Joel A. Martin is a pioneering pianist, composer, and arranger based in Norwalk, CT, renowned for his groundbreaking fusion of classical composition and jazz innovation. With collaborations ranging from Grammy® Award-winners like Alan Menken to classical luminaries like Kathleen Battle, Joel’s career is marked by boundary-breaking creativity. His concept of “Jazzical” has captivated audiences since its 1995 inception, blending genres to create a fresh musical experience.
Joel has recently began working with Bryan Wade on the upcoming Keystones Oral Histories Underground Railroad Documentary. This is what Joel had to say about the collaboration:
So, the backstory of the Bentley PBS. A couple of months ago while dealing with treatments, I had to give a Jazzical Komitas concert in Harrisburg PA. It was the first concert since I got sick, and I was really nervous about it. Cancer had done some strange things to my fingers and I had to really prepare for the rigors of the concert as well as the long hours driving with my incapacitated body.
Harrisburg turned out to be an amazing concert (you may have even seen some of the video concerts highlights – red Versace jacket and all), and I met some amazing people there, some of whom are my friends today!
What I did not know was that the story was just unfolding. A month or so later I received a phone call/email from Bryan Wade with an unusual request to use my music for a documentary he was making. Would I please give him a call?
I did, and it turns out we had a lot more in common than attending the Harrisburg concert.
When we spoke Bryan told me about his documentary in the works: the story of the Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania and the regions around it.
This immediately drew my curiosity. You see, I spent 11 years touring as pianist/music director with MET Opera Superstar (and my dear friend) Ms. Kathleen Battle, and for several of those years, we did nothing but “Underground Railroad – A Spiritual Journey” concerts. These concerts were based on Ms. Battle’s thorough knowledge of spirituals sung and re-imagined in a larger musical context with Ms. Battle, piano, full choir, and featuring the readings of Underground Railroad luminaries Frederic Douglas and Harriet Tubman, the “conductors” of the real Underground Railroad. If you saw these concerts you know how incredibly special this musical presentation was. I could go on for hours on this subject but let’s get back to the story!
What should have been 15 minutes phone conversation turned into an hour and in the end I agreed to create music for this cool and newsworthy documentary. Still creating it…
As Bryan Wade and I began to know each other, an interesting friendship developed which I am forever grateful. All I can say is that he is telling the story we all need to learn, and his documentaries of the past are being presented throughout the nation on PBS. It is a part of our history in this country and I am honored to be a small part of this next installment. And now, the website: www.keystonesoralhistories.com
You will see and hear more about this over the next few months. And, in an unusual twist, the music I am recording is most assuredly becoming the inspiration of ANOTHER Jazzical recording based on these spirituals that I have grown up with and really appreciate now as an adult.
Amazing how all these things come together when it is the right time. I cannot wait to share with Ms. Battle my personal journey of the Underground Railroad. And I thank Mr. Wade for creating this opportunity.
If you put 2 artists in a room, oftentimes it only takes a conversation to start creating a better future for all.🤩
PEACE, ROLLING WITH THE BENTLEY