Pat Martino: From The Inside Out

by Jim LaDiana

September 2002



"The guitar is like a key to a room, to a specific room in the house."
-Pat Martino

Close your eyes. Rest. Weary from travel you lay back onto a dense patch of grass, feeling the cool against your back, the warm sun upon your face. The scent of pine and a whispering breeze beckons. Breathe easy. In the midst of this splendor, somewhere off in the distance, you hear a voice faintly calling your name. You disregard it as the overwhelming placidity compels you to remain and enjoy. Again your name repeats, closer now. Still, you continue to hold onto this time, this place, this moment. The voice is now shouting your name. It can no longer be ignored. Abruptly, your eyes open revealing the truth…your reality. Suppose, at that instant, you were sharing a brief glimpse into an episode of reality experienced by jazz guitarist Pat Martino.

You suddenly find yourself, as Martino did, standing on a stage looking out onto a vast ocean of spectators while the band continues to churn out an intense fusion groove. You then realize that you had blacked out during the middle of a performance.

The aforementioned period of solitude, perhaps a ‘mental aura’, is only speculation as to what the guitarist may have been experiencing during his convulsive brain activity. However, in 1976, while performing with his group Joyous Lake at the prestigious Riviera Jazz concert outside of Marseilles, France, Martino did in fact experience a seizure. For 30 seconds, in front of nearly 300,000 people, the guitarist was mentally propelled into a void - an immediate disconnection of reality.

This is only one of the many uncommon circumstances this self-made jazz icon has faced during his lifetime. Driven by an insatiable appetite for the truth, it is the people he encounters and participates with during his human condition that nurtures his creative soul. To that end this musical servant continues to present his own self to all of those who will listen.

Pat Martino is a living jazz legend. A master of the guitar, his playing is without peer. His impeccable execution, precision, and distinctive tone is not unlike a melodic velvet rollercoaster. Although he wields his instrument effortlessly above, below and through any musical destination in his path, the tool of his craft is merely a simple mechanism he uses to transform his inner sonic messages into audible, captivating and fleeting colors of melody and harmony.

Frustrated early on with the accepted methods of guitar study, he reached inside and made allies with the truth seeking, creative forces within. Having further developed an already unique playing style, by the ‘70s, the guitarist’s musical sensibility and brazen attack had laid waste to much of what was happening in the world of jazz guitar at that time.

Growing up in Philadelphia during the ’50s, the young budding guitarist became immersed in the beginnings of the rock & roll idiom. As many others were jumping onto the rock bandwagon, he felt there was something else more meaningful than the music itself, something deeper.

Bent on seeking the truth and the origins of his life force itself, at age fifteen, with his parent’s blessing, he left his hometown of Philadelphia and moved to a locale where the language of jazz was accepted and spoken freely – Harlem in New York City. Once there he began to seek out and learn the soulful side of jazz. Small in stature, big in talent, the youngster was befriended by many. Soon, he began to eat, live and create with his newfound family of friends. With only minimal guitar instruction, this disciple of the guitar began to hone his craft playing with many of the genre’s greatest proponents.

In 1963 he made his first recording with saxophone player Willis Jackson*. This record became a sort of musical introduction, as soon after, the young virtuoso began working with much of the popular local talent. In a few years he had established himself as a major instrumental force through his work with other prominent players such as Gene Ammons, Lloyd Price, Don Patterson, Billy James and Sonny Stitt.

Additionally, the infectious sound of the organ-based groups had always been appealing to Martino. While living in the music melting pot, the guitarist dove into the deep end and began to play and musically experiment with jazz organ pioneers like Brother Jack McDuff , Richard Groove Holmes, Jimmy Heath and Woody Herman.

Returning to Philly in ’66, he assumed the role of bandleader with groups featuring Billy Higgins, Gil Goldstein and Richard Davis. Although many fine, groundbreaking albums would follow, Martino became musically frustrated with the present state of the guitar.

For almost 25 years he had lived music. Much more than an instrument, the guitar literally became an appendage – an extension of his creative life force. Martino was unsatisfied with the state of guitar instructional methods at the time. Wanting to advance the guitar, he began to delve deeper into the mechanics of the instrument by breaking down the traditional thinking pertaining to it. By combining his innate musical abilities, spiritual essence and a burning passion to reach the core of the power that enveloped him, at long last, Martino found the truth.

