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Pat Martino: Martino Unstrung

Victor L. Schermer By

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1. Martino Reflects on Martino Unstrung 2. Filming Pat Martino's World
3. The Neuropsychology of Pat Martino 4. Review of Martino Unstrung


Pat MartinoA new documentary film about legendary guitarist Pat Martino, Martino Unstrung, focuses on his brain disease—AVM or arteriovenous malformation—emergency surgery, profound memory loss, and miraculous musical and personal recovery. It also presents intimate portraits of Martino, his music, his wife Ayako Akai, his friends across the decades, his family, and important locales in his life. It is only natural that one would want to know Martino's own reflections on a film which is not only about him but in which he actively participated both on and off screen.

Martino has been a big part of the jazz scene for so many years that it is easy to take for granted that he is one of the greatest jazz guitarists of all time. A virtuoso, his sound and technique on the instrument are impeccable. His musical range extends from deep and rich interpretations of ballads to fast-moving extended runs that are almost impossible to rival—from blues and standards to complex original compositions of his own and others. His mastery of the instrument and consummate teaching ability lead aspirants from around the world to study with him. Martino's understanding of guitar goes well beyond style and technique to include spiritual and theoretical insights.

Early recognized as a master, Martino has been performing and recording since the early 1960s. Unbeknownst to himself, he grew up with an abnormality of blood vessels in the brain called AVM, or arterioevenous malformation. According to medical experts, this condition worsened until, well into his career, he began to have serious mental complications which were improperly diagnosed. In the late 1970s, these symptoms proved to be caused by a brain aneurysm that required emergency surgery. As the now nearly legendary story in jazz circles goes, he woke up from the surgery with total amnesia for past events and persons. He did not even recognize the guitar or his record albums.

From that traumatic point, he gradually recovered his playing ability and resumed his career to where his accomplishments are even greater than before. He won the NARA Heroes Award for that achievement. Recently, the British film director, Ian Knox and his friend in England, neuropsychologist Paul Broks, collaborated with Martino on a film documentary about his memory loss and recovery, including an intimate portrayal of Martino and his wife, Ayako.

Martino Unstrung is one of the best documentaries about a jazz musician. Ian Knox is a terrific director. The film is spellbinding from beginning to end. It offers a moving, intimate portrayal of Martino as a person, a musical icon and someone who had undergone a traumatic loss of memory and made a miraculous recovery. It's a deeply personal testament. The following interview, conducted in person at his home studio, offers Martino's own reflections on the film and its personal meaning to him.

Chapter Index
  1. Agreeing to the Film
  2. Recovering from Surgery
  3. Examination of the Brain
  4. Martino's Life on Film
  5. Friends Les Paul and Joe Pesci
  6. Symptoms of Illness
  7. Healing
  8. Martino's Wife, Ayako Akai


Agreeing to the Film

All About Jazz: You are a high profile musician, and in a sense your music defines you, so what prompted you to participate in a film which is deeply personal and is focused on your memory loss and recovery as such rather than the music? What led you to get involved in such a project?

Pat Martino: That's a really interesting question in that normally what leads me to do anything that takes place prior to its fruition was the very thing that led me to want to interact with Ian Knox when I first saw his presence in the room I was sitting in at Ronnie Scott's in London. I was relaxing between shows, and in walked a very interesting individual whose hado, or aura, attracted attention. We turned and looked at each other, greeted each other's presence, and then sat down and talked. I asked him what he did, and his qualities were very magnetic and exciting. And it moved from there. And the film was no different from that moment.

To me, the outcome is what is left behind compared to the very moments of filming when it's been enjoyed as life itself. So, for me, each and every moment on the film is not what I see on the film, even though it's a replica. It has been captured, very much like a photograph of a loved one in a catalog. There's no life in it to me personally. I'm more interested in the enjoyment of my life, and that's what the film is all about. And that went from moment to moment to moment. Even now it still continues, and I enjoy what I'm doing.

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