Pat Martino: To Renew A Life In Jazz
CAUTION! This interview may positively change the way you think about and experience music, yourself, and even your life. You risk growing and changing! Pat Martino is not simply a master guitarist and jazz icon. He is insistent on being a whole human being, insistent on being himself, insistent paradoxically on playing and enjoying life to the fullest. He is also a deep thinker who wants to get at the truth in some spiritual sense of what makes it all come together in the way that it does. In this interview, he explains some of his ideas about musical form and structure (see his website www.patmartino.com for a fuller exposition with diagrams), about himself and his lovely wife Ayako Asahi, his musical influences, his new CD Think Tank, and his 'take' on spirituality. He also forthrightly discusses the events surrounding the aneurysm he suffered in the 1980's, which left him with nearly total amnesia, and from which he made a remarkable recovery for which he eventually was honored with the NARAS "Heroes Award" in 2002. He further reveals another medical crisis that he endured in the late 1990's, for which his wife played a major role in a second miraculous recovery. This cat has nine lives!
I interviewed Pat at his home on a sunny autumn day. He lives in a modest but beautiful row home in the same Philadelphia ethnically diverse neighborhood in which he grew up. His studio is a pleasure to be in. He takes me to his work area, where his computers and guitars are all within arms' reach. I get goosebumps seeing up close the famous Gibson Pat Martino guitar from which he evokes such incredible rapid-fire sequences of notes. He points to his remarkably diverse record collection, which he is still cataloging. He's opened up the time from his tight schedule to talk with me for as long as necessary. For that time, I am completely welcomed into his life. It is my home and my place as much as his. As in the best jazz group, the barriers between us seem to dissolve. For me, the interview becomes what philosopher Martin Buber called an 'I-Thou' experience, two human beings meeting in a hallowed way, rather than an 'I-It' relationship of objective detachment.
I am honored and pleased to be able to offer this interview to you, the reader.
AAJ: For a 'warmup,' the infamous 'desert island' question: If you were going to a desert island, which couple of recordings would you bring with you to listen to?
PM: I wouldn't bring any recordings whatsoever, primarily because I find that recordings immobilize the creative process. Recordings are reminders of what was. I'm more interested in now.
AAJ: So, how would you spend your time there?
PM: I would spend my time adjusting to every opportunity that is available for me, in any way possible.
AAJ: So you would live in the now.
PM: I must.
AAJ: Let's start out with your instrument, the guitar. You are known by guitarists to use especially heavy gauges of strings. Some have been critical of that, as if it's an extreme, an eccentricity. What is your rationale for using especially heavy guage strings?
PM: It's one of a two-sided coin. Both sides now- it is the necessity of describing to you a procedure that is the norm and one that is considered the norm but is not. The norm is to adjust to ones incapabilities; the other is not to do so, but to flow with ones blessings, no longer seen as incapable, but as a gift in itself. I have a tendency with my right hand to abrasively and aggressively attack, for the sake of dynamics and for the sake of impact. A long time ago, in my youth with Dennis Sandoli, I used to break strings because of that aggression. He advised me to begin to practice the technique and to pick lighter than that, not to attack so hard, because I was breaking strings- in other words, he implied it was a mistake to be this way. I tried that for a brief period of time, but what it produced was disappointment. So it dawned on me that the easiest way to deal with this was to get a heavier gauged string, as opposed to readjusting my own nature. So that's what I did, and I continued to replace what was inefficient with what was sufficient, until finally, the gauges that were necessary for my own identity and personality took their place as tools to use without altering or injuring my own identity in any way.
AAJ: You didn't have to give up your own attack- the strings served as a resistance.
PM: Exactly- which is much more natural than being something you are not.
AAJ: That's a wonderful philosophy.
PM: It's just practicality. I think it leads back to the initial question of what I would bring to the island. I contain within myself all that is needed. There's nothing wrong with what I have, therefore everything can adapt to it. And accordingly, the study and experience of adaptation itself becomes the secret and power of social interaction.