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Pat Martino: At One with His Favorite Toy

By Published: April 24, 2006

Martino was able to travel back, as it were, to that childhood place. "Which is something most individuals, I believe, rarely achieve. To set out to go back to your childish dreams and to make them come true of their own accord is a form of success that transcends age. That's what this album is all about. It's achieving what I set out to do when I was a little boy. And doing so with respect, not only to its presence at that time, but its presence today with no judgmental critique that in any way is comparative or competitive."

It's been a remarkable journey to that childhood place, and to this place in 2006 with one of the sparkling recordings of the year. It started in Philly where Pat was born in 1944. He was exposed to jazz early through his father. He didn't start playing the guitar until the age of twelve, but it was clear that the instrument was a natural fit to his hands and connected to something else wired into Martino. "It was second nature," he says. He left school in the tenth grade to study music. His father wasn't a direct influence on the instrument. But in playing it, it was a way for Pat to connect.

"I would say that my intention was to move as close as I possibly could to the individual position in our relationship that demanded respect from him, based upon his own interests. The guitar was his greatest interest when it came to the instruments. As a child, I was looking for participation in respect with elders. That's what I noticed when I met Wes Montgomery and when I went to Harlem at the age of fifteen and was, in a sense, guided and protected by my elders, with respect to an innate talent. It has transcended music from the very beginning.

"My main concern since conscious childhood was to participate with elders and to be adequate in terms of that participation—for them to understand my opinion. In some ways it seems egotistic, and I guess it is, to some degree. But it was essential for me to do that."

Martino was largely self-taught, but did go for some training with a local musician, Dennis Sandole. However, the guitarist doesn't see it as "training" as such. Again, in his unique view, it was something different. A gaining of knowledge, but not in the traditional sense.

"I had the opportunity of being in the presence of older individuals, generation-wise, and studying them, not what they were teaching," he says. "I studied their apparel. I studied their surroundings, their environment."

With Sandole, "that's where I met John Coltrane and Benny Golson and Paul Chambers; quite a number of artists. I was supposedly to be there to study what Dennis Sandole gave me as a weekly lesson. And I found that absolutely impossible ... I would study what he wore and why there was a copy of a Van Gogh on the wall. And why the guitar over in the corner had dust on it, and the piano was clean. ... I studied these things in depth, with regard to their meaning and how that produced so much respect for this individual. That's what I studied."

At the age of 15, he was playing lounge gigs in Philly, sitting in where he could, usually accompanied by his father. His first road gig was with jazz organist Charles Earland, a high school friend.

"At that time Charlie was a tenor player. We went to Atlantic City together to a place called the Jockey Club," Martino recalls. "Down the stairway in the basement was a little club. In there was an organist, Jimmy Smith. When we heard that, Charlie gave up the tenor saxophone forevermore. He wanted to be an organist and that's what he did. We started getting together in the garage across the street from his parents house. We practiced and put a little trio together. Charlie could only play in C minor, god bless his soul. He would have the left hand together, and he'd comp with the right hand in C minor. I would have all the melodies to play across the C minor blues."

It was this association with his old friend that was a step to bigger things, especially when the trio booked a gig in Buffalo, NY. "Recently I described this to someone and got a flashback and remembered the name of it. The place was the Pine Grill. We went there and played. One evening, in came an entourage of people from one of the shows in town. That was Lloyd Price and his manager and a lot of people from the big band. They sat at the bar and listened. Lloyd Price called me over. I was 15 years old. And he said, 'Listen. If you ever want to play with a great big band, here's my number. Call me. I'm in New York City. You've got the job if you would like to do it.

Martino followed up on the offer, with blessing from his father, who spoke with Price. He wound up in Harlem with Willis Jackson and played with both on and off for a number of years.

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