There is an adage that suggests some people “march to the beat of their own drum.”
John Martin dances to the tune of his own trombone.
Well, so to speak.
His is not really a horn. And his dancing — well, that too may be a misnomer.
His nickname, however, is entirely appropriate.
A Florida graduate, ex-commercial fisherman, former Hawthorne mayor and Gators-fan extraordinaire, the 52-year-old Martin is best known as Trombone Man.
Often playing to a packed O’Connell Center crowd, his stage is a small platform adjacent to his seat. His cue, of course, is the basketball game’s “under eight-minute timeout,” when the band strikes up Florida fans’ favorite Paul Simon tune.
With a twirl of his orange hanky — it’s show time!
The orange and blue colored cloth suddenly becomes a trombone and its Gators-clad owner transforms into something equally mystifying, entertaining, odd or hilarious — depending on one’s perspective.
Nailing the notes with precision that would make Chevy Chase jealous, Martin performs his song to the delight of fans and bewilderment of first-time spectators.
To determine how this metamorphosis occurs, Gator Country sent its best investigative journalist — me — to sit down with the one and only, Trombone Man.
Brent Mechler: OK, when and how do you start this schtick?
John Martin: I’ve been sitting in those seats since the O’Connell Center was built, so I have been going since I was a kid. I would see the students cheering in some fashion and look at what I called the “rickety reptiles” just sitting there. So I started cheering. I’ve always been a little bit of a showboat. It began by me “leading” the band — kind of like a conductor. Back a decade or so ago they began playing that “You Can Call Me Al.” One day I brought a bandana — just to wave it, I suppose. Well, I played the trombone with it, and it just kind of took a life of its own. That’s how it started. Then they put the Jumbotron up in the O’Connell Center and started showing me on it, and it really took off. For some reason they don’t do that anymore. I’m not really sure why.
BM: You seem to hit every single note. Your timing appears flawless. Be honest, do you practice at home?
JM: You mean like shadowboxing in the mirror? No, really I haven’t. I guess I have just done it so much now, and I am passionate about it, that it just comes second nature to me.
BM: The dance moves you perform in between your horn solo — what is that?
JM: Basically, I am just being a whacky conductor of the band — leading the band, so to speak. I just started moving and shaking and people seemed to like it. I like it. It’s my own kind of aerobics, I suppose. But it’s designed to be a conductor.
BM: You seem to be “playing a trombone.” I am not sure if you have ever watched the song’s video, but in it Chevy Chase plays a trumpet. Who has it right, you or Chevy?
JM: I saw that. I have to give myself props on that. I think the trombone is the real deal and people respond to that better. It is a more animated instrument. And “Trombone Man” sounds a lot better than “Trumpet Man.”
BM: Do you have a singular performance that really stands out in your mind — one you are particularly proud of?
JM: When we beat Alabama and secured the SEC title, Albert came up for the first time and did it with me. He has been doing it every so often since, but that first time was really special. That stands out to me.
BM: Have you ever pulled an “Axl Rose” and refused to perform — maybe not feeling well or simply not being in the right mood?
JM: Absolutely not! I have performed even after I had knee surgery and was in a little bit of pain. I figure, if the players can play with pain — so can I. I absolutely live by the “All kinds of weather” saying. So rain or shine, I’m gonna be playing. I always hope that we are either winning or have a good chance because that really brings out the fans. A few times I have performed when there was not a lot to celebrate, but those times are few and far between in the O-Dome.
BM: Are you universally recognized, or just in the O’Connell Center?
JM: I would say I am universally recognized — well, at least in Gainesville. I have a lot of students come up to me, even on the road, to have a picture taken or an autograph. I never know what really to write. I have a pretty good following on Facebook and Twitter. Last year, I was a bit late to a game and was told by the usher that two Kentucky fans were looking for me, because they wanted to meet me. They found me later and told me I was the greatest basketball fan in the SEC and just wanted to shake my hand. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do love the Gators and the SEC. But especially the Gators.
BM: What exactly is your faux-trombone, and have you ever washed it?
JM: That is actually my second one, and I have washed — not too often though. It is basically a Gator bandana. The reason it is my second one is that I also take it to football games. Mr. Two Bits sits behind me at the football games. At his final game when he retired, he autographed my original bandana. So I retired that one. I take a lot of inspiration from him. I am not trying to be the next Mr. Two bits, because that is not possible. I just want to be someone who loves life, loves the Gators and wants to spread some joy.
BM: Do you ever get concerned that your performance is overshadowing that of the Dazzlers?
JM: I don’t think there is a whole lot of chance in that! In fact, one of the honors I had was being presented with a signed poster of all of them and being asked to perform with them at halftime. I put together a group of guys called the “Gator Boys,” and they taught us a little routine. We have not been called back into service, so I guess we didn’t outshine anyone.
BM: Do you have any friends or family members still willing to sit with you at games, or have you embarrassed everyone away?
JM: That’s a good question! The seats are so good that I think they would come no matter what. I have not had anyone refuse yet, but I think it has more to do with how good the seats are than my performance.
BM: Are you in the prime years of faux-tromboning or is retirement on the horizon?
JM: I don’t plan on retiring. As a matter of fact, my only concern is how the O-Dome remodeling may affect me. But my goal is to keep playing and dancing, even if I have to do it in a wheelchair. I will spin around on the platform up there.
So, shelve the banner…err, bandana-raising ceremony!
Trombone Man plays on!