Being hailed as one of the finest jazz guitarists in the world during the ‘70s, Martino was riding the crest of a celebrated wave often missed by many jazz musicians. During this period, in contrast to the immense creative force he was experiencing, the guitarist was battling an equally powerful disabling condition. Bouts of intense headaches without forewarning became common. By 1979 vision disturbances had also become an issue. His condition continued to worsen. In 1980 tests revealed the worst.

An aneurysm, the abnormal enlargement of a blood vessel wall, was discovered in his brain. The immediate decision to operate was made only hours before a possible rupture. Martino underwent brain surgery to have it removed. Thankfully so, as of the 25,000-30,000 cases of ruptured aneurysms that occur in the US each year, about 40% of the people suffering bleeding from aneurysms die within the first month.

The road to recovery was not an easy one. Suffering from amnesia as a result of the surgery nearly affected every aspect of his life, including family, and friends. His music and the guitar had been erased. He had dedicated nearly a quarter century of his life to the guitar and had added his incredible guitar prowess to numerous recordings. His own classic albums: Desperado, El Hombre, Consciousness, Strings! and astonishing live performances had already established him in the jazz world as one of its greatest proponents. Nevertheless, his past was irrelevant. His future would now be determined by the way he would handle the present by overcoming amnesia.

Consequently, Martino was cast into a dark well of procrastination and indecision. For several years he remained musically dormant. Finally, he made the decision to revisit his past. During the early ‘80s, as part of his rehabilitation, he began his slow musical rebirth with the assistance of the computer. This activity, combined with another earlier interest, calligraphy, together coaxed familiar feelings into his fingers and sounds from his soul.

Finally, in 1987 he released The Return, featuring Steve LaSpina on bass and Joey Baron on drums. This was the guitarists’ first jazz recording since undergoing brain surgery in 1980. Although a monumental effort, the excitement over the release was was temporary. Sadly, soon after the albums release, his parents fell ill. As a result, Martino returned to even more personal recovery and discovery. He reestablished himself once again in 1994 with the release of two albums: Interchange and The Maker. This confident, triumphant comeback announced to the jazz world that indeed “the kid” was back.

With a career spanning over 40 years, this musical servant has graced over 20 labels including; Columbia, Milestone, Atlantic, Vanguard and Prestige. Besides playing on 56 albums with various artists, he has recorded 21 albums as a leader.

On January 4, 2002, he received 2,992 Grammy nominations for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Live at Yoshi’s and Best Jazz Instrumental Solo – “All Blues” from Live at Yoshi’s. On the evening of April 22, 2002, at the historic Lowes Ballroom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a musical milestone transpired. Bruce Lundvall, the president of Blue Note Records, presented the National Association of Records and Sciences (NARAS), prestigious “Heroes Award” to Jazz guitarist Pat Martino.

It was during the ‘70s when I began to feel that jazz guitar was becoming very important to me. Until then my guitar playing involved playing mostly rock-oriented music. Wes Montgomery, George Benson and others had caught my total attention. A clean, succinct, pure and honest sound, I could hear the player speak via his guitar. Such distinct musical voices were new to me at that time and they opened my ears and mind to a wealth of talent, musical interpretation and soul.

I remember hearing a fade-out of a guitar solo one day over my car’s radio. I immediately became focused on a bold guitar sound. The immense tone and controlled attack through the feeble speakers was like a bull bursting from a paper bag. I pulled over, trying to absorb the remaining notes with less interruption and if possible, with more clarity. Who was it? It isn’t Wes. It’s not Benson. As the final notes dissolved into the air I anxiously sat, waiting for the show’s host to announce the artist’s name. It was Pat Martino. Pat Martino? Yes, I had heard of him or perhaps read about him. However, this was my first auditory exposure to his playing.

I then drove to a local record store to find Martino. Once there, I found one of the recordings that would, for me, establish my own personal guitar standard: Joyous Lake, an album Martino recorded in the late ‘70s, during the throngs of fusion. A black and white photo of his face dominated the album jacket front. His vivid gaze acting as a precursor to the intense performances within - I could hardly wait to listen.

