Orchestra leader Freddie Martin was not a jazz musician and never tried to be. Martin was, however, probably the most respected tenor saxophonist of the dance band era. The warmth and richness of his tone impressed even the most ardent of jazz performers and earned him the admiration of many. Martin's genius on his instrument also helped make his sweet orchestra one of the most musical of its time and propelled him on a bandleading career that spanned four decades.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, and raised in an orphanage, Martin's interest in music began at an early age. In high school he led his own dance band, and on his free evenings he also sold musical instruments. One of his sales calls was to Guy Lombardo, whose orchestra called the city home during the 1920s. Lombardo didn't buy anything from Martin, but he did listen to the young man's orchestra. Lombardo liked what he heard, and later, when he was unable to make an engagement, he recommended Martin's band as a replacement. Martin did well subbing for Lombardo but failed to capitalize on the opportunity. His band broke up, and he played as a sideman for several years before forming a new orchestra in 1931. Martin finally broke through in the mid-1930s during his group's successful residence at the Bossert Hotel in Brooklyn, and he soon had a recording contract with Brunswick.
Martin's orchestra featured many top performers and future bandleaders in its early days. During the 1930s and 1940s it contained such musicians as pianists Claude Thornhill, Barclay Allen, Jack Fina, and Murray Arnold, and guitarist Alvino Rey. Male vocalists in the 1930s were Terry Shand, Elmer Feldkampf, Buddy Clark, Stuart Wade, and Eddie Stone. Merv Griffin sang during the 1950s. Vocalist Helen Ward also sang with the band in the early 1930s before she joined Benny Goodman. She was the only female singer featured by Martin. Trombonist Russ Morgan also played with the orchestra, early on as a pianist.
Martin and Morgan were old friends, having worked together in their early days. While in Martin's band Morgan developed the famous plunger mute technique that gave his trombone the ''wah-wah'' sound which later on became associated with his own orchestra. When Morgan left to form his own band in 1936 he relied much upon Martin arrangements to fill his book. He also took something else of Martin's -- his tagline. Martin had always used ''Music in the Martin Manner'' to describe his band. Morgan lifted it wholesale, calling his sound ''Music in the Morgan Manner.'' Martin never objected or made a fuss. He was well-known as one of the nicest men in the business.
Martin's biggest hit was the classical-based ''Tonight We Love,'' taken from Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto. It proved a huge commercial success when it was released in 1941 and prompted Martin to perform other classical-derived works. Soon he was one of the top bandleaders in the country. His group was featured on several radio programs during the 1940s and 1950s, and he starred in his own television program in 1951. His orchestra remained popular with the dance crowd long after other big bands had faded away and released many recordings for RCA Victor. In 1969 it became the house band at the Los Angeles Cocoanut Grove. Martin continued active in the band business up until the 1970s. Freddie Martin passed away in 1983.