Paul Broks: The Neuropsychology of Pat Martino
AAJ: From your close working relationship with Pat on the film, what are your impressions of him as a person and a musician?
PB: I got on well with Pat from the start. I'd taken a serious interest in his music in the year before we first met and had grown to love it. It also helped, I think, that he'd read my book, Into the Silent Land. Ian had sent him a copy. I was nervous about his reaction. It's a disturbing book in some ways, challenging our deepest intuitions about what it means to be a person. I wrote, among other things, about people who, like Pat, have undergone the severest possible challenges to their selfhood. But Pat grasped it straight away. He'd been there. He understood what I was trying to say.
AAJ: What did you get from your off-screen experiences and talks with Pat?
PB: Over the course of the days and weeks we spent together making the film Pat and I had many conversations on matters of psychology and philosophy, and much else besides. He has a sharp mind and is relentlessly inquisitive. I get the sense it's that aspect of his personality that drives him as a musician: plain curiosity. He is constantly in search of creative insight. In another life maybe he would be a neuroscientist or a philosopher, but thankfully for those of us who love music, not in this one.
Pat has remarkable energy and stamina. As a musician he is incredibly disciplined and professional. When he last came over to London to play Ronnie Scott's, I went to see him backstage before the show. He had a chest infection and looked so frail and ill he could have been at death's door. I was seriously concerned for him. And yet he went out and gave one of the finest performances I've seen him give. The guitar seemed to have a life of its own that night.
AAJ: Did you experience Martino's wry sense of humor along the way?
Pat Martino (wife, Ayako Akai, in background)
PB: Yes, that aspect really was contagious. There was a lot of laughter on this journey. Here's just one example. Pat had just played the Iridium in New York City and afterward we were sitting in a bar. There's a keyboard player and people are getting up from the floor to sing their party piecesmostly old musical theatre stuff. It's a good atmosphere. Then a guy with the most astounding voice starts to sing. It's a deep wobbly voice, getting deeper and wobblier as he goes. It's so weird it could be an acoustic weapon designed to destabilize the rhythms of your internal organs. People start to look at one other in disbelief. I look at Pat. He looks at me. It's a question of who's going to give in first. Then the accompanist stops playing and says to the singer, I think with genuine curiosity, "Are we doing the same song?" At which point Pat and I are simultaneously just helpless with laughter.
AAJ: What further impressions of Martino occurred to you?
PB: Pat is the consummate professional, dedicated to his art, perfectionist, obsessive even, but with a capacity to totally let go and wind down once he's done the business. There is a darker side too, no doubt, the volcanic temperament that the film hints at. The moment, as Pat puts it, in the film, "when the ego steps forth." But I honestly never saw any hint of that, even though at times we must have really tested his patience; long, long days of filming and psychological testing. Invariably, at the end of the day Pat was ready to go out and eat and share a bottle of wine and talk late into the night.
AAJ: Pat's emphasis on living in the moment seemed to help him turn his memory loss into an asset. Do you think he acquired that attitude from Buddhism and other religious studies prior to the memory loss, or that the latter led him to such a philosophy?
PB: I think Pat is an original thinker. By that I don't mean he is a great intellectual or guru. But let's say he has a "turn of mind" which can be truly impressive. Perhaps that's what he expresses in his music. If I can make a sports analogy, elite players are all super fit and super skilful. They are capable of remarkable things in terms of technique, agility and stamina. What separates the great from the merely remarkable is "turn of mind," invention and originality, a certain way of anticipating moves and patterns, a unique way of seeing things.
Pat seems to have had a very spiritual outlook well before his illness and surgery. How much of that was shaped by the underlying brain disorder we can never know. I would very much like to look further into Pat's in-the-moment philosophy. And what, incidentally, is more in-the-moment than musical improvisation? The focus on "the now" is something that is very much a genuine part of his experience, it seems to me. I recently gave a talk about Pat at a neuroscience meeting. Professor Richard Gregory, a senior statesman of neuropsychology and a very distinguished neuroscientist, was in the audience. He immediately picked up on the question of Pat's perception of time and that's something I'd like to look at experimentally.