Pat Martino: Memories from David O’Rourke

David O’Rourke has written this personal tribute in gratitude to Pat Martino (*). The Irish guitarist and arranger has lived in New York since the 1980’s. These personal recollections show vividly how Pat Martino’s music is rooted in a culture of generosity and extended family. David O’Rourke writes:

Be Yourself…”

“Be Yourself” they told me, “Because everyone else has been taken…” and of course, the adult me fully agrees with these sentiments and would never argue against them, but the version of me in my late teens, when I first heard Pat Martino…THAT is who I wanted to be. I would buy every album I could find, get a cassette copy of the ones I couldn’t, and try to play his solos, learning them off by using my Dad’s old reel to reel recorder. Slow them to half-speed except, it wasn’t calibrated accurately and it would come out a half step higher, but an octave lower. I would have the mixture of frustration that I couldn’t execute them at full speed right away, but I also found myself marveling at his note choices, even slowed down. The opening notes of “Days Of Wine and Roses” into the break to the solo. All the ballads on his “We’ll Be Together Again” album, and the timelessness of “Joyous Lake” ! Phew, and I wondered would I ever hear him live or meet him…

(Image published under Fair Use/ Fair Dealing provisions.)

Never Meet Your Heroes” (?)

“Never Meet Your Heroes” – how many times was I told that, and how many times were they proven wrong! I remember, in winter 1983, in Vic Juris’s apartment telling him that I envied him having studied with Pat Martino “You want to study with Pat? I’ll give you his number and tell him I told you call!” I was floored, what a generous thing of Vic to do and when I did call Pat, my life was changed, forever! Back to that ‘Be Yourself’ idea, some people had the Beatles haircuts in the 60s, bell bottoms etc, but for me, it was that cover of Guitar Player magazine (image right) – Pat in a denim shirt. I tried getting one and they had gone out of vogue in Ireland but I eventually did, couldn’t get a Gibson L5 solid though and all because I wanted to be that guy on the cover of Guitar Player whose playing mesmerized me.

First Meeting

Soon after that phone call, my cousin Paul McEvoy, drove me to Philly to get my lesson with Pat – a 5 hour lesson, for an insanely low charge! – he had a booklet ready for me and I sat there in awe for about 5-10 minutes. He snapped me out of it to a point where I mostly saw him as a generous, humble, easy going man but…a genius!!! I would slip briefly into an ‘OMG, that’s Pat Martino’ mode and would immediately fall back in to the warmth of his sharing. That began a friendship that I know I was blessed to have.

David O’Rourke and Pat Martino, winter 1983

The Comeback…

His comeback from clean slate memory loss to relearning what many thought was gone forever (John Mulhern, your support and friendship of Pat here, gave us all so much more of his extraordinary gift to cherish). When I took my lesson with him he was on his way back from the seizures and memory loss and had regained a lot of his trademark sound, but his confidence or desire to perform had not yet returned – but I’ll never forget looking in wonder as he produced amazing sounds with his twin neck Adamus nylon string only feet away from me. Even with the inevitable loss that comes with an aneurysm and the seizures he had, I got a full understanding of what that throwaway line “brains to burn” meant – students of neurology often point out how other parts of the brain try to compensate for ones that are compromised, for some reason or another, and a kind of remapping takes place. His profound command of such a wide variety of subjects was staggering, as was his constant quest for more knowledge.

How to approach this? I’d never collaborated with an icon like that before…”

Years later, while Seth Abramson and I are having a chat with Pat, just off from the stage at Jazz Standard and both of us telling Pat how much we loved his ballad playing Pat said how sometimes, that was all he wanted to do – play only ballads. I can’t remember how we got there but Seth was asking him about an orchestral album and Pat’s face lit up as he said he wanted to do one and looked at me and said “I want to do it with him” and laughed. I remember saying to him that if he was serious about that then so was I, and asked what was the next move? He told me when to call him, allowing for some recoup time after being away from home for more than a week. I called, we set a date for me to go to Philly, to the house where I had taken the lesson almost 30 years earlier. I didn’t know how to approach this, I’d never collaborated with an icon like that before. Do I wait to be told what he wanted to do? Do I suggest to him? or will he feel like I’m pushing him in a direction. If I wait and arrive with nothing then what has he to go on with me? If I arrive with complete arrangements then it seems like I am being controlling.