As the music began to emanate from my home stereo I quickly became immersed in a body of fluid tone and instrumental command. The huge sound of Martino’s guitar was so poignant and so full of life that it just knocked me out. As the music entered my consciousness, many things changed. I began to encounter a sense of musical stimulation entirely new to me. One note made a statement. Each phrase told a story. Every song was an experience. I was floored! Recorded in 1979, Joyous Lake remains one of my lifetime favorite recordings.

Born Pat Azzara in 1944, unlike other children with siblings, being an only child compelled him to focus solely upon a powerful interaction the majority of the time. It became evident early on that the youngster’s intention was to participate more with the adults around him. He was also born on the same day as his grandmother. As a result, a very strong bond was created between them. The innate desire of a very special grandson to discover the source of this affinity set the groundwork of his life’s passion. His parents would take him to his grandmother’s where the entire family was organized to celebrate her birthday. Pat was left out in a sense that his birthday came the following day, privately celebrated with his parents.

“I became closer to my grandmother because of that. And I think in the same way in terms of intention, my intention was to get closer to the core of what was seemingly more powerful than what I initially thought it might have been. I wanted to get to the core of the power that I was experiencing in life…and still do.”

There were only a few musical forces present during his childhood. It seemed his early relationship with music and the guitar may have merely provided the important components required for his ongoing search for truth. Besides his father’s guitar playing and singing there was only one other family musical influence; a cousin on his father’s side who played the guitar. This sole relative may have provided the impetus of Martino’s musical career.

“Around the time when I wanted to start playing guitar, before that came into fruition, my father gave a hand to help my cousin; Joey Azzara, find some teachers. Maybe it was envy that most kids go through in terms of wanting their father to pay more attention to them as opposed to their cousin, especially with the instrument we both had chosen. I think it had something to do with that as it seemed to really ignite my need to play as much as possible.”

During the initial stages of rock&roll in the ‘50s, there was a great deal of musical activity happening in Philadelphia. Martino formed a band with a few friends, one of whom was singer Bobby Rydell. Even in his earliest performances, the guitarist strove for perfection. In fact, the band took second place while competing on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour.

Later, for a period of five or six months, in the midst of age 14, Martino began studies with a popular local guitarist and teacher named Dennis Sandole. Unlike a normal student-teacher relationship, theirs was more an association. Not totally ready to accept Sandole’s method, the youngster began exhibiting his inherent need to examine the internal makeup of people.

“I really didn’t study with him. I studied Dennis himself. I didn’t quite understand or commit myself to what he was teaching. I was more of an apprentice with regards to the aesthetics that surrounded him as an individual, as an artist.”

For several years the young guitarist had become very intrigued with the music created by many black jazz musicians, as there was an element missing in the jazz he had been listening to and playing…soul. By 1960 he knew what he had to do. With the love and support of his parents, he moved from his home in Philadelphia to Harlem in New York City.

The unforgiving streets of the inner city may have been enough to deter many but not this 15-year-old. This place, the people and the music, the feeling of it all. This was where he should be. He was determined to uncover the truth behind what he believed jazz meant to him.

His incredible prowess on the guitar and the ability to musically interweave with seasoned players quickly put him in the spotlight. In a short time he began working with local heavyweights like Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons and Lloyd Price. However, it was during this same period when he began experiencing his initial bouts of memory loss. What remain are only pieces, fragments of an essential part of his career and his life.

“There were many friends during that period of time that are missing in terms of memory loss. I remember flashbacks of hallways sometimes. When I started working I finally had enough to stop staying with friends to get my own place. Some of the places were so brutal, in terms of the nature of the environment itself, that I used to take my hardshell guitar case and set it straight up against the wall and sit on that with my back against the wall and fall asleep. Primarily because the apartment I had, the single room that I was in was full of roaches. I remember flashbacks like that.

“I remember stopping in different places and eating with families that became friends of mine. I remember walking. I remember from 116th street right on up into the 150’s. The New York Police roped it off. There was some kind of riots going on. I remember I used to walk with my guitar and no one bothered me. That’s why they gave me a nickname as ‘the kid’.

