Esoteric Jazz: Pat Martino in Dialogue

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We are very happy to present the following dialogue with a living legend of the jazz world: Pat Martino. Hosted by Greg Thomas, Pat shares some of the deepest depths of his inspiration, his vision, and his creative process, all of which has made him one of the most remarkable performers in the jazz scene.

“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” -Carl Jung

We are very happy to present the following dialogue with a living legend of the jazz world: Pat Martino. Hosted by Greg Thomas, Pat shares some of the deepest depths of his inspiration, his vision, and his creative process, all of which has made him one of the most remarkable performers in the jazz scene.

The interview itself rolls out like a wild jazz instrumental. Greg masterfully sets the rhythm of the discussion, allowing Pat to fill the space with a flurry of thoughts, ideas, and insights, weaving together themes of inspiration, improvisation, love, mortality, and transcendence — in other words, the sounds of a life fully and profoundly lived.

Pat Martino: Jazz Zen Master

by Greg Thomas

“And by climbing upward, I was no longer subject to being altered by that pendulum. So that’s as general and as simple a way I can try to define exactly what I feel about perspective, and how I see life itself and decision within it.”Pat Martino

For last month’s Integral Post, I focused on the concept of “fine art,” as part of a development model outlined by Albert Murray. Here and now, I focus on a man, Pat Martino, who not only plays music on the level of fine art, but lives and articulates life itself as fine art. I conceive of “fine art” as a second tier aesthetic line of development. Yet Pat Martino’s philosophy of life would be better served by also including other psychographic lines—cognitive, interpersonal, self-identity, moral, values, needs, emotional, etc. When he speaks, he consistently touches on these lines of development with a high degree of consciousness.

On July 21, 2011, the New York Daily News published my feature story on Martino, a long-time master of jazz. I’m confident you’ll agree that in his playing—from stating the melody to improvisation to coming in support of others — as well as in his thoughts expressed in words, Pat Martino demonstrates developmental depth and mastery that we’d be quite safe deeming as Integral.

The story mentioned above, and found directly below, is mostly the same as published in the print and online versions of the Daily News article, except for an italicized portion that I’ve inserted from the interview I did with Pat for the story. That’s where what’s implicit about Martino’s post-conventional altitude begins to become acutely explicit. The feature story lays the groundwork for the emotional and psychological impact of the videos that follow.


Master guitarist George Benson speaks about the first time he heard Pat Martino. The piece also promoted Pat’s appearance that week with an organ trio plus saxophonist at the Jazz Standard in New York City.

It is with deep pleasure that I share with you, the Integral community, the story, music and words of a man that I call a Jazz Zen Master. I also feel gratitude, and confidence that you will recognize and understand Pat Martino’s profound perspective as a beacon of light and love and wisdom.

Jazz Guitar Legend Pat Martino Recalls Moving to New York for Cultural Awakening, Losing Memory

(from the New York Daily News, 7/21/11, pp. 46-47)

Whenever jazz guitar legend Pat Martino plays in the Big Apple, it’s a homecoming.

“I love every time I come to New York City. I left my hometown of Philadelphia at the age of 15, and this was my home for 27 or 28 years,” he says.

Martino and his organ trio headline a four-night run at the Jazz Standard starting Thursday night. He’ll be joined by Hammond B3 organist Lucas Brown, drummer Shawn Hill and tenor saxophonist John David Simon.

Martino is a legend for more than his speed-demon virtuosity at high-velocity tempos or his angelic harmonies on ballads. He has also faced death several times, and tells the tale of his survival and recovery with a perspective akin to a zen master.

Martino began playing guitar at 12, advancing through feverish practice, exposure to giants such as Wes Montgomery in local joints his dad would take him to — and music lessons with Dennis Sandole, where he’d run into John Coltrane, who would treat him to hot chocolate as they discussed music.


Pat Martino plays Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo” in an organ trio. This is one of Rollins’ songs, based on George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” chord changes, that contemporary jazz musicians readily draw upon as part of their melodic and harmonic repertoire.

