Interview with Steven Harris
San Gabriel Valley Press Syndicated
The place for great tunes, tastes
by Steven Harris Correspondent

Gather 'round and pause for a community cause. Sunday's 6th annual Food, Wine and Jazz Festival will benefit the new Monrovia Public Library, which is slated to reopen in 2009.

This festival grows more appealing and confident each year. With 37 vendors now on hand, there's enough food to satisfy everyone's taste buds. The varied cuisine includes prime rib, sophisticated salad and desserts. For the health-conscious, there will be Herbal Life smoothies. Another too-sweet-to-beat item is the now trendy Mexican fruit popsicles. And the donated ice sculptures and martini luge are a real aesthetic enhancement, as are the jazz sounds provided by singer Kay Martin and her instrumental quintet.

A native Iowan, Martin moved to the West Coast in 2003. She is a writer who studied theater, and since her arrival she has acted and directed. "L.A. is more inclusive and eclectic, music-wise, she said. "There's less of a separation than other areas that I could mention that are more exclusive and elite."

Martin admits to discovering jazz music fairly late in her career, some time after her initial encounter at 16 when she first heard a Billie Holiday recording.

"I've sung all my life: folk pop and sambas, but I didn't try straight-ahead jazz until 1995, she said. "The odd thing is that I never had any intention of focusing on jazz, but once I started to study and learn, it's just what opened up for me naturally."

She sang with several groups, and they encouraged her to record her own album. Martin's first CD sampler titled "Softly" was self-produced in 2003.

She called her debut disc "a really beautiful project that went well." Her next CD, now in the production stages, will be a fusion of jazz and soul tunes with classic standards culled from the past. It will include some strong Brazilian rhythms, something Martin has long loved.

Taking an artistic risk with one's career takes dedication and courage, and Martin seems loyal to the last blue note.

"I believe that commitment is everything, especially in this field," she said. "Most jazz artists who strictly earn their living that way can't really expect the success that a rock artist might. Because I didn't have much expectation or conscious intention of pursuing jazz as a career, it's been more like a gift for me. I'm still learning how to interpret it.

"But I'm trying to shift the hype approach to what the music is all about: connecting with people, and sharing an understanding that encompasses an emotional, sensual and visceral encounter." Martin added a coda that the music industry should heed.

"I personally don't care for genre divisions," she said. "When these distinctions and the old systems start disintegrating that includes the recording business that's when new things and new collaborations can be built.

"This is a very exciting time in music. More artists now are skipping right across genres: folk, bluegrass, jazz and pop. All the richness of music that America has offered over the past 100 years seems to be coming together."