Martino remained in NYC, off and on, for about 27 years. Unfortunately, he remembers very little from all those years. Fortunately, the intervention of friends from that period of time has helped him put together random pieces of his past.

“There were friends. Recently I came to find out several of them. One of them was Wilt Chamberlin. At that period of time he owned Small’s Paradise at 135th and 7th. Another was a local guitar player who used to come to Harlem to sit in if possible. I used to talk to Willis Jackson about him. He used to sit in as a singer. He’s now an icon when it comes to being an actor. His name is Joe Pesci.

“We’ve been close friends, which he brought to my attention, I didn’t even remember that, when he came to see me at the Blue Note in New York City. He brought to my attention that we’d been very close since the age of 17 on my behalf and 19 on his part. He reminded me of the past.”

During the ‘60s while many other guitarists like myself were playing rock-oriented music and emulating other guitarists, Martino began his dissection of the guitar. Around late ‘67 going into ’68 Martino had developed and perfected his unique understanding of the instrument. By late ’68, he had already established ideas for a publishing company that later became Kitai Music.

“I think it came from logic more than anything else. In terms of similarity regarding inventive frameworks that throughout all time had been repetitive on the part of the inventors themselves. The solid nature of their inventions, in terms of being as realistic as possible and functional, came from intuition. Not only was it intuitive but it was also repetitious with regard to similarity and simplicities.

“There is a similarity between hexagrams from the I-Ching of China and the guitar, the six strings of the guitar and all of the possible combinations of those strings. In that particular context I began to see through systematic programs that were functioning in only one culture, in one social context, in the sense of the United States. So here the instrument itself began to transcend its locality and began to become a little bit more transcendental with regards to it’s inner framework and how it functioned. Seeing it in China and then also seeing the Western series of tonalities like; a chromatic scale, similar to twelve months of the year; the diminished as well as augmented; minor thirds, the division of the chromatic scale in minor thirds.

“If the scale were circular with a 360-degree circumference from the twelfth note to the eleventh note in a circle it would be: 12, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 in circle. You then had 12 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock exactly like you do on a clock. By the same token you had North, East, South and West. By the same token you had the minor thirds of the chromatic scale: C - Eb - Gb and A.

“There are similarities built into intuitive invention with regards to systematic use. Certain systems are used in multiple ways. I began to see that logistically in terms of the way I began to perceive the guitar around the end of 1967, and by doing so the instrument just unfolded.”

The basis of change manifests itself differently in every individual, i.e. a death, a birth, getting fired, a debilitating accident, and so on. Consequently, the future is determined by decisions that are made or not made.

Sometimes, from out of nowhere, life deals us a bad hand. Unexpectedly, one card changes everything. As a result, some people accept that bad hand, giving up hope and any positive outlook for the future. Some meet the challenge head on. Others become mired in a vat of indecision and excuse.

The 30-second seizure Pat Martino experienced while performing on stage in front over a quarter million people may have been too much of a shock for many to deal with. This single event could have easily caused many professionals to question their own future. This was never a concern for the philosophical Martino.

“I think that a great number of events of that nature, in fact a great number of events in general, are extremely ironic. In as much as they are similar. They have similarities to other ways of perceiving. You have polarity. You have good and bad, you have AC-DC, you have day and night, up and down, in and out over and under, and all of these opposites…oppositions.

“I was given a bad card. Some people take it and perish it accordingly. I took it. I accepted it. Ironically, it went in progression over a long period of time, in terms of recovery, that became an elongation of boredom itself due to procrastination - the lack of the ability to make a decision. Until finally, I think the end result was the confrontation of polarity…live or die. It was polarized accordingly and I chose to live but that came literally from boredom itself. The lack of decision brought me to so much pain that it was a necessity to make a decision and do something about it.”

Every artist has a body of work that he or she considers being one of their most important achievements. In Martino’s case, it is a compilation of personal, restorative musical works recorded between 1983 and 1998. The performances on Seven Sketches perhaps contain the guitarists’ most intimate musical statement.

Following brain surgery in 1980, Martino was suddenly held in the tight, silent grip of amnesia. Gone were the memories of family, friends, recordings, concerts and his musical mouthpiece, the guitar. Not unlike a decorative household item, his guitar had become a mere object that just happened to be there. In fact, as result of his recent physical disruption, he could not even remember how to sign his own name.