“When I came to New York City in the early 1960s, my main intention was to participate, and take my place within the social culture that surrounded jazz,” he says. “And that’s exactly what took place.

“I went up to Harlem, to what used to be called 137th and Seventh Ave., to Small’s Paradise, which now is an IHOP. These things, for a youngster at that age, were dreams come true.”

A 1960s story suggests how much his dreams were realized.

“I invited Les Paul to join with me at Small’s Paradise, primarily to introduce him to Wes Montgomery,” Martino says. “I brought Les into the city, and in between sets at Small’s I walked with him to Count Basie’s club, where Wes was performing that evening.

“I left Les Paul there with Wes, who was a big fan. In fact, they were fans of each other by that point. At the end of the evening, which in those days used to be at about 4 a.m., I left Small’s Paradise with my instrument and walked down a couple of blocks to 133rd to Count Basie’s. The club was emptying out, and outside of the club were Les Paul, Wes Montgomery, George Benson and Grant Green. The five of us went over to Well’s restaurant, which was famous for fried chicken and waffles and stayed open all night long.”

His organ trio concept started early, with organ stalwarts such as Charles Earland, Don Patterson and Brother Jack McDuff. By his early 30s, he was a recognized master guitarist around the world. But in 1976, he began having massive seizures.


A great segment by broadcast journalist Brian Pace on Martino’s recent engagement at the Jazz Standard, with clips of him swingin’ with his organ trio, and answering questions in his inimitable way. As Pat says at the interview’s end, the now moment is what’s “mystical” to him.

Martino didn’t yet know it, but he suffered from an abnormality of blood vessels in the brain called AVM, or arterioevenous malformation. His behavior became odd and he was even institutionalized for a short time. By 1980, he had a life-threatening brain aneurysm that required immediate surgery. The successful operation had a horrific side effect: Martino lost his memory.

To regain his equilibrium and maintain sanity, he relied on his old recordings, and began learning to play again from scratch.

Asked to describe this process, Martino explains:

“I would describe it as similar to a ship beginning to sink. And the only thing that is there to grasp, to cling to for survival in this ocean of confusion, is one object. That is what the guitar became for me. It took my mind off very distorted perspectives. Until finally, the instrument itself became an extremely rewarding experience with regards to the creative process, which amplified my sensitivity in the midst of insensitivity.

“By doing so, it brought my intentions to the forefront in such a way that it demanded definitive decisions and choices.”

GT: Can you give an example?


Pat Martino being interviewed by another musical icon from Philadelphia, the great bassist Christian McBride, for the National Jazz Museum in Harlem’s interview series—Harlem Speaks, which I co-produce.

PM: I can give you an example by a picture. And the picture in mind I would propose for you to see is of a pendulum moving from left to right, and an individual standing beneath it. If the individual remains located in that stable position, that individual is subject to being touched and cut by this pendulum. The pendulum represents positive and negative, good and bad, all the things that move from one side to the other on a constant basis. The one thing that these experiences brought about to me was a decision to no longer stand in one place. And whenever it went to a negative side, instead of feeling that negativity, I found ways to climb upward, over where I stood prior to that decision. And by climbing upward, I was no longer subject to being altered by that pendulum. So that’s as general and as simple a way I can try to define exactly what I feel about perspective, and how I see life itself and decision within it.

He doesn’t view his ordeal as a good or bad thing.

“I see it as an accumulation of many, many things that were necessary for me to reach this stage of development,” he reflects. “And I see everything in it as extremely valuable.

“At this point, I am very happy that everything that took place did so, because the end result is the enjoyment of life, and a deeper respect and devotion to faith itself.”


Martino speaks about his recovery from a brain aneurysm and a total loss of memory, and especially of his father’s role in the recovery process. After a period of procrastination, he began to lose himself again in the guitar as he did with toys as a child.

Martino returned to the professional music scene in 1987 with the album “The Return.” Since then he’s continued to play, record and tour globally. His illness and recovery were the subject of a 2008 documentary by U.K. filmmaker Ian Knox, “Martino Unstrung.”

This year, he told his life story to award-winning jazz journalist Bill Milkowski. In October, the story of Martino’s life and music career, “Here and Now,” will be released by Backbeat Books.

