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Artistic community remembers the ‘ambassador’


Andrew Wedgbury

Nevada City Advocate

It was standing room only at the Open Book in Grass Valley as friends, musicians, actors and songwriters gathered on July 26 to celebrate the life of Albert Martinez. 

Almost 100 people came to the bookstore to give spoken and musical tributes to the well-known musician who was active in many areas of the community, open mics, nursing homes, restaurants, stage productions, and concerts.

A continuing theme that ran through comments during the night was how Martinez was generous with his time and talents, encouraging others to pursue music and performing, and always talking and making connections for newcomers and locals alike. 

He was instrumental in initiating musical opportunities through open mics. He also started the Songwriters Collective in 2016, which sponsors the Songwriters Showcase at the Open Book.

“He was full of ideas and schemes, encouraging different restaurants and bars to make a home for music,” said musician Gary Parks. “Finding musicians and connecting them with opportunities to express themselves was an essential part of his being.”

Drummer Tom Agar said Martinez “set me on a course to get re-engaged in the wonderful and vibrant music culture we are all so lucky to have here.” 

Singer/songwriter Greg Case of the Raw Blues band also echoed the “musical ambassador” talents of Martinez. 

“I met Albert up here and he immediately befriended me,” Case said. “Through him I met the bass player in my band and the Songwriters Collective, which I am a member of, and he hooked me up with gigs. He was a good friend.” 

The original songs Case played also touched on aspects of depression, which Albert had struggled with in his life. 

Many speakers that night expressed thoughts on Martinez’ love of personal interaction. 

“He really loved this community and had a passion for the people,” said Lucy Chang. “He was one of the most loving, caring and compassionate people I have ever met.”

Jeannie Wood, executive director at Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra, remembered how he was always available to volunteer for a project, and how well he worked with children. 

“Whenever we had our student matinees at the Nevada Theatre, we always called Albert because somehow he could command the kids, they would always listen to him.” 

Parks also reinforced that Albert enjoyed working with kids, repairing bikes, and helping special needs children.

“Over the course of the 25 years that I knew Albert,” said Pinky Zalkin, 

“whenever I needed someone to sing to blind seniors or homeless people or even politicians, Albert was always there.” She continued her comments with a poem by Irish poet John O’Donohue called “O Bless the Space Between Us.”

Musician John Fox said, “He was very kind, he didn’t judge, and it breaks my heart that he suffered, that some of us didn’t catch that.” He went on to play an emotional version of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” with the crowd singing along on the chorus. 

Poet Chris Olander read two of his poems from his book “River Light” and expressed how “nature always puts me back in life, slaps my face, and says ‘this is what you’re here for, this is what you have to do.’ It’s all about possibilities.”

Martinez’s friend of 24 years, Kathryn Smith, spoke of shadow and light in her remarks, of his tremendous energy, generosity and creativity. “Because of his inner strength he had a deep current of depression most of us didn’t see until very late. I invite all of you to remember that each one of us is a mystery. He finally followed a deep downward trajectory, but like many comets he left bursts of light in his trail.”

The MC for the memorial evening was musician and organizer Phil Missimore, and after playing a few songs, he introduced the many speakers and musicians (too many to include here) that had signed up to play. 

Throughout the night there was a variety of entertainment that would have pleased Martinez – folk, jazz, rock and poetry representing a talented community finished off with a liberal dose of jamming by a group of people that had all crossed paths with “ambassador” Albert Martinez.

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rial service for  Albert Martinez. 

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Poet Chris Olander reads at the memorial that was held July 26 at the Open Book in Grass Valley.

Photo by A. Wedgbury