Denise Martin

 My father used to sing all the time. He was a cowboy who loved Aretha Franklin, Blood, Sweat, & Tears, and Swingin’ Lester Young. My maternal grandfather was a clarinet player and singer who performed traditional Greek music. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t sing…in the car, in the shower, in the middle of class (much to my teacher’s chagrin!) It never occurred to me that people would actually listen when I sang, but as I got older I realized that they were listening…and the response was positive.

Other than my family there are a few very important people who shaped the artist that I am today. They are all fabulous and interesting, and I am proud to call them friends.

First there’s Charles Lewis, piano player, voice coach, and friend. Charles is a local legend here in the Phoenix Jazz community and a world class piano player and educator.

When I was a teenager I would sneak out of the house and go down to a not so savory part of town, sneak into a club (The Chez Nous), listen to music and sit in on the gig and sing. The gig belonged to Gaynel Hodge. Gaynel is co-author of the Platinum hit 1950's song, 'Earth Angel', a Grammy™ nominated recording artist, songwriter, vocalist, and pianist. He is also a founding member and musical director of such famous groups as 'The Platters', 'The Turks', and 'The Hollywood Flames', to name a few. Gaynel, his wife Ilona, and I became good friends and remain friends to this day. They helped me develop as an artist, guided me….and protected me from bar frogs! Although having moved to Holland in 2000, he returned to the U.S. in 2006 and spent time in Phoenix, where he was gracious enough to re-record Earth Angel with my vocal students on backgrounds.

While sitting in with Gaynel, I became friends with Ray Starling, who had been an arranger for Stan Kenton and also played flugel horn, trumpet, and mellephonium in Kenton’s band. Ray was semi-retired here in Phoenix and wrote some early arrangements for me. Ray taught me how to put down on paper the music that was swimming around in my head. He inspired my love for arranging.

Today, for me, performing is freeing, it’s a rush that’s difficult to explain. The connection with the audience is the perfect yang to my performances, and frankly I’d be lost without it. I have been fortunate…I get to do what I love.

Denise