Born: September 6, 1967 Primary Instrument: Vocal
Described by the New York Observer as talented and hip beyond her years and acclaimed as the best ever British jazz singer in a recent issue of America’s leading jazz publication Jazz Times, Claire Martin was born to sing.
Growing up in a house full of music in Wimbledon, South London, she’d learned all of Judy Garland’s songs by the time she was 12. But it was hearing Ella Fitzgerald’s legendary “Song Books” that changed her life inspiring her to go to Stage School and then to study singing in London and New York. A further seminal moment came at 18 when she saw the great improvising singer Betty Carter at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club. It confirmed what she already felt - she had to be a jazz singer. Like many singers Martin paid her dues and learnt her craft by embarking on the QE2, singing onboard in the Theatre Bar for two years.
Back on dry land and just 21, Martin formed her first quartet (featuring guitar-great Jim Mullen). Her break came when renowned Scottish jazz label Linn Records signed her in 1991, the start of a creative relationship that is still going strong today. Martin’s 1992 debut “The Waiting Game” (Linn AKD 018) scored rave reviews and was chosen as a Times Album of the Year. Martin achieved one of her ambitions later that year, opening for Tony Bennett at the Glasgow International Jazz Festival.
By the mid-nineties Martin had received the Rising Star and Best Vocalist awards at the British Jazz Awards while receiving rave reviews on her American debut with four sell-out shows in Washington DC. Another ambition was fulfilled with the recording of a live album at Ronnie Scott’s in 1995, an album that moved the New York Times to comment In an era when young jazz singers tend to sound far too much like their idols, there is no mistaking the voice of Claire Martin who combines a cool, burnished tone with the ear of a born musician.
Increasingly popular across the pond, Martin recorded her fifth album Make This City Ours (Linn AKD 066) in New York reaching number 1 in the prestigious Gavin Charts and staying there for two weeks - the only European singer to achieve this. Future albums saw Martin collaborate with guitarist/producer Paul Stacey and she even had Noel Gallagher join her on a rendition of the Beatles classic Help. Later that year she met Paul McCartney and delivered the re-working by hand. Her second album with Stacey featured a duet with cult singer/songwriter John Martyn, who has become a close friend.
Martin has continued to gather awards, winning the Best Vocalist category for the fourth time at the 2002 British Jazz Awards and going onto win Best Vocalist at the BBC Jazz Awards in 2003 (when she performed a duet with a certain Mr Cullum, who won the Rising Star Award that year). Claire was nominated in the Best Vocalist category at the BBC Jazz Awards in 2007, where she narrowly lost out to label-mate Ian Shaw.
Busy as always, Martin and her band regularly tour the Far East, Europe and Australia and was the first jazz group to perform in Vietnam. She also performs regularly with Girl Talk (alongside Mari Wilson and Barb Jungr). She can also be found performing with the Halle Orchestra and the Laurence Cottle Big Band (a smash hit at this year’s Cheltenham jazz festival).
Claire’s latest album (her 11th for Linn Records) is a wonderful jazz literate cabaret duo recording with renowned composer, pianist and singer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett entitled “When Lights Are Low” (Linn AKD 260), launched in September 2005 with a month at London’s Pizza On The Park. This year they celebrated Sir Richard’s 70th birthday with a major UK tour in March and they performed at many music festivals including the City of London, Cheltenham, Henley, Warwick and Lichfield.
Somehow she also finds time to work as a broadcaster, working as co-presenter of Jazz Line-Up on BBC Radio 3 interviewing the likes of Michael Brecker, Andre Previn, and the occasional terrified young singer.
Claire Martin lives in Brighton with her daughter.