Gaining an insight into how Pat Martino kept building repertoire

I arrive at his house in Philly and in what would be become the routine when we met once a month, he would play for me whatever he was working on currently…a composition, some stuff that sound like his octave dispersal ideas, you name it. Then he turned to me and said “What did you have in mind?” and I froze inwardly and then decided to say exactly what I was thinking. I had recently seen Paul McCartney play at CitiField where he did nearly three hours where he did everything from earliest Beatles, through Wings through later up to solo projects. I thought it was interesting the way he had gone from only doing 2 or 3 Beatles songs to now viewing his entire body of work as something he and his audience would enjoy. I told Pat that I felt if we only did standards, only originals etc it wouldn’t tell the whole story but what about drawing from his career up to the present, that we would include songs he wanted to play currently. “What do you have for me?’ – I had an intro and the first chorus of the head of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” scored along with “The Great Stream” – I figured that would represent two sides of him for starters. He played the ballad first and looked up at me while the orchestral part was being played by Sibelius software and said “Yeah man!” – then The Great Stream where he corrected a harmony I had gotten wrong, in a most gentle manner. I had the absolute honor and excitement of being given carte blanche as we teased repertoire.

Memories of writing sessions (and ice cream) in Philly

John Mulhern – who helped save Pat when he had his biggest seizure in L A in the 80s – was his assistant, student and engineer. Once he asked me to make sure we did a version of the Michel Legrand tune “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” The project never got to performance stage but I got to spend one day a month with the man I considered a master, one of my all time heroes – I would bring what I had written, the only slight changes he would make were minor playback tempo adjustments.

We would work solidly for 2-3 hours then me, Pat and Aya would go to dinner in one of the many places Philly has to offer. I knew I was privileged to share that time – the car ride to the restaurant with Pat driving “There used to be a barbershop there right next to a small music store where the owner taught me the C chord (I imagined little Pat learning the same C chord we had all learned) – and yes, the barber shop, where his Dad would have him play “Moonlight In Vermont”, the Johnny Smith version for the clientele – WOW! We went to a pizzeria he had been going to since he was a child. It was there Pat and Aya took delight when this Irishman got to have his first Spumoni – an Italian three-layer ice cream, with candied fruits and nuts. Where he went to school and met Charles Earland, told me about going for hot chocolate with John Coltrane after a lesson with Dennis Sandole.

So, we didn’t get to the finish line with such a huge project with so many moving parts but…I did get to know what it feels like when a master like Pat sets you free to create and you are on the same page. Pat and Aya playing duets in their living room for me and me playing Irish music for them.

There was a time when a couple of people asked if they could sit in on our writing sessions. When I mentioned this to Pat, he said “I’d rather keep it to you and I until we get the repertoire locked in before we consider letting anyone else into the room. “ I remember how great it felt to hear him say that. I felt so honored that he trusted me in that way. 

With a little help from friends…

The loyal love and support of his manager Joe Donofrio and his student and then friend John Mulhern cannot be overlooked. Then there’s Aya who stopped surgery from happening, surgery that would most likely have ended with him lucky to make it past the surgeons table. She is as gentle as he is in disposition. I must mention Seth again as it was he who told me I had to get into the club to hear Pat play this ballad he had never heard him play before, the Mingus song “Duke Ellington’s Sound Of Love”. He arranged to meet me there to make sure I didn’t miss this beautiful tune and Pat playing it! Thank You Seth!

YES!! DO meet your heroes!

About that “Never Meet Your Heroes” advice, that has been proven wrong for me so many times with, obviously Pat, Louis Stewart & George Benson who all provided mentorship and friendship, second to none. Jazz used to consist of primarily a mentor-based environment and thankfully, in my case I came in on the tail end of much of it – add to the mix the late Bucky Pizzarelli, his manager Dick Ables, Larry Willis and too numerous for me to list here, so NO!!! I say DO meet your heroes! I hope the above shared memories will show you what an amazingly generous spirit this genius was to all of us!

(*) This is an edited version of a Facebook post.

LINK: Tribute to Pat Martino by Ant Law

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