Welcome to the website of Marty Sheller -Composer, Arranger, Producer and Trumpeter.
Marty’s first instrument was snare drum which he took up at age 10, and even though he switched to trumpet a year later, his love of percussion has played a major role in his career.
He attended South Side High School in Newark, NJ and in 1957 he began college at Columbia University in New York City where he met fellow student and pianist Myron Schwartzman who introduced him to another student at the school, alto saxophonist Bobby Porcelli. They have all remained close friends since those days, when Sheller and Porcelli could be heard practicing Charlie Parker–Dizzy Gillespie unison lines in Marty’s dorm room.
Marty made his professional debut in 1958, playing a summer gig with Porcelli, Schwartzman, and drummer Wilbur Bailey at the Woodbine Hotel in the Catskill Mountains. As young adults, they were passionate about the emerging music of Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Horace Silver and John Coltrane, and that summer was spent transcribing and playing songs from their recordings.
In the fall, Marty joined a band led by tenor saxophonist Hugo Dickens that played at dances, fashion shows and cocktail sips sponsored by black social clubs in Harlem on Friday and Saturday nights. The clubs hired bands that could play rhythm and blues as well as Latin, and there was a group of musicians in New York that had grown up listening to both kinds of music and knew how to play them authentically. There were three bands working that circuit; Hugo Dickens, Pucho, and Joe Panama. Many musicians who played in these bands went on to become very influential in the jazz and Latin–jazz scene, including drummers Pete “La Roca” Sims, Phil Newsum and Steve Berrios, pianists Rodgers Grant and Arthur Jenkins, bassist Bill Salter, trombonist Barry Rogers, alto saxophonists Bobby Porcelli and Bobby Capers, and Hubert Laws who doubled on tenor sax, flute, guitar and vocals.
In 1959 Marty began playing with composer, arranger, timbalero, vibraharpist and pianist Louie Ramirez, and in 1960 they put together a Latin–jazz band that played jazz songs with a Latin rhythm section, but the band found little work. The group included conga player Frankie Malabe, whom Marty sites as an important early influence. He spent many afternoons at Malabe’s house on Simpson Street in The Bronx (across the street and a few doors down from the infamous police station nicknamed “Fort Apache”) studying African and Afro-Cuban rhythms. Malabe would arrange two seats facing each other, put on a record, and demonstrate the conga parts by playing them on Marty’s knees, explaining the time-keeping patterns and their relationship to the clave. The Sheller/Ramirez band, finding few places that would hire them, discontinued rehearsals until conga player Sabu Martinez hired the entire group, minus Malabe, to play on “Sabu’s Jazz Espagnole” (originally issued on Al Santiago’s Alegre Label), considered by connoisseurs of Latin-jazz to be one of the genre’s quintessential recordings.
Marty was working with another timbalero-vibraharpist, Pete Terrace, when he first met Mongo Santamaria at a club in the Bronx in 1961. In November of 1962, Marty got a call from Santamaria, who had dropped the flute-and-violins lineup of his charanga band in favor of a Latin-jazz sound with a frontline of trumpet, alto saxophone and tenor saxophone. Three days before Marty began rehearsals, Mongo needed a piano player for a weekend gig in a Bronx club. Chick Corea had just left the band and Donald Byrd recommended a young pianist from Chicago, Herbie Hancock. Byrd told Herbie to play a song for Santamaria that Herbie had recently recorded. The song was “Watermelon Man,” and Mongo asked Hancock to bring the music to Mongo’s rehearsal the next day (Marty’s first rehearsal with Santamaria). One week later when the band first played the song in public at The Blue Coronet in Brooklyn, the people went wild. Pete Long, Santamaria’s manager, phoned Orrin Keepnews at Riverside Records with the news and persuaded the producer to come out to the club (on Thanksgiving night 1962) to hear the reaction for himself. The next week, Keepnews recorded the song for release as a single. Issued on Riverside’s Battle subsidiary, “Watermelon Man” became a Top 10 hit. It features a trumpet solo by Marty, not playing in his usual bop-imbued style but rather blowing simpler, funky lines inspired by Melvin Lastie’s solo from the Barbara George hit “I Know.” Marty played with Santamaria, as well as composed, arranged, and eventually served as musical director through 1968, when he put down his trumpet due to embouchure problems. He continued, however, working with Santamaria as an arranger, composer, conductor and friend until the conguero’s death in 2003. Among Santamaria’s four Grammy-nominated Latin-jazz recordings Marty produced was the album “Dawn,” which won a Grammy for Best Latin Recording of 1977.
