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Pat Martino(1944-2021). A Tribute by Ant Law

Pat Martino. Photo credit: Tom Beetz, Creative Commons

The Jazz Guitar world is incredibly sad today – we have lost a giant.

Pat Martino was one of the greatest who ever lived. As is evident from the tributes which are emerging by the hundred, including from some of the greatest living guitarists. I’m no biographer, but Pat has been a tremendous influence on me, and I humbly offer my own small tribute here.

The first Martino tune I ever heard was ‘Mac Tough’ – played not by Pat himself but by some musicians in Edinburgh, including Kevin Glasgow on bass and the late Bill Kyle on drums. I asked them “What was that tune?”, and the response was a baffled “Wow, you don’t know Pat Martino? OK you REALLY need to check him out…”.

This led to me checking out ‘Live at Yoshi’s’, ‘El Hombre’ and a compilation called ‘Impressions’, and learning much of what Pat played on these albums note for note. There definitely aren’t many jazz guitarists whose own compositions make it into the jazz clubs of Scotland.

Now, in 2021, as we notice hundreds and hundreds of new jazz albums emerging every year (every month even…), these albums in particular serve as a reminder of everything that is great about jazz. They are deeply groovy. They are deeply soulful. They are FULL of blues. There’s a ferocity and excitement from the rhythm sections – take Billy (Hart) & Joey (DeFrancesco) – WOW! There is huge warmth in the melodies and improvisations. There’s a fearlessness and meteoric velocity to Pat’s lines. Many modern improvisers play with a swagger, often very behind the beat. But Pat could sometimes be VERY in front of the beat, giving the feeling of acceleration and excitement.

His guitar sound is big and thick, in part due to him using extremely high gauge strings. The thickness of these strings means they are also incredibly tight – so nearly all guitarists wince at the mention of a “15” as the high E string. Yet, despite his guitar being strung up with these (which could suspend a small lift), Pat got around the neck with incredible virtuosity. Martino (who preceded Metheny) hugely influenced the sonic characteristics of every living jazz guitar player, whether they like it, whether they admit it, or whether they are even aware of it or not. It’s built into the DNA of jazz guitar at this point. Pat also came up with many of the greatest jazz guitar licks ever, including this one (a 6-note lick, NOT 3!)

If anyone had somehow forgotten how great he was, there was the Gene Ludwig bootleg (entitled ‘Young Guns’) that emerged in 2014 – a reminder of just how incredible he was to anyone (myself included) who had been paying attention to younger players.

Pat to me also exemplified one of the most important things artists should do – to experiment and push themselves into unknown territory – take ‘Joyous Lake’ or ‘Baiyina’ for example.

Perhaps most importantly there’s the very sad but ultimately inspiring story of his near-fatal aneurysm, and his gradual – and unbelievable!!! – recovery from it. In short he suffered from severe amnesia and had to relearn nearly everything he knew about guitar and music. This is the reason for the gap in his discography of nearly 10 years. His first album after the hiatus was entitled ‘The Return’. To me, his plight is a lesson in patience.

So it is with great sadness that we say goodbye to Pat. The recordings he made are some of the greatest ever, and we will continue to treasure them. On behalf of my 6-string-slinging brothers and sisters everywhere – Thanks for everything, Pat!

Patrick Carmen Azzara (Pat Martino)
Born Philadelphia, 25 August 25, 1944. Died Philadelphia, November 1, 2021

LINK: Report in Philadelphia Enquirer

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