It wasn’t a large gathering — perhaps a dozen musicians and two dozen attendees, all in masks, inside the open garage of an old firehouse. The sound, though, was tremendous. It began with a group of six saxophonists (tenors Frankie Addison and Jamal Moore, altos Lorenz Wheatley and Jarrett Gilgore, soprano Sarah Hughes and C-melody Brad Linde) interpreting “Muhammed’s Bumpin’,” a tune written for Martin by Brian King Nelson, before taking turns improvising on their horns.
Each player showed, in their own way, glimpses of Martin’s fluid, free-form lyricism, as drummer Skip Barkley observed during the spoken tributes that followed the saxophones. “I heard a little bit of [him] in all of y’all,” he said. “Man, this cat has touched a lot of people.”
Anderson, too, affirmed Martin’s place in the community when she took the microphone and held up a framed photo of her father.
“To hear all these stories about him, how he touched everyone so much, it brings me great joy,” she said. “That’s the kind of love that I want when it’s time for me to go home.” At the end of the night, Martin’s longtime friend Courtney Tolbert shared stories of Martin’s love for his daughter and his passion for baseball.
It was the second half of the 2½-hour tribute, however, that was the most moving. It began as a voracious bass duo between Luke Stewart (the event’s organizer and master of ceremonies) and North Carolina bassist Vattel Cherry. As it continued, Barkley and Sam Lohman took their places behind the two drum kits behind the bassists, both playing with mallets. Then the saxophonists stood up, faced the basses and drums, and joined them in a massive roar.
They played long tones, the kind Martin often urged them to practice — coming together here in spontaneous harmony; exploding there in wild counterpoint. The basses rumbled alongside, while the drums pounded out careening rhythms. It was intense; it was cathartic; and it was beautiful.