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Book Review: Pat Martino with Bill Milkowski – Here and Now!

Pat Martino with Bill Milkowski – Here and Now!
(Backbeat Books. 208pp., £16.99)

The blurb of guitarist Pat Martino‘s autobiography describes it as ‘remarkable … extraordinary and revealing’, three adjectives that might lead seasoned observers of the jazz memoir to expect something along the lines of Art Pepper’s Straight Life or even Charles Mingus’s Beneath the Underdog. Instead of the often downright lurid sensationalism of such accounts, however, Here and Now! is replete with mature and considered reflection on life, music and the healing power of love. Indeed, so mellow, thoughtful and non-judgemental is Martino that his account is occasionally characterised by the deliberately uncontroversial blandness associated with mainstream showbiz memoirs, or (to cite a jazz example) Duke Ellington’s Music is My Mistress.

Willis ‘Gator Tail’ Jackson (one of Martino’s first employers) is ‘something else’; Wes Montgomery ‘great … magic … a sorcerer’; Joe Pass ‘someone I greatly admired … a special person’; Joey DeFrancesco ‘an incredible player and a lovable person’ – it is almost a relief to find that, during the recording of a project with which Martino was always uncomfortable (Blue Note’s All Sides Now), he ‘lost control and literally turned the table over’ in his anger at the recording’s producer Matt Resnicoff (although he later apologised).

The book’s saving grace, though, is its heart-on-sleeve honesty. Martino’s story – supportive but strict Catholic Italian parents, professional musician in his teens, a series of acclaimed albums culminating in the still-underrated fusion classic Joyous Lake, near-fatal aneurysm resulting in memory loss, followed by slow recovery, happy marriage and triumphant return to his current status of universally respected guitarist and music theorist – is an unequivocally heartening and inspiring one, and he relates it with patent sincerity.

True, it is somewhat slight (Martino’s contribution actually makes up only about half the text; the rest is provided by journalist Bill Milkowski‘s judicious insertions of other musicians’ accounts and the occasional square-bracketed piece of factual information, plus nearly fifty pages of tributes from other guitarists and interviews with film maker Ian Knox and neuropsychologist Paul Broks), but none the less moving and uplifting and – perhaps most importantly – it simply demands that the reader re-examine an extraordinary body of work produced by a unique individual.

Backbeat Books

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