Edy´s life. He collaborated as an arranger in another two albums for Barreto (“Barreto” and “Barreto Live”), and for the first time shared his talent with the innovative pianist Larry Harlow, the Wonderful Jewish, in the albums “El Jardín del Amor” (The Garden of Love”) and “Salsa”. The creativity process this year could not have finished better than having the opportunity to participate in two musical pieces that later would be mandatory acquisitions for any music lover: the first one, as a co-producer of “Un retrato de Tito Rodríguez”, a compilation of one of the most remarkable gems that latin music has ever had in history. The second, as an arranger of the piano line for the song “Resemblance” in the album “Unfinished Masterpiece” by the piano master Eddie Palmieri.

By now he had made his distinctive mark as a versatile musician. He could infuse intensity in Afro Latin styles but also in the most progressive of jazz pieces as he demonstrated in 1976, in the album “New Worlds” by the legendary drummer Joe Chambers. Here Edy contributed with his wonderful Fender Rhodes playing some heavy grooves as well as lighter and melodic compositions. Three more albums with Gato Barbieri completed his busy agenda: “Caliente”, “Ruby Ruby” and “Passion Fire”.

In 1977 the rhythms of salsa music were calling him again insistently; they would never leave him and wanted to be very close to him. Edy invited these rhythms in, as he always had. This year he participated in five salsa albums with great artists including Pete Conde Rodríguez (“A Touch of Class”), Luo Peres (“De todo un poco”), Raúl Marrero (“Romántico y Salsero”), Ray Barreto (“Eye of the Beholder”), and Larry Harlow (“La raza latina”).

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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  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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