Billy Martin has enough in the hopper — enough friends, enough musical inclinations, enough artistic hobbies — that he’s not exactly starving for collaborators. Think of all the one-offs, duos, trios, big bands, labels, betaking and visual arts projects, and you’re still not even mentioning the iconic fusion trio he’s co-anchored with John Medeski and Chris Wood — now into its third decade.
But Martin craves freshness above all, he says, and it’s a new co-conspirator who’s captured most of Martin’s time and creative attention in the past year. That’s Wil Blades, a wicked young organist and keyboard improviser with whom Martin discovered deep musical chemistry in barely a year playing together.
Blades, 33, is a Chicago native but has been rooted in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he gigs regularly with several combos, for most of his professional life. He was originally a drummer, but while studying jazz at New College of California, he took up the Hammond B-3 organ around age 19, and became a regular at San Francisco’s beloved Boom Boom Room, earning the attention of veteran players like Oscar Myers and Dr. Lonnie Smith, who’s mentored and taught Blades for some time now.