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Pat Martino: Martino Unstrung

By Published: November 3, 2008
AAJ: The film was stimulated by conversations between director Ian Knox and the neuropsychologist Paul Broks, who became fascinated by your story. So once you discussed the film with them and started fleshing it out, the central focus of the film became your brain disorder, surgery and subsequent recovery and re-starting your career?

PM: Yes. It leaned towards Broks' interests as a neuropsychologist, and I shared his interest in terms of the events that took place in my life. It was interesting to me personally as a former patient.

Pat MartinoAAJ: Beyond your personal interest, do you have a reason for wanting the public to know about what happened to you medically?

PM: Not necessarily. I'm a very simple human being. To me the most valuable thing is action, to be active. Automatically, it's as creative as it can be because it's my top priority. No matter what I do, if it's in action, if it's happening, it's a creative act. It's my life. Therefore, anything that takes place that triggers that productivity in any shape or size. It doesn't have to be music. It can be just social interaction, I enjoy the same way as a musical performance. I'm into action.

AAJ: In other words, you approach living the way you might approach jazz?

PM: However it manifests, whatever masks it wears, it's the same thing. It's a moment of my life.

AAJ: Did you do much deliberation about the message you wanted to get across about your illness and recovery?

PM: Absolutely not.

AAJ: What made you agree to let the film makers take such an intense look at your medical condition? Most people would prefer to keep these things private.

PM: What comes to mind is rather profound for me, and I'll tell you what just occurred to me about this. To me, privacy is something that must be protected, and as such the weight of it will only remain private as long as you carry it and protect it. It's like baggage. Since that operation, I've been deeply interested in freedom, freedom of all the things that until that point were carried by me as an individual. Today, I find it unnecessary to protect the truth. The truth is what it is and it will always be what it is. It cannot be protected or hidden.

So once a person reaches a point, in my opinion, that he evaluates what hampers him, he begins to make changes. Definition. Changes of the very things that used to necessitate my protecting and hiding from others because that was my privacy. That became redefined. And by redefining it, I didn't have the weight of my privacy. It was as if I had a post office box where I would get all my mail and wouldn't have to worry about anyone else seeing it. I no longer had to pay the price of that P.O. box because I gave it up. class="f-right s-img">Return to Index...

Recovering from Surgery

AAJ: Did you get to that position shortly after you began to recover from the surgery?

PM: Yes.

AAJ: So even though the memory loss was traumatic, it was also a release?

PM: It was a redefinition of many things that at length began a metamorphosis from define to refine. My life became more refined, my intentions became more refined, primarily because there was less baggage to carry on its back.

AAJ: So there was a lightness of being that you arrived at from not having to hide a private part of yourself. It happened to you, and it's natural to disclose and talk about it. If I understood correctly from the movie and other sources, when you awakened from the surgery to remove the aneurysm, you couldn't remember anything. You literally saw your own father and couldn't recognize him.

PM: Yes. Even though my father denied it. In Open Road [1993], Phil Fallo's video about me, my dad really refused to accept that. He said I remembered him.

AAJ: A poignant moment. And at that point you couldn't recognize your own album covers and music. So what was it like to wake up literally to nothing, to a total blank about your history? What is that like?

Pat MartinoPM: I can't really answer that because there was a side effect of the surgery, namely a short-term memory deficit.

AAJ: So you don't remember?

PM: I don't even remember what it is to not remember. There's something profound about that. It reminds me of part of the New Testament where Christ says "For a rich man to get to heaven, it's like trying to enter through the hole of a needle." And what he meant by "rich" is the baggage that's carried. You can't go through that tiny little hole with any of the baggage that you carry. And that's what it reminds me of. And that's what the loss was in terms of memory. Memory was and is to this day only the past. It has nothing to do with now, and now is the only thing that is real. So the only change that I can point at is just that. The change is in my interest, my attention, what I define as real, what I define as false.

AAJ: So you were able to see what the Zen masters tell us, which is that everything is in the present moment, and that past and future are to some extent illusions. But that must have hit you like a ton of bricks.

PM: Well they are cataloged, so the past is materialized, and one can swim in the pool of his achievements. But that is negative and obscures what could be done in terms of real time.

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