By Ted Eschliman
December 30, 2012 - 2:30 pm
Some great musicians leave their mark in history by impressive superhuman ability and performance skills. Other important influencers leave a legacy of lucidity, an uncanny ability to explain, to make the complex simple and repeatable on a mortal level. Such is the case with Seattle area mandolinist/fiddler Peter Martin.
You've probably known him from his articles in Mandolin Magazine, and you may have had the good fortune of attending one of his west coast workshops or participated directly in a private Skype lesson. If you're in the latter camp, you'll agree that Pete's foremost gift to the mandolin world is clarity.
In his lessons you grasp systems, formulas easily repeatable, and simpler ways of getting more out of your own music, be it juicing up your chord patterns, introducing new scale vocabulary into your soloing, or just fitting the groove of a particular style better.
If you haven't already checked out the dozen downloadable books he has available on his Petimar Press website, we trust you'll do this before you get to the end of the interview. Titles like Jazz Chording for Mandolin, Easy Music Theory for Fiddle and Mandolin, and Bebop Scales for Mandolin and Violin, how can you go wrong?
Enjoy yourself as we pick Pete's brain how his great resources came to be.
— Ted Eschliman
Writer/Music Industry Consultant
Listen to Cotton Patch Rag on mandolin.
Ted Eschliman: Because of your writing for Mandolin Magazine and your participation on the Mandolin Cafe, many will think of you more of a mandolinist, however, you also play fiddle and guitar. What percentage of time would you say you devote to the mandolin vs. the other instruments, and how do you see this benefit your mandolin skills?
Pete Martin: I think the chord knowledge gained from the guitar and tenor has helped my mandolin playing. On the fiddle, the playing of the great Texan Benny Thomasson was a huge influence.
I only ever practice one instrument in one style. I do it for a number of years as this way I advance farther than if I tried to practice a lot of different styles and instruments.
Ted Eschliman: You're based out of the Pacific Northwest, Seattle specifically. How do you feel your opportunities in this region have shaped your skills?
Pete Martin: The better musicians in this area tend to play a number of styles. I learned different styles to be able to play with them. Currently, I have a number of friends who are top notch Jazz guitar and bass players. It is very cool to know that know that many, as I get to play with each quite a bit!
Pete Martin playing Wes Montgomery's well known jazz standard 4 on 6 with recorded accompaniment.
Ted Eschliman: Who do you consider your influences, both in fret/fiddle and other instruments (and why)?
Pete Martin: On the fiddle, Benny and Kenny Baker. Just love the way that they would spin out a melody. On tenor guitar Benny's son Jerry Thomasson. Wonderful voicings and great timing. On guitar Joey McKenzie (of the Quebe Sisters Band) for the same reasons.
My mandolin heroes have always been Sam (Bush) and Bill (Monroe). I've learned hundreds of solos from each one. They just had that "it" factor.
For Jazz, Wes Montgomery and Clifford Brown. I also studied the chord voicings of pianists Bill Evans and Red Garland. Red had a swinging comping style like no one else. I have all his records.
Ted Eschliman: You are one of a handful of high profile mandolinists that have a deep knowledge and experience in jazz and swing. How do you see the mandolin developing in the jazz world, what are the instrument's strengths and weaknesses participating in this arena?
Pete Martin: My thoughts are the mandolin will probably be thought of as an "outside" instrument in Jazz. But Jazz history is full of recordings of less common instruments and ensembles. I personally find the sound of a single string (4 or 5) electric mandolin better fits a typical Jazz ensemble. If I am playing with a drummer, horn player, pianist, amplified upright bass, etc, I will almost always gig with my Mann EM4. I try to get a Wes type sound with it and it usually works well. Plus with an amp there is enough volume to compete. The acoustic gets overwhelmed.
If I am playing with string instruments: violin, acoustic guitar, upright bass, I always play my 1924 A2 mandolin. I personally prefer an oval hole sound as it is a lot less percussive in the flow of soloing notes and in comping. It fits the bop era sound better to my ears.