For many months during his recovery, Martino experienced the dullness of indecision and the flatness of boredom. By late1981, weary from his own disinterest, he decided to act. As part of his therapeutic regimen he began to operate a computer, specifically an Apple. Slowly, his mental activity began to show promise as small amounts of information about the past began to emerge.

Martino incorporated the computer, with midi time, and a Roland G-700; an early midi equipped guitar. Over the course of several years he began to outline these musical passages and captured them on tape. How great is it to think that while we listen and enjoy these special creative moments that we are also in fact hearing his mental strength and musical soul being restored.

“I hope that what took place over a period of time on Seven Sketches, at some time, happens again. I think that goes back to those seasons…when least expected its liable to occur again. It was such a significant, different type of musical experience. This had nothing to do with the outside world. It was totally done on the inside, in privacy, and the intimacy of it could never be replaced with public performance. Whether or not this is going to take place again I think has a great deal to do with how much time I may have on my hands to be able to do something like that, privately. But if it does that season shall reoccur. It’s a beautiful intimate experience. It’s very interesting and they literally are sketches. They were sketches.”

In 1997 Martino received the “Songs From The Heart” award from National Association for Music Therapy. This award recognizes artists whose music captures the soul and spirit of music therapy. Creating a unique form of rehabilitation resulted in a personal triumph for the guitarist. His accomplishment continues to influence, and encourage others to deal with challenges taking place in their own lives.

“It’s consistently an ongoing experience. A job to one individual or one group of individuals is the same as a project is to another group of individuals. Each and every album that I do is a project and when it’s complete, momentarily, it is ultimately fulfilled. The intention of the project itself isn’t always fulfilled but the essence of what was done, how it was done and why it was done was fulfilled for the individual. The moment that it reaches fruition it evaporates and there is blank space and in some ways you’ve lost your job. Now comes the next job and you’re seeking and searching for it just like any other person is doing likewise. Whether you find it or not is dependent upon faith and insistence on one’s behalf.”

Beautiful Writing
For years preceding his surgery, Martino had been interested in the art of Calligraphy. As with his music, excellence in this art form of ornamental penmanship was also something he pursued. The control of the pen became an important part of his rehabilitation. An example of his personal calligraphy, his signature, appeared in white on the pickguard of the Gibson, Pat Martino model guitar.

“I designed that particular signature during recovery primarily because I had forgotten how to write my name. Part of the solution or part of the supplement for depression and boredom surrounding that depression was to sit down and focus my attention as strictly as possible on trying to achieve something of meaning. And one of the most meaningful things was to begin to construct a new signature for myself. That signature did come out and it’s remained solidified since then. A good example of it is on the pickguard of that particular guitar.”

Initially, when Martino designed the guitar for Gibson, the company wanted his signature to appear on all of the custom models. The guitarist advised them not to do so as he felt it interfered with the intimacy that a consumer would have with the instrument that he or she invested in. As a result, his signature appears only on one of the models he owns.

“I said, ‘So look, if you have to put a name on it, just put it up on the truss rod cap. Even if that is too abruptly present, a person can go into any number of music stores and buy a blank cap for the top of the guitar – take the name off completely.’ That was important to me.”

In 1998 I was happy to learn that one of my favorite Martino collaborations; Joyous Lake, had reunited. Although I did not get a chance to hear them play live during their tour, just the thought of that group back together again evokes an immediate auditory memory from the ‘70s as though it was yesterday. Even though he has played in and led numerous groups, this energized, harmonious alliance is held particularly close to the guitarists’ gist. Would that same musical ferocity exist more than 20 years later? Recreating the intense, sonic, harmonic rhythms while Martino effortlessly fuses his distinct, bold, pungent melodies and solos…a wonder to behold.

“The one thing about Joyous Lake, no matter when it re-emerges, is there is a spatial time factor in terms of all of us as individuals, primarily between Kenwood Dennard, Delmar Brown and myself. We effectively change and collectively unify to a separate identity than we have separately. That’s what makes Joyous Lake important to me. Primarily because upon the reunion of it in 1998, after it went in different directions in 1977, there was a big surprising result and that was it had still maintained its identity. The phenomenon remained intact. It seems that it will always happen that way.

