CAPE ANN PROFILES: MARI MARTINNovember 01, 2021 / Art and Music, Good to Know, Local Characters, Things to Do & See
With permission to post from the Greater Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce
What soothes the soul like a beautiful song? It can transport you to a better place and, when you’re on vacation, it can be that magic spell, especially performed live, that sends you straight into relaxation mode, where you truly exhale. Not everyone, nor every destination, can deliver that moment. Mari Martin will deliver that moment wherever she’s singing that night.
A fifth generation “Rockporter,” Martin found her voice in college yet started singing at age eight, influenced by a family friend, a jazz music fanatic, who insisted Martin’s father buy her a piano—which he did. She began by writing simple songs “and taking credit for Eric Clapton’s ‘Layla,’” she laughs, one of her favorites as a child. Choir singing led to high school plays yet not to a lot of confidence. Stage fright and self-esteem were later conquered at UMass Amherst where she and guitarist Chris Moran started playing the UMass coffee house circuit. It was an open mic night at Northampton’s iconic Iron Horse, their first off-campus gig, when they realized “We’re actually kinda good.” No surprise, Martin started singing jazz, and studying Afro-American vocal techniques. She met Max Roche, jazz drummer to Miles Davis and John Coltrane, in a class at UMass—another turning point. Her studies brought confidence, her gigs brought joy— and Martin’s 30-year career in music was launched.
Drawn to adventure and yearning to see the country, Martin headed west. She left her heart in San Francisco and then settled in Santa Barbara for nearly 18 years, where she co-founded, with vocalist Michael Andrews, an eight piece funk band called Area 51. She still sings with them when she visits. She also started Mari Martin and the Dirty Little Secrets (another band she stepped back into when in California) and sang on and off with Grammy-winner Kenny Loggins for a few years. She credits Loggins with “making me a better singer. I learned so much from him. It was an amazing time.”
Like a song’s refrain, the East Coast called her home in 2010 and Martin has been making music on Cape Ann ever since, singing in venues from grand concert halls to intimate, local clubs. Shalin Liu, Beauport Hotel, The Rhumb Line, Minglewood, Drift (“it’s like a little bit of San Francisco got dropped in the middle of Gloucester”), the list goes on. Cape Ann may be small as the crow flies yet you’ll find live music everywhere, every night. Her current band, the eclectic Mari Martin and the Lucky Boys “does it all,” Martin says. “We take songs and make them our own, adding a little twist. Our passion is to play wherever the music takes us that night. At this moment, it’s bossa!” The next night it could be jazz, blues, soul, pop or a little country.
In fact, Martin praises the talents of Cape Ann’s entire tight-knit music community—its musicians and its venues. “There’s a huge amount of talent in this small area,” she says. “To be able to sing here is a gift. You can be just as faithful to a place as you can a person. I feel that way about Cape Ann.” In the spirit of Cape Ann’s “music camaraderie” that Martin describes, she insists her limelight be shared with Brian King, Deb Hardy, Alexandra Grace, Nadia Robertson and Joe Wilkins, to name a few. If Martin’s not performing when you’re visiting and you see one of these performers on the bill— grab a seat. And between the soulful sounds, the starry night and your deep exhale, you’ll be transported away from whatever stress you left behind.
A life in the arts demands strength and resilience, which Martin inherited from the sea captains in her lineage from Finland and the Azores. Cape Ann’s is a story of strength and resilience, with music and art at its core. “Art is in the bones,” she says, “the bedrock of this land.”
Learn more about Mari’s music at www.marimartinmusic.com.