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Pat Martino: In the Moment

Victor L. Schermer By

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AAJ: Wow! It reminds me of a book you once mentioned to me, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes (HougtonMifflin Harcourt, 1976). One of the main points of that book is that consciousness arises from the connection between the two cerebral hemispheres. It sounds like when you made that connection, the two sides of your brain interacted, and your consciousness of music returned!

PM: That connection is like turning a straight line into a circle. Then it all becomes like the points on a compass: north, east, south, and west. Or like the hours on a clock.

AAJ: Is it possible that many people have trouble grasping the big picture because they see everything as a straight line rather than a circle?

PM: They see the circle briefly and invisibly, at certain times in their lives. Like on New Years Day, they suddenly see the whole year in perspective, in a circle.

AAJ: The neuroscientists in a recent study published about you [Galarza, M. et al. (2014). Jazz, guitar, and neurosurgery: the Pat Martino case report. World Neurosurgery, vol. 81, no. 3-4 (Mar-Apr), p. 651] looked at your recovery from the standpoint of anatomy -which parts of the brain were removed and which were left intact. For example, your many years of playing while you had the AVM undiagnosed, may have meant that the other hemisphere stored a lot of information to compensate for the malfunction in the region of the AVM.

I'm thinking there was an additional factor that the neuroscientists don't talk about so much. Going back to the 1960s, you always have had a larger perspective -let's call it "spiritual" or perhaps "mathematical" -in which your brain stored the information holistically (what you call a "circle"), so that once you saw a small part (the two chords with Mulhern), the whole musical world came back into view for you. That's what the neuroscientists call "functional connectivity," the cooperative interaction between different parts of the brain that control cognition, language, music, etc.

PM: That's a good way to look at it. It was like a rebirth of the essence of my whole self, of what I truly am. When I was a kid, I was totally attracted to the guitar my father gave me, like a kid who always wanted to drive his dad's car! Then he learns to drive the car, and the car and he are inseparable. But if the car breaks down -like after I had the surgery -the driver now realizes he's separate from the car. He sees the car outside of himself and that he can get another car or take the bus, so he's no longer so attached to the car. Similarly, there's the body and the soul -the self, the "I Am," and when I'm no longer so attached to the body (and in my case, the guitar), I experience my true self on a spiritual plane. I think that perhaps my spiritual life as well as my total detachment from the guitar due to memory loss may have put me more in touch with my higher consciousness and my true self, and that might have spurred my recovery. The straight line of life became the infinite, eternal circle of the true self. [The circle as a symbol of unity is present in the Hindu mandala and the uroboros, the snake biting its own tail. -Eds.]

I'm not the only one who believes in the true self of the present moment. Eckard Tolle (The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment; Namaste Publishing, 1997) has a similar perspective. Kahlil Gibran (The Prophet; Knopf, 1923) also put forth such a viewpoint.

AAJ: Similar ideas are also present in Buddhism and Hindu philosophy.

PM: Yes.

Music, Math, and the Spirit

AAJ: Your theory of guitar fingering positions is related to your idea of lines becoming circles.

PM: My approach embodies the opposites, the yin and yang of the guitar. I take the seven and five of the octave, the white and black keys on the piano, which is in one dimension, a straight line, and project it into two dimensions, vertical and horizontal. On the piano, it's addition: 7 + 5 = 12. On the guitar, it's multiplication: 3 x 4 = 12. These are only algebraic symbols, but they contain the truth that constantly hits me. So when the twelve notes of the chromatic scale are projected into two dimensions, as a circle, the fingering on the guitar becomes simpler and more flexible.

The guitar and life itself have both taught me that straight lines, from start to end, are not the correct way to understand things. We think of our lives as going on a straight line, from birth to death. But that is not the whole story. The essence of it all is love, and love occurs in the moment. It's a rush that cannot be described. We all have a tendency to think of love in terms of the people and the circumstances that seem to be generating it. But, in reality, love is separate from all of us. It's alive in itself; it's a true source. In Catholicism they refer to such love as the holy spirit.

So what it comes down to is that we have to detach, disentangle from all the details, and focus on love itself in the now. Since I lost all my memory after the surgery, I had no attachments to the guitar or anything else for that matter anymore. As the guitar or a pen or a cup of coffee came back into my life, I was no longer attached to them. Each object became something for my precise use for specific needs. I found myself detached from and outside of all these things that I had previously depended upon as part of who I was.

AAJ: That's certainly manifest in your guitar playing. The feeling is that it is a precision instrument which is active in the moment, never as if you're trying to think of what to do or where to go next.

PM: Right. I never practice anymore. I just play. After the operation, I have never practiced.

AAJ: It sounds like after the operation, you approached the guitar in a completely new way, on a higher plane of consciousness.

PM: It was really an extension of what I was seeking from youth on. In 1968, long before the operation, I was delving in Bayyina and in Eastern philosophy. I was always seeking that oneness. After the operation and memory loss, the oneness became free, it emerged. I think that what I sought was already within me. The aftermath of the operation released what was in me.

AAJ: You always perform with a high degree of concentration. Some jazz musicians seem more in a dream-like state when they play, letting their minds wander to different places and expressing these various thoughts, emotions, and images in their music. But you are totally focused, perhaps like a Zen master, totally centered in the now.

PM: Yes, but whether I like it or not, sometimes I get distracted. That's just being human. I bear with the distraction and accept it. I don't judge it, I don't condemn it. I flow with it. I see where it brings me.

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