Joyous Moments: The Pat Martino Effect

By: Josh Lucas

The greatest talent that we all have is joy. What gives us joy is what we should study more. That is something that caused me to look into this instrument–because it gave me joy, and it still does to this very day.

-Pat Martino, from Dave Frank Jazz Master Class (YouTube)

I’ve been struggling to write this blog for many months—long before Pat had even passed away. There is so much to his story, and so much that has already been covered. Multiple biographies and interviews are up on YouTube for free, and even his biography UnStrung was on YouTube, in full, at the time that I began trying to write this.

I guess the best way to start is to try and articulate the first time that I’d come across Pat’s music. It wasn’t that long ago, maybe 13-15 years. I was still in college, taking guitar lessons from Patrick Joyce–some of the most important lessons that I would ever take. Well, in between classes I would always go over to my friend and bandmate Craig Philip’s house (look his music up–an incredible artist) and we would watch Youtube videos, and just generally try to become inspired by new artists. We’d spend all our extra time jamming and exploring, and we’d expand our interests and artistic palettes. 

Then I remember coming across Pat’s Video–

God, I wish I could remember the exact performance. I remember seeing his stoic face, and just hearing every note I’d ever imagined come out of his guitar. It seemed like his vocabulary was limitless–a never-ending flow of notes over a hard-bop backbeat–his fingers effortlessly navigating the fretboard with malicious intent. 

All the emotion you couldn’t see in his face, you could hear in his fingers through his amplifier–and something more than emotion–the purest feeling of music being created for the sake of its own beauty.

For about a year after that I woodshedded jazz, even changed the strings on my Les Paul to 13’s. I quickly found out that’s not my sound, my feel, or even my perception of music. It was uniquely Pat’s.

What I did learn (apart from a few slick bebop lines) was probably the most important lesson Pat had to offer. When we improvise, nothing is more important than living in the moment, and living within every note and phrase that you play. At first that may sound like some pretty esoteric advice, but it’s not–it’s really just as simple as letting go and playing whatever you feel, whatever you like, and expounding upon your ideas and phrases. That’s how you tell stories on the guitar.

Pat learned to be a master on the guitar, but in 1980, Martino suffered a hemorrhaged arteriovenous malformation that caused a “near-fatal seizure”. He then had to have surgery, which removed part of his brain. This left him with amnesia, and no recollection or knowledge of his career or how to play the guitar. According to Pat, he came out of surgery with complete forgetfulness, and had to learn to focus on the present rather than the past or the possible future. 

He had to completely re-learn how to play the guitar–and he did! In fact, he may have even come back better than before. After all, improvisation is living purely in the moment, figuring things out as we go along. Maybe that’s what makes Pat’s music so beautiful. It represents the purest joys and struggles of life.