Marty’s awareness of clave counterpoint, combined with a thorough grounding in hard bop, made him one of the most sought after New York arrangers. His jazz informed charts greatly contributed to the success of the salsa music issued by Fania Records from the late 60’s through the late 80’s. Along with Louie Ramirez and Luis Cruz Junior, he can be considered one of the architects of the Fania sound. Besides scoring the 1989 hit “El Gran Varon” and many other recordings and productions by Willie Colon, Marty’s arrangements can be heard on recordings by George Benson, Ruben Blades, David Byrne, Jon Faddis, The Fania All-Stars, Larry Harlow, Giovanni Hidalgo, Hector Lavoe, Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, Manny Oquendo’s Libre, Sabu Martinez, Ismael Miranda, T.S. Monk, Idris Muhammad, Luis “Perico” Ortiz, Charlie Palmieri, Louie Ramirez, Tito Puente’s Latin-Jazz Ensemble, Mongo Santamaria, Shirley Scott, Woody Shaw, The Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Steve Turre and many others. Marty collaborated with Charlie Gerard on the book “Salsa – The Rhythm of Latin Music” and arranged a Clio Award-nominated Budweiser TV commercial featuring the singing of Jose Feliciano. He composed, arranged and produced the music for the PBS TV mini-series “Oye Willie” and did the same for the NBC TV (New York) Hispanic affairs program “Visiones.” He has conducted workshops at Baruch College in New York City at The Milt Hinton Jazz Festival with Tito Puente’s Latin-Jazz Ensemble and with Jerry Gonzales’ Fort Apache Band.
On October 1, 2005 Marty participated as a panelist in a conference at Harvard University coordinated by The Cultural Agents Initiative, The Smithsonian Institution and The Americas Society entitled “The Jewish Latin Mix; Making Salsa.” That same evening, The Lincoln Center Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra premiered his composition “Counter Punch” featuring Bobby Porcelli on alto sax. On July 24, 2006 Marty was the subject of an oral history interview collected by The National Museum of American History (a part of The Smithsonian Institute). The interview is a key objective of the Online Project For Latino Jazz Documentation and Education.
On February 19, 2008 Sheller fulfilled a dream with the release of “Why Deny,” the first recording issued under his own name on his own label, PVR Records. He has a second CD completed entitled “Libre” and continues composing and arranging for future releases of The Marty Sheller Ensemble.
Bobby Porcelli, alto saxophone
Alto saxophonist Bobby Porcelli and Marty Sheller have remained close friends since their college days at Columbia University, when Sheller and Porcelli could be heard practicing Charlie Parker–Dizzy Gillespie unison lines in Marty’s dorm room. A veteran of the bands of Hugo Dickens, Mongo Santamaria, Eddie Palmieri, Willie Colón and Ruben Blades, Bobby Porcelli was the featured soloist and lead alto player in the bands of Machito, Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez when these groups were known as the “Big Three” of New York’s Palladium Ballroom. His pedigree as a jazz player is no less distinguished, having worked with Buddy Rich, Don Sickler, Ted Curson, Duke Pearson, Kenny Dorham and Joe Henderson. A legend to three generations of New York saxophone players, his solo albums are “Rising” and “Bursting,” both on Italy’s Splasc(h) label. Porcelli is active with T.S. Monk, the Latin Giants of Jazz, the Big Three Palladium Orchestra, and the Arturo O’Farrill Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, all of whom feature his nonpareil solo playing.
Bob Franceschini, tenor saxophone
A native New Yorker, Franceschini tours globally as tenor saxophonist with guitarist Mike Stern’s band. As a saxophonist, flutist, clarinetist and keyboardist, he has recorded and performed with Paul Simon, Chaka Khan, George Benson, Anthony Cox, Victor Wooten, Dave Weckl, and the 911 Horns, and can be heard in numerous episodes of H.B.O.’s “Sex and the City.” His Latin credits include work with Chico O’Farrill, Ruben Blades, Willie Colón, Eddie Palmieri, Timbalaye, and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. An experienced teacher of saxophone, improvisation and arranging, Franceschini is a Yamaha Performing Artist, a VIP Artist with Emagic and a Silver Artist with Vandoren Reeds.
