The Wind Cries Marty (Krystall)

Marty Krystall is a musician’s musician, highly regarded and known to his peers in the LA music world as a triple-threat wind player equally adept at jazz, classical, and in the studio. He is also an audiophile, a recording engineer, and a record company owner, having created the K2B2 label with bassist and colleague Buell Neidlinger in 1979.


Krystall is a veteran of hundreds of recording sessions, in all music genres and media types. You have heard his playing even if you don’t know it; in this respect, he’s typical of other world-class musicians you may not have heard of: remarkable, individual talents who have been making music for decades in the musical vineyards of La La Land.

A native son of Los Angeles who came of age in the 1960s, Krystall has musical roots that take eclecticism to the extreme. Early on, he was hooked on progressive jazz. He committed himself to performing the most challenging of that music. He became a ferociously adept player on his primary axes, tenor sax and the clarinets. As a leader, Krystall has chaired combos whose repertoire focuses on the compositions of Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols. He has played and recorded classical music with some of the best musicians of recent decades.

Krystall is also a composer himself. The personnel in his bands have included a who’s who of Los Angeles–based jazz virtuosi.

I first met Marty in Los Angeles in the late 1980s, when he played for me on a number of film-scoring sessions. Some were done in actual studios, others in my garage, where he would come in and enrich the synthesizer scores I had generated on my 8-track Otari tape deck. We knew many of the same players and composers and even did similar music-proofreading work, looking for mistakes in the handwritten parts copyists prepared for sessions, back before computers took over that job. It was a real pleasure to catch up again with Marty Krystall after a long interval and “hang,” even if it had to be done virtually. I am knocked out by the musicality and energy of his recordings; this stuff is swingin’! We talked for hours. The interview was supplemented by email follow-ups.

Sasha Matson: Zooming and Skyping don’t really cut it in terms of replacing live music performance, do they?

Marty Krystall: No, I haven’t even attempted it. I used to do that for money. A composer would send me tracks, and they would want a flute solo or something, or sometimes they’d just send me a metronome mark, ¼ note = 60, and say “Play something.” I’d send them that back, and they would fit it into the rest of the music.

The whole point of music is to create the sound waves, and you can’t create the sound waves just by yourself, unless it’s a solo performance.

Matson: Have you paid much attention to hi-fi over the years?

Krystall: I have a 78rpm needle for my cartridge, and I have a big collection of 78s. I play them on my VPI turntable, and they get those speakers moving! Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker on Dial, Lester Young. When I was 9, my father took me to a hi-fi show. That was the first time I heard high-fidelity music, coming out of Altec Lansing speakers. They had McIntosh amps, and they cranked it up. I almost fainted when I heard that—it affected me bigtime.


My father put a speaker in my room. He wired the receiver in his study into my bedroom with one speaker. Late at night, he would listen to the classical station playing way-out stuff: Bartók, Schoenberg, Varèse, Messiaen. That would be like child abuse now! I’d go to sleep with weird dreams from this weird music. Later on, I had old, used mono amps. I would take the tubes to the supermarket to test them. But I had to make a decision whether to buy audio equipment or musical instruments, and the instruments won every time. I suffered through with what I had. Finally, when I had enough money for both, I bought a used Conrad-Johnson tube preamp. The last equipment I bought was a Schiit Audio amp and some Klipsch speakers that Herb Reichert had reviewed.

Matson: You came up as a player in Los Angeles, starting at a young age. Tell us about those early days.

Krystall: The reason I got into it was pure luck. This guy came to the door who had heard that I was talented. I was 11 years old, in elementary school. He said: “Would your son be interested in playing percussion in a pit orchestra? I’ll teach him how to play the triangle and cymbals.” It was a community opera doing La Traviata. This is the reason I became a musician: This guy taught me how to count 350 bars of rest on my fingers. If you can do that, you can pretty much handle any gig.

