Curly Martin, the soul of jazz in Omaha, has passed away…
I remember a few years ago when I went to Omaha with my wife, Ilene Martinez, invited by Paul B Allen IV to Kate Dussault’s HI-FI House. We were there to share a listening of European jazz with some guests, including Curly Martin. I only spoke a few words of English, trying my best to suggest this or that artist to listen to. Curly’s bright gaze scrutinized me, but there was no need to panic. Instead, his gaze and his mannerisms exuded a form of kindness and he listened deeply to the music that was proposed, clearly taking great pleasure in the experience.
In his deep and gravelly voice, he attempted to ask me about certain artists, and I responded with my limited English vocabulary. In my mind, I thought that, like all the great jazz musicians I’ve met, Curly’s kindness and simplicity were also hallmarks of this great man.
In recent years, we have seen his talent on his son’s albums, also very talented, Terrace Martin. But returning to that evening, after listening to music at the entrance of the Hi-Fi House on this improvised bar, I remember the discussion between Ilene, Paul B Allen IV, Curly, and his very friendly wife, Cynthia, whom we do not forget in these very difficult moments. It was then that I heard Curly Martin, full of laughter and with incisive words filled with truth. How could one not admire such a man?
Curly Martin is linked to the artistic life of Omaha. In the July/August 2018 issue of Omaha Magazine, there is an interview with Martin, with some excerpts from his words such as: “We played in these clubs throughout the ’60s,” recalls Martin. “Mr. Allen, at the Showcase, allowed many of us jazz musicians to get started, but there was also Alice’s Lounge, Shirley’s, and the Black Orchid in North Omaha. Even for whites, if they wanted to hear the best of the best, they had to come to North and downtown!”
And a little further in the article, we learn a little more about Curly: “I was probably 14 when I started playing drums for my first group, Daddy Long Legs and the Rocking Nighthawks. I even played downtown at Mickey’s with a checkerboard band called Danny and the Roulettes because mixed race bands were popular. We were playing downtown when the so-called riots of ’69 broke out. After that rebellion, our era began to dwindle.”
Curly’s words are just as important as his music because they are an essential part of the history of music in the USA. Curly also leaves a legacy behind for having contributed to supporting his community through music in Omaha, a form of transmission. I refer again to this Omaha Magazine article, this time with Kate Dussault’s words: “Curly is fun, but he’s passionate about passing on his knowledge to younger generations,” says Dussault. “He’s more like a mentor than an academic teacher. I remember he used to say that you can go to class all day and do your homework, but where’s the inspiration?”
I was planning to see Curly and Cynthia this summer, and although I knew him only briefly, such a person leaves a void in my heart. But undoubtedly, his actions and his music will survive him.
Thierry De Clemensat
Correspondent in USA
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