I find that Jazz comping is the toughest place to make the instrument fit. If I am playing a duo with a guitar player, the lack of low end can be a bit of a detriment. However, add a bass and then everything is fine. I let the bass play the low end and I comp mostly rootless three-string voicings very similar in flavor to what pianists play behind their own soloing.
Where most mandolinists struggle in Jazz is trying to play too much like Bluegrass. It is a different music, so you have to learn the differences.
Ted Eschliman: You live comfortably in both the bluegrass and jazz world. How do you see the two genres comparing similarly and contrasting?
Pete Martin: The improv is very similar, though a different language. Still a good line is a good line. The comping is different. You need to know chords and voicings very well. Also you need to be fluid in all keys.
Ted Eschliman: The methods and materials you publish on your website are both exhaustive and articulate, with an abundance of detail about music theory. You must hold that the intellectual side of music is significant. In what ways does theory equip the player?
Pete Martin: I know several great players from the generation older than me who know nothing about theory. Today, however, it seems like the majority know at least a bit and Jazz players know it extensively.
I look at theory this way: music theory takes sounds we hear and places terms to describe that sound. When this is done, it lets us study these sounds and apply them to other places. It can allow us to discuss these sounds with others and exchange ideas.
I also think theory knowledge by itself does not make a player great. However, theory knowledge CAN allow a player to have more confidence in what they are doing, and that confidence almost always comes across in your sound. A confident player sounds better, more assured. I tell students if you fall into this category, then theory study will help you.
Ted Eschliman: Your materials (excellent, by the way!) and method of distribution are unique in that you self-publish and run a kind of "honors" system for customers and students. Available in PDF, they can be fully experienced and paid for AFTER downloading instead of in advance, more of a nominal donation than a fee and sans brick and mortar store. How is this unique business model working for you?
Pete Martin: Thanks for the nice words, I really appreciate them! This method works well. I have all 12 books on my website as PDF files and let folks download them free. I tell them if they get useful things to send me $10.00, if they don't, no charge.
I have purchased LOTS of instruction material over the years. Because I wish I had a return option, I decided to make it work this way. I actually make more now than I did before.
Folks can get my hard copy books through amazon.com if they want a physical copy.
Ted Eschliman: Along the same line of modern distribution, you offer Skype lessons online. How does this work for you and how do you approach these lessons?
Pete Martin: I've been a full time private lesson teacher for over 35 years. I do Skype lessons the same way I do an in-person lesson. I try to understand what the student wants to accomplish and hopefully help them achieve those goals.
The only disadvantage with Skype is, because of the slight signal delay, I can't play in real time with the student. But that is the only thing that is different and there are ways around that if needed.
Ted Eschliman: Your books are quite in-depth and extensive, including materials on Texas Swing, Bebop Jazz, Old Time, and some general theory. Are there other genres or topics you have in store for the future?
Pete Martin: My next book will probably be on Drop 2 chord voicings and how to use them in playing Jazz chord melodies.
From my personal teaching stash of music and other stuff I have enough material for a LOT more books if I take the time to organize them and write them.
Mandolins: 1980 Gilchrist model 5, 1924 Gibson A2, Mann EM4 electric, Two Stradolins and a few others in various condition.
Amps: Ampeg Gemini II, Ampeg Reverberocket, Marsh "Big Texan" (a 65 Vibroverb clone)
Guitars: 1943 D18. 1964 Epiphone Texan.
Tenor Guitar: Late 1920's Gibson.
Fiddle: A hybrid (back, sides, top and neck from 4 different instruments), my grandfather's Amati copy from probably the 1880s.
Mics: Many. For stage use I use a Shure KSM141 for single instrument micing and a Shure KSM44 for the LDC single mic. For recording, many ribbons. A good ribbon mic sounds great on anything stringed.
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