The Wig Fits All Heads
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An Interview With Johnny Martin
by Karla Ash

Johnny Martin is a survivor. After the rise and fall of swing music in the late '90s, there were bound to be newcomers to the genre who faded with its abrupt fade from public consciousness. However, the Portland, Oregon-based artist continues to celebrate the joy of swing, the mainstream be damned.

Karla Ash: How long have you been performing swing music?

Johnny Martin: Since 1997.

: In the late '90s there was this period in which swing music took off again in the mainstream after several decades. Why do you think that happened and do you see your music reaching to large crowds such as that?

Martin: The scene was tapering off as I began performing, which bothered me not, as I was mainly after the songs themselves. Being able to shape these timeless lyrics and melodies into my own fit was my thing. The swing dance community has been terrific to me. I've given hundreds of performances for them, and learned to dance as well. If the dance scene endures, I'll be there.

Ash: What was your introduction to the genre?

Martin: I heard the Nelson Riddle arrangement of "Summer Wind." It stopped me cold. Slow, subtle moving lines that swelled behind Mr. Sinatra's voice. I quit my dance band a month later.

Ash: You're a prolific musician, especially for an indie artist. Do you find that inspiration hits you more often than your peers?

Martin: I can't say. The field is so crowded with talent. I am a rhythm singer, and moved primarily by the beat, be it slow or not. I have an instant recognition of a good melody and whether or not a bridge has been thrown in for the sake of a bridge. Besides my relaxed style, that has been a lot of my success - picking good songs.

Ash: Studio or live performance - where would you rather be?

Martin: Live performance is life for a singer. The recording process has its creative side, which I like, but I work better under the lights.

Ash: What singers influenced you the most?

Martin: Nat Cole, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong.

Ash: Why do you think dressing stylishly is such an important ingredient of swing?

Martin: I can't go there. There were (are) too many bands that dress in the period that don't really "swing." The big bands in the '30s that swung were staffed with incredible jazz players. Without them you had Society Bands & Ballroom Dance. I wear suits as a matter of respect for the songwriters and the performers who came before me. Keep in mind that while I am singing in a five-star hotel, less than a mile away there's a rapper yelling profanities and holding up his pants with one hand. I'm living in another musical era. I'd like to say kudos to all the jazz singers in America. I appreciate what you do, and the relentless work it takes just to find yourself on one side of the mic, and an audience on the other.