I can't really peg a story for most of my songs," says vocalist/guitarist Rebecca Martin about her new recording, People Behave Like Ballads (MaxJazz). "They're really more about a sentiment or a feeling,"
Martin's recording is an collection of urbane and literate pop songs that have a solid grounding in jazz much like Joni Mitchell's mid-'70s classic Hejira. The title comes from a book by the renowned poet Robert Tristram Coffin. Martin, whose father is a poet, had seen Coffin's book while perusing her father's library. "It encapsulated an idea of mine about tempos on record-that a song does what it does; the tempo is not important," she says. "Music doesn't have to entertain people; it can have other effects like getting to an emotion or a sentiment."
A New Yorker for 14 years, Martin is a native Mainer who worked as an engineer in a recording studio as a teenager. Although she lists Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones as major influences, Martin was also moved by many instrumentalists, especially Dexter Gordon and his 1965 disc Gettin' Around (Blue Note). "Dexter's sound had the intimacy of a voice," she says. "I was pulled into it; it's the perfect collaboration. I feel like I'm experiencing all of the musicians fully."
In Martin's first group, Once Blue, she worked with songwriter Jesse Harris, who won a Grammy for "Don't Know Why" with Norah Jones. (EMI has reissued Once Blue's self-titled debut.) After the group split up, Martin recorded and released her solo debut, Thoroughfare, and began working on the songs that make up People Behave Like Ballads. She detoured briefly to make Middlehope, a collection of standards for Fresh Sounds New Talent in 2002. The project motivated her to study such cool-school singers as Anita O'Day, Chris Connor and June Christy. She was also moved by the strength of the standards, "The lyrics are so universal, yet so personal." And she particularly loved the melodies. "I love a snaky melody, and it's hard not to find them in these older songs."
Upon arriving in New York City, Martin quickly fell in with a crowd of emerging jazz artists like guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and Steve Cardenas, saxophonist Bill McHenry and bassist Larry Grenadier, whom she married a few years later. Martin continues to play with many of the musicians today. "I feel there needs to be a trust and friendship in playing together," she says. "That's how I get the best music."