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Pat Martino: The Continual Pulsation of the Now

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I think there is a lack of authenticity in terms of its (jazz) study at this point in time. It's being analyzed, it's the equivalent of step time versus real time.
This article was first published at All About Jazz in October 2000.

Listening to Pat Martino speak feels like he's playing guitar. He employs elegantly elongated lines, thoughtful and deep. He says plenty but never too much. He projects the best type of wisdom, wisdom gained by reflecting upon experience. And, boy, does Pat Martino have experience.

The good ones include formative days in funky '60s combos in his Philly hometown, learning through dates with Willis "Gator" Jackson and the soul-jazz organ pantheon (including Jack McDuff, Jimmy Smith and Richard "Groove" Holmes). His own career then took shape with acclaimed and influential volumes of intelligent, articulate fusion guitar, such as East!, Footprints, and Live!.

The bad experiences include a misdiagnosed brain aneurysm, which cost him his memory and nearly his life in 1980. Thereafter, this master was forced to instruct himself in the same way that so many of his admirers learned: by listening to Pat Martino records over and over, picking out the chords and notes and painstakingly stringing them back together. In 1987, The Maker re-heralded Martino's impeccable, passionate and creative fusion.

At the age of 55, Martino remains bright-eyed and eager to promote his own projects (at the time of this interview, a total of seven!) and jazz in general. I hope that it's helpful in the sense of hearing about a tremendous art in our culture, he offers. It's American classical music and I think that it's very important.

All About Jazz: You once gave your pocket definition of jazz as Jazz is the continual pulsation of the now. Would you expand on that?

Pat Martino: It means the ability to improvise with a qualitative authenticity, something that doesn't only apply to a craft but applies to everything that you are experiencing moment to moment in life. That's the only way, through my experience, that there's a continuity of process itself and by such it leads to continuity in a much longer and much wider array of results.

AAJ: According to your website, you're currently involved in a project with Joe Pesci. With whom else have you been working?

PM: The Joe Pesci project actually began when he was 17 and I was 16. We go back that far, in Harlem, where Joe used to visit Small's Paradise and I used to talk Willis Jackson into having him sit in because Joe used to love to sing with the band. He wanted to do this all his life, because he was really a prominent guitarist at that particular time. This project came about after a long period of time in terms of his interest in me as an artist as well as Jimmy Scott as a vocalist. Joe really has followed singing in that idiom, very much like Jimmy Scott in his own way. The project began in September and we finished the last parts of it in October. It's on hold at the moment because Joe is doing another film and should be back soon. It's a co-leader project between Joe and myself really as old friends some great orchestrations by Artie Schroeck, a 30 piece orchestra with strings and horns and a great rhythm section, and I've got all the room as the major soloist.

Another is a project that I've finished with Eric Alexander, who plays tenor with Joyous Lake. The project just came out great; Eric asked me to participate within it and I did. Some great, great moments on that; I'm really happy for Eric.

The one with Chuck Israels and The Cologne WDR Orchestra is orchestrations of a lot of original compositions of mine and a few of Chuck's. It's featuring guitar and large orchestra; Chuck did some great arrangements and I believe it's going to be distributed by Blue Note.

Four other sessions make it seven in whole. One of them is with Manuel Barrueca, on Angel Records with classical duets. Manuel is hoping for me to be as original and totally myself as possible so there's an integration of interplay between us idiomatically as well. We will be doing pieces by Takamitsu and Bach. There's another one with Lonnie Smith which is going to include myself and Joe Lovano that is going to be on Blue Note also. Finally, there's going to be a Jack McDuff project that's going to take place in the year 2000.

AAJ: We'd also like your snapshots and impressions from three albums in your catalog; first, The Return.

PM: I think the easiest way to begin is to bring to your attention that with the exception of the initial point of appearance of each of the compositions, the music begins to become absorbed by the reality of all the incidents and events that take place surrounding the ability to create a photograph of that period of composition. Which is the album itself, it's an audio photograph.

There are so many things that take place at that particular time. In this particular case I believe it was 1987. It was the first time that I had become active again publicly, and if I remember correctly the initial performance area was Fat Tuesday's in New York City, which is where it was recorded. There were so many things that were happening that it's impossible for me to remember exactly how I felt about the music due to the fact that the initial engagement was performed with musicians who came from Philadelphia and immediately were replaced by Joey Baron and Marc Johnson. That particular trio, I was just extremely happy about that. It was impossible to be able to replace that trio totally for the recording itself. That changed the music itself in terms of my expectations. You also have to keep in mind that I really dislike one of the things that's hard, very difficult, to avoid, and that's expectations. There were certain things, due to those earlier performances, that I did expect to take place again. So I wasn't so happy about the recorded properties as I was about the live performance of it.

