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Pat Martino: To Renew A Life In Jazz

By Published: October 31, 2003

AAJ: You give master classes. The late, great trombonist, J.J. Johnson used to reiterate two things when giving master classes- and he had an impish sense of humor, so you never knew when he was pulling your leg, but he'd say 'Practice long tones' and 'Minimize your body movements.' Now, that seems trivial, but I can see how that's related to his 'be-bop' approach: clean, fast, straightforward, with no vibrato. So he needed an excellent tone and had to concentrate his energy. So, I'm wondering what you want to teach experienced guitarists. What do you tell them?

PM: I try to activate their interpretation of what they're witnessing before them, in terms of categorization, with regard to their own intentions. If their intentions are on the basis of craftsmanship, I direct them to instructors of the craft. If their intention is towards accuracy with respect to a broader intake from their intentions, their priority, the creative force, then I go into master classes to amplify the options and alternatives that are available to them, from the simplest point of view. So, since they're looking for more complexity in terms of expansion, growth, and education, I bring before them the necessity of these two polarized sides of the same coin, namely their intention, and the two sides are its polarity.

AAJ: That's the point- to raise them to another level. How does that come about?

PM: By showing them that the secret is that the answers to their questions are in all things around them, indeed within the distractions themselves. The only thing that's distracted is their interpretation of what their priority is.

AAJ: Can you give an illustration of that?

PM: They come to me specifically for the guitar.

AAJ: Not jazz as well?

PM: I would say jazz as well, but jazz is an invisible coat. It's a veil of many substantial considerations. And that veil surrounds the instrument they've chosen to activate in itself. In the case of the guitar, there are many ways of seeing this. And I wouldn't rule out my opening the I Ching, the book of changes, the sixty-four hexagrams, from China. Nonetheless, if someone were to see this in a bookstore, and opened it, they would see sixty-four hexagrams, and they would see the secret to every string combination on the guitar. But the book was not there for that purpose. It was there for a much more complex source of philosophy from a different culture, a different part of the world, a different time. Now, they're under the impression as a student, that the only thing of value would be a study of Bach's 'Well-tempered Clavier.' But in the I Ching, the secret of every string combination on the guitar can be seen literally by opening one page. So here's an interface of intentions: the one who wants to learn about philosophy, and another who wants to learn about music. But there is a third factor here which is combinatorial of the two. That's what I have an interest in sharing: the ability to witness the opposites in conjunction with each other as one necessity.

AAJ: That seems very abstract.

PM: I can't help that. It's the same as the right hand and the left hand.

AAJ: Yes, I can see myself going to China and studying the I Ching, but what would be its impact on the music?

PM: Again, we're thinking about a very simple, basic thing for the guitar, the mechanism itself, the blueprint.

AAJ: Can you explain that a bit more concretely for us?

PM: OK, fine. The skeletal framework for the system of symbols that the I Ching is based upon sixty four symbols, and each has six straight lines. There are two types of lines, one is whole, the other is broken. Now, the guitar has six strings. The broken line stands for a string that isn't used. Therefore, if the fifth and sixth are broken, and the other four are not, wow, that's the fourth, third, second, and first strings of the guitar.

AAJ: That's fingering.

PM: That's string use. And any chord that can be played on those four strings, that's what that symbol represents. And any of the other sixty-three symbols, with also the inclusion of the 64th, which is 'all strings broken,' and that is just as important as any other combination because that's silence, that's the rest.

AAJ: How does this help the musician?

PM: This helps the guitarist by visually seeing the strings all at once. Without the teacher saying, well here's a chord on this set of strings. This week memorize that. Here's two chords next week for this set. Or how about this: this semester we're going to teach you at the university this string group, and we're going to deal with the sixth, the fifth, the fourth, and the third strings; the fifth, the fourth, the third, and the second; and the fourth, the third, the second, and the first. This is what the university is doing, but here, I walk in with the I Ching and say, open it. See this plate here, on this plate is every combination of guitar strings! What you're receiving this semester is symbolized here. These represent all that was ever done on this six string instrument, all that is being done at the moment, and all that ever will be done. Therefore, you're now seeing a revelation of a symbol that represents the inventiveness and the simplicity of the inventor's method, in other words, how certain things remain the same, how the square, if tipped to the side, has one of its four points facing upward, you now can see 12 o'clock, 3 o'clock, 6 o'clock, and 9 o'clock. Which is similar to north, east, south, and west. Which is similar to spring, summer, fall, and winter. Which is similar to many other things that are repetitive replications of inventiveness, in terms of systematic procedure.

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