When Sergio Martinez thinks of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, he thinks of his “second family.” A 2013 Berklee graduate who studied jazz performance, this Madrid, Spain, native is back in his home country teaching at the Berklee's campus in Valencia, Spain, and trying to pass on to other students the lessons and traditions he learned from his BGJI professors. It is one way for him to repay the community that gave him so much during their time together. Of the atmosphere at the BGJI, Martinez says, “It is very unique, and it [goes beyond the classroom]. I want to express a very huge thanks to everyone there.”
How would you describe your music before you started working with the professors, artists in residence, and other students at the BGJI?
I was coming from a flamenco tradition. I was basically coming from flamenco and flamenco jazz. But being at the institute made a huge impact on my career and my music. I would say that I learned about what the mission of a musician in this society can be. And before, I was more a musician who was going with the flow somehow, who was playing as many gigs as I could, trying to play with the best artists I could and all that. But I was not conscious about what our function can be in the sense of really trying to be a positive tool for society, whether it comes from entertainment or playing in bands or from going to a hospital and playing for people there and actually making them feel better, or something like that. I basically found a direction in the sense of what music was.
How has that impacted your professional life and the way you teach?
It’s [about] trying to help the students deal with their struggles while being open to learn from them and create a relationship with the student that it is always open, not just during the semester they might be studying with me but also later. So, it’s trying to create this relationship with these students where they can feel confident. And that is because of a sense of community that I cultivated in the BGJI, that I experienced for the first time while being at the institute, because of the way that my teachers, especially [BGJI artistic director] Danilo [Pérez], teach. They definitely work with transparency, honesty, a lot of clarity, and a strong sense of responsibility of the knowledge shared and of the influence that a mentor has for a student.
Can you say more about the community created at BGJI?
When I say community, what I mean by that is creating environments from the perspective of the teacher that actually make the students feel like a family. They need to feel open to ask for help, and they need to feel somehow obligated to help [each] other and show our weaknesses without fear, and be willing to learn and to get advice, that’s what we’re looking for. The teacher learns from the student, and the student learns from the teacher, and it’s not based on just “memorize [this], repeat for the test”; it’s more alive, and a lifelong relationship with the student if the student is willing to have it. When they started this program, they knew that they were going to build a community of positive musicians who are willing to share with other students, in their professional careers, and by carrying their message to society, the knowledge that music has a lot of positive power.
What did the international aspect of the BGJI add to the program for you?
The first thing that it offers is a very multicultural environment that forces everyone to be open and respectful, to be willing to share each one’s cultural identities. And of course what it offers is the variety of musical languages and musical traditions, when students from many different places in the world come together. In my case, I brought the flamenco component, and I would share that with my partners in the pieces I would write, with people from Korea, from Brazil, from France, from the United States, from Africa, from everywhere. But I’ve also had the chance to travel with the institute to different international festivals, [and that] also expands the experience of the student, opening the mind of the student, because traveling always opens the mind.