Pat Martino Interview by Trefor Owen

Portrait of American Jazz musician and composer Pat Martino as he poses with his guitar, leaning against a lamp pole on an unidentified street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, August 28, 1994. (Photo by Michel Delsol/Getty Images)

The Pat Martino Interview by Trefor Owen

PAT MARTINO has perhaps been the most popular and enduring of the young jazz guitarists who emerged in the latter years of the sixties. A precocious talent, his hard-swinging be-bop style won many friends amongst his peers and the jazz public at large. Ever ready to experiment with new sounds and devices, his albums have ranged from the pure bop of ‘El Hombre’ and ‘Strings’, through the eastern influenced ‘East’ to the jazz-rock of ‘Joyous Lake’. Pat has been out of the public eye for a number of years owing to serious health problems, but has recently emerged once again to take his place at the forefront of jazz guitar in the eighties.

PAT MARTINO: born PAT AZZARA in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 25th August 1944.

T.O. Pat, we as guitarists are familiar with the Pat Martino of 10, 15 or 20 years ago because those are the sounds that we are listening to at the moment. From the musical point of view, what is Pat Martino doing today? Is he composing, gigging or recording and when can we expect some more albums?

P.M.  As far as composing is concerned, that’s something I’m always doing. As for the nature of its shape, its form, its colour or its intent, this depends on my needs at that particular moment. My need is tranquillity due to health problems, which has shifted me into aggression for control to a greater degree. Through composing, I have been blessed with the ability to focus my attention on a form of output that more or less replaces that aggressive nature with a more tranquil one, so I’m constantly composing for that reason alone. As for performance, yes, I do perform. I do so when the time comes that I feel I need certain things, for example, when I’m in a position to repay obligations for the opportunities I’ve received in well over thirty years in the business.Regarding the question of albums, I’m actually preparing to release three new albums that I’ve been recording over the past year. These are now just about complete. They’re all being released on the MUSE label and from their point of view, they have been the most costly to produce in their history, mainly due to production timing and contractual agreements as there are quite a number of individuals involved along with myself.

T.O. Are these other musicians or personnel organisers?

P.M. They were personnel organising the albums and the owner of MUSE records who is now in the process of negotiating the possibility of a contract agreement with other labels to have these particular contracts purchased from MUSE. At any rate, the first album will be a solo guitar album. All of the parts are, however, MIDI synced using Roland, Yamaha, Fairlight and Sinclair equipment, but everything on the album is me triggering all of these using a guitar. The outcome of all this is fully orchestral.

T.O. So what about the instrument you are actually using?

P.M. The instrument I’ve been using is a personal one fitted with a Roland MIDI pickup and I’m using a series of sequencer devices for certain applications which also interface with a Mackintosh computer. Quite a number of individual units!

T.O. Can you give details about your present instruments?

P.M. On this album which, by the way, is called ‘Impact’, I use synthesisers and MIDI inter-related functions with quite a number of tools. The guitar I use was a gift from Abe Rivera. Abe is a luthier in New York City who has made a beautiful guitar.

T.O. What form does this guitar take? Is it acoustic?

P.M. No, a solid-body.

T.O. Any special features? I’m not talking now about electrics but neck and body.

P.M. Well, all the woods are exotic forms of wood from Brazil and Africa. He asked me to bring to his attention what I’d like him to do and so I collaborated on certain points. For example, he placed the names of the 12 Apostles beneath the inlays on the fingerboard; that is, under each inlay on the fretboard itself’ He then took my signature, which is a form of calligraphy, and at that point I had him turn it to brass and inlay that into the pickguard itself. So the instrument is one of the finest forms of sculpture that I’ve seen in quite some time.

T.O. Is it your own design?

P.M. No, it’s Rivera’s.

T.O. Can you tell me something about your string set-up?

P.M. First and foremost, let’s clarify the number of the strings (lowest is 6th, highest is 1st) as quite a number of people refer to the lowest string as 1st and the highest as 6th. So, Coming from the first string, my present string set-up is : 1st (16), 2nd (18), 3rd (26), 4th (38), 5th (48) and 6th (58). My right hand is terrible. I have a vicious right hand when it comes to an aggressive use of the plectrum, with  so much input of physical energy that I just break light-gauge strings.

T.O. It’s been known that you’ve used quite a heavy plectrum and quite a thick one in your time. Do you still use that same kind today?

P.M. Yes.

T.O. Is it the sound or the pure comfort of using that weight of plectrum?

P.M. Many things – how can I describe this. There are quite a number of facets to a question of this nature. Not only is the sound important to me but also the change of sound. Also, I find it very difficult to take a sacred act, which is the outcome of the creative act itself, and allow industrial marketing to govern that act. So this has forced me to look elsewhere, and on my travels in different parts of the world, I take the opportunity of going to a forest or beach or shoreline and I find pebbles and stones which I use primarily as they fit the fingers perfectly and there is no cost to me.

T.O. Yes. It reminds me of when you say that of the ‘Mind’ pick made from semi-precious stone.

P.M. Yes, but in the case of the ‘Mind’ pick itself, which I collaborated in with a close friend of mine who studied  with me at the time, that was initially designed as an article to be used on a chain necklace. It was done at a jewellery shop and was initially done for this purpose. It was then seen that it was also practicable to market the product as a plectrum for guitarists when it came to the individual’s attention that I was doing what I was doing. I was very happy to be as much help as I possibility could be, even though it was not exactly what I was using at the time. In fact, I can show you some of them. This one, for instance, is natural, and if you place your fingers upon it, you can see it fits them. It feels personal to me – it is directly from the earth, from Mother Earth herself. I seek these things and I find them in so many different places.

T.O. Have you always used this kind of plectrum?

P.M. I would say that there were times throughout the sixties when I did use Gibson plectrums – the heaviest and thickest I could possibly use when I was younger. Then again, possibly due to the brain tumour I was born with, my interest lay in more elaborate and extremely abstract products such as nature itself.

T.O. Didn’t you use an ebony plectrum at one time?

P.M. Yes, I’ve used different forms of wood. I also used ivory.

T.O. So you’ve always experimented. So there is no way that Pat Martino will ever say, “This is it”! It’s always ongoing? 

P.M. Yes, yes. Trefor, it’s a funny thing you say that as it recalls for me personally a time in around ’61 or ’62 when I was in Chicago with Jack McDuff. I had no pick in my pocket for the next set, so I took a match book over and I folded it and kept on folding it until it was strong enough in my fingers to use as a plectrum. It was brought to my attention that there are many forms of application for what we usually call a pick and that caused me also to try each and every idea that came to mind and to hear a different sound and feeling coming from the instrument.

T.O. Referring back to ’61/’62, did you always use the heavy strings at that time?

P.M. Yes, I’ve always used heavy gauge.

T.O. Have you any recollection as to how you came to use such heavy strings?

P.M. Well, in my early years beginning professionally at the age of 12, I was trying anything on the market. I was flabbergasted with all of the things I could possibly use for new experiences, for example, the flat-gauge strings that came out at a certain time and then the coloured cloth strings. There was nothing I would not try. That period took place in my youth and is still taking place – the only difference is that I now find these things in natural places as opposed to industrial locations.

T.O. Do you remember what your first professional-standard guitar was?

P.M. My first instrument was a black Les Paul Custom. This was my first interest. I found that the blackness and the darkness of it appealed to me like an eclipse – there was a magic to it.

T.O. So you used that extensively during your early period on the road?

P.M. Yes.

T.O. Up to what period? On ‘El Hombre’, your first recording as leader, there is a photo of you with a Gibson Johnny Smith.

P.M. What happened was that I had the Les Paul when I was touring with Jack McDuff. We travelled from Illinois through Philadelphia and on to New York, where the guitar was stolen along with a vanload of other instruments. From that moment on I went on to archtop guitars – the Gibson L5 was my instrument and then the Johnny Smith. Then followed Sam Koontz, a luthier who passed away some years back; he built an instrument for me. There were also some archtops with oval holes.

T.O. Pat, tell us something about your early years and education.

P.M. My main interest was astronomy and that was my interest in terms of education. Music was my fairyland and I always had the ability to absorb very quickly in school. Whatever the teacher would bring to our attention. In fact, my mom told me that she once asked me why I wasn’t doing my homework and I told her I’d finished it: I was sitting there playing guitar, ‘playing my games’ in her eyes, so she went to the school, which was a Roman Catholic school and asked the nun who was my teacher, ‘is Pat doing his homework?’. The nun said, ‘We have a lot of trouble with your son, Mrs Azzara. By the time I write on the blackboard what your child is to bring back for homework, he’s finished it at his desk. He’s doing  his work while I’m writing on the blackboard so by the time class is out, his homework is completed before he leaves school and we don’t know what to do about it’. This how I had nothing but my own time to have the interest in the guitar.

T.O. So do you recall what your first guitar was?

P.M. My very first guitar had no name. I’m small now so I was tiny then. I’ve no idea what it was but it was a tiny guitar for a child and I do remember having it for about six weeks and immediately my father purchased a Gibson Les Paul Standard for me. That was my first real guitar.

T.O. Can you tell us something about Dennis Sandole. I understand that he influenced you in some ways.

P.M. Yes he did, in a mechanical way. On his walls were paintings by Latreuc and quite a number of other artists and on one side was a piano. Now I was under the impression that I was there to take guitar lessons but here I saw a man with a very deep voice and a very odd form of handwriting. I saw the piano and the paintings on the walls covering the entire room and my interest was re-focused within myself. My interest was to study with and witness and watch everything he did.

T.O. How old were you at the time?

P.M. I was about 13 years old. I finally ran away from home at the age of 15. That’s when everything really started. Dennis influenced me more as an artist that as a guitarist.

T.O.  When you say artist, you mean in terms of presence?

P.M. Yes, artistic in approach and in concern. It was just all the things he did I found artistic. This affected me much more that what he had to say about the guitar. Dennis was primarily a teacher and was also, at that time, writing and organizing symphonic works. Prior to that, he had already spent quite a bit of time in Hollywood and was extremely successful as a musician and guitarist, film scoring quite a number of other things as well.He also recorded a few jazz albums and guitar albums. He eventually reached the point where he made the decision to live as he chose to live as opposed to being ‘shelved’ as a marketable product. Again, this is nothing but an explanation of what I spoke of earlier.

T.O. At this time, was Billy Bean an influence on you?

P.M. No, Billy wasn’t that much of an influence as a professional musician. But he would stay with my ex-wife and I as much as possible in Philadelphia. I was living here but doing all my work in New York City. Billy and I became so close in terms of friendship. Both of us were busy at that time accruing our own relative reputations and it was quite an experience and treat to put all of that aside, including the guitar, and simply enjoy a moment away from the business. That was my relationship with Billy. I haven’t seen him for quite a number of years. This was very much the same thing with Howard Roberts and myself in California. Howard would be extremely busy musically and so would I and all time we spent together, rarely did we discuss music. These were moments of pleasure just to take our minds off our obligations; our social and business positions.

T.O. What period was this when you were in California?

P.M. This was around 1979-1981

T.O. What were you doing over there?

P.M. At that particular time, I came to meet Howard to become affiliated with what was initially labelled G.I.T. (Guitar Institute of Technology). I was touring the West Coast at that time, in the mid-70s and was working for Warner Brothers. Pat Hicks was, and still is, the owner of G.I.T. Howard came to one of my performances at the Roxy in Hollywood and discussed the possibility of doing a seminar or a series of clinics at G.I.T.. I was touring the West Coast from South to North so when we got to L.A., the next time through I did the seminar. Our relationship became closer and approximately one year after that, Howard and I discussed collaboration and interaction and for me to move to Hollywood and join the faculty of G.I.T. as a consultant. One of the things I brought about was the re-naming of G.I.T. as M.I.T. (Musicians Institute of Technology). Also, due to the fact that G.I.T. was doing well, what about B.I.T. (Bass Institute of Technology), and P.I.T. (Percussion Institute of Technology). So this turned the name of the school to M.I.T. I’ve had very little to do with the curriculum itself. During that period of course, Howard and I spent a lot of time together.

T.O. Are you still involved with M.I.T.?

P.M. No, it’s been quite some time. After my operation, I decided to come back to Philadelphia and spend as much time here as I could, primarily as the operations scared me a bit and they took place in Philadelphia and since I had left home, left Mom and Dad at the age of 15, and as I was given from 2 hours to 2 days to live, I decided to return. I have no brothers or sisters and, being under the impression that I was dying, I thought it would be unfair not to die in my parents’ arms, so to speak. I felt that this would be the best place when the end came.

T.O. But in the end, the operation was a complete success?

P.M. Yes, a complete success.

T.O. Maybe you’d like to tell me a little more about the three albums that are coming out?

P.M. The live album was done at Fat Tuesdays in New York City. It’s a trio album with nothing but original music. The group consisted of Steve LaSpina on bass, Joey Baron on drums and myself on guitar. At the same time, I was privately involved with a very large studio, doing personal compositions and dealing with Mackintosh computers, Roland and Yamaha equipment, sequencers and synths. I became so deeply involved that my interest reached the point where this had just as much importance as the other idiom. It brought back so many old memories to me that I decided to release, prior to the live session done in 1987, the private sessions which are not yet complete. The title of this album is ‘Impact’. The third will be guitar and orchestra and I’m preparing that along the lines of a balladic album. I very much enjoy that style of music. The last one I enjoyed was ‘Wes and Strings’. Initially, I became interested in that form of guitar surrounded by beautiful lush strings with some of Johnny Smith’s work in the sixties. So these are the three albums which will be released within the next year. Of course, any one of the two can be released very shortly, but I chose not to do so until the entire contract is complete. Then, and only then, will the record company  receive all three sessions that the contract is based on. It’s a bit difficult therefore, to pinpoint the exact release dates.

T.O. What type of amplification and speakers would you use say, at Fat Tuesdays?

P.M. I used Crown amplification and JLB speakers.

T.O. In what configuration?

P.M. Six Twelves.

T.O. With regards to technique, when you play long single-string runs, do you use alternative picking?

P.M. Yes, but I’ve no idea how I do it; the right hand is a mystery!

T.O. Pat, it’s been a privilege to talk to you. Thank you so much. 

Jazz Guitar Life would like to thank the author of this interview Trefor Owen for providing this conversation to be published on Jazz Guitar Life. His work on all fronts is greatly appreciated!

Reproduced With Permission: Archtop: The Journal Of Jazz Guitar Vol.2, Issues 3 & 4, Sep-Oct 1988

Trefor Owen is one of the foremost jazz and improvisation teachers in the U.K., covering all instruments. He has over 30 years experience teaching at the highest level both in Britain and the USA. His CD Wales Plays Brazil has won widespread critical acclaim and was featured regularly on Jazz FM.

Trefor has toured the U.K. extensively and performed in the U.S.A with many American musicians, and has appeared with many European and British musicians. He has made several appearances at the New York Guitar Show, Long Island and at the NAMM Show, Los Angeles.

RECOMMENDED LISTENING: “Young Guns” (High Note HCD 7258); “El Hombre” (Prestige 7513); “Strings” (Prestige 7547); ‘The Visit’ (Cobblestone 9015); ‘Exit’ (Muse 5075); ‘We’ll Be Together Again’ (Muse 5090); ‘Consciousness’ (Muse 5039); East (Prestige 7562); ‘Live’ (Muse 5026); ‘Joyous Lake’ (Warner Bros. BS2977).

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About Lyle Robinson 350 Articles
Lyle Robinson is the owner/creator/publisher and editor of Jazz Guitar Life, an online magazine dedicated to the Jazz Guitar and its community of fine players worldwide.

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