It was going to take a whole lot more than a global respiratory virus to stop Zeke Martin from doing what he says “gives me life:” playing the drums.
When the coronavirus shuttered jazz clubs and put an end to live gigs, the Northeastern drumming instructor and three friends—saxman Pat Loomis, bass guitarist Daniel Day, and keyboardist Adonis Martin (no relation)—found their outlet by jamming live performances in the backyard of Loomis’s home near a student housing building on Columbus Avenue.
On a nippy day in late October, Zeke Martin is clad in a red Northeastern hoodie and black wool cap, Loomis is wearing purple wool gloves with the fingers cut off, and Day and Martin are both in black hoodies. Martin’s hoodie says “Black Father” on the front. All are wearing face coverings, except for Loomis when he’s blowing his saxophone. He has it on otherwise.
A long electrical extension cord snakes along the grass from a nearby outlet to power the keyboards and bass guitar.
The musicians are pouring their energy and soul into a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman.” The sound waves ricochet off the walls of LightView and other nearby buildings, making the music sound louder than it actually is. A uniformed officer from Northeastern’s police force smiles and hoists a thumbs-up in appreciation.
After a brief rest to collect themselves, they launch into “Maputo,” the 1986 smooth jazz hit by sax star David Sanborn and keyboardist Bob James. “Happy People” by Kenny Garrett follows.
Their playlist is determined by nothing in particular.
“Whatever strikes our fancy,” says Zeke Martin.
That will probably be the same spontaneous mindset when he and the rest of the quartet have their next gig, a livestream on Nov. 17 from an instrument store near campus.
For now, though, a small patch of grass in an urban backyard is their stage. They have been playing there most weeks since the summer and will continue to do so until it gets too cold. Picking up an instrument means so much to these full-time musicians that they will probably just pack up their gear and go find someplace warm to play.
“Being able to play in the backyard has been great because we are able to really get out the frustration of not being able to play with other musicians or anything like that,” says Zeke Martin.
But the weather is the last thing on their minds right now. They just want the pandemic situation to get to a point where it’s safe to reopen music clubs and people can go out again.
“It’s tough now. There’s that energy that goes back and forth between the band and the crowd, and we don’t have that,” Martin says.
Until nightlife returns to normal, teaching remains his focus. Martin has been instructing drumming students in Ryder Hall for 13 years. He is sharing his skills this semester with about ten students on a pair of drum sets spaced 12 feet apart. It’s all hands-on, in-person learning.
“We tried doing it virtually at the end of the spring semester, but it didn’t really work out too well because a lot of the students don’t have access to drums,” he says.
A few of his pupils have gone on to pursue music as a career, much like what he knew he wanted to do as a child watching his dad, Stu, bang the skins with the Mount Rushmore of jazz greats, giants like pianist Thelonius Monk and bassist Charles Mingus.
Years later, after bouncing around the world playing gigs, Martin still experiences each day through a fresh pair of eyes and ears.
“I wake up in the morning and feel really lucky and blessed that this is what I get to do for a living. Man, I just want to play.”
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