“Born With It” — a story by Rod Martinez

April 24th, 2017

“Born With It” was an entrant in a recent Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest.  While it was not chosen as the winning story, I was heartened by it and kept it in a file.  I ran into it today and was reminded by how much I like it.  It is a story of a young man touched by the power of love, family, and music.  I hope you like it as much as I do.

Thank you to Rod Martinez for allowing me to publish it.











by Rod Martinez



Do you remember growing up and always running into that one kid that just could do it all? Or at least did something better than you that you just wished you could do? It could have been art, sports, holding his breath under water – whatever it was it seemed it was a natural gift for him, like he was born with it. Who didn’t wish he or she was “born with it”?

During my childhood, I was always told I was special. Sure we all hear that growing up, and each one of us believes it. No one could make a bed as well as you, no one could prepare that tuna sandwich quite like you. I heard it a lot and I never quite got what the special thing was that they kept talking about; as far as I was concerned I was just a regular geeky kid who was smitten in comic books and Hanna-Barbera cartoons on Saturday mornings. I was raised by my paternal grandparents. My parents died when I was two. I spent more time with older people as a kid than I did with people my own age.  I don’t know – for some reason I just felt a kindred spirit to my great-grandparents and uncles and aunts than I did with cousins and school friends.

One of my earliest memories was sitting with my great-grandfather, Jacinto Benitez, and watching him play the guitar. Papá (Pop-AH)– as we used to call him – was born in Puerto Rico in the late 1800’s and played old folk songs from Puerto Rico. He was a jibaro – what we Americans usually refer to as a hillbilly. But I recall going to his house several times in my childhood and asking “Papá, tocame la guitarra.” (Papá, play the guitar for me), and he would grab that old nylon string and break into a song in a heartbeat.

Later I learned from “Mom” (my grandma) that my biological grandfather also played an instrument. When she was young she fell for a musician on the island named Julio. It was the early 40’s and he played a standup bass in a salsa band in Puerto Rico. He was a ladies man and that’s how he and Mom hooked up. I have one picture of him – only one, and as you see it’s of him and his bass guitar. That marriage didn’t last, you see, he and Mom were soon proud parents of their only child, my father, and he skipped four years later.

Although he was gone long before I could even walk, my father left a forever impression on me through pictures and stories. Though I don’t remember him, his memory was kept fresh and it was like I knew him all of my life. The one story I heard a lot, and it was repeated by many people, was that he had a smooth singing voice and sang lead in a local

doo-wop group in the late 50’s early 60’s of friends that went to high school together. I wish I could hear this awesome voice I had heard so much about, but no recordings exist. When he enlisted in the army, he played in a rock band. Turns out that he was a multi-instrumentalist. He played guitar, bass, piano, and drums. I thought that was impressive. Growing up, the only people I ever heard of that could do that were Paul McCartney and Prince. 

Then, while in school in seventh grade, I was introduced to the guitar. Mind you I didn’t even think I’d learn to play. It was a semester class they started and I discovered that I was signed into it. First thing was, I needed a guitar. I went home, “Mom they signed me up for a guitar class in school, I need a guitar.” Right away Mom and my aunt rushed me to a music store and bought me a small student nylon string. I should have been excited, I wasn’t. This was going to infringe on my comic book reading and drawing. But I learned a few chords and I enjoyed the class. The next semester came and I put the guitar away and never messed with it again.

Or at least that was my intention. One thing interrupted that train of thought years later – high school. I started to get this urge to write – songs. I didn’t even know how to play an instrument, yet I wanted to write songs. I had discovered rock and roll and I wanted to emulate the songs I’d hear on the radio. So I pulled out a notebook and would write lyrics and then sing them to myself and tape record myself singing them and then trying to hum a guitar riff or bass line. Then the inevitable happened. I was seventeen, I was sitting in my room and “Hotel California” was on the radio. I sat up, listened to it, was humming the bass line and I said to myself “I bet I could play that bass line”.

I reached over and grabbed my guitar (I had always kept it tuned but never played it) and started playing. My fingers stumbled for a few seconds, then… Booom, bo bo boom, booom, do dit a bom, booom, bo bo boom… booom, do dit a boom. If you know “Hotel California” you know the bass line… I freaked out.

“Oh my God, I’m a musician!” I said. I’ll never forget that day. I ran to the kitchen. “Mom I can play – I can play!” Soon guitar chords were coming out of nowhere, lead solo ideas were forming, keyboard chords happened… and I talked my pastor into buying a drum set for the church because “we need a drum-set in here and I’m going to play them.”

“Yeah ok” he said.

“No seriously Pastor, you have to buy them.”  (My parents refused to buy me one so I went over their heads).

“Son, have you ever played drums before?”

“No, but I know I can play them, I just know I can.”

