"Once I got to LA—with so many amazing musicians all around, I was able to fuse music from all periods of my life into genre-bending interpretations for the Four Sweets project."
Intro: Kay Martin grew up playing guitar and singing folk, soul and pop music. She credits a wide range of artists who influenced and inspired her sound including Ella, Sarah, Louis Armstrong, the Duke, Frank, Dinah, Billie, Louis Jordan, Miles, Coltrane, Clifford, Daniela Mercury, Caetano, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Marisa Monte, Dianne Reeves, Elis, and many non-jazz artists as well like indie rockers like Gillian Welsh, Aimee Mann, and Liz Phair. Kay studied music with Ray Brown (Stan Getz' trumpeter) as well as many great vocalists: Michele Rivard, Faith Winthrop, finally wonderful Trelawny Rose, who produced the vocals on her Four Sweets CD and is now head vocal coach on The Voice! Kay has performed and recorded with world-class artists. Currently, Kay is working with Fefe Lee of Los Pinguos, and recording with different artists with more jazz, soul, pop, and Afro-Brazilian rhythms to come.
Was there something (an experience) or someone in your life that was the "catalyst" for you to start writing music? Tell us about it.
Singing was a late-breaking development. I lived in Santa Cruz CA, was a single working mom with a background in theatre, started studying jazz at the community college, and suddenly doors were opening, I was singing out. Once I got to LA—with so many amazing musicians all around, I was able to fuse music from all periods of my life into genre-bending interpretations for the Four Sweets project. Most of that material is not original, but writing has followed along—my day job is as a writer, so slowly I have worked writing into my music, including on that CD.
Let's get this out of the way. What is the CRAZIEST thing that has ever happened to you in your music career?
The whole thing has been crazy, still is. Perhaps the CD Four Sweets is the craziest--with musicians I couldn't even imagine—such genius, chops, humility, humor, love, outstanding values. The concepts became real with unbelievable success. Maybe The craziest: working on our "suite" of My Man for this Afro-Brazilian rhythm/genre project, I wanted to write a French rap. Tracking the band, I had them extend the ending longer because I hadn't composed the rap. I decided to use my 12 archetypes (a la Carolyn Myss), wrote 12 rap couplets in French with my girlfriend Marina Urquidi, and they JUST fit perfectly in what we had recorded.
What has been the high point of your music path?
Recording and performing are so different, and I love them both so much. Headlining for the Monrovia jazz festival in the LA area was big. The Four Sweets CD is a real innovation, imho. But probably more importantly it's the little things: moments when you know you have affected someone deeply—either by a recording they heard or especially performing live. We don't get to know the affect our music has, we just get to do it.
So, how do you approach songwriting or what is your creative process like?
Very, very slowly. I'm not primarily a songwriter, mainly a singer, so composing is very labored for me. For the Four Sweets CD, mainly "covers" but very collaborative, we started with a Samba-Reggae rhythm I thought would fit the given tune and we experimented with it until it fit and became magic. For that album we tracked live, then I did the vocals and the original writing slowly, as I could develop it and as I could pay for the mixing and all.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Indie Artists today? Or, if you could ask the music industry to change one thing, what would it be?
I think the way the technology has degenerated the audio quality of songs is a very serious problem. Of course surviving is now the perennial terrible problem for music artists—mostly only the very, very few top commercial artists can make an okay living playing. Other bands get by touring. Another commercial issue that drives me crazy is how the all-powerful playlists are ordered by pop artists and genre, which just doesn't work, I don't think. But if I could change one thing, it would be for people to insist on higher sound quality all around.
If you could share the stage with one other artist or band, who would it be and why?
I told Luciana Souza I would love to open for her. I think my blend of Brazilian classics with innovative rhythms for various crowd-pleasing songs, jazz and jazz-interpreted pop and soul, would be perfect to open for—maybe do a tune or two with— a great headliner in Brazilian & jazz like Luciana. But hey while I'm at it, Caetano Veloso. :-)
What are your rehearsals generally like? Or, how do you prepare for a live show?
Not enough. Fefe Lee has been wonderful, but jazzers as a rule avoid rehearsing, want to be paid which I can rarely do. For recording I pay the musicians of course, and with artists of that caliber, a couple times to develop the piece and a few times to set it is all they need. I love rehearsing, and wish I could more. The more I rehearse, the better—even just to re-interpret songs I've performed many times.
Pick one song that was your greatest challenge to write. Tell us about it!
I wrote English lyrics to the great jazz classic Dulce Amor (Poncho Sanchez) upon request by the composer Rodgers Grant, before he began suffering dementia and then died. It took me years—he was already ill when I finished. I haven't released it yet in fact but will this coming year, have received permission from the publisher. The song has different parts that are Very difficult to sing. But I'm very proud of how the lyrics came out, with more poetic "night" lyrics and more down-to-earth "day" lyrics for the different parts. My version is called Day After Day.
What's coming up in the future?
Under the Covid lockdown it's been a real challenge. Am scheming on how to record with Fefe Lee, my wonderful accompanist—ballads, which have always been a strength but you can't do very many performing live, usually. I have been planning to perform around Europe, but not sure how that can work now! I will perform, have a couple spots lined up, around LA when things open a bit more.