How many professional saxophone players do you know? How about in small town Tennessee? Cord Martin, a Columbia, Tennessee native and resident, is such a musician and has played saxophone with notables including Aretha Franklin. He is a composer, clinician and educator. Cord earned a Bachelor of Music Degree in Instrumental Music Education from Middle Tennessee State University and a Master of Music degree in Instrumental Conducting from the American Band College of Sam Houston State University. He is currently the Ethos Jazz Ensemble conductor and a co-director of bands at Whitthorne Middle School in Columbia.
I sat down with him after The Cord Martin Quartet played a Jazz Brunch at Pucketts Grocery and Restaurant in Columbia. He was accompanied by Smitty on the drums, Carlton on the keys, John on the bass and vocalist Paula Chavis who made a guest appearance.
In hopes to see the lighter side of Cord Martin’s personality, I had a few traditional questions and a few off the wall ones.
How did you get your start in music?
To go back to the roots of it, my beginning was with my grandmother. She played piano, I grew up playing in the church and listening to gospel music. I can remember there are still pictures of me in a diaper, a year old or so, in my grandmother’s lap playing along with her, pecking at the keys while she was playing. My grandmother started me off and I started off playing piano. She was taking piano lessons and once she was unprepared for her lesson. She asked me if I wanted to take the lesson. That was my first formal training. I was in the third grade.
I was always into sports, baseball was my thing, and I thought I wanted to do that through college. In middle school, I had the opportunity to play in the band and I started playing the saxophone because of one of my older friends, Kenny Anderson Jr., I always looked up to him and he played the saxophone. He played saxophone and I wanted to do that. In the seventh grade, I started taking lessons from a guy named Craig Swift. He opened the door for me in music concerning jazz. He gave me a record to check out and it was Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. I remember listening to that record my whole Christmas break and I was amazed at the art of improvisation. At that point I was hooked.
What instrument do you not play, but wish that you did?
Being a band director I have to have proficient knowledge of all the instruments, but honestly, bassoon.
If you could give advice to your younger self, sum it up in one sentence.
In everything that you do, put your heart into it.
With talent like yours, what led you into a career in teaching as opposed to a full-time touring career?
In college the Jazz lover in me wanted to pursue the performance degree, but I think it was like divine intervention, because I ended up getting a minority teaching scholarship. This scholarship required me to teach and I applied for it because I needed the money. So I was
like, “I guess I’ll be going into education.” But when I got into student teaching, I realized I actually really liked it. To me it’s one of the most selfless things. When you’re a performer, there is so much time you spend working on your own craft, but when you’re sowing into others, that is the reward of teaching. I feel like I’m able to impact more people when I’m teaching, and plus, I wanted to have a family. I’m a family guy, and I love being around people. I have had opportunities to go on the road for short stints, and that was plenty.
What is your favorite pastime outside of music?
I do like landscaping, but I don’t get to do that too much, I actually normally get someone else to do that for me, because I’m at school all day. But when I get the time, I enjoy that.
But my true pastime, it’s nerdy, but I like self-help books. Anything about self improvement or becoming more efficient. I read a lot of stuff.
If you were stranded on an island, what meal would you choose to eat for the rest of your life?
I do like pizza, I lived on a lot of pizza in college.
What is one song you are into right now?
We are “Validity,” so what is the most valid thing in your life today?
The importance of relationships. That encompasses relationships with my colleagues, relationships with my students (because that’s the root of motivation), relationships with my wife, with my family and siblings.
What is your favorite way to say goodbye?
Peace, but would rather go out with a song.