He relented and by Sunday we had a drum set in the church and to everyone’s (and my) amazement, I sat and I played them like I had been trained or something.

They say some people are born with it, I guess I can testify to that. That – of course – was years ago. I grew up, played in bands, recorded some music… then started a family and let it all go.

Then I had a son.

My son is into cars, TV and gaming. But when he was in fifth grade an acquaintance of mine gave me an old sax. I never learned to play saxophone. It stayed in the house for months then I decided to Craigslist it. When my son found out, he fought me on it. He wanted to keep it.

“Ok I’ll keep it, if you learn to play it.”

That year he signed up in band.

He’s twenty now, graduated from high school, going to college and has been playing the sax since fifth grade ’til graduation. He’s good. I’m proud. I guess he was born with it. Mind you, now in my 50’s, the bug bit again. My son has grown, and I was invited to join a local band. So – call it a “turn around.” I’m back onstage thumping bass lines to many classic rock songs I (and you) grew up listening to and wanting to emulate. In fact the one song we always get an ovation on – believe it or not – is “Hotel California”.





Rod Martinez was born and raised in Tampa, Florida and was attracted to words at an early age. His first book The Boy Who Liked To Read was created in grade school.  His teacher kept it. Eventually he discovered comic books, but his high school English teacher told him to try short story writing. He wrote middle grade adventure The Juniors that was picked up by a publisher, and the rest, as they say, is history.      Visit his website by clicking here.

Share this:

4 comments on ““Born With It” — a story by Rod Martinez”

  1. I can see why this story stuck in your mind, to be recalled for later publication. It speaks of the stuff of history and heritage that creates us and follows us through our lifetime.

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

The Modern Jazz Quintet by Everett Spruill
A Collection of Jazz Poetry — Summer, 2023 Edition

A wide range of topics are found in this collection. Tributes are paid to Tony Bennett and Ahmad Jamal and to the abstract worlds of musicians like Ornette Coleman and Pharoah Sanders; the complex lives of Chet Baker and Nina Simone are considered; devotions to Ellington and Basie are revealed; and personal solace is found in the music of Tommy Flanagan and Quartet West. These are poems of peace, reflection, time, venue and humor – all with jazz at their core. (Featuring the art of Everett Spruill)

The Sunday Poem

photo via Wallpaper Flare
“Dink’s Blues and drum fills,” by Joel Glickman


photo courtesy of Henry Threadgill
Interview with Brent Hayes Edwards, co-author (with Henry Threadgill) of Easily Slip Into Another World: A Life in Music...The author discusses his work co-written with Threadgill, the composer and multi-instrumentalist widely recognized as one of the most original and innovative voices in contemporary music, and the winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

In Memoriam

Fotograaf Onbekend / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
A thought or two about Tony Bennett


"BG Boogie’s musical tour of indictment season"...The podcaster “BG Boogie” has weaponized the most recent drama facing The Former Guy, creating a 30 minute playlist “with all the latest up-to-date-est musical indictments of political ineptitude.”


Chick Webb/photographer unknown
Interview with Stephanie Stein Crease, author of Rhythm Man: Chick Webb and the Beat That Changed America...The author talks about her book and Chick Webb, once at the center of America’s popular music, and among the most influential musicians in jazz history.


FOTO:FORTEPAN / Kölcsey Ferenc Dunakeszi Városi Könyvtár / Petanovics fényképek, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
.“Community Bookshelf, #1"...a twice-yearly space where writers who have been published on Jerry Jazz Musician can share news about their recently authored books. This edition includes information about books published within the last six months or so…

Short Fiction

photo vi Wallpaper Flare
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #63 — “Company” by Anastasia Jill...Twenty-year-old Priscilla Habel lives with her wannabe flapper mother who remains stuck in the jazz age 40 years later. Life is monotonous and sad until Cil meets Willie Flasterstain, a beatnik lesbian who offers an escape from her mother's ever-imposing shadow.


Trading Fours, with Douglas Cole, No. 16: “Little Waltz” and “Summertime”...Trading Fours with Douglas Cole is an occasional series of the writer’s poetic interpretations of jazz recordings and film. In this edition, he connects the recordings of Jessica Williams' "Little Waltz" and Gene Harris' "Summertime."


photo by Bob Hecht
This 28-song Spotify playlist, curated by Jerry Jazz Musician contributing writer Bob Hecht, features great tunes performed by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Lester Young, Stan Getz, and…well, you get the idea.


photo of Wolfman Jack via Wikimedia Commons
“Wolfman and The Righteous Brothers” – a poem by John Briscoe

Jazz History Quiz #167

GuardianH, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Before becoming one of television’s biggest stars, he was a competent ragtime and jazz piano player greatly influenced by Scott Joplin (pictured), and employed a band of New Orleans musicians similar to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band to play during his vaudeville revue. Who was he?

