Learning how to play jazz guitar is difficult at best. Studying the instrument, the music, and putting it into a context for your living experiences, generally is a life long pursuit.

Pat at Yoshi's

Spending 23 years of his life learning about this instrument and the music was the focus for Pat Martino. A devastating brain aneurysm took that lifestyle away for several years. In 1980, Martino underwent brain surgery to have the aneurysm, an excessive localized enlargement of an artery, removed. The removal of the aneurysm, which saved his life, removed his memory of how to play the guitar.

A temporary paralysis of the mind is a typical outcome for many people experiencing this kind of operation.

For most professional jazz musicians, to lose the ability to make their music is as close to living a walking death as there is. Undergoing any operation always brings with it the potential of not recovering.

Surviving surgery, however, brings forth its own set of unforeseen problems. Even when the surgeon warns the patient of some of the recovery and rehabilitation possibilities, no one person can prepare another person for the actual pain and suffering of relearning how to live.

Basic physical functions: like how to bend your thumb or fingers, how to tie your shoe, how, simply to take a shower, become daily puzzles requiring an energy and problem- solving skill heretofore never imagined by the person in recovery.

Laying a few of these obstacles before you is necessary in order for you to understand the absolutely remarkable story of Pat Martino's courage, resolve, and living testimonial of how strong the human spirit is when it is harmonious with the rest of its world.

- The Early Years -

Philadelphia has been home to some of the giants in jazz. People like Stan Getz, Benny Golson, Buddy Greco, the Heath brothers, Charlie Ventura, Specs Wright, Red Rodney, Luckey Roberts, Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy De Preist, Billy Bean and Adolph and Dennis Sandole, among many others, all grew up in Philly.

In 1944, Pat Martino entered Philadelphia into a Roman Catholic family. His father had been a singer and played guitar. By the time Pat was 13, he was studying guitar with the late (see Jan, 2001 tcg) guitar giant, Dennis Sandole.

"To be honest with you, I studied Dennis more as a person than I did study his approach to music. I never really understood how to make use of his music information. It dealt a great deal with scales and with modes. Since I was self-taught, I spent just four months with Dennis before leaving for Harlem at the age of 15. What I do is totally different than what Dennis taught."

Teenager Pat moved to Harlem in New York City in order to learn the music of jazz from some of its creators.

Imagine a white kid going to Harlem in 1960, to live among people he didn't know. Yet, here he was embraced and protected by the people from whom he had come to learn. "Racially, there were no problems. In Harlem, jazz was one of the cultural priorities at that time. Therefore, whoever came into that area of activity was accepted immediately.

"Jazz was seen as a form of sophisticated improvisation, no matter what it was applied to. I think that had a great deal to do with my own personal definition of what jazz meant. I think my Mom and Dad were aware of that, in a general way. They saw that as an amplification that was turning into a greater evolution of what they really wanted in me.

"They wanted a sensitive person. They wanted someone who was creative."

While this was a type of education that he would have been unable to receive in a typical educational setting, it isolated him in many ways from the rest of society.

"Not until later on did I find an interest in other people, other than black people. It wasn't until the late '60s that I began performing with other Caucasian musicians," he laughed.

"At my age, at 15, being very small in structure and weight, people were very concerned. They were very amused that a youngster of this capacity would have the nerve to come in and try to put roots there. I was absorbed into the culture.

"They were very protective of me and referred to me as The Kid. I was there until the mid-'60s." How did a 15-year-old support himself? Easy-if you have the talent. He worked with musicians like Willis Jackson, Don Patterson, Billy James, Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons, and Lloyd Price.

In 1963, he made his recording debut with Willis Jackson. During the remainder of the '60s, he worked in several organ combos, including Brother Jack McDuff and Richard Groove Holmes.

Philadelphia beckoned him home in 1966. From that point on, he led his own groups. Such illustrious jazz musicians who worked in his groups included people like Cedar Walton, Billy Higgins, Richard Davis, and Gil Goldstein.

