By Marina Gutierrez
Professor Jesus “Chuy” Martinez, is one of 450 band directors who will march during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Martinez is the director of bands at East Los Angeles College. He previously served as band director at Cerritos College.
Martinez received his Associate of Arts degree in commercial music from Cerritos. He later transferred to USC where he received his Bachelor of Music degree in classical/jazz studies.
Martinez is also an alumnus of the Disney All American College Band Program. He performed with the band in 1989.
When Martinez was first asked to take over the Music Department at ELAC, the school’s band program had been dormant since 1975. Martinez liked the idea of having full creative direction and saw great potential for a future program.
The department was left with no music and no instruments. Fortunately, when Martinez accepted the job offer, he was still working with Disney and USC. Martinez’s personal connections helped the program immensely. A music arranger at USC gave him a box of old music sheets that could be used.
Martinez took his passion for music and education, and helped transform ELAC’s band into the program it is today. His official title is professor of instrumental music, director of bands/orchestra. He has held this title for 25 years.
Martinez started the jazz band, Latin jazz ensemble, marching band and concert band. All these bands have won multiple awards. He also taught jazz appreciation and Music 101.
Growing up, music played a huge role in Martinez’s household. His parents loved to dance and loved jazz music. The first instrument his parents bought him was a guitar, which he said he will always have.
His parents and brother were always completely supportive of his love for music, and attended every one of his concerts. It was actually Martinez’s little brother who would religiously watch the Rose Parade and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which would inspire Martinez to be a part of in the future.
After performing at the Rose Parade multiple times, Martinez was invited to join the Saluting Americas Band Directors Marching Band. The SABDMB consists of band directors from all over the United States, Canada and Mexico. Directors represent every level of education, from junior high, highschool, college and university level band directors.
The first time Martinez performed with the band, he fell in love with the professionalism and skill of all those involved. In the middle of the performance, he even took a stop to listen because he was so delighted with their sound.
After the SABDMB gained attention from performing at the Rose Parade, they were invited to play in New York for the Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“My little brother George passed away five years ago, and he was the Thanksgiving Day Parade’s biggest fan. Not only is this a full circle moment in my life due to my career, but also for him. I’m doing it for him because I know he’s watching,” Martinez said.
Five years ago, Martinez’s little brother and his mother were simultaneously diagnosed with cancer. Martinez was still teaching, but dedicated most of his life to taking care of them. His little brother died shortly after his diagnosis and his mom eventually died from her diagnosis as well.
During the most difficult time in his life, he never gave up on his passion for music and continued to inspire his students. One of his students’ parents was so in awe of his actions, she secretly submitted his grammy application. Although he didn’t win, the nomination brought him great joy in such a dark time in his life.
Martinez said he has many reasons for marching in the parade this year.
“I am beyond excited to be marching for the parade in representation of our school. I also want my students to watch me, and learn from me. I want them to feel inspired and know that whether they pursue a career in music or keep it as a side passion, they too can achieve their musical dreams. I want them to never give up on something they genuinely love to do,” Martinez said.
Building the band program from the floor up has been a humbling experience for Martinez. He said many people at ELAC have helped him do what he does.
“I have gotten plenty of support along the way, and I’m doing this for all of them,” Martinez said.
The Thanksgiving Day Parade starts at 8:30 a.m., and Martinez is expected to be on TV around 9:30 a.m. He will be playing the saxophone.