A Conversation With Buffalo’s First Lady of Jazz

Dawn Martin Berry-Walker Carries on Her Father’s Legacy As The Annual Pappy Martin Legacy Masten Jazz Festival Kicks Off This Weekend In MLK Park

By Tony Zambito

James “Pappy” Martin was a legendary and much-revered jazz musician, bandleader, and community organizer who left an admired body of work when he passed in March of 2015 at the age of 82.  During his musical career, “Pappy” Martin played with such greats as Aretha Franklin, Ruth Brown, Johnny Griffin, Billy Taylor, and Betty Carter.  As a bandleader and musician, he played in many famous area nightclubs, including Little Harlem, Pine Grill, Revilot, Royal Arms, Moon Glow, Shalimar, Town Casino, Ontario House, and Blue Note.

 Martin’s love and passion for jazz propelled him to be a community organizer and activist.  He founded the Love Supreme School of Music that focused on instrumental music lessons, music theory and the science of music. Love Supreme School launched careers of many local and national musicians. He co-founded the Masten Jazz Festival that now bears his name as the Pappy Martin Legacy – Masten Jazz Festival.

I caught up with Dawn-Berry Walker, the President of the Pappy Martin Legacy Jazz Collective for a brief chat.  Dawn is the daughter of James “Pappy” Martin.  She has worked feverishly during the past three years to advance the cause of her Father’s dreams and aspirations for jazz.

This is the 24rd annual festival year for the Pappy Martin Legacy-Masten Jazz Festival. Why do you think the festival has lasted this long?

“It is the music!  We curate the festival so as to present the highest level of musicianship and focus on the authenticity of straight-ahead jazz. We enjoy embracing the community as our “jazz family” and ensuring everyone feels welcome. The community recognizes the importance of supporting and celebrating the historical, cultural and artistic value of this only original American art form.”

The festival is named after your Dad, James “Pappy” Martin who passed away in 2015. For people who may be discovering the festival for the first time, what is the “legacy” about your Dad that you would like people to know about?  What do you think your Dad would say if he saw what was happening today at the festival?

“My father, Pappy, built a legacy of offering this free festival so that the best of this music, called jazz, would be accessible to everyone in the community. I believe that Pappy would be very proud that we not only respect and honor his legacy enough to continue it; but, that we are investing in building upon the foundation that he laid. Under his leadership, the festival grew, in size and scope, every year throughout the 20 years during which he was at the helm. We uphold his commitment by immortalizing his vision. He left us a great template and solid reputation for producing wonderful festivals, year after year.”

What excites you about this year’s lineup of jazz artists ?

“In addition to this year’s great  lineup, The Pappy Martin Jazz Collective is proud to  present Buffalo saxophonist  William O. Murphy as our 2019 Honoree of The Year. Over the years he performed with many big bands and combos.  A dedicated instructor at the Love Supreme School of Music, he was a respected member of the Love Supreme Jazz Ensemble. As always, we present a diverse lineup which includes the best of local and international musicians. “

You’ve coined the phrase “Educate Your Ear, Listen To Jazz.” What is the meaning of this phrase you would like people to get?

 “Relative to Buffalo’s past, we have somewhat limited access to live jazz.  In my opinion, the best way to enjoy jazz is to experience it live.  If you ‘listen’ you will internalize, marvel and develop the highest regard for the very wonderful power of the music. Our goal is to expand an appreciation of jazz by encouraging everyone to take advantage of opportunities to expand his/her knowledge through our live performances.”

You have been instrumental in keeping the legacy of your father alive and have  continued to advance the dream;  doing so by expanding the annual John Coltrane Birthday Celebration to 4 days, creating an annual Celestial Jazz Concert in a church setting, expanding the membership of the Pappy Martin Legacy Jazz Society, and reviving the Love Supreme School of Music.  These initiatives are now housed under the umbrella of the Pappy Martin Legacy Jazz Collective. Can you give a little more information about the recently revived School of Music?

The goal of the school is to engage under-served members of the community, particularly school-age children, with instrumental lessons and experiences to expand their knowledge, understanding and appreciation of music.  We hope to reinforce the pleasure associated with positive musical experiences and introduce them to often uncelebrated African-Americans who have contributed to world history, culture and art. Our general aim includes broadening their musical choices and increasing their exposure and, hopefully, interest in jazz, with its foundation in creativity through improvisation. The initial instrument focus will include: piano/keyboard, guitar, saxophone, trumpet and drums. Our intention is to offer lessons at an affordable rate with some scholarship opportunities available for those who qualify.

Tony Zambito   is an avid jazz fan and musician in the band My Cousin Tone’ and also runs the popular jazz site www.jazzbuffalo.org




Opening: The Phenomenal Women of Rhythm


2:00 pm – Love Supreme PM

3:00 pm –  The Progressions 

4:00 pm – Odyssey

5:30 pm-  Charenee Wade

7:00 pm – Keyon Harrold


2:00 pm – Marcus Lolo Quintet

3:00 pm –  Nelson “Poppa” Lucas with Expression

4:00 pm –  Kevin Hall/A Tribute to Grover Washington, Jr.

5:30 pm – Johnny O’Neal

7:00 pm –  Tia Fuller with Curtis Lundy Legacy Band

Performance Times are Approximate

Jazz Interludes Curated and Presented by DJ Slim

2019 is the 24th consecutive year of this free jazz festival which was originally implemented as an innovative community enhancement project. In 1996, when given the charge to create something to improve his community, James “Pappy“ Martin came up with the idea to start a festival which would perpetuate the culture of a world  recognized art form, jazz.  He collaborated with Masten District Councilmember Byron Brown, Darryl Peebles, Council President James Pitts and Steve Porter to introduce an event that would highlight the contribution of jazz in the archives of international history and culture.  We commit to keeping the festival in the heart of the city… and free… so that it is accessible to everyone.

Over the past 23 years, there have been performances by numerous internationally  and locally acclaimed musicians. This year’s  lineup continues that legacy of excellence in jazz!