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Pat Martino at Dazzle

Douglas Groothuis By

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Pat Martino
Denver, CO
July 16, 2017

How can you introduce Pat Martino? I was asked to do this shortly before the Pat Martino Trio performed at Dazzle in Denver, Colorado on July 16. A lecture would have been easier for me, since I am a professor and I adore the man's playing. I also feel warmly toward him personally. I could only say a few things. I mentioned that his first recording, El Hombre, had been released fifty years ago and that Pat had experienced a traumatic brain aneurysm even decades ago. "But God got him through it," I said. At that, the audience applauded. I kept it short since I wanted to hear him more than me.

If I had given a lecture, I would have said that Pat came on the scene as a professional guitarist in his middle teens and quickly wowed the jazz world as "the kid." He first worked primarily in organ trios with Charles Earland, Jack McDuff, and others. Just when Pat seemed to be at the height of his prodigious powers, he began to suffer neurological problems, which culminated in a brain hemorrhage in 1980. When he awoke from emergency surgery, he could neither recognize his parents nor play his guitar. (The film, Martino Unstrung, tells this story well.)

Yet, God did get him through it. The master jazzman began to learn to play his instrument all over again, listening to his own recordings to find himself. After a few years, he began to perform once more. He started in small venues and used his birth name, Pat Azzara. Shortly after, he made his official comeback, which is captured on The Return. I hear from knowledgeable friends that the venue was filled to overflowing, mostly with musicians. Pat is a musician's musician, a guitarist's guitarist.

He returned to undiminished greatness. The band (acoustic bass and drums) had not rehearsed, but knew how to weave it all together stunningly. Inspiration overflowed in every tune. The numbers are not tightly structured pieces (as Pat would later return to); nevertheless, they all cooked with a red-hot intensity. There was no meandering, no hesitation, or compensation for a not-up-to par Pat Martino. He played a flurry of notes, chords, and octaves—and never lost his way. It was only up from here.

Thirty years and counting Pat continues to dance up and down the fretboard, delighting audiences worldwide. He has toured and recorded consistently and with the best jazz musicians available. He is also the consummate jazz teacher and theorist. In the last six years, he has worked primarily in the organ jazz format, with Pat Bianchi on B-3 and Carmen Intorre on drums. I took in his group for four performances in at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago in 2012 and thought it could not be topped. But the group may have outdone themselves at Dazzle those two nights.

Pat has been performing mostly jazz standards—with an emphasis on hard bop—with this group; so I have heard him play "Footprints," "Lush Life," "Impressions," and his own compositions such as "McTough" many times. Pat's guitar playing is unparalleled—instantly recognizable, but never cloying or predictable. His deep love of music is revealed through his laser focus and perfectly articulated intensity. Although I have listened to most all of Pat recordings and have seen him nine times, I was surprised—even amazed by many of his chops. I remember one fast run, punctuated by three trills on three different strings. Despite this brilliance, Pat seems to have little ego. He played most tunes in a continual stream, seldom speaking, and never courting applause.

The master soloist is also a masterful accompanist. His chord voicings—played with remarkable dexterity and variety—are superior to any I have heard. The virtuoso is a team player. Those he accompanies play with great feeling and facility as well. Pat is the legend, but they are not overshadowed. Of course, that is in the marrow of jazz—it is a creative collaboration of all involved. It is more of a democracy than an aristocracy.

I talked to Pat several times over the two nights and found him to be a warm and humble soul. When I mentioned that he had not released any new recordings for a long time, he replied two are on their way—one with his band and another with an orchestra. So, keep checking Amazon!


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