“It seems that like I had briefly described the chromatic road divided in minor thirds being similar to the four seasons on a circular graphic display. The same thing takes place with the reunion of any kind of context or priority and Joyous Lake is one of them. It seems that when that takes place no matter how hard I would like that to be on a constant basis, it doesn’t work like that. It re-emerges in seasons. Surprisingly fulfilling, it re-emerges when least expected.”

In 1967 Martino and an eclectic group of musicians recorded the instrumental groundbreaking album, Baiyina. During this period he had a strong inclination towards Indian music: the Ragas and exotic time signatures. The recording went on to receive very favorable reviews in Downbeat magazine.

“When it was completed I wanted to do this sometime again but I never got around to it. Primarily because of the realities, socially and in many other ways economically as well in terms of the record companies and their priorities idiomatically. Finally, in 1997, I received a phone call from Peter Block, on the West Coast in San Francisco, asking me if I would participate in a co-led project along with himself playing bass flute; Hakir Hussain – tablas; Ilya Rayzman – violin and Habib Khan – sitar.

“An album came from that called Fire Dance. That was Indian music once again after approximately 30 years. That was seasonal reproduction of the one thing that I wanted to do all those years but never facilitated it.

“In terms of seasons, when least expected they re-emerge and by doing so they begin to project a larger framework that is invisible when seen on a day-to-day basis or even a year-to-year basis. This works in decades like a skeletal framework. So it seem that these things, in every way, begin to emerge, in terms of logistically as well as perceptually, begin to solidify as frameworks, as skeletal frameworks that transcend desires and demand patience and endurance as well as temperance and other virtues.”

AMPLIFIED LOVE…“Everything was through the eyes.”
At the end of 1995, Martino was playing the final concert series of a ten-city tour of Japan. On the first night of a three-day stint at a theater in Tokyo called On Air East, his quartet played to a packed house of approximately 1,500 people. In spite of the group’s dynamic, musical performance that evening, nothing could have prepared the guitarist for the intense, heartfelt improvisation that would take place following the concert. Her name was Ayako Asahi.

“We met on the first night of that concert. There was really amplified love for both of us…eye to eye. I had no intentions of a relationship ever again after the second time. After my second marriage I decided never ever to marry again because it was so painful that it didn’t workout. When this went into play it really transcended all of that and it happened because it had no need to be anything else then what it was. It was real and it remains to be real.

“The irony of it was that she could speak no English whatsoever. Everything was through the eyes. I left Japan after that and we remained in touch. She began to write to me and I began to write to her. She would have dictionaries on her desk, looking for the proper translation into English and that’s how she learned. When she came here to the States, about a year later, she still could speak no English. Now that we’ve been married seven years she’s absorbed the responsibility of communication that’s generated in real time, not in set time. In real time being surrounded by it, hearing it, living in the midst of it. She learned how to fluently speak English and it’s worked out just wonderful.”

You can have a thousand different people play the same guitar and it will sound a thousand different ways. Is it all in the fingertips? What makes it happen…the guitar, the amp, the strings, the pick? That being said, what is the real formula to obtaining a signature sound? Many guitarists are so dependent upon specific electronic sound manipulation devices - effects processors, to obtain their sound, that they’re practically joined at the hip.

It is a given that the sound of Pat Martino is as recognizable as a mother’s voice. There’s no mistake. With tone as wide as a Cadillac and the precision of a surgeon, he negotiates his fastidious technique seamlessly over the guitar fretboard. His bold attack clearly states the message: jazz is spoken here. Arguably, his identity may be revealed after hearing only one note. Although there are some obvious physical properties that come into play, Martino invokes his sound from another place…from within.

“I think that the result is what is experienced on behalf of the listener. And the result is a combination of quite a number of things. It’s a combination of, generally speaking, how naturally any individual functions. When you split and begin to analyze divisions of that overall function of the person and you think of the left hand and the right hand. You find that the left hand has a certain comfort with regards to the instrument and it’s proportions and the way the instrument is balanced. The right hand may be a lot different than that. That calls for adaptation to what is being used at that moment.