- Early Recordings -

During the late '60s and the decade of the '70s, Pat worked and recorded in a variety of settings. Always studious and curious about people and their environments, he became intrigued with Eastern music. Sounds from India enveloped him.

His recordings on the Prestige label (see Discography) began receiving critical attention. He was being written and talked about. His music was being heard on the radio. He was touring. Life was good for Pat Martino.

- Headaches -

Toward the end of 1979, his vision blurred. Headaches became commonplace. What was happening? The decision was made for him to have brain surgery. In 1980, the aneurysm was removed.

- On the Road Again -

Willie Nelson may have given new life to the phrase, On the Road Again, with his hit song of some years back, but Pat Martino engineered a spirit and determination expressed by only a few people in the course of humanity.

From the time people begin learning, experiences become implanted in their souls. These manifest themselves like a spiral from which ideas pop up at various times throughout one's lifetime.

This type of experience is very similar to theosophy, which, paraphrasing Webster's, 'is the various forms of philosophical or religious thought that claims mystical insight into the divine nature.'

"The only difference is, musically, it is idiomatic." With Pat's history of studying people, their cultures and spiritual centers, it is not surprising that he would be attracted to a woman who also centers herself in spirituality. Theosophy is a philosophy reaching to achieve a knowledge of God through special individual relationships, while seeking a universal fellowship, heavily flavored by Hindu, Buddhist and Zen teachings, but also by all other religions.

Complicated by definition, perhaps, achieving the optimum spirit of this thinking may well be summed up by Western religious teaching of The Golden Rule: Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You. Treat one another with respect. Such an easy concept. So difficult for most people to grasp and act out.

Not so for Pat Martino.

- A Spirit Evolving -

He began this process while still in his teens. "Curiosity, more than anything," created this awareness. "I was born and raised as a Roman Catholic. My interest began to spread, globally, in terms of different cultures and religions. Eventually, it turned into theosophy, which is the study of all religions.

"In that context, it allowed me to be free of mind and to consider different opinions with regards to perception itself. There was a great deal of sensitivity that was amplified due to that process. I was more interested in many things surrounding the creative act of music-in terms of that particular language. Not specifically as a musician, even to this day, I am pretty far away from being a craftsman as a musician as a career.

"My interest has always been, in seeing whatever the instrument may be, whether it's a guitar or a ballpoint pen, whatever. I find it necessary to be just as creative with whatever tool I am using.

"The music business itself, can also be seen as a tool for other reasons. It depends upon what the nexus (bond or tie) is eventually going to become for any individual. When that becomes consciously sought, it becomes a reference point, which meets all points."

It was this ingestion of his beliefs that provided a context for his rehabilitation to proceed. Muscles have memories. Conscious thought may have been erased, but the years he spent practicing was still a part of his experience and unconscious memory.

And sometimes those "forgotten" experiences emerge unexpectedly. For example, a fragment of a song he wrote years ago appeared, almost at its own will, while Pat was in concert.

"It seems to be sequential. Even more than that, it seems to be seasonal. There seems to be an amplification of certain things that have happened with long periods of time in between them happening with a repetitive entrance and exit at certain moments.

Something he wrote for one type of music years ago now occasionally drifts into his playing today. "A good example was for an album called Baiyina in 1968. I never wrote again that way. Of course, part of me saw that and considered that to be a loss of interest in that type of music: exotic forms of approach, such as systems from India.

"In 1974 came Starbright. There were cuts on that album that were along the same lines, with exotic rhythms and timings. I had no intentions of doing it for that purpose. It just seemed to reemerge when least expected.

"I think for that to continue in my life, it has forced me to keep an open mind and not to cling to anything with regards to its value... even if it's marketing.

"That has been one of the things that's been very difficult for me in my career. To keep a broad sense of perception in tact. No matter what the elements are to surface that surround that perception, it remains to be open for other opinions and other possibilities."

