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Pat Martino: In the Moment

Victor L. Schermer By

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Legendary guitarist Pat Martino is devoted to living in the Here and Now! -coincidentally the title of his autobiography (DaCapo, 2011). Taking each moment as it is and adding full measures of love and spirituality, Martino is now well into his sixth decade as one of the most revered and sought after jazz musicians on the planet. The cover photo of his new CD Formidable (HighNote, 2017) shows Martino posing next to the statue of a lion, a symbol of both his awesome power on the guitar and his inspiring recovery from brain surgery and memory loss in the 1980s.

The last time All About Jazz interviewed Martino was in 2008, following the release of Ian Knox's indie film Martino Unstrung (Sixteen Films) in which he appears with fellow musicians and neuropsychologist Paul Broks discussing his life, music, emergency brain surgery to remove an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), and remarkable comeback from retrograde amnesia. We wanted to catch up with him to learn what has been taking place in the last decade, as well as to explore in depth his rich fund of ideas about life and music, including the theory of guitar he teaches in his master classes and videos.

Over the years, Martino has developed a fascinating perspective on the relationship between music, mathematics (geometry and algebra), and spirituality. His memory loss from the brain surgery made him acutely aware of the importance of living in the moment. He took something negative (memory loss) and turned it into something positive (living fully with love in the now.) We visited Martino at his long-time home in South Philadelphia with the excitement and joy of meeting the master one more time.

All About Jazz: The last interview we did was in 2008 when the film Martino Unstrung came out. Could you fill us in about what you've been up to since then?

Pat Martino: So much has happened that I can't begin to give all the details. Besides, once I've done a performance, it just about disappears in my memory. People can find my future and past performances listed on my website [Go to www.patmartino.com and click on "Itinerary" in the left hand column -Eds.]

AAJ: I see there that you've been playing a lot of gigs around the world. Has it been mostly with the trio with organist Pat Bianchi and drummer Carmen Intorre and the quintet with trumpeter Alex Norris and saxophonist Adam Niewood added?

PM: Yes, both. The trio has been to Europe, but the quintet hasn't as of yet. There's more work coming up following the release of the quintet's new CD, Formidable. We're getting a lot of requests for the quintet to perform.

AAJ: From seeing and hearing the quintet several times at Chris' Jazz Café here in Philadelphia, I get a feeling that you really love working with them. I sense the pleasure you feel when you're on stage with them. Am I right?

PM: Yes, I really enjoy what we're doing together. It's an excellent band, so mature. Their accuracy and commitment are very rewarding for me.

AAJ: Would you say that you've been trying to find a band like this for a long time?

PM: To be honest with you, I don't search for bands. I'm really focused on the moment, and typically I find that what happens spontaneously turns out to be just what I'm looking for. That's how I live my life generally.

AAJ: How did you meet these guys and decide to have them work with you?

PM: My manager, Joe Donofrio, put the word out that we were looking for horn players, and then Pat Bianchi brought them in. Pat has contact with quite a number of players.

Working with Hammond B-3 Organists, Then and Now

AAJ: A propos of the instrumentation of both the trio and quintet, to my knowledge you're one of few guitarists who often prefers to work with an organ rather than piano and bass. Of course, this goes back to your early years with organists in Willard Jackson's and other groups. But you've hooked up with a number of organ players consistently over the years, so what draws you back to that instrument?

PM: Besides the practicality in terms of touring and economics, I love being backed chordally and comped harmonically when I'm soloing. I love the harmonic "wall" of ideas that an organist like Pat Bianchi can give me. So a trio with the Hammond B-3 organ and drums does it all for me.

AAJ: You like that wall of sound behind you.

PM: Yes, I like the harmony. But in some ways, it presents a dilemma, because in jazz, the culture that brought the organ into vogue no longer exists. It's not like it was in the 1960s when you had all of the organists around and a working environment in which they thrived. Like when Jimmy Smith was around, Jack McDuff, Don Patterson, Shirley Scott, Trudy Pitts. Those were the days when the combination of organ and guitar was hot, and many venues were available at which to perform.

AAJ: And you hung out with a particular circle of organ players in Harlem and elsewhere.

PM: I can remember two week engagements seven nights a week, six to seven sets a night with those guys!

