Audrey Gilbert. Photo:  Irene Young
Audrey Martin: plays Berkeley’s California Jazz Conservatory (formerly the Jazzschool) Sunday. Photo: Irene Young
Audrey Martin: plays Berkeley’s California Jazz Conservatory (formerly the Jazzschool) Sunday. Photo: Irene Young

On her 40th birthday Audrey Martin decided to sing. As a marriage and family therapist, she had spent years helping other people work through traumas, resolve deep-seated conflicts, and discover their true selves. Along the way she had set aside her adolescent ambition for a life in music, a sublimated dream that resurfaced with her midlife milestone. Martin’s long and winding creative journey resulted in the captivating debut album Living Room (full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes). She celebrates the CD’s release Sunday afternoon at Berkeley’s California Jazz Conservatory, which played an essential role in her musical education.

“This is the culmination of 17 years of planning and effort at learning the art of jazz and bringing together music that I‘ve wanted to perform and record,” says Martin, a Berkeley resident since 1998. “It also represents an integration of my musical self and my life as a psychotherapist.”

With her penchant for introspective ballads, Martin has assembled a ravishing repertoire that flows seamlessly between American Songbook standards and gems by pop and jazz singer/songwriters such as Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, Abbey Lincoln and Blossom Dearie. More than setting a mood, she sketches strikingly vivid scenes, from seductively becalmed idylls like “Lazy Afternoon” and “Calling You” to emotionally charged confessionals such as “I Never Meant to Hurt You” and “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye.”

Like anyone on a successful quest, Martin had plenty of help along the way. After her 40th birthday epiphany, she didn’t know where to jumpstart her long dormant dream. While she studied theater, classical voice and dance for several years in college, she ended up graduating from Mills College with a degree in psychology, and eventually earned an MA in clinical psychology. Licensed as a marriage and family therapist, she plunged into a satisfying practice, but her long repressed need to make music wouldn’t go away. In 1997, shortly after the Jazzschool opened in Berkeley, she went in and started the long journey to recording Living Room.

“The Jazzschool had just opened its doors above La Note Café, and I think I read about it,” she recalls. “I called up and they referred me to Stephanie Bruce, and I started studying with her privately.”

Over the next 12 years, Martin studied with some of the region’s most acclaimed singers and educators, including Laurie Antonioli at JazzCamp West, Ellen Hoffman, Faith Winthrup, and the Stanford Summer Jazz Program for Vocalists, working with Madeline Eastman and Dena DeRose. By 2010, she completed the Jazzschool’s vocal mentorship program with Maye Cavallaro, who suggested that she work with veteran pianist Larry Dunlap for her culminating concert.

A highly versatile musician, he’s best known as an ace accompanist who has worked extensively with many of jazz’s greatest singers, such as Nancy King, Mark Murphy, Dame Cleo Lane, Sheila Jordan, Ernestine Anderson, and Joe Williams. He can also be heard regularly with his wife, Bay Area treasure Bobbe Norris, who he’ll be accompanying in a duo show Nov. 2 at Maybeck Studio For The Performing Arts (formerly the Maybeck Recital Hall) and Dec. 7 at Haba Na Haba, a Berkeley house concert series.

“When Maye put me in touch with Larry of course I did some research on him and I thought he’s going to perform with me,” Martin says. “I called him and we talked and he said yes. I had started meeting with him and presented him with a list of 15 songs I wanted to perform. After we were done he said Audrey this is very ambitious.”

Her show at the Jazzschool sold out, and she continued to work with Dunlap, who became one of her most important mentors. He produced Living Room with Martin, wrote the sparkling arrangements, and assembled the album’s stellar cast, including saxophonist/flutist Mary Fettig, bassist John Shifflett and drummer Jason Lewis (who will all be on hand Sunday).

“Audrey has a dynamic and entrancing way with a song,” Dunlap says. “Her choices of material are unusual but very intriguing. She has a clear vision of what she wants to do with a song, but is very open to suggestions. It is a great pleasure working with her and entering her intimate and magical musical world.”

Born and raised in the Chicago area, Martin grew up in a household suffused with jazz. Though he was no longer an active musician when she was young, her father had played reeds in the 1950s in a jazz combo with drummer Red Holt and bassist Eldee Young, future Ramsay Lewis sidemen who also recorded as Young-Holt Unlimited. She gravitated toward vocal masters like Billie Holiday, Irene Kral and Sarah Vaughan, as well as trenchant singer/songwriters like Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Laura Nyro. When Martin hit a particularly difficult period in her mid-teens the music provided comfort when nothing else could.

“I went through a very dark protracted period of depression and found music was part of my healing,” she says. “Though I went away from music for a long time, I knew I had to allow myself to record, to be seen and heard and reclaim the fullness of who I am.”

Ornettology: playing the Berkeley Arts Festival Saturday

Looking for musical nourishment? There’s a feast in Berkeley this weekend. Guitarist Myles Boisen brings his rambunctious septet Ornettology to the Berkeley Arts Festival space on Saturday. Dedicated to the music of Ornette Coleman, the band features some of the region’s most incisive improvisers, including alto saxophonist Steve Adams, tenor saxophonist Phillip Greenlief, trumpeter Darren Johnston and bassist Lisa Mezzacappa.

Bassist Fred Randolph, a busy sideman and savvy bandleader, brings his top-shelf East Bay Hang quartet to the Albatross on Saturday, with trumpeter Ian Carey, keyboardist Ben Stolorow and drummer Bryan Bowman.

Berkeley-raised Brooklyn-based guitarist Will Bernard brings the funk to Jupiter on Sunday with a quartet. And the vocal ensemble Trio Kavkasia performs at the Pacific Film Archive Saturday and Sunday as part of the PFA’s landmark Discovering Georgian Cinema series, providing a live soundtrack for Eliso, a 1928 film by Nikoloz Shengelaia that the program describes as “one of Russian and Georgian cinema’s greatest silent-film achievements.”

Andrew Gilbert writes for Berkeleyside, the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and KQED’s California Report. Read his previous Berkeleyside reviews.

For more events in and around Berkeley, check out Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. And submit your own events there — the calendar is free and self-serve.

Freelancer Andrew Gilbert writes a weekly music column for Berkeleyside. Andy, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, covers a wide range of musical cultures, from Brazil and Mali to India and Ireland....