I saved up enough money from my paper route to buy a used clarinet in A. It sounded awful! I decided I really wanted to defeat this clarinet. I had to triumph over it. By the time I was 15, I was studying with Bill Green, a studio musician. All serious sax players who could afford his $7-per–half-hour fee studied with him. I first heard a Charlie Parker record, “Bird with Strings,” at his studio. I realized that studio musicians could make a living, so I tried to be the best I could, to become the best sight-reader.

One time we piled into a car and went to the Musicians Union on Vine Street in Hollywood. At the corner of that parking lot was a shack where a guy named Little Mac repaired instruments. That was the first time I smelled weed. Everyone was laughing and having a good time. They were like kids! That was the first time I ever saw adults act like that. I said to myself, “These are all musicians.” So I had to be a musician. It was the only hope.

Matson: What happened after you hit high school in the ’60s?

Krystall: A teacher played Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz (Atlantic 1364) in class. I felt like I was getting secret messages from New York. From then on, I was determined to learn how to improvise playing black music. One day, I heard the most incredible bass clarinet playing—it was Eric Dolphy. I bought every record I could lay my hands on. Late Coltrane, too. After graduation,

I was sitting in with an R&B band in Hollywood at a club called Soul’d Out. I organized jazz jam sessions at my garage in Venice, two rhythm sections a day. We played Dolphy, Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Charlie Parker, Ellington. I was teaching at a music store as well and playing late at night at a soul food restaurant in South Central called Hazel and Herb’s. I kept that up until 1970.

Matson: You have a special interest in the music of Herbie Nichols.

Krystall: Certain music grabs certain people. Everybody has their own reasons they are into music. It’s usually because of an artist, or a composer, or a performer. Nichols’s music is so difficult. You can’t just fill it in with whatever you feel like at the time; you have to work out what’s going to fit in there. It’s a lifelong pursuit. I don’t care what most people like; I have a passion for Herbie Nichols’s music that makes me want to get it on tape so someone else will hear it. Even if it’s just 10 people, those 10 people are really going to dig it.


Matson: You had a great collaboration, over many years, with bassist Buell Neidlinger, until his passing in 2018.

Krystall: Buell was a hardcore New Yorker. He was old school. He loved the most far-out music. Buell moved to LA when he was still young, to teach at Cal Arts and to record for Frank Zappa, but he had already played over 2000 sessions in New York. He played with the Houston and Boston symphonies. Buell would say to me, “You’ve got to listen to Ben Webster.” I was into more recent ’60s players. He would say, “You’re missing Duke Ellington.”

Matson: Was it Neidlinger who introduced you to Herbie Nichols’s music?

Krystall: Yes. Buell had gone to the hospital when Herbie was dying and promised him he would record his music with strings and brass. Buell realized that Herbie Nichols was one of the great American composers.

Igor Stravinsky personally picked Buell to perform L’Histoire Du Soldat in New York; Stravinsky had heard Neidlinger playing with Cecil Taylor. At the rehearsal, only Stravinsky was there, and Buell said: “Where is everybody?” Stravinsky said: “It’s just you. Show me how you are going to play this.” Buell played, and Stravinsky said: “I like your rhythmic energy.” He wanted that jazz edge.


Matson: Film music ain’t what it used to be, in my opinion. What’s your take?

Krystall: I don’t think any of the composers now are great writers in the sense that Bernard Herrmann, Korngold, Max Steiner, and Hugo Friedhofer were.

To me, those are great writers. Friedhofer’s score for One-Eyed Jacks—that score will nail you to the wall. Everything about it: the orchestration, the melodies, the whole thing. Now, Henry Mancini was in that league, because Mancini could write the greatest melody anybody ever wrote. I was at the tail end of the great film composers, some of them were still alive, and I got to work with a few of them.

Movies today don’t lend themselves so much to melodies. Now it’s more about textures.

Matson: It’s almost as if filmmakers think melody is uncool. It makes too much of a statement, and they don’t want that.

Krystall: Good point. When I was getting into the business, melody was king. And the whole reason for being an instrumentalist was to express the melody and make the composer happy. If you could do that, you would be a success. On top of this, I don’t think they know how to mix the sound for movies now.

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Marty’s Kit
K2B2 Records – A Baker’s Half-Dozen

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