Joe Magnarelli, trumpet
A graduate of The State University of New York at Fredonia, Magnarelli moved to New York City in 1986. In 1990 he was a semifinalist in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition, and made his first album “Why Not” for the Criss Cross label in 1994. A veteran of both big bands and small groups, from 1995-2010 he performed and recorded with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the Tom Harrell Big Band, Harry Connick, Jr., John Pizzarelli, the Dick Oatts Quartet, Roland Vasquez, Junior Mance, Cecil Payne, and the Maria Schneider Orchestra. He was a member of Ray Barretto’s New World Spirit and performs with the Lincoln Center Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra.Currently joe is a “Positone” jazz label recording artist. In recent years he has been leading his own groups all over Europe.
Chris Rogers, trumpet
Sam Burtis, trombone
Sam Burtis has been active since the late 1960s on the New York music scene as a performer on trombone and other lower brass instruments, arranger, composer and music director in every existing American idiom. He has performed and recorded with Gil Evans, Lee Konitz, Dizzy Gillespie, Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, Eddie Palmieri, Machito, Tito Puente, Chico O’Farrill, Charles Mingus and many others too numerous to mention. He also worked as trombonist, bass trombonist, valve trombonist, tuba player and transcriber/arranger with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra from its inception in 1991 until 2001, and was the original musical director of the Mingus Big Band. He has played on hundreds and hundreds of commercial recordings, Broadway and Off-Broadway shows and been associated with the New School and the Mannes College of Music as a brass teacher. He recently published a brass method book, “Time, Balance & Connections-A Universal Theory Of Brass Relativity” and is presently working worldwide as a performer, composer, music director and teacher.
Steve Berrios, percussion
February 24, 1945 – July 25, 2013 (R.I.P)
As the son of Steve Berrios Sr., one of New York’s first Latin drummers versed in swing music, he was exposed from early childhood to New York mambo, Afro-Cuban ritual and jazz. As a teenager, Berrios performed both on trumpet and percussion with Pucho, Joe Panama and Hugo Dickens. An initiate of several African religions, he has been heavily involved as a performer of Yoruba ritual music since the early 1960’s. A veteran touring and recording artist with Mongo Santamaria, Julito Collazo, Randy Weston, Art Blakey, Hilton Ruiz, Kenny Kirkland, Bill O’Connell, Ray Mantilla, and M’Boom, he is best known currently for his trapset playing with Jerry González’s Fort Apache Band. He has produced two solo albums for Fantasy/Milestone, “First World” and “And Then Some!” (the latter album was nominated for a 1996 Grammy award).
Ruben Rodriguez, bass
Trained on acoustic bass by Victor Venegas, Rodriguez is also a master of the electric bass, equally fluent in Latin, R&B and contemporary pop styles. He first became widely known in the salsa world through his work with Johnny Colón in the late 1970’s. Subsequently, he has recorded and performed with Celia Cruz, Willie Colón, Ruben Blades, Tito Puente, Dave Valentin, Dave Samuels, Gato Barbieri, Randy Brecker, Shiela E., Gloria Estefan, Charlie and Eddie Palmieri, Johnny Pacheco, Machito, Marc Anthony, La India, DLG, Victor Manuelle, Credits in the mainstream pop world include Nona Hendrix, Linda Clifford, touring with Roberta Flack and recording with Grover Washington, Jr. His collaboration with record producer and fellow East Harlemite Sergio George has had an unmistakeable impact on contemporary salsa bass playing.
Oscar Hernandez, piano
Three time Grammy Award Winner Oscar Hernández has long been considered one of the most gifted and prominent pianist/ arrangers on the Latin-jazz and salsa music scene. Oscar Hernández has recorded and performed with artists such as Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Julio Iglesias, Juan Luis Guerra, and Ray Barreto. He was the Musical Director/Conductor for “The Capeman” Paul Simon’s Broadway musical. He is currently just finished working as arranger/orchestrator, on the new hit Broadway musical by Gloria Estefan “ On Your Feet”
Oscar Hernandez is the leader & producer of the Grammy winning “Spanish Harlem Orchestra”(SHO). Oscar performs and tours regularly with SHO. Additionally, Oscar just released his new quintet project CD “The Art Of Latin Jazz” on the Origin label. When it comes to Latin Music, he is continually in demand as Pianist, Composer/Arranger & Producer.
