Edy Martínez, the Music Architect Behind the Piano

Edy Martínez and Gato Barbieri, playing in New York.
Edy Martínez and Gato Barbieri, playing in New York.

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Another album with his inseparable music partner, Gato Barbieri, was produced; in 1978 the Colombian musician was the pianist and arranger of “Trópico”. Given that Edy had played with Barcelo and Barreto in the early 70’s, many growing and prominent salsa musicians started recognizing him in the Latin music scene. This was enough to be called years later by Fania, to participate in an album with Vitín Aviles, nicknamed “El Cantante del Amor” (“The Singer of Love”).

His commitment to unique interpretation afforded him the chance to have a meeting with Tito Puente, the famous timbalero, to collaborate as an arranger in a magnificent album which paid tribute to the unforgettable Benny More, “Homenaje a Benny More”. This tribute was awarded a Grammy music award.

Edy was in the right place, at the right time and with the right people. Immersed in the multicultural city of New York, Martínez, in a natural way, felt he wanted to look for new sounds, musical fusions and experiments, alternative ideas which would allow him to enter into yet undiscovered territory. This is how he came to work as a pianist with the talented Puerto Rican trumpeter, arranger and composer Luis Perico Ortiz, settled in the Big Apple. Ortiz’s band was composed of artists that later turned into legends in the salsa music scene. For his album “My Own Image” Ortiz had qualified musicians like Eddie Montalvo, Rubén Blades and Edy, who played the piano and the synthesizer. This experience, along with his musical works with Gato Barbieri, was another clue of what Martínez was searching for, new sounds and of course the true silhouette of Latin jazz music. In this first work on Ortiz’s album, mentioned above, one can see that the musical concept was rather advanced for that period, for example, in the song “Viva Martínez” you find a symbiosis of gipsy, montuno, jazz and groove where Edy plays a magical, funky and bluesy synthesizer solo.

Just Like Magic

Edy lived in three places: his apartment, the studio, and on the stage. In 1979 he participated in a total of seven albums: Two for Barreto (“Ricanstruccion” and “Gracias”), and one for Barbieri (“Euphoria”), Típica 73 (“Record in Cuba”), Federico Crespo (“De NY para el Caribe”) and Pete Conde Rodríguez (“Soy la ley”).

With Pete Conde Rodríguez, Edy was off to Holland to play for a week. Every night while in Holland an unknown man would sit very close to him, in the first row of the auditorium. The man always watched Edy’s performances, very interested. On the fourth night, he could not continue without asking the man who he was and why he had attended every concert and sat so close to him. The man introduced himself and told Edy that he was very interested in knowing more about what he was playing. That mysterious man was Jan Laurens Hartong, a Dutch pianist, who wanted to learn about Latin music. The Colombian artist shared all his knowledge about montunos, tumbaos and guajeos. A few days later Martínez left Holland.

Years later he would travel to Holland and meet Mr. Hartong again to see how he had created what had become known in the Latin scene as Nueva Manteca, considered by critics to be the most important Latin jazz band in Europe.

In those days, the King of Timbal, Tito Puente, had decided to temporarily halt concerts with his orchestra. So the American-Jewish Martin Cohen, owner of the prestigious Latin Percussion LP Company, proposed an idea to Mr. Puente, to form a band and start what would be one of the most extraordinary bands of all times. After scoring the participation of the conga-playing symbol, Carlos “Patato” Valdes, other musicians were called: Sal Cuevas as a bass player (replacing Andy González), the trumpeter René López, the drummer Steve Berríos, the percussionist Johnny “Dandy” Rodríguez, and the singers Nancy O´Neill and Jeanette Rodríguez. Cohen and Puente almost had the full band but one instrument was missing.

Very early in the morning, before the group started recording this project, Edy received a call from Tito Puente telling him that they were waiting for him to record an album that very same day. The first question Martínez asked was about the material he had to play, but Tito’s answer was that they did not have any material, all they had was a huge desire to play, to create, to “jam”. With Edy as the final missing link, the Latin Percussion Jazz Ensemble was finally formed and its album “Just Like Magic” was composed and recorded with great doses of pure improvisation, feeling and talent. For this album Mr. Martínez wrote the songs “The Opener”, “Martínez Blues” and “Afro Mood”.

Cohen’s idea was a hit. With this project the sextet toured Asia and Europe, but because of contracts and others tours the original members of the band could not always play, so other musicians joined the band like the virtuous violinist Alfredito de la Fé, the guitar player Toots Thielemans, and the pianist Jorge Dalto, keeping up the level that characterized the project.

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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