That's as close as I can get to the music, although to be honest with you there were so many events that took place socially, emotionally, and psychologically that it's really difficult for me to explain to you what the project means to me when I see it on a CD.

AAJ: How about Interchange?

PM: I was so happy about Interchange, primarily because it was my first opportunity to have public interaction with James Ridl. It actually was the reason that I got interested in playing. 1987 was a period where I played for a brief amount of time and then suddenly there were family problems with my parents who began to dissipate and began to die. So after 1987 there was a gap, there was another period of silence and isolation. 1994 was the first time after all that solved itself that I literally committed to playing again on a constant basis, and Interchange was the first project.

AAJ: Finally, Nightwings?

PM: Nightwings was of the same period of personnel. It included Jim Ridl, Marc Johnson, and in both cases, with Interchange and with Nightwings, there was the addition of different personnel as drummers as well as the addition of a tenor player, Bob Kenmotsu.

AAJ: What's your opinion of the music industry and the place of jazz within it?

PM: All of this, I think, goes to the ultimate, which is going to be the result of how it's going to be accepted, how much it's going to be enjoyed as a good product that is historically available from that time forward. I think that the educational system, conservatories and music institutions, and all of the youngsters that are there at this particular time, with definition and with determination about what they're really promoting into their futures, the one thing that is missing is missing in our culture itself.

The study of jazz at this point is a very difficult study of something that is almost impossible to be able to provide authenticity. And that leads back to the fact that the culture doesn't exist anymore. It's difficult to walk into a jazz club the way you did in the '60s, with people who were there surrounding the intimacy of the environment where jazz was really explosively taking place. And that included so many things that this culture is lacking. And that took place with DJs who are now record company owners; a good example is Joel Dorn over at 32Jazz. I remember when Joel had a radio show in Philadelphia and at that time was the first time that I heard The Montgomery Brothers. That's when I was a 14 year old boy, and that's what stimulated me.

The music business has changed tremendously. Fashion has changed tremendously. Everything has changed in our culture. Coming back to jazz, I think there is a lack of authenticity in terms of its study at this point in time. It's being analyzed, it's the equivalent of step time versus real time. I think both of them are necessary, but at some point hopefully in the future the culture will re-organize itself. Then and only then will jazz participate in a living form, as it did earlier.

AAJ: What does the word spiritual mean to you?

PM: Initially, it means a rest and a relaxation from all of the stress and demands of material life. It means an integration and blending with transcendental properties that go far beyond all of the disappointments, all of the hopes and dreams that may or may not come true. It's separate, it's complete, it's total, and it's there whenever you'd like to enter it. And it's a consolation, it's a place to rest anytime rest is needed.

AAJ: Is humility an important quality, and if so why?

PM: I consider it to be one of the most important characteristics, if only due to the fact that the need for its presence is the greatest reminder of the lack of its presence.

AAJ: Have pianists or vocalists contributed to your guitar style?

PM: That's a very difficult answer to supply, to a question like that as a reaction at this point in my life. So many layers of influence have just faded in the sense of them becoming part of a much larger embodied process that it's difficult for me to be specific anymore.

AAJ: If you were not bound by financial or other constraints, who would you like to play with?

PM: Over the last years, I have given very little thought to that. Maybe it's because my feelings as to who those individuals are going to be are going to be the next series of personnel, even if they may be the same personnel that I recorded the last project with. Each and every project becomes a major event and I look forward with a lot of fear, of course, a lot of hope, a lot of excitement, a lot of confusion in the sense of not knowing what to do next, wondering where the ideas are going to come from-for me to give thought to where the ideas are going to come from and at the same time give thought to specific individuals, is so difficult that I wouldn't know how to answer the question. I do think that whosoever it's going to be, the individuals that I've experienced recently, we try so hard to accomplish what we set out to do that, if done the way we would like it to be, it would be just as great as it can be done with anyone else, if not greater. So it's difficult for me to choose something that doesn't exist at the moment. And I'm not trying to avoid an honest answer to you, because I'm being as honest as I possibly can.

AAJ: Do you prefer the sound of cassette tapes, CDs or vinyl?

PM: I like CDs better than vinyl. Maybe it's because I'm a Virgo and scratches on a record drive me crazy!

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