If any figure in mariachi music deserves to be called a “living legend,” it is indeed Miguel Martínez. To mariachi
musicians and aficionados everywhere, the name of Miguel Martínez is synonymous with the virtuoso mariachi trumpet. Miguel’s career spans nearly 60 years, during which he played a major role in popularizing this instrument in the mariachi and took it to levels that have rarely been equaled. But few really know that magnitude of this man’s contribution to the evolution of mariachi music.
As a teenager growing up in Mexico City of the 1930s, Miguel used to stand in the door of a local cantina listening to the trumpetless mariachi that played inside. One of the musicians, noticing the boy’s fascination with the music, suggested he learn the trumpet, since it was just beginning to become popular in mariachi music. So began the career of the greatest trumpet player in mariachi history.
Mexico City of the mid-1930s boasted a burgeoning urban mariachi scene centered around the Tenampa bar in the Plaza Garibaldi. Of the ten or so groups in town, less than half used the trumpet. Miguel began playing the humblest of groups, but soon accepted invitations from better ensembles. By 1940, he had worked with well-known Mariachi Pulido, and with the legendary Concho Andrade in the Tenampa. Little did young Miguel suspect that one day he would receive an invitation that would change not only the direction of his career, but the course of mariachi music as well.
One day in 1941, Silvestre Vargas approached Martinez, inviting him to an audition at Mexico’s most powerful radio station, XEW. Miguel wasn’t interested. Mariachi Vargas wasn’t yet well-known, and he was happy with his own group in Garibaldi. Besides, he had already heard of several trumpet players being rejected in those radio sound checks. Only after Vargas offered to pay him for his time did he reluctantly accepted. Miguel won the audition and became Mariachi Vargas’s first permanent trumpet player. For the next 30 years, Miguel Martinez and Mariachi Vargas would write countless pages in the annals of mariachi music.
The 1940s brought the “golden age” of mariachi music, as cinema, radio, and phonograph records helped launch what was previously a regional music to international prestige. During this decade two immortal stars of ranchera music emerged: Jorge Negrete and Pedro Infante. This decade also saw the emergence of Mariachi Vargas as Mexico’s number one mariachi. So important was Miguel Martínez’s role in the rise of Mariachi Vargas that many fans considered him “half the group.” His improvised solo trumpet counterpoint became a trademark behind the voices of Negrete, Infante and other stars of the era. Never before had the mariachi world seen such a combination of virtuosity, creativity, sensitivity, musicality, and superb tone on this instrument.
Had Miguel Martinez retired by the 1950s, he would have already left an indelible mark in mariachi music. But his contribution was only the beginning. In 1951, Miguel left Vargas, joining the newly organized Mariachi México de Pepe Villa. In this ensemble, he and fellow trumpeter Jesús Córdoba virtually invented the two-trumpet mariachi style that remains the standard today. A year later, Miguel returned to Mariachi Vargas, where he continued to outdo his own previous performances as solo trumpeter until that group finally adopted the two-trumpet instrumentation in the late 1960s.
Miguel Martínez’s contribution as a performers is by no means limited to mariachi music. His numerous recordings in other styles of music include unforgettable performances with the trios Guayacán, Hermanos Martínez Gil, and Los Panchos. In addition, Miguel is a prolific composer of mariachi instrumental standards such as Café Colón, Teatro Principal, Azul Cielo, Rosas de Mayo, Florecitas Mexicans, Capetillo, La Chuparrosa, Los Cotorras, Las Tres Pelonas, El Travieso Don Rafael, Caperucity Rosa, and Los Machetes; not to mention his many songs. He appears in over 120 Mexico films, beginning with Jorge Negrete’s 1941 classic, Peñon de las ánimas.
Miguel Martínez has yet to slow down his pace, and continues to practice and perform on a daily basis. In 1992-93 he was an artist-in-residence with the University of New Mexico Division of Continuing Education and Community Services Mariachi Program. Tonight, the Mariachi Spectacular takes great pride in paying homage to one of the immortals of mariachi music, don Miguel Martínez