AAJ: That's practically unheard of today.

PM: Nowadays, it's a single performance in a concert hall. It's so fast and so empty in comparison with what happened then.

AAJ: Back then, you could play at a jazz joint and immerse yourself in the music all night long and days at a time.

PM: It was true back then. Now they move you out from show to show. I don't recall doing any engagements for a full week in recent years.

AAJ: Everything is faster today. We get snapshots and sound bytes of music and other things instead of really being immersed in it. So, in any case, the B-3 organ continues to be an important component of your groups. Which brings us to your new CD, Formidable, which is an organ quintet recording -not unlike the bands from your earliest days.

The Difference Between Recording and Live Performance Speaks Volumes

AAJ: I'd like to ask you about a difference between the live show at Chris' and the CD. At Chris' your sound was louder and more prominent than in the CD, where it is of lower volume, almost taking a back seat compared to the other instruments. Your playing is masterful, but sound-wise, it feels as if you are deferring to the other instruments. Is that an accurate perception on my part?

PM: Sure, I think so. To begin with, any recording loses part of the essence of a live performance. In the studio, there's no audience, you've got earphones on, and the music is a one-time project as opposed to an extended social experience. There are many differences between live performances and studio recordings, so I don't think they should be compared with one another. They're two different animals.

The main things I'm concerned with in all situations are precision and rapport, but when the environment changes, the elasticity of the output of the collective group changes as well to fit the particular situation.

Let me use the example of the sound check. When you go to the sound check, you set up the stage, instruments, and microphones, and briefly go over some of the performance. Then you come back to do the performance, and now the environment has changed. The house is full, the place is packed, sold out. And now the sound you worked with at the sound check no longer exists! Therefore, one of the things I think is essential is to be free of expectations from the past! The only thing that's realistic is now. That's one of the reasons I think it's futile to carry the baggage of past performances. To me, the most valuable performance always takes place now.

AAJ: With a recording, the "now" is when you're playing. But then, the recording has to be further mixed and mastered. Did you participate in the mixing process? [Mixing is when the sound engineer adjusts the volumes of each channel to get the best sound and balance.—Eds.] Did you reduce the volume of the guitar sound?

PM: I did participate in the mixing.

AAJ: The point I'm trying to make is that the album title and cover photograph of you next to a lion suggests that you're going to come on really strong! By the way, what was the location of that photograph?

PM: It was taken in Rome at one of the older historic hotels. The statue was inside the lobby next to a stairway. Those photos were taken by photographers from Vogue magazine. 1 think that was done around 2000 or 2001. Joe Donofrio loved that photo.

AAJ: Joe really got involved in this album, didn't he?

PM: Oh, he loves it!

AAJ: OK, but my point is that the title and cover suggest how powerful you are as a guitarist, but your sound is more attenuated than it usually is. The recording really emphasizes the ensemble as a whole. Did you plan it that way?

PM: It was a collective outcome. There were many aspects of the recording process in which I didn't participate, which was also true of my album, Remember (Blue Note, 2006). I don't get involved in some details of a recording. I let the engineer do his thing, and everybody else chips in their ideas. I'm not as involved in the recording process as I used to be, but at the end when it's complete, I'm often surprised by how I love the way it came out. I was very happy with the outcome of Formidable.

AAJ: It's a terrific album.

PM: It's gotten great reviews and is very high up in the charts. But if I tried intentionally to achieve that result, it wouldn't happen.

The Present Moment: Recovering and Living in the Now

AAJ: You place such great emphasis on the here and now and letting things happen rather than trying to control them. You're so much into the present moment. Do you ever look back on your career to see the different phases of it the way some fans and critics do?

PM: No, I take each day on its own merits. When I get up in the morning, I sit at the edge of the bed for a while, get into the immediate reality, and then I'm ready for the day. I then attend to each and every moment as if it were the only one. I'll make a cup of coffee, and I'm not thinking about the rest of the day like a lot of people do. I'm thinking about that delicious cup of coffee. I pay attention to now, and everything falls into place! To me, that's realistic, that's what it should be. I think there would be a lot less problems for all of us if we just paid attention to what's right in front of us. Instead of wishing and hoping, we should just pay attention to every moment.
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