- The Blindfold Test -

The great jazz historian, Leonard Feather, started a test in Down Beat magazine called The Blindfold Test. For this test, he asked a musician to identify and rate recordings done by various other musicians. Leonard gave star ratings to recordings, with a 1 valued as don't waste your money to a 5 valued as a must-have in your collection.

When he asked Pat Martino to participate as one who would take the test, Pat agreed, but only under the following conditions. "I mentioned to Leonard that I really couldn't be critical of any of the things he was playing. Either I give them all five stars or I give none of them any stars at all. He agreed to run it that way. I was either the first artist or one of the few who would not give a judgmental rating on any of the records played."

- The National Association for Music Therapy -

The National Association for Music Therapy and the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS) awarded Pat the 1997 recipient of the Songs from the Heart Presidential Award.

'This award recognizes artists whose music captures the soul and spirit of music therapy, and the poignancy of music in our lives. The 1997 Award pays tribute to the power of your music and the dramatic impact it has had on your life.' From the letter to Pat from Executive Director Andrea H. Farbman, EdD.

"When I reactivated my interest, in terms of interaction socially in terms of the arts, it became of interest in terms of my own capacity and the degree of motion that was beginning to take place at that time and wanting to know more about this. I wanted to know how therapy was helpful for me after an event of total loss of memory.

"As well as relearning from scratch how to play all over again. I think the Society's contacted me for that reason. They wanted to find out more about me, which eventually turned out by my winning their award: The Song of the Heart Award."

- Making Pat's Heart Sing: Ayako Asahi -

They met in Tokyo at the On-Air East concert theater in 1995.

"I was signing autographs and I saw her the following day at a seminar. I came back to the States and we began to correspond. A year later, she came to the United States and she's never gone back.

"My wife, Ayako Asahi, is from Japan and is primarily a Buddhist. She is extremely Zen-oriented. In that context, she always needs change. In that way, she and I are very much alike.

"When I say the word 'generally,' I do so to protect her privacy. I don't want to know exactly how she looks at things. I want her to tell me when she feels it is necessary to do so."

Is she a lucky lady! To which he laughed.

- Full Circle -

Hammond B3 organ maven Joey DeFrancesco is another Pennsylvania native, coming from Springfield, while drummer Billy Hart, originates from Washington, DC. Together with Pat, they have been working across the United States. "We performed at the Iridium in NYC. I called Joey and asked him if he's like to join the trio. I had been using Larry Goldings on the organ prior to that. Larry was in Europe when this engagement at the Iridium came up so I asked Joey.

"I called Billy to see if he would like to go out on tour with me. The last time we had done a recording together was in 1975."

Working with organ players was typical for the early Pat Martino. He has never lost his love for the configuration of guitar, organ, and drums. This past December, he, Joey, and Billy thrilled audiences fortunate enough to attend Yoshi's Supper Club in Oakland.

Happily, Blue Note recorded these performances and will be releasing this new CD sometime in early to mid-2001. All of the songs played were original songs of Pat's. Right now, the title will probably be Live at Yoshi's, The Pat Martino Trio featuring Joey DeFrancesco and Billy Hart.

Watch for notice of this release at www.patmartino.com Website, as well as at your favorite record store.

- The Courage To Be -

Theologian and philosopher, Paul Tillich, wrote a marvelous book called The Courage to Be. It was not a book so much about religion as it was discovering how to live. It is well worth reading and rereading.

I had not thought of that book in a long time. My telephone conversation with Pat Martino, however, reminded me of the book. Pat is really the essence of Tillich's content.

Living takes courage. To restart the process in the throes of young adulthood requires resources straight from the heart and soul. Add a major scoop of talent into the mix, a splash of humor, and a blend of humility and intelligence and you can paint your own picture with but one resulting image:  Pat Martino.


This article was written by Jude Hibler.  It originally appeared in the February 2001 issue of  20th Century Guitar magazine.  Thanks to both Jude and TCG for their permission to reprint this article on our website!