Pat Martino: Martino Unstrung - A Brain Mystery


Sign in to view read count
Pat Martino

Martino Unstrung - A Brain Mystery

Sixteen Films


There is active dispute over whether guitarist Pat Martino's playing has the drive and edge it had before his brain surgery in 1980. Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, one of the many (briefly) talking heads in this documentary, says: "I like his sound better now." The film includes a few astute comments on Martino the musician—the best, surprisingly, coming from Who guitarist Pete Townshend.

But it's the surgery that is the central concern. Don't expect a musical portrait of Martino or even much of his playing. This is a documentary about Martino's brain—and sad to say, illuminating it mostly isn't.

The voices speaking are often doctors. We see sessions between Martino and the former as his short-term memory is tested (it's pretty bad) and he's questioned about longer-term memories (with decidedly mixed results). There are even scenes of Martino undergoing a CAT scan and viewing the results. When told that the missing parts of his brain—excised with a tumor—included portions that control emotions, Martino says: "What is missing is disappointment, criticism and all the dilemmas that made life so difficult."

But what memories Martino does have are often haphazard and fragmentary, and if this film is trying to mimic the way his brain functions, it very exasperatingly succeeds. It follows no systematic chronology and is assembled as if every separate sequence was shot and then shattered into myriad fragments then mixed together. No scene stays on screen very long and there are abrupt skips from brain scans to band rehearsals to talking heads to Martino and his wife playing guitars to—and this one is really surreal—his neurosurgeon talking in a garage filled with Porsches and Ferraris.

We never really learn how Martino—who before the successful outcome of the surgery didn't know his family or that he was a heralded jazz musician—remastered the art of jazz guitar. Various explanations are floated, including this conundrum from his neurosurgeon: "It's not so much he rediscovered the music as the music rediscovered him."

Jazz is lucky to have Martino active again in 2009. But disappointingly, this film doesn't tell us how he returned, although it does hint at a fascinating journey.

Production Notes: UK 2008 Color Length/ main feature: 82; Special extras: 70. Extras on the DVD include: Concert footage: live at Birdland and Ronnie Scott's; Martino masterclass tasters; The Nature Of Guitar & Sacred Geometry; Paul Broks masterclass; Is There a Soul?; Carlos Santana and Pete Townshend talk Jazz; Les Paul interview; Michael Sembello interview; Joe Pesci; Red Holloway.

Post a comment



View events near New York City
Jazz Near New York City
Events Guide | Venue Guide | Get App | More...

Shop Amazon


Interview with Lynyrd Skynyrd: Live At Knebworth '76
Interview with Buster Williams: Bass to Infinity
Interview with Sylvie's Love
Film Review
Sylvie's Love
Interview with Billie
Film Review
Interview with Never Too Late: The Doc Severinsen Story
Interview with Zappa
Film Review
Interview with Ronnie Wood:  Somebody Up There Likes Me


All About Jazz needs your support

All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded albums and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, limited reopenings and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary step that will help musicians and venues now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the sticky footer ad). Thank you!

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.