Vince Cherico, drums
5-time Grammy Award Winner, Vince Cherico, is the drummer for featured artists in today’s Jazz and World music venues. In 1995, Vince became the drummer with Ray Barretto’s New World Spirit and later Sextet, developing his reputation in Latin Jazz, touring and recording 6 CD’s, earning 2 Grammy Nominations. In 1999 Vince performed with The Caribbean Jazz Project, developing lasting musical relationships with Paquito D’Rivera and Dave Samuels, and in 2003 became a member of The Caribbean Jazz Project. In 2004 Vince became the next drummer for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra (ALJO), performing at Lincoln Center and on tour. In 2009, Vince toured with vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, with notable performances including Carnegie Hall and the Monterey Jazz Festival. Vince has performed with many other artists, notably: Gato Barbieri, Jon Faddis, Los Papines, Jack Cooper, Donald Harrison, Lionel Loueke, Brian Lynch, Hector Martignon, David Sanchez, Mongo Santamaria, Marty Sheller, Diane Schuur, Carlos Patato Valdés, Chucho Valdés, Phil Woods and Miguel Zenon.
Bill O'Connell, piano
After a 40-year long career that has seen him excel as a leader, soloist, arranger, musical director, and accompanist for some of the most celebrated names in jazz and Latin music, Bill O’Connell can lay claim to a track record of challenging and artistic-diverse triumphs that few of his peers can match. As a recording artist, his 13 dates as a leader have drawn universal critical acclaim while his talents as a pianist and arranger have been tapped by a diverse range of noted soloists to elevate their sessions. He is a respected educator, keyboardist and arranger on New York City’s vibrant Latin music circuit. He has also performed with such hallowed improvisers as Sonny Rollins, Chet Baker, Gato Barbieri and Emily Remler, and bassist Charles Fambrough. The pianist has had accompanist roles for several leading jazz vocalists, including Jon Lucien, Janet Lawson, Nnenna Freelon, and performances backing Kenny Rankin. Gigging with storied bossa nova singer Astrud Gilberto produced a deep understanding of Brazilian music.O’Connell continues to polish his Latin and jazz chops performing with his own band (Bill O’Connell and the Latin Jazz Allstars), Conrad Herwig’s Latin Side and others.
Alex Norris, trumpet
Alex Norris grew up in Columbia, Md. After graduating high school he received a scholarship to the Peabody Conservatory of Music to study trumpet. In 1992, Norris moved to New York City to pursue a career as a jazz trumpeter. He has been featured with the Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Toshiko Akiyoshi’s Jazz Orchestra, and Maria Schneider’s Band. From 1994-1998, Norris was a member of Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead. Norris has also performed and recorded extensively in the bands of Lonnie Plaxico, Jason Lindner, and Ralph Irizarry’s Timbalaye. Alex has worked with noted jazz musicians including Slide Hampton, Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Chris Potter, Carl Allen, John Patitucci, Mulgrew Miller, and Brian Blade. Norris is active in Afro-Cuban jazz as well, working with Andy and Jerry González, Manny Oquendo, Paquito D’Rivera, and Chico O’Farril. Norris also performs with Ron Carter’s Great Big Band, the Mingus Big Band, Alan Ferber’s Big Band, Kyle Eastwood, Helen Sung, Miguel Zenon, Amina Figarova, and others. He has served on the faculties at the New School of Jazz & Contemporary Music, Towson University, City College of New York and University of Miami.
Steve Slagle, alto saxophone
Steve Slagle makes his home in New York City. Steve attended Berklee College of Music in Boston on a Downbeat scholarship at age 18 and subsequently received his Masters in Music at Manhattan School of Music. He has released 14 CD’s as a leader, and performed on countless others. Steve was musical director of the Mingus Big Band for many years, and wrote many of the bands arrangements as well as with Joe Lovano’s Nonet. He has received two Grammy Awards for recordings with each of those groups, and continues his association with them. He has played with Stevie Wonder, Machito’s Afro-Cuban Orchestra,Steve Kuhn, Lionel Hampton, Jack McDuff, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra , Brazil’s Milton Nascimento and band, Carla Bley Orchestra, Ray Barretto, Beastie Boys,and many others. He is the co-leader of the Stryker / Slagle Band with guitarist Dave Stryker touring and recording worldwide. Steve has served on the faculty of Manhattan School of Music for 20 years as well as associations with Rutgers University, NYU, New School in NYC, William Paterson, NJ and Suny Purchase as well as master classes and clinics world wide.