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Tristan Martinuson is a triple-threat

2020 DFOM graduate Tristan Martinuson is a talented, omnipresent saxophonist

June 17, 2020 — 

NOTE: We in the Desautels Faculty of Music are incredibly proud of our students. While COVID-19 is sidelining in-person commencement ceremonies around the globe, we want to find alternate ways to celebrate our graduates and give them the recognition due to them. Until we can gather together to properly applaud the years of study and practice that have led to this milestone, please join us in congratulating our 2020 Desautels Faculty of Music graduates.



Today we celebrate Tristan Martinuson!

Tristan Martinuson lives and breathes music. From the time he was 6 years old, playing piano by ear to try to replicate the music he heard around him, to the current day, where he now performs prolifically with multiple ensembles and bands, Martinuson’s woodwind stylings can be heard all over Winnipeg.

He is known in the faculty for his easy and committed collaboration, as well as his skilled and smooth saxophone improvisation, and while he only played tenor saxophone when he arrived, Martinuson quickly became an accomplished clarinet, soprano saxophone, and flute player, after realizing he would need those instruments in his instrumental arsenal to expand his opportunities to perform.

Martinuson has also composed and performed many of his own songs and arrangements. One such song, his gorgeous large ensemble piece “Juniper,” premiered in the spring 2019 the University of Manitoba Jazz Orchestra concert. His work composing and performing Juniper was previously written about HERE.


Beyond the faculty

Not one to carry a light load, Martinuson has also been part of many collaborations with bands outside of the faculty, including the Big dig! Band, Promise, Flat Land Soul Band, Southside Big Band, and HMCS Chippawa Navy Band. He is also a frequent guest contributor to bands across Winnipeg, having fast-established himself as a talent to watch.

Martinuson’s work with the Flat Land Soul Band, which includes Aaron Bartel, Anthony Bryson, Ilya Osachuk, Jaimel Nucom, Max Osawa, Nam Nguyen, Robert Hunter, and Elizabeth Sadler – almost all of whom are Desautels graduates or students – resulted in the 2019 release of the band’s debut EP, “Middle of Somewhere.” You can hear the band’s soul and funk grooves on the Flat Land Soul Band SoundCloud.


Meanwhile, Martinuson will also be heard on the Big dig! Band’s upcoming debut recording, Still I Rise, set to release on July 10, 2020. The band, led by Desautels Faculty of Music associate professor and Babs Asper Professor in Jazz Performance Derrick Gardner, recently released a preview of the album, which was recorded in the Desautels Recording Studio. Their first video is the heartbreaking eulogy “Melody for Trayvon.”

Trayvon Martin, the inspiration for the song, was a Florida teenager gunned down while walking home from the store one night in 2012. His killer, who stalked Trayvon down the street, said Trayvon looked suspicious and appeared to be carrying a weapon, and that he fired his weapon at Trayvon in self defense. Martin was carrying only the pack of Skittles he had just bought. His killer was acquitted of the murder.

The song itself bleeds heartache, loss, and melancholy, and powerfully adds itself to the ongoing cries for justice currently being heard around the United States and world.

Martinuson credits his work with the Big dig! Band as one of his proudest accomplishments during his time in the faculty.

“Being a part of Derrick Gardner’s album recording “Still I Rise” and working with him in the Big Dig Orchestra and the University of Manitoba Jazz Orchestra, what an honour!” he says of the experience.
Likewise, Gardner thinks highly of Martinuson.
“When I put together the saxophone section for the Big dig! Band recording Still I Rise, Tristan was a clear and obvious choice and he did a wonderful job,” says Gardner.

You can watch the video for “Melody for Trayvon” HERE, and can find more information about the album and Big dig! Band HERE.


Given that he has developed an already full professional career even prior to graduating, it is no wonder that Martinuson was awarded the Stingray Rising Star award in 2018 as part of the TD Ottawa Jazz Scholarship. The award came as a welcome surprise to him, and occurred in the presence of one of his jazz idols.

“It was before we were opening for the great Herbie Hancock during the jazz festival,” he says.

“It was definitely the greatest award I have ever received and one of my proudest moments!” he says of that day.


Faculty mentors

Martinuson is not hard-pressed to think of faculty mentors he has had during his time in the faculty, and specifically singles out five who have had a major impact on him throughout his studies: Jon Gordon, associate professor of jazz saxophone; the aforementioned Derrick Gardner, associate professor of jazz piano Will Bonness, jazz guitar professor Larry Roy, and former Desautels Faculty of Music jazz drum instructor Quincy Davis.

“Jon continues to be a great inspiration and mentor to me,” says Martinuson.

“He has pushed me to throughout my entire degree and helped me grow into a professional saxophonist. I would not be where I am compositionally, musically and as the musician you see and hear today without him!” he says.

“Tristan Martinuson had a great 5 years with us in our jazz program!” says Gordon.

“His work ethic and progress during his time here were as good as any student I’ve ever had in my almost 30 years of teaching at college level jazz programs. He’s a great student, a great musician with an incredible future ahead of him, and an exceptional young man who is going to make real contributions as a player, composer and educator in the coming years,” Gordon says of Martinuson’s many strengths.

“Derrick developed my musical language and compositional writing to the next level!” says Martinuson.

“I learned so much from playing in his big band to having composition lessons where he helped me shape my ideas into scored out pieces!”

“It was a pleasure to have Tristan as a student in our jazz program, and to watch his musicianship blossom into that of a professional musician,” Gardner responds.

“His thirst for knowledge cannot be quenched and he has turned into a great tenor saxophonist, composer and arranger,” says Gardner admiringly.

“Will helped me develop my bebop improvisation and jazz theory knowledge to where I could start confidently putting bebop lines together in my own improvisation!” Martinuson.
Meanwhile, Bonness says he is honoured to have worked with Martinuson.

“Tristan is one of the most hard-working, committed, and humble students I have worked with in all of my years of teaching,” says Bonness.

Larry has taught me a wide set of necessary improvisational skills and techniques that I will continue to take with me wherever I perform, and Quincy really set me on the right foot by teaching me the importance of the blues, rhythm and communication through the language of music. Quincy knew exactly how to help you reach that next level of playing and it was an honour to study with him!” adds Martinuson.



Martinuson offers the following words of thanks as he graduates from the Desautels Faculty of Music:

“I would like to thank my parents Valerie and Monty Martinuson; the one who has been by my side throughout this degree Anna Blackmore; my teacher and inspiration Jon Gordon; the mentors who helped me grow and continue to inspire me – Derrick Gardner, William Bonness, Larry Roy, and Quincy Davis; my aunt and uncle Debbie and Duane; my grandparents Liel, Mavis and Helen; and all my family and friends, who have helped and supported me throughout the years! I would not be here without you!”


Given his assiduous work ethic, his ability to absorb and use new information quickly, and his prodigious talent, we know that there are great things in Tristan Martinuson’s future. We are excited to see the many things that he will do next, probably all simultaneously!

Congratulations, Tristan!

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