"The guitar is of no great importance to me," Martino muses. "The people it brings to me are what matter. They are what I'm extremely grateful for, because they are alive. The guitar is just an apparatus."
In 1980, Pat Martino suffered a severe brain aneurysm and underwent surgery after being told that his condition could be terminal. At the time, he was one of the most celebrated guitarists in jazz. After his operations, he could remember almost nothing; he barely recognized his parents and had no memory of his guitar or his career. He remembers feeling as if he had been "dropped cold, empty, neutral, cleansed... naked."
In the following months, Martino made a remarkable recovery. Through intensive study of his own historic recordings and with the help of computer technology, Martino managed to reverse his memory loss and return to form on his instrument. His past recordings eventually became "an old friend, a spiritual experience which remained beautiful and honest." Since playing his first notes while still in his pre-teenage years, Martino has been recognized as one of the most exciting and virtuosic guitarists in jazz.
With a distinctive, fat sound and gut-wrenching performances, he represents the best – not just in jazz, but in music. He embodies thoughtful energy and soul.
Born in Philadelphia in 1944, Martino was first exposed to jazz through his father, Carmen "Mickey" Azzara, who sang in local clubs and briefly studied guitar with Eddie Lang. He took Martino to all the city's hot-spots to hear and meet Wes Montgomery and other musical giants. Martino moved to Harlem to immerse himself in the "soul jazz" played by Willis “Gatortail” Jackson and others. He previously had heard all of the so called “white” jazz. “I’d never heard that part of our culture," he remembers, until the Montgomery Brothers.
An icon even before his eighteenth birthday, Martino was signed as a leader for Prestige Records when he was 20. His seminal albums from this period include classics like Strings!, Desperado, El Hombre and Baiyina (The Clear Evidence), one of jazz's first successful ventures into psychedelia. In 1976, while performing internationally with his fusion group “Joyous Lake,” Martino began experiencing seizures, which were eventually diagnosed as AVM (Arteriovenous Malformation), a condition he was born with. After surgery and recovery, he resumed his career when he appeared in 1987 in New York, a gig that was released on a CD with an appropriate name, The Return.
One of Martino's finest original compositions, first heard on Pat Martino Live!:
Today, Martino lives in Philadelphia and continues to grow as a musician. As the New York Times noted, "Mr. Martino is back and he is plotting new musical directions, adding more layers to his myth." His experiments with guitar synthesizers, which begun during his rehabilitation, are taking him in the direction of orchestral arrangements and they promise groundbreaking possibilities.
Our very own, Robert Ginsburg, sat down with Pat Martino to chat about his career, relearning the guitar and his current musical endeavors. Listen HERE!
Pat Martino Trio performs at WAC Friday, Dec. 4 at 7pm & 9pm.
Tickets are $15-30 and can be purchased here.