Tribute to Pat Martino
Updated: Nov 9, 2021
November 1, 2021: I just saw the sad news that the great jazz guitarist Pat Martino has died.
Can't say the news was unexpected, he'd been on oxygen 24/7 and unable to tour or even play the last 3 years. Still, it's another loss of a major influence and inspiration in my own life and guitar playing, and yet another harbinger of my own mortality.
The older I get the more this happens and the luckier I am - I think.
Still, I was kind of half-way expecting and hoping for an Act 3: a miraculous recovery, score a new record deal and go back out on the road; it wouldn't have been the first time.
For those not familiar:
Pat Martino was a jazz guitarist from Philadelphia who hit in the sixties playing mostly in Hammond B3 groups and became very influential through the seventies. I discovered him in 1976 and still possess, and listen to, many of his ‘70s-era records on vinyl. He had his own unique style; he didn't sound like anyone else. He was active in a traditional jazz format, playing standards, but also composed his own stuff and was one of the first "traditional" jazz guitarists to experiment with guitar synthesizers and jazz/rock fusion back in the seventies.
He had an idiosyncratic and very guitar-centric method for the application of music theory to the guitar. In the early eighties I listened to a teaching course he produced on cassette in the late 70s. His approach was exactly backwards to what I had been taught, but got to the same place.
Around 1980 (at about age 36) he disappeared. I remember thinking, "Whatever happened to Pat Martino?"
I heard rumors that he had a brain tumor and died, that he'd had a stroke, and so on. "Wow" I thought, "That's too bad. Right up there with other jazz guitar geniuses who died young like Wes Montgomery and Charlie Christian."
Well, it turns out he didn't die; he had an arteriovenous malformation in his brain that caused a near-fatal seizure in 1980. He had several brain surgeries that saved his life but left him with total amnesia and no recollection or knowledge of his career or how to play the very instrument that had made him successful.
Martino says he came out of surgery with complete forgetfulness, learning to focus on the present instead of the past or what may lie ahead. He relearned how to play the guitar from scratch. He taught himself to play a second time in part by listening to his own records!
There is a documentary about all this called, Pat Martino - Unstrung. It’s fascinating; check it out.
In 1987 a recording came out of Pat playing live in a club in Philadelphia. It was called "The Return." He didn't sound any different than before. It was the same unique Pat Martino style. As his brain surgeon said, "How many people get the chance to be a genius twice in one lifetime?"
Then, for the next few years...nothing.
His comeback was put on hold because he prioritized caring for his ailing parents.
In 1994, after the death of his parents, Interchange was released. From '94 - '98 there were 6 albums. Pat Martino was back!
2001 saw the release of Live at Yoshi's. With Hammond Organist Joey DeFrancesco, Live at Yoshi's was the #1 Jazz Album of the year and nominated for a Grammy. I loved it!
In 2011, he published an autobiography called, Here and Now! It's a good read, if you're interested. He goes into great detail about his surgery, amnesia and recovery.
Since November of 2018 he had been confined at home with a chronic respiratory disorder after coming down with pneumonia upon completion of a tour in Italy.
Pat Martino is one of the most significant influences on the way I play. When I first started to try and figure out how to play jazz back in the seventies I emulated his long, angular single-note phrasing when soloing. I listened incessantly to his records, trying to figure out his “stuff.”