Short Fiction

photo via PIXNIO/CC0
“The Sound Barrier” – a short story by Bex Hansen


"Horn" by Samuel Dixon
Jazz Haiku – a sampler

Short Fiction

back cover of Diana Krall's album "The Girl in the Other Room" [Verve]
“Improvised: A life in 7ths, 9ths and Suspended 4ths” – a short story by Vikki C.


photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Long regarded as jazz music’s most eminent baritone saxophonist, Gerry Mulligan was a central figure in “cool” jazz whose contributions to it also included his important work as a composer and arranger. Noted jazz scholar Alyn Shipton, author of The Gerry Mulligan 1950s Quartets, and Jerry Jazz Musician contributing writer Bob Hecht discuss Mulligan’s unique contributions to modern jazz.


photo by Giovanni Piesco
Giovanni Piesco’s photographs of Tristan Honsinger

A Letter From the Publisher

An appeal for contributions to support the ongoing publishing efforts of Jerry Jazz Musician


Maurice Mickle considers jazz venues, in two poems

In Memoriam

David Becker, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
“Tony Bennett, In Memoriam” – a poem by Erren Kelly


IISG, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Ella Fitzgerald, in poems by Claire Andreani and Michael L. Newell

Book Excerpt

“Chick” Webb was one of the first virtuoso drummers in jazz and an innovative bandleader dubbed the “Savoy King,” who reigned at Harlem’s world-famous Savoy Ballroom. Stephanie Stein Crease is the first to fully tell Webb’s story in her biography, Rhythm Man: Chick Webb and the Beat that Changed America…The book’s entire introduction is excerpted here.


Hans Christian Hagedorn, professor for German and Comparative Literature at the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Ciudad Real (Spain) reveals the remarkable presence of Miguel de Cervantes’ classic Don Quixote in the history of jazz.

Short Fiction

Dmitry Rozhkov, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
“A Skull on the Moscow Leningrad Sleeper” – a short story by Robert Kibble...A story revolving around a jazz record which means so much to a couple that they risk being discovered while attempting to escape the Soviet Union

Book Excerpt

Book excerpt from Easily Slip Into Another World: A Life in Music, by Henry Threadgill and Brent Hayes Edwards

Short Fiction

photo via Appletreeauction.com
“Streamline Moderne” – a short story by Amadea Tanner

Publisher’s Notes

“C’est Si Bon” – at trip's end, a D-Day experience, and an abundance of gratitude


photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
A Charlie Parker Poetry Collection...Nine poets, nine poems on the leading figure in the development of bebop…

Contributing Writers

Click the image to view the writers, poets and artists whose work has been published on Jerry Jazz Musician, and find links to their work


Photo of Stanley Crouch by Michael Jackson
Interview with Glenn Mott, editor of Victory is Assured: The Uncollected Writings of Stanley Crouch (photo of Stanley Crouch by Michael Jackson)


photo of Sonny Rollins by Brian McMillen
Interview with Aidan Levy, author of Saxophone Colossus: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins...The author discusses his book about the iconic tenor saxophonist who is one of the greatest jazz improvisers of all time – a lasting link to the golden age of jazz


Designed for Dancing: How Midcentury Records Taught America to Dance: “Outtakes” — Vol. 2...In this edition, the authors Janet Borgerson and Jonathan Schroeder share examples of Cha Cha Cha record album covers that didn't make the final cut in their book

Pressed for All Time

“Pressed For All Time,” Vol. 17 — producer Joel Dorn on Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s 1967 album, The Inflated Tear


© Veryl Oakland
John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana are featured in this edition of photographs and stories from Veryl Oakland’s book, Jazz in Available Light

Coming Soon

An interview with Judith Tick, author of Becoming Ella Fitzgerald: The Jazz Singer Who Transformed American Song; A new collection of jazz poetry; a new Jazz History Quiz; short fiction; poetry; photography; interviews; playlists; and lots more in the works...

Interview Archive

Eubie Blake
Click to view the complete 22 year archive of Jerry Jazz Musician interviews, including those recently published with Richard Carlin and Ken Bloom on Eubie Blake (pictured); Richard Brent Turner on jazz and Islam; Alyn Shipton on the art of jazz; Shawn Levy on the original queens of standup comedy; Travis Atria on the expatriate trumpeter Arthur Briggs; Kitt Shapiro on her life with her mother, Eartha Kitt; Will Friedwald on Nat King Cole; Wayne Enstice on the drummer Dottie Dodgion; the drummer Joe La Barbera on Bill Evans; Philip Clark on Dave Brubeck; Nicholas Buccola on James Baldwin and William F. Buckley; Ricky Riccardi on Louis Armstrong; Dan Morgenstern and Christian Sands on Erroll Garner; Maria Golia on Ornette Coleman.

Site Archive