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Pat Martino: In the Moment

Victor L. Schermer By

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AAJ: In the film and in your autobiography, there are many musicians commenting on you and your playing with great affection, appreciation, and respect. Let's turn the tables on you. I'd like to hear what comes into your mind about other guitar players. I'll mention some guitarists, and you tell me your immediate thoughts about them. I'll start with two who influenced you greatly, personally and professionally when you started out: Wes Montgomery and Les Paul.

PM: They were two loveable individuals who were phosphorescent. Meeting them when I was young was quite an experience.

AAJ: Did you try to emulate either of them at all in your playing?

PM: Not at all.

AAJ: Another great guitarist whom you met early in your career was George Benson. What does he bring to mind?

PM: I have a great deal of respect and admiration for George. I felt similar admiration for Les, but with Wes it was not so much admiration as affection and love. Les was, among other things, an engineer and a mathematician who pioneered in electric guitar. George is more of an artist and a businessman. But when I think about Wes, all I think about is love. He was a very special person to me. You could see it in his face, and it was second nature for him to play. There was a magic to that.

AAJ: John Scofield.

PM: I don't know John that well, although he did have a lesson with me at one time, and our families have had dinner together: John and his wife and children, and me and my wife Aya. We were in Italy, at a great Italian restaurant. We sat at a long table and enjoyed each other's company. The only time John and I ever played together was around that same time in Italy. It was John's birthday, and I was doing a trio with Joey DeFrancesco and Byron Landham. John came up to me and asked if we could do a song together on his birthday. He asked if we could do "Sunny." You can see and hear it on YouTube. I loved doing that with him.

AAJ: Jimmy Bruno.

PM: I've enjoyed personal interactions with Jimmy, but never as players. I do treasure Jimmy's friendship. Jimmy seems very involved in his occupation as a musician, but I just enjoy him deeply as a friend.

AAJ: Aside from a memorable gig with Les Paul at the Iridium in 1998, and the one number with Scofield, have there been other performances with fellow guitarists?

PM: Sure. On my album All Sides Now (Blue Note, 1997), I worked with fellow guitarists Tuck Andress, Kevin Eubanks, Les Paul, Mike Stern and Michael Hedges. Among other things, I appeared with Lee Rittenour on his recording 6 String Theory (Concord/Universal, 2010). I performed duets with Bobby Rose in the 1960s and 1970s. We played together in quite a number of places. [Recordings of this duo from Martino's personal collection are available on the CD: Pat Martino: Alone Together with Bobby Rose (HighNote, 2012). -Eds.] And I did a tour of Italy with Russell Malone, Mark Whitfield, and Chuck Loeb where we played individually and collectively.

AAJ: I know that you had some contact with Jaco Pastorius. What comes to mind about him?

PM: Wow, Jaco! Jaco lived with me for two weeks in Philadelphia. He came in from Florida. He was signed with Epic Records at the time, and I was signed either to Prestige or Warner Brothers. I was living at 13th and Pine Streets at the time, and we tried playing together, but it didn't quite work out. We remained friends throughout the rest of his life, but there was some static from the record labels about us working together. So we never did.

AAJ: Were you aware of Jaco's musical genius?

PM: Absolutely. He's one of those players whose greatness you cannot refute. More recently in my experience with that special quality are the pianists Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Eldar, both of whom I've performed with. They are so gifted as players that they're one of a kind. Jaco was one of those unique musicians who are irreplaceable. Once you come into their presence, you have to follow what they say, through admiration, through respect and enjoyment, through treasuring what they offer you.

AAJ: I think that you yourself are one of those musicians who inspire unique respect and enjoyment as well.

PM: Thank you. I think it doesn't matter whether it's a musical instrument, a spiritual idea, mathematics, whatever, it truly has an effect on one who pays it a visit. Unfortunately, I think too many musicians become so attached to their instrument and their career, that they lose sight of their real purpose, which is to give themselves up to the music and allow it to take place within them. I've always been more interested in the song I'm playing than in what career I could pursue with the guitar. I accept the beauty of that song now, and I immerse myself in the beauty of it with a lot of love. And that goes from moment to moment. And when it happens, it's over that quickly [snaps his fingers!]. It doesn't exist any more for me. I'm not entangled in it, and then the next moment is something new with as much commitment as the one before.

AAJ: It reminds me of Buddhist sand mandalas, where the monks make a meticulous figure using different colored sands, and after observing its beauty, they blow it away. So different from putting a painting in a museum, where it is preserved for a long time and sometimes acquires great monetary value and fame.

PM: Yes, those monks are saying the same thing as I am!

Jazz and the Cosmos

AAJ: I see that here on the table next to us, you have the book, The Jazz of Physics by Stephon Alexander (Basic Books, 2016). Can you say a bit about your interest in it?

PM: A lot of this book relates to some ideas of John Coltrane about musical intervals and structures as they manifest in physics and the universe. And that's what some of my theory of guitar relates to as well.

AAJ: A moment ago, you used the word "entanglement," which is an important concept in quantum theory. At that subatomic level, there do seem to be parallels between jazz and physics, such as the "uncertainty principle." Jazz improvisations like quantum events are unpredictable until they happen. In fact, the link between music and the universe goes back as far as Pythagoras with his "music of the spheres." So there's always been an idea that music and physics are interwoven with one another.

PM: Of course! And modern composers like Eliot Carter, George Crumb, Milton Babbitt, and Karlheinz Stockhausen are also mathematicians. I met Eliot Carter once, and saw him making a drawing of a big spiral as he was composing his music. The same creative force manifests in different ways in music and in physics. I imagine that when humanity is ready for it, we'll discover alien forms of life that manifest the same force. We will open up to more forms of life than we do now. A simple example is that I now enjoy birds and even some insects in ways that I never did before. I've opened up to so many new things.

Martino's Next Project

AAJ: A lot of your fans will want to know what's next for Pat Martino. What are you planning to do now?

PM: I'm getting ready to do my new album for guitar and symphony orchestra.

AAJ: Wow! Finally! You've been talking about this for a long time!

PM: It's going to be an album of love ballads. Right now, I'm preparing sketches of some of the material. It's going to be very lush!

AAJ: Will it perhaps be like the iconic album, Charlie Parker with Strings (Verve, 1995) that Norman Granz recorded in and around 1950?

PM: In my own mind, I'm thinking a lot about Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington.

[Interviewer's Note: Readers should not take the discussion of Martino's brain trauma in this interview as proven medical science. The roles of meditation and higher states of consciousness in recovery from brain injury are intriguing but uncertain and largely unexplored. If you or a loved one is diagnosed with a brain disorder, medical consultation is necessary. -VLS]

Photo Credit: Arnie Goodman
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