“I think one of the key lessons of Pat’s story is perseverance,” says Milkowski. “After all the misdiagnoses … after subsequent brushes with death and subsequent hospitalizations — including as recently as 1998 — he’s still living in the here and now. He does precisely that every day, both in word and deed. It’s an inspiring tale that has taught me to appreciate each day, each moment a little more.”

More Pat Martino, from interview with Greg Thomas on July 8, 2011

GT: How do you now view the role of music and jazz in particular?

PM: I review it constantly with regard to its application. I’m doing a master class for MANR—Music as a Natural Resource—I see music in light of this particular context, to see its use for learning, for traumatic relief, and for health care, and for many other facets of application.


How Martino approaches playing with new people. “I don’t know the music until I know the people.”

To be able to do and participate in something like this—I think any individual who has devoted himself to any art for long periods of time, either he or she has absorbed the standard of that particular method of communication to a degree that its second nature to them. And by doing so, then they can utilize that opportunity to communicate, to activate things needed that are manually possible. To bring into play, to interact socially and culturally, and to bring to the forefront things that are needed to do, as opposed to sitting back, and being completely absorbed in a craft. It’s no longer a craft at that stage of development. By then it’s second nature. It goes to a level of application that is much broader than the instrument itself. The instrument then takes its place with all of the other instruments that are functionally valuable to any individual.

GT: How do you feel about your autobiography coming out in October?

PM: It’s exciting because it’s coming to fruition. The interaction with Bill Milkowski was extremely beneficial with regards to things that were very demanding, in terms of shape and position. It was like being fluid and poured into different glasses, and demanding one to take the shape of anything that he or she was poured into. And that’s what the autobiography as an experience turned into. It caused me to re-evaluate and re-experience quite a number of states of mind that I recalled for some time back that had been elusive. It made things concrete. It brought some things to the forefront things that were very valuable as observations on that particular trip, that path.


From a Wes Montgomery story to an airport anecdote to meditations on a second nature level of awareness and execution, and the value and purpose of such a perspective. This segment is a bridge or a glue that holds together all of the themes Pat weaves together in these clips.

Here I ask Pat Martino about spirituality, and in his answer he focuses on “the nexus of spirituality, the point where all points meet: LOVE,” which he later says is “the highest form of spiritual evolution.”

In the coda, in this case the last question and answer, Martino responds to this query: What music do you listen to at home and what music do you find yourself returning to again and again? In his response, he speaks about the morning ritual that he and his wife Ayako Akai go through: tea/coffee, meditation, and playing guitar together.

Music, according to Pat Martino, isn’t just entertainment; it’s also a force of healing. He mentions his experience with the Music Cares program of the Grammy Foundation, where in 1995 he was sent to engage terminal patients in deep play and communication.

The handshake and love shared between Christian and Pat at the end is a manifestation of the “We” vibe in that room, which you’ve shared in too, through entering the power of now world of Pat Martino.

Pat Martino

About Pat Martino

One of the most original of the jazz-based guitarists to emerge in the 1960s, Pat Martino made a remarkable comeback after brain surgery in 1980 to correct an aneurysm caused him to lose his memory and completely forget how to play. It took years, but he regained his ability, partly by listening to his older records. Martino began playing professionally when he was 15. He worked early on with groups led by Willis Jackson, Red Holloway, and a series of organists, including Don Patterson, Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, Richard "Groove" Holmes, and Jimmy McGriff. After playing with John Handy (1966), he started leading his own bands and heading sessions for Prestige, Muse, and Warner Bros. that found him welcoming the influences of avant-garde jazz, rock, pop, and world music into his advanced hard bop style.

Greg Thomas

About Greg Thomas

Greg Thomas has over 25 years of experience as a writer, producer, broadcaster and educator, and has been featured in publications as various as The Root, All About Jazz, Salon, London's Guardian Observer, the Village Voice, Africana, American Legacy, Savoy, New York's Daily News as well as the scholarly journal Callaloo. He was the Editor-in-Chief of Harlem World magazine from 2003-2006.

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