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Barrett Martin: Melody + Rhythm = Spirit + Earth

The percussionist shares an Artist's Choice playlist of melodically and rhythmically influential tracks

Barrett Martin
Percussionist Barrett Martin (photo: Charles Peterson)

When I was growing up in rural Washington state in the 1970s, my first set of records—big-band 78s—came from my grandparents. That’s when my love of jazz began, and the two things that always caught my ear were soaring melodies and the undercurrent of powerful rhythms. Decades later, when I studied drumming in West Africa, one of my teachers said that melody represented the “Spirit” and rhythm represented the “Earth.” Now that I’m in my fifties, I see that timeless truth in all classic songs, and that’s because the mark of any great song, regardless of the genre, is its ability to convey a great melody with a powerful rhythm. Here are 10 instrumental songs in chronological order that greatly influenced me as both a composer and drummer, largely because of these two qualities.

Listen to a Spotify playlist featuring all 10 of the tracks mentioned below:

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