Medeski, Martin and Wood: 20 Years

Feb 17, 2011 by

Medeski, Martin and Wood: 20 Years

Medeski Martin & Wood

mmw-150x100Luckily, many talented musicians love playing music in Colorado. From classical symphonies to bluegrass jams, the state sees — and hears – it all. This March, we’re in for another treat when Medeski, Martin & Wood (MMW) will kick off their tour with four shows in Colorado. If you’re anywhere from Aspen to Denver and you enjoy live music, these shows will definitely be worth your while.

Twenty years ago, Medeski, Martin & Wood came together in Brooklyn, N.Y. to create an American jazz band. Though often categorized as jazz, MMW’s music draws inspiration from a multitude of genres ranging from hip-hop to funk  and their live performances, with an inclination toward improvisation and experimentation, tend to truly awe music lovers.

In 1991, keyboard/organ/piano player John Medeski, drummer/percussionist Billy Martin and bassist Chris Wood collaborated and released their first album, “Notes From The Underground,” featuring mainly acoustic, jazzy sounds. After years of touring and producing records, their original sounds have morphed into an unclassifiable genre, which some refer to as “avant-groove,” a play on “avant-garde,” meaning experimental or innovative.

The group is now recognized as part of the jam band circuit and is deeply involved with a large and booming music community across the country.

Medeski, Martin & Wood have played alongside groups as diverse as The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, Ray Charles and Phish, to name just a few. They have delighted music festival crowds from Bonnaroo, to the Montreux Jazz Festival to Austin City Limits.

Today, the trio’s fan base is extremely diverse. In addition to jazz lovers, followers of jam-bands have also jumped on the MMW bandwagon, but in reality it could be anyone who enjoys improvisational rock music seen grooving at MMW show.

New Music Monthly Magazine described the members of MMW as “jazz freaks” and said their jam-kid fan base has come as a pleasant surprise to them. Medeski commented, “Whatever you think about their scene, the jam-band fans are after the transcendent experience that improvised music at its best can provide, and that’s cool.”

The secret to MMW’s varied fan base most likely derives from their spontaneity and likelihood to genre-hop, or their creative approach to producing music which undoubtably brings forth very unique and interesting sounds. Simply put, one would be hard-pressed to feel inhibited when listening to Medeski, Martin & Wood. They provide a little something for everyone by combining as many different musical elements as humanly possible. And the best part? They do it so well.

Martin has spoken about the band’s friendship as an integral part of the group’s success, keeping MMW afloat through many tours and the production of nearly twenty records. On MMW’s website, Martin said, “Even when we have ups and downs, the music and our friendship carries us through.”

Thanks to their strong ties, the trio has successfully toured all over the United States, as well as in Europe and Japan. They have worked with Gramavision and Blue Note Records, incorporating elements such as horn sections and turntables into their sound. MMW now operates their own record label, Indirecto Records. Indirecto’s first release, “Out Louder,” featured a collaboration with guitarist John Scofield, who has played with Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and others.

Though the trio already satisfies a wide range of musical needs, all three members are also involved in extensive, individual side-projects. Chris Wood and his brother, Oliver Wood, both from Boulder, Colorado, comprise The Wood Brothers, a guitar and bass duo. The brothers’ most recent album, “Smoke Ring Halo,” was released by Southern Ground Records. They are currently touring the west coast and have announced a spring tour to commence March 24 in Boston, Mass.

Billy Martin operates his own record company, Amulet Records, with a focus on his specialty, percussion. He is also known for his visual artwork, featured in plenty of galleries and used for the packaging of many MMW albums.

John Medeski is well known for his 2001 collaboration with the North Mississippi Allstars and guitarist Robert Randolph. Together, the musicians formed The Word, a successful gospel blues jam-band with a heavy jazz and rock influence. Medeski was the keyboardist for the Trey Anastasio Band, has performed with Phil Lesh and Friends, and has been involved in a multitude of solo piano recitals. Medeski also formed the notable psychadelic-funk trio, The Itch, and has scored films including the popular Day on Fire.

 More recently, the trio has released a three-part album project, “The Radiolarian Series.” Sticking to their core concept of innovation, MMW recorded the albums after playing the music on tour. MMW’s website announced in 2008, “Each tour and subsequent album will consist of all NEW MUSIC. The plan: Write > Tour > Record > Repeat.” All three albums were also released in 2009 as the box set “Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set.” Along with the box set came the documentary “Fly in a Bottle,” MMW’s first feature film, that was directed by Billy Martin himself. “Fly in a Bottle” features MMW’s studio work, tours, relationships and, most importantly, their music.

 In my opinion, the trio’s unprecedented live performances, creative studio albums and multitude of side projects speak for themselves. But there’s more! MMW’s community outreach far exceeds that of other artists because, in addition to satisfying their fans’ musical cravings, the band also satisfies their fans’ desire to learn. This summer, for the fourth consecutive year, the band will host Camp MMW in New York’s Catskill Mountains, giving attendees an opportunity to live and study with the trio.

Camp MMW’s website explains, “No matter what instrument you play, you will expand your approach to music, improve your listening skills, and interact with other musicians in a completely fresh such as, innovative way…In the anything-goes, non-traditional atmosphere of Camp MMW, you’ll be encouraged to experiment, test your limits, take risks, and enjoy newfound freedom in the process.”

This year, Camp MMW will run from Sunday, July 31 to Friday, August 5. Designed for musicians, a typical day at Camp MMW starts with breakfast among fellow campers and the band. Breakfast is followed by a MMW-led class/seminar. After lunch and some free time, campers will break into groups for workshops with individual band members. According to Camp MMW’s website, “You might be a guitarist, and study melody with keyboardist, John Medeski. Or a horn player that works on mastering rhythm with drummer Billy Martin. Maybe you’re a pianist that wants to develop your groove with bassist, Chris Wood.” Once again, the trio provides a little something for everyone with Camp MMW. Later in the day, dinner is provided and the evening event begins. The event could be a performance, a jam session, a film and discussion, a bonfire or even a dance party.

Camp MMW will accept 80 students this season, based on applications submitted online via The rolling application process begins March 6 and ends June 6, so don’t miss out on your opportunity to hang out with and learn from some of the best. Program costs are outlined on Camp MMW’s website and the band will be offering a limited number of need-based scholarships.

 Not all bands give their fans such an intimate and meaningful experience. One past camper said, “No matter what level you are at as a musician, Chris Wood, Billy Martin and John Medeski have concepts and ways of looking at music that will expand your way of thinking playing. They use unique new approaches to rhythmic concepts, ensemble playing, composition and a general sense of inspiration. And, if that’s not enough, I got to see a world class band with special guests playing every night in an intimate setting.”

 When I said Colorado is in for a treat next month, I wasn’t speaking lightly. Medeski, Martin & Wood have spent the past two decades traversing the globe, experimenting and reaching out in every way possible in order to fuel your musical needs. Go see the shows and you will be floored by the trio’s synergy. Make sure to listen carefully to MMW’s tight grooves and funky improvisations. They might speed up the sounds unexpectedly, but they will slow them down again in a way that ensures an awesome party from start to finish. Don’t be afraid to dance! Last year, Chris Wood told the Daily Camera that playing Colorado feels like coming back home. Speaking from the heart and soul of Colorado music lovers to the trio that is Medeski, Martin & Wood, please come home more often!

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