Born in Barnet, North London in 1958, Martin was inspired to take up the saxophone at the age of 16. From 1977-81, he studied Classical Saxophone at Trinity College of Music, where he was awarded the prestigious Dame Ruth Railton prize for woodwind playing. He first came to public attention as a founder member of the award winning Saxophone Quartet ‘Itchy Fingers’ during the height of the UK’s so called ‘80’s Jazz Revival’ when a host of young musicians including Courtney Pine, Andy Sheppard, Django Bates, Iain Ballamy and the big bands of the Jazz Warriors and Loose Tubes were acclaimed as the leaders of an emerging generation of UK jazz talent.
2004 saw the release of three different cds including The Exploring Standards Trio (33 Records) with bassist Mick Hutton and drummer Tom Skinner, a ballad album My Ideal (Basho Records) with American pianist Ethan Iverson (The Bad Plus), and The Journey (Black Box) with Indian musicians Dharambir Singh and Sarvar Sabri. Autumn 2004 he toured with Sam Rivers in his UK big band on a Contemporary Music Network tour. In 2005 he celebrated the music of Charlie Parker with a newly formed group and touring throughout the country promoting a cd release of the project.
With Itchy Fingers, Martin toured Europe, South America, Africa, Britain and the USA, and recorded two albums. In 1988, he left the group to develop his own projects, and establish himself as a composer and improvisor. His studies at Canada’s renowned Banff Centre for the Arts in 1990, under the artistic direction of Steve Coleman, and alongside peers that included keyboard players Andy Milne and Ethan Iverson, and trumpeter Ralph Alessi, proved to be pivotal and catalytic in Martin’s subsequent development as a creative musician. Martin is as comfortable and fluent playing personal interpretations of the music of Charlie Parker with his quartet, or with free improvising drummer Mark Sanders, in a duet with Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus, or with Indian musicians Dharambir Singh and Sarvar Sabri.
In 1999 he received the Peter Whittingham Award to help fund a tour of the UK with The Martin Speake Group. In 2000 he was commissioned to compose music for an international project featuring American drummer Paul Motian, Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson and English bassist Mick Hutton. This group toured in May of that year with funding from the Arts Council of England and toured again in Autumn 2001. Their first cd Change of Heart was released on ECM in April 2006.
He started his own record label Pumpkin in 2007. The first release was a duo with free improvising drummer Mark Sanders and in 2008 Generations with Barry Green, Jeff Williams and Dave Green.
Current projects being developed include a saxophone quartet with Phil Bancroft, Martin Hathaway and Tony Kofi and a trio with Canadian musicians Duncan Hopkins and Anthony Michelli.
Martin is a committed, inspiring, and sought after jazz educator and currently teaches at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and the Royal Academy of Music in London, and on numerous international Jazz summer courses.