Pat Martino: In the Moment

Victor L. Schermer By

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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.

AAJ: Let's talk about your AVM, arteriovenous malformation, the damaged blood vessels in your brain that led to a seizure and life saving surgery, and your remarkable comeback after losing virtually all your memory. Much of what happened was documented in the Ian Knox film and in your autobiography. I think your fans would like to know how you're doing now.

PM: I'm doing very well. I rarely even think about it, but there are times when certain conditions from that event re-emerge. I'll get a wave of recollection of what used to be: a sort of seizure feeling that sparks out from God knows where. But it passes. Occasionally I have these surges, but not that often.

AAJ: That's not a medical event like a real seizure, but a memory of what happened?

PM: I think it's more of a memory.

AAJ: It could be a flashback.

PM: I think so.

AAJ: What was most striking to me about the uncanny recovery of your guitar artistry was a crucial moment when your friend, former roommate, and student John Mulhern came over to your house in Philly with his guitar. I think it was at the request of your father, with the idea of trying to get you interested in the guitar again. There was a moment when Mulhern mentioned a time when you disagreed with him, where he preferred a major 7th chord in a place in a tune, and you preferred a minor 9th chord. Suddenly, you grabbed the guitar, and said something like, "Hey, let me show you what I mean!" And you started playing again. My understanding is that up to that time you had no recall of the guitar, and then all of a sudden everything started coming back.

PM: Yes. What he said really captured my attention. And the instrument participated in its significance. And maybe that's what triggered it to re-emerge: the moment that I picked up the guitar.

AAJ: So after that moment, things started coming back to you rather quickly?

PM: Very much so. It had something to do with a change that occurred in my understanding of music as a result of the AVM, surgery and memory loss. Prior to that time, music to me was a science, intricately interwoven piece by piece, scale by scale. It was about many details that I had to put together when I played. After the operation, it became enfolded into a simplicity based upon similarities. The more I saw those similarities, a oneness began to take place in my mind. I had a new perspective, a new way of evaluating everything. Instead of parts, I began to see it all as one. I started seeing all the opposites as one. It was day and night, man and woman, major and minor. I saw everything from a distance, from the outside, no longer falling prey to the elusive nature of a "Catch 22." Before all this happened, my life was a "Catch 22." There was always a snag. I never enjoyed anything much.

Part of that "Catch 22" was a result of being misdiagnosed as mentally ill before they identified the AVM as the cause of my symptoms. I'd feel a little better on medication, and then the symptoms would come back without explanation. After the correct diagnosis and the surgery, I began seeing everything from a larger perspective where everything was interconnected, everything was one. So that's what happened in my encounter with John Mulhern. He preferred a major chord and I liked minor. But, as I tell my students, those chords are part of a larger whole, which I perceived at that moment.

AAJ: It sounds as if in that split second, your mind grasped the music from a higher level of consciousness that allowed you to enter it again. It fits with the neurologists' idea that the intact parts of your brain had stored the information that you lost from the left temporal lobe.

PM: I tend to agree with that. I saw the whole musical staff, from the clef signature to the end, and it became in my mind a circle in which there was no longer a beginning or end, but a unified whole. I felt I was dealing with the whole of the music from a distance.
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