“A good example in my case is that my left hand really needs a low action due to the fact that certain forms that I’m playing on the fingerboard are very demanding in the sense of ‘jumping’ from one area to another. The right hand is very aggressive and has a tendency of amplified attack.

“The one thing that began to produce was the necessity of finding a solution that would stop breaking strings because the lighter the gauge, the attack itself, was breaking those strings. What I had to do was to make a decision on one or another approach to the solution. One was to lower the action then I wouldn’t have to press so hard. For the right hand the first decision was to pick with less attack – not so aggressive. A lot of guitar instructors would say to their student, “Don’t pick so heavy. You have to learn how to control your right hand.” ‘The other option to the same solution is to switch to a heavier gauge of strings that will take that attack and lower the action. That’s the one I chose, solely so that the natural being of the way I feel and the way I move my right hand isn’t affected by any kind of alien purpose or alien supplement.

“Again it’s like back to polarities; the left hand and the right hand. As well as the fact that my right hand, I have no control over it. I never ever studied or practiced what to do with my right hand. Every thing I ever studied was in lieu of what I wanted to do with my left hand. Again we’re back to in and out, over and under, up and down, major and minor…polarity.”

Arguably, there are many individual views and thoughts regarding this subject. With the onset of the new millennium, digital recording equipment and every facet of that realm are now available to the public. Today, an individual owning a 24-track unit, the size of a brief case, can record, mix and spit out a master CD all in the comfort of his or her closet. At present, the constant improvements in digital recording and sound processing, combined with the Internet, have all made a difference in the way music is and will be created from now on.

Consequently, the sound and the face of music, in general, have changed. The look is younger and the sound is heavily processed. As a result of so much studio enhancement, many popular acts utilize pre-recorded tracks that are systematically interwoven into their live performances via computer.

As one might expect, Martino’s introspection regarding the present state of music is immersed in pools of wisdom and compassion. His words are thought provoking and present a philosophic challenge to one’s assessment of the subject.

“It’s impossible to be specifically concerned with that and that alone. It’s the result of the present state of our world and our time in it. It has a great deal to do with each and every culture. Each and every type of music is the end result of the culture that it comes from and the condition of that culture is constantly changing on every part of this globe. Therefore, it’s impossible to be subjectively judgmental in terms of any given type of music because it’s the end result of the reality that we refer to as now. As much as we would like certain forms of art to manifest the way we’ve enjoyed them the most … that I believe is impossible and unrealistic. I believe it’s much more important to be able to stand back and objectively view what’s taking place around us in our social culture and what the music means.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think that it’s essential to be as objective as possible when focusing upon that. It’s very difficult for me to specifically be prioritized with regards to what I think it should be or what I would like it to be. I only have the blessing to manipulate and function within those manipulations in terms of my own private environment and my private realities.

“There are healthy options at all times and that’s why it’s impossible to be judgmental as to what is good and what is bad. It depends upon the individual and how that person perceives life itself.”


“The guitar like any other instrument, it does nothing. It does nothing until the spirit ignites it. That’s when it does something. It’s not always ignited in terms of a conscious effort on behalf of the individual who is utilizing it. It’s sometimes subliminally ignited in ways that we don’t realize were going to happen. We pick it up and at moments notice, we play something that we never played before…slowly and simplicity, maybe containing six notes. Suddenly that melody begins to come to fruition and expand and multiply itself into a new composition. We are stimulated to the maximum by that but that came from inside ourselves, not from the instrument.

“It teaches us a lot with regard to what jazz really is. The difference between set time and real time I think has a great deal to do with spontaneity. It would be a wonderful addition to all forms of curriculum, with regards to musical education, that would demand the student to apply just as much effort to improvise randomly with no recipe to have to adhere too. When I say recipe I am referring to the changes of a song. Each song is a different recipe and each recipe is a responsibility of the improviser to adhere to. If you’re going to play through Giant Steps you have to play it the way it was written. You have to improvise through the changes the way John (Coltrane) structured it. But if you take resolutions in themselves and you randomly place your familiarities and resolutions themselves, at a moment’s notice in any order, you then have fluidity of improvisation itself manifesting itself. Suddenly something different happens that you cannot control anymore but you have a fluid flow, a constant flow of resolution after resolution after resolution that you’re not even choosing. You’re improvising resolutions.

“Then you have, as a result, a realistic study of improvisation. If the student has an interest in transcription and is plugged into a device that can record that, then that student can transcribe that improvisation and just write out the changes that were played for the first and only time.”

Combining his wealth of musical knowledge, the guitar and the love of teaching, Martino has been conducting Master Classes for many years. A few presentation locations here in the U.S. an abroad include: Berklee College, Stanford University, The Musicians Institute, Teatro Rasi in Italy, Le Centre Cultural in France and at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland, to name a few.

“I’ve done these for a long time. In fact, anytime the opportunity emerges I take advantage of the opportunity and participate in it. I find that because of that, in a greater sense, music, just like the guitar or anything else, begins to become neutral, more as a tool for other opportunities and other forms of interaction. A good example of that would be, if you look at a horse and it’s use in terms of industrial use. You’ll see on its eyes, pads on the sides of its face to keep it focused on one specific direction. Most musicians, of course there are exceptions, but I would say at least 60% of the term musicians, 60% of these individuals do have these similar pads on the sides their eyes and they focus the priorities mainly on other musicians. As opposed to completely different types of art. The same thing applies to guitar players. Most guitar players are interested mainly in guitar players.

“The same thing with all of this, once neutralized, the eye pads begin to dissipate and they fall off and suddenly its no longer a necessity to protect one’s identity as well as one’s self esteem on the basis of projecting toward a specific direction. Then the panorama begins to open up perceptually and spread on a wider scale. Such things as Master Classes and interacting with education in itself, there’s a great deal more fruition from it with regards to the topic being secondary to the social interaction in itself.”

Pat Martino’s ever-growing popularity continues to nourish his creative forces, as he shows no signs of slowing down. In the last several years the jazz world has heard major music emanating from one the greatest jazz guitarists of all time.

Some of his upcoming projects will certainly explore new musical ground. There are a number of them. His trio with Joey DeFrancesco and Byron Landham opened at the Blue Note in New York City on the 18th – 23rd. of June followed by a brief Canadian tour. On July 12th, joining Martino on a European festival tour are Gil Goldstein, Lenny White and Steve Beskrone.

As far as upcoming recording sessions, he will be doing a Latin album soon, as a guest artist, with a gentleman named Elio Villafranca. In August a session is planned with Terry Silverlight on drums and Will Lee on bass.

Although there is so much great music, tours, recordings and projects surrounding him daily, it is the interaction of Martino’s friends from the past that are most important.

“Recently, I received a little piece of paper, ball point pen on it, with a gentleman’s name that said, “I’m so-and-so. We go back to Harlem in 1963.” ‘There are conditions like this that I don’t remember and it’s really difficult sometimes.”

These propitious interventions have restored many chapters from the volumes of memories that had been tragically taken from him. In doing so they continue to bountifully sustain the spiritual, virtuous, artistic and creative forces within this singularly extraordinary human being…Pat Martino.

JUNE 2002

Editor’s Note:
Our Thanks to Dr. Richard Cann for his help in editing and preparing the article for the site. Dr. Cann is the WebMaster of The Pat Martino Web Site.

Jim LaDiana is a musician, journalist, and educator residing in Southern California. Although he tends to gravitate towards jazz players, Jim strives to spend time with those who cause his inner chord to resonate. Besides being available on several web-sites, his articles and reviews also appear in Just Jazz Guitar and Vintage Guitar magazines featuring Tommy Tedesco, John Pisano, Robert Conti, Randy Johnston, Guild, and Benedetto to name a few. In his column, “Studio Aces” Jim introduces Vintage Guitar readers to many of the major West coast session players. Jim is also writing the biography of legendary Hollywood recording studio guitarist Bob Bain.

In addition to songwriting, playing the guitar and singing in a variety of musical contexts, Jim also works with children with disabilities. His unyielding compassion and enthusiasm coupled with a fun; animated hands-on approach has resulted in accelerated progress with many of these “special” kids. He has also created a unique music program with an emphasis on rhythm and group participation.

Jim can be contacted at
This article is ©Copyright 2002 Jim LaDiana