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Pat Martino: To Renew A Life In Jazz

By Published: October 31, 2003

AAJ: So, you're generating a whole new way of seeing the guitar.

PM: Actually, I'm generating a much more ancient way. It goes back to sacred geometry.

AAJ: The way of the ancient philosophers? Pythagoras?

PM: My interest is not in the philosophy, but in the skeletal frameworks that always work. My interest is in geometry primarily because, if you see the chromatic scale, you see the 12 tones horizontally, very much like the piano, which is based upon addition: seven white keys and five black keys equal twelve. If you connect the ends, now you have an infinite circle. And when you see them that way, you now have the twelve months, the four seasons. You're also seeing the division of the circle as minor thirds. If you see it as twelve o'clock, four o'clock, and eight o'clock, you will see the triangle, another ancient basic geometrical structure. So here you have the pyramid, with the triangle as the augmented form of major thirds, in the circle, you now have four in a row. Three is the triangle. Four times three equals twelve. And when you have the four connected, you have a pyramidal dimensional shape, with the diminished underneath, and with three point triangles on the four sides of the base. So this is where the geometric nature of it comes about.

But this is very complex. The simplicity of it is to see as fast and quickly as possible that all is one thing. That the music is not to be found in separate parts as a challenge to be memorized, but is to be seen in everything, so that there are no distractions from it, no interruptions in its holistic nature.

AAJ: That sounds almost like a Jungian archetype.

PM: It is archetypal, yes.

AAJ: The 'music of the spheres.'

PM: Very much so. Holst.


AAJ: 'The Planets.' Did you, by the way, study the classical guitar?

PM: Not at all.

AAJ: To change the subject, which jazz artists have most influenced your musical development, especially those with whom you've worked most closely?

PM: When I think of the guitar, of all the things that symbolize music to me, and my own personal relationship with it, the guitar has been more symbolic than anything else. It's led me to different types of music, and because of that, different types of individuals who have been effective socially, and their successful careers have also affected me in terms of my own decisive standpoint with regards to value.

Two of the most interesting people to me were guitarists. First, early on, there was Johnny Smith. What I found most interesting in Johnny Smith was precision, accuracy. The other was Wes Montgomery, and what I found most interesting in Wes was emotional interpretations, soulfulness, art, the street, self teaching, the magic of curiosity and its result.

AAJ: That was in your youth.

PM: Yes, at a very early age.

AAJ: You had personal contact with both Smith and Montgomery?

PM: Yes.

AAJ: Did Wes inspire you to go to Harlem?

PM: Yes- but not in the sense of music in a serious context, rather in a sense of the childishness and dreamlike tendencies of a juvenile.

AAJ: That's much of what jazz is about.

PM: I think so. It's essential to understand that my first intentions had nothing to do with music. My initial intentions had everything to do with interacting with adults. I was an only child, having no siblings. The only thing I had was mom and dad, and the only thing they had of interest were their siblings, my aunts and uncles. When my house was full of a group of individuals, I was the only child there. My need was to interact with those adults I could relate to. When I couldn't find that due to culture, my age, the generation gap, I found that in Harlem. I went to seek the adults in their language. The language was jazz.

AAJ: Wait a minute! You didn't go to Harlem for a musical experience?

PM: Oh, it was for a musical experience. But it was immediately to the adults. I went as a teenager straight to what was happening without the 'growing up' period. I went to the adults, experienced musicians there, and they became parental with me. They took care of me. You have to understand where it came from initially. It's similar to a musicologist transcribing a specific solo. An example would be Paul Chambers, on a session that I did in the early seventies, with Richard 'Groove' Holmes. If the transcriber were to copy Paul's solo, he would concern himself strictly with the music. He couldn't visualize, since they weren't present, that what he played had much more to do with the instrument that was available in the studio, due to the fact that his instrument exploded coming from the cold into the studio. His bass blew up in its case! It was in pieces! So, the musicologist is describing Paul's techniques and trying to understand musically what he did, when in fact there was an old bass in the corner with old strings, and he put new strings on an instrument that had terrible action on it. And that's what caused him to play what he did! So, when we learn about the art, and we interpret that as a participant, we sometimes follow the 'recipe' without the 'secrets.'

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