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Peter Martin Brings Piano Skills To The Garden, Kranzberg

Peter Martin
Jimmy and Dena Katz

Pianist Peter Martin has a busy week of rehearsals and performances here in St. Louis this week. The University City resident will kick off the annual Whitaker Music Festival Wednesday evening, June 4, then follow that with a concert at the Kranzberg Arts Center Thursday evening, when he and his trio perform with vocalist Vivian Sessoms.

But busy weeks have become the norm for Martin. He returned late Sunday evening from a week-plus of European concerts with acclaimed vocalist Dianne Reeves. And this Saturday, Martin is back out on the road with Reeves, whom he’s worked with for years as her musical director and band leader. During the rest of 2014 his concert schedule with Reeves includes performances in South Africa, Ireland, the Caribbean, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina – as well as concert halls across the United States.

In addition, Martin will be completing a Canadian/U.S. tour with Newport Jazz Festival: Now 60. This all-star lineup of musicians played the Sheldon Concert Hall March 28 on an earlier leg of that tour.

In between all those musical commitments, Martin is planning the next concerts in his “Peter Martin Music: Live!” series at the Sheldon – which debuted in 2010.

Monday I caught up with Martin on the phone. Although still recovering from the three flights and a drive that took him from Toulouse, France, back to St. Louis the day before, Martin previewed this week’s Whitaker and Kranzberg performances – as well as the rest of his area schedule starting this October.

For the Whitaker concert, Martin has put together a quartet that features St. Louis musicians he’s worked with individually before – but never as a unit.

“At the Botanical Garden, I’ll be playing in a quartet format with Syd Rodway on bass, Montez Coleman on drums and Jason Swagler on alto sax,” Martin said. “I’ve worked with all of them before, but not together in this exact group. I’m really looking forward to it, because I’ve written a lot of quartet music lately and I’m looking forward to playing it with them.

“The concert also gives me a chance to play in some trio settings as well as to play some solo piano. And we’ll have vocalist Vivian Sessoms with us.”

Vivian Sessoms
Credit viviansessoms.com
Vivian Sessoms

Martin has been a fan of the Sessoms since he first worked with her while touring in trumpet player Chris Botti’s band.

“I first met Vivian when she was the featured vocalist with Chris’ band,” he recalls. “I also worked with her a few times in New York, and I brought her to sing at one of my Sheldon concerts a couple years ago. And back in April, Vivian was part of the New York premiere of ‘The Real Ambassadors,’ at Lincoln Center -- a jazz musical by Dave Brubeck that I was lucky enough to put together. Vivian played the role that Brubeck originally wrote for Annie Ross of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. And she really killed it!”

According to Martin, Sessoms will be a special guest with his quartet at the Whitaker. Wednesday’s Kranzberg performance will be her chance to take the spotlight.

“Thursday night, the focus will really be on Vivian,” says Martin. “It’s her gig at the Kranzberg, with the Peter Martin Trio backing her up.”

Live! at the Sheldon

As for the 2014-15 edition of Peter Martin: Live! at the Sheldon, “Officially, we only have two dates this season,” Martin said. “The first is Nov. 21 and the other is Feb. 27,, 2015. For the one in November, I’m planning on combining some amazing St. Louis musicians who have never worked together, writing some original music -- and bringing in a special guest artist. Unfortunately, I can’t announce all the details quite yet, but David Halen (violinist and concertmaster with the St. Louis Symphony) will be part of it.”

Martin also emphasizes that the 2014-15 series will eventually include at least two to three additional concerts.  But he’s leaving those open at this point to take advantage of opportunities to bring together combinations of musicians who may unexpectedly become available.

“I’m hoping those will be more spontaneous,” Martin said. “It just gives me more flexibility to put together different and interesting combination of musicians as the opportunity to do that presents itself. So in a way, I’m hoping to get back to the original premise of the series by tweaking the format in this way. And the Sheldon has worked with me to allow that to happen.”

Martin also has other interesting area performances lined up – including with the 442s as well as Alarm Will Sound.

“I’m going to play at Powell Hall with the 442s on Oct. 8,” Martin said. “And I’ve also been commissioned to write a piece for Alarm Will Sound, for the group’s Oct. 17 concert at the Sheldon. It’s a concert that celebrates the 250th birthday of St. Louis.

“I was fortunate enough to write a composition for the 100th birthday of the Sheldon last year. For that one, I chose the instruments to write for. With Alarm Will Sound, I’m writing for a 20-piece ensemble that can play anything! It’s something that’s definitely going to push me to the next level – but it‘s a lot of fun too.”

For more information about Peter Martin, go to www.petermartinmusic.com/.


When: 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, June 4.

Where:  Missouri Botanical Garden

How much:  Free admission after 5 p.m. In addition to the main entrance, visitors may access the Garden through additional pedestrian gates on Alfred Ave. (west side of the Garden) and Tower Grove Ave. (one near the intersection of Tower Grove and Shaw and another near the intersection of Tower Grove and Magnolia).

More: The Children’s Garden remains open with free admission from 5 to 7 p.m. Last entry at 9 p.m. No smoking, pets, barbeque grills. In case of rain, updates will be posted at www.missouribotanicalgarden.org, on the Garden’s Facebook page, and on Twitter.


When: 7:30 p.m., Thursday, June 5. Doors open 7 p.m.

Where: Studio, 501 N. Grand Blvd. 63103

How much:  $15 General Admission. All ages. Tickets

Information: www.kranzbergartscenter.org

Terry Perkins is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. He has written for the St. Louis Beacon since 2009. Terry's other writing credits in St. Louis include: the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis American, the Riverfront Times, and St. Louis magazine. Nationally, Terry writes for DownBeat magazine, OxfordAmerican.org and RollingStone.com, among others.