Along with being a keyboardist for the Denton, Texas jazz fusion phenom Snarky Puppy, Shaun Martin has a lot of other things going on.
He’s the music director for gospel music star Kirk Franklin and he’s the former minister of music of the Friendship-West Baptist Church in his hometown of Dallas. He’s also working on starting a fine arts academy to function as an incubator of talent and creativity to maintain the vibrancy of the Dallas music scene.
Along with all of this, Martin leads a jazz trio that he performs with from time to time, including an upcoming gig at Park City Music Hall in Bridgeport on Feb. 18.
We talked ahead of the show about how the church played a major part in the beginnings of his music career, how he ended up becoming a member of Snarky Puppy, being part of one of the best R&B albums of the past 25 years, and what people can expect from his trio and his plans for the imminent future.
RD: You started playing the drums & piano at the age of four before learning gospel music through your local church. How formative was your time in the church as an adolescent for your development as a musician?
SM: It was formative for me, church is kind of like a breeding ground. A lot of the stuff we do will be written, recognized material and some things are just off the cuff so you end up finding a way to navigate between the two.
RD: From what I’ve read, I know there’s a big relationship between music and the church in the South, so would you say that was a big part of your upbringing in Dallas?
SM: Oh yeah, I went to church with my family every Sunday. Depending on what it does, we might do a seven-day or a five-day revival and we’d be there every night. In the South, it’s kind of like a way of life.
RD: Yeah, I’ve definitely read about that type of culture. When Michael League was forming Snarky Puppy at the University of North Texas in 2004, how did you end up joining the band? Were you already into jazz fusion as a fan and as an appreciator of music before you got involved or were you looking for a new creative outlet?
SM: Kind of both. I also attended the University of North Texas as well and I was playing in a band called Zebras at the time which was a jazz fusion keyboard ensemble as well as some other projects. It was another way of expression for me so when Michael asked me they were already performing, they’re much younger than I am so they were coming in when I was going out. They were doing their thing and then I kind of came around towards the beginning of the band’s formation, but I wasn’t originally a part of the band.
RD: You got to work with Erykah Badu on both the production & recording of her seminal 2000 album Mama’s Gun. It’s an incredible R&B record, so what was the experience like collaborating with her at Electric Lady Studios in New York City?
SM: It was so cool, Erykah is a hometown hero in Dallas so we were able to gel and mesh really, really easily. Then going up to Electric Lady, which is a legendary studio where Jimi Hendrix, The Roots and Questlove recorded, it was a good place to really experience the vibes. Erykah is also a very creative person so it was easy to follow along with that.
RD: I can totally imagine it being an incredible experience. For the upcoming show at the Park City Music Hall, what can people expect from the trio? Will you guys be playing all original material or will you be throwing renditions of other songs into the set and have it be a mix of both?
SM: It’ll be a mix of both. I’m going to be playing a lot of music from my “Three-O” album, which features myself and my friends Matthew Ramsey on bass and Mike Mitchell on drums. We’re going to play some stuff from my first and second records as well and I’m gonna throw a couple sneaky little covers in there.
RD: When it comes to playing in this trio versus Snarky Puppy and other bands that you’ve been in, is there anything that stands out to you when it comes to both collaboration and songwriting?
SM: You write for the outfit and you collaborate for that particular outfit. Snarky Puppy is a huge conglomerate, but I wouldn’t be able to pull off that kind of stuff with a trio and vice versa. I wouldn’t do anything that would require a trio with a large conglomerate, dudes would just be standing around so you kind of adapt to whatever the outfit is.
RD: Makes sense. After the show, what are your plans for the coming months? I know you have a lot of projects underway, including an arts academy you’re working on starting in Dallas to help cultivate the music scene there, so what’s the status of that and everything else?
SM: Especially for the arts academy, that’s definitely on the table and I’m just trying to get that going, trying to draw that up and making sure that it’s what I envision both physically and in its mission so it all makes sense. For the rest of the year I’m going to be making another record and touring a lot with Snarky Puppy because we’re going to be promoting our “Empire Central” record as well.
Park City Music Hall
2926 Fairfield Ave., Bridgeport
Feb. 18 @ 9 p.m.