Diversity, art and music are deep-rooted in Billy Martin's life. His story starts shortly before his birth in New York City on October 30, 1963. Billy's father, Alan G. Martin, was an accomplished violinist having played in The Beaux-Arts String Quartet, New York City Ballet and the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra. The elder Martin was involved in the premier of John Cage works, the Modern Jazz Quartet under the direction of Gunther Schuller, and also performed on the Verve classic "Focus" with Stan Getz and Roy Haynes. The orchestra at Radio City Music Hall, however, has the most significance to Billy's musical development, since that is where his father met his mother, Jean, who was a Radio City Rockette in the 50's.
In the summer of 1975, the Martin family relocated from NYC to New Jersey. Billy was 11 years old, and he received a hand-me-down drum kit from his older brother Kenny (1957-1996). He set up the kit and began playing along with everything from Aerosmith to Ellington to Zepplin. Later that year one of his father's friends, Norman Carr, introduced Billy to Allen Herman. Herman had Martin playing on the drum pad for about two years teaching him basic stick technique, and laid down a foundation through which Martin continued to grow from. After Allen, Billy met up with big band/show drummers Chuck Spies and Sonny Igoe. His new teachers helped him learn to read charts and move around the kit with more ease.
In high school, Martin met Dave Fields and formed his first band, which played a diverse array of styles from Van Halen to George Benson. Fields' father was a jingle writer and often employed the band for his sessions. During this time Martin familiarized himself with the studio, learning multitrack recording and drum machine programming as a studio assistant. While in high school, Martin began expanding his musical endeavors; studying with Paul Price (who performed percussion work for John Cage), he was encouraged to begin writing percussion ensembles. Price performed Martin's first percussion ensemble, "Variations on Bolero" at Kean College in 1981.
Contrary to the contemporary music he was delving into, Billy started clubbing his last year of high school in NYC and stepping out with the freelance dancing styles of hip hop and roller-skating at the Roxy and elsewhere. His early years of tap lessons from his Mom were paying off on the dance floor and on the drum set. And his passion for the rap music that was developing became a major part of his drumming aesthetic..
A significant turning point in Billy Martin's career as a musical and visual artist came in 1982. Billy had seen an ad in the Village Voice for samba classes that mentioned the Drummer's Collective. Martin's desire to learn more about Brazilian music drove him to attend. The decision to study with the group changed Martin's life dramatically. While working and studying at Drummer's Collective, Martin met Bob Moses, Jaco Pastorius and Mike Gibbs just to name a few. Moses had a profound influence in Martin's life and vision. Billy began digesting and devouring all of the Brazilian and Afro Cuban rhythms he could get his hands on. Martin began discovering his own style and before long Moses asked him to play in the "When Elephants Dream of Music" band. The "Elephants" band led to a European percussion tour with Martin, Moses and Nene of Hermento Pascoal's group as well as the album, "Drummingbirds," with Moses and Martin.
With experience playing Brazilian percussion, Martin met Chuck Mangione and began touring with his band. At age 22, Martin hit the road with full force as Mangione's percussionist. Before the end of his four-year stint with Mangione, Billy covered the drum chair. With Mangione in need of a break, another turning point loomed around the corner for Martin.
Martin fell in with the Downtown musicians of New York City and began playing with a number of bands on a regular basis. He played with Bobby Previte's ensemble at Next Wave, Sam Bennett's Chunk, Ned Rothenburg's Double Band, Oren Bloedow's band, John Lurie's Lounge Lizards, John Zorn's Masada (an electric version) and the Sweet Lizard Illtet (where he received the nick name illy B). While playing in Lurie's band, Martin discovered a rare book on Jean-Michel Basqiat at Lurie's apartment. Both Lurie and Basquiat effected Martin profoundly. Martin began hanging out with Lurie after practice and while on tour to sit around and draw, an experience he also shared with Bob Moses. Little did Martin know, but Moses would turn out to be a catalyst behind the forming of the now popular Medeski, Martin & Wood.
Soon thereafter, Martin formed his first band 'illy B' with Rob Sheps, Stomu and Rolf Sturm. Even though 'illy B' was a great creative release for Martin, he began playing with two other young musicians by the names of Chris Wood and John Medeski. The trio took to the road to escape the winter of the Northeast and the rest is history. Together Medeski, Martin & Wood have released 8 albums, 2 EPs and a greatest hits record.