Producer and Keyboardist

Written by: 
Jessica DeLeĆ³n

Shaun Martin ('01) (Photo by Jirard)As an applied arts and sciences student at UNT, Shaun Martin ('01) fit in his classes between playing keyboard for gospel great Kirk Franklin and R&B singer Erykah Badu.

"I didn't graduate summa cum laude or magna cum laude. I graduated thank you Lord!" he quips. "That was a weird, fun, stressful time of my life."

But that hard work and tenacity paid off.

This year, he won two Grammys -- for producing Franklin's CD Losing My Religion and for playing as a member of Snarky Puppy on the band's CD Culcha Vulcha. In all, Martin boasts a total of seven Grammys (four with Franklin, three with Snarky Puppy).

"Being recognized at this year's awards was a cool thing because it was two totally opposite ends of a spectrum," he says.

Martin's career began as a 4-year-old, when he learned to play the piano in his Oak Cliff neighborhood, and his teacher Carolyn Campbell introduced him to jazz. He played organ for the Dallas gospel choir God's Property, which began working with Franklin in the 1990s recording the massive hit Stomp.

Martin then started touring with Franklin consistently and says his UNT teachers were supportive. One teacher, the late Gail Rola, assistant dean of the then-School of Community Service and an adjunct professor, sat down with him and they made a plan to fit his classwork in with his performance schedule.

"Once I figured out the balance, everything worked like clockwork," he says.

Martin began producing with Franklin in the 2000s, receiving his first Grammy in 2005. He describes Franklin as a visionary.

"He paints in very broad strokes," Martin says. "I'm the guy who says, 'Let's pay attention to this aspect.'"

The group Snarky Puppy, known for its combination of jazz, funk and world music, had formed at UNT and was doing jam sessions in Dallas when a couple of members invited him to play with them.

"My very first gig kicked my tail," he says. "I had kind of been out of the jazz world for a minute. I hadn't played aggressively in a while."

He recorded his own album, Seven Summers, in 2015, and is currently working on another CD. One fan emailed Martin to tell him how listening to his song Yellow Jacket brightened an otherwise bad weekend.

"It's pretty awesome," Martin says. "I never really set out to make music to win Grammys. I set out to make music to have fun. I enjoy playing music and seeing that somebody's face is smiling."