THRIVE is an AIWA-SF April project dedicated to highlighting Armenians who are doing amazing things in their personal and professional lives to better themselves and those around them. These individuals are inspiring, dynamic, innovative and interesting. Today, we feature Joel A. Martin.
Joel A. Martin is a classical and jazz pianist, producer, composer, and arranger who has collaborated with, and/or written music for, Grammy® Award-winners Alan Menken, opera legend Kathleen Battle, Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, cellist Eugene Friesen of the Paul Winter Consort, and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jaimoe of the Allman Brothers.
At age 17 Joel was the youngest and the first African-American pianist to compete in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition (1985). He has appeared as soloist with the NY Philharmonic, El Paso Symphony, Springfield Symphony Orchestra (MA), Philadelphia Orchestra, Cab Calloway Orchestra, New Hampshire Festival Orchestra, and the Hartford Symphony, among many others.
Trained as a classical pianist at the Hartt School of Music and SUNY-Purchase, he created his registered trademark “Jazzical®” in 1995 as a celebration of creative fusion: “the explosive union of classical composition and jazz innovation ignited with a fresh spirit all its own.” This concept, form and vehicle “captures the dynamic force of multiple cultures and influences, unleashing a kinetic energy that breaks down boundaries and yields whole new worlds of musical expression.”
In 2016, inspired by Jazzical, he created The Sonicals, a piano duo with George Lopez. And in 2017 he joined with Paul Winter Consort multiple Grammy-winning cellist Eugene Friesen to create the Friesen and Martin Cello/Piano Duo, playing composed and improvised music infused with pop, jazz, rock, and world folk styles.
As a composer Joel has been very prolific. On June 29, 2019 after one year of writing, Joel debuted a concert reading of his first opera, HIPOPERA at the Darien Arts Center in CT. He is currently writing 3 modern operas on the life of Pushkin as well as Russian/Armenian children’s folk tales.
In 2020 will Joel premier his 9th CD “Jazzical: Komitas – Passion of Fire” featuring Armenian conductor Sergey Smbatyan and the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra, NYC based Armenian opera singers, and instrumentalists from Armenia. A world tour is being planned in support of this project.
Question: What is your life philosophy?
Simply put: Music is life, life is music. We need more music and art to balance all of the craziness of life. Music is our life blood, one of the few things on earth that binds us together as human beings on this planet. There is always a song that expresses what we feel deep down inside, we just have to understand how it works within each one of us and embrace it.
Question: What is your hope for the future?
I hope the world chooses to study war no more. In order to achieve this lofty dream all of us have to re-evaluate what it is to be a global citizen on Earth, to lead by precept and example , and change the world one person at a time. With all the angst in this world the prognosis for global peace seems daunting, sometimes hopeless, EXCEPT, for the fact that everywhere I go, I continue to meet thoughtful, kind, and caring people. The world is not what we read about in the news, full of gloom and doom. We should seek the positive light in people, because if we do, the darkness will be repelled by the white light of truth. I hope to be a beaconin the world, using the positive healing and restorative power of music to enrich the soul of the world.
Question: What is your favorite thing about being Armenian?
I am an Armenian By Choice. Though I am African-American and American Cherokee by birth, Armenians and Black people have so much in common because of our history, our tenacity in fighting against any and all oppression thrown at us, and the earthiness of our family structure. The more I spend time with Armenians the more I love and appreciate them. I love to eat, dance, sing, make music, and fellowship, just like my fellow Armenians. Can we have more of these things? YES!
Question: How has the Armenian culture shaped / influenced you?
18 months ago, I was introduced to Armenian culture and the music of Komitas. When I finally sat down and started listening to the music it revealed the pain and joy of Komidas’ universal earthiness, something that spoke powerfully to me as an African-American. The music of Komidas is for everyone. If it touched me so deeply then it will touch someone else. What I am talking about is not solely a music thing – it is primarily a life thing. And it is my joy to share my love of Armenian music and culture with the world.