Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Pat Martino: First Impressions

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The guitar has its own mystique. The most ancient of instruments, it is the most pervasive in contemporary music. Those who mastered its mysteries have discovered unlimited application for the guitar’s acoustic and electric personalities.”
- Gary Giddins

“[Pat Martino]… is a guitarist who can rework simple material into sustained improvisations of elegant and accessible fire; even when he plays licks, they sound plausibly exciting.

Although seldom recognized as an influence, he has been a distinctive and resourceful figure in Jazz guitar for many years, and his fine technique and determination have inspired many players.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Pat Martino plays more than just notes. He plays his personality, his insights. Of Pat it can be honestly stated that his style is immediately recognizable.”
- Kent Hazen

There’s a modern adage which states: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

When it came to the impression he made on Les Paul, a superb technical player and one of creators of the modern electric guitar sound, if would seem that Pat Martino didn’t need a second chance:

“Some years ago I was playing an engagement in Atlantic City and a young lad, accompanied by his parents, came backstage to meet me and request my autograph. When the lad said he was learn­ing guitar I handed him mine and asked that he play something. Well, what came out of that guitar was unbelievable. "Learning," he said!!! The thought that entered my mind at the time was that perhaps I should take lessons from him ... his dexterity and cleanliness were amazing and his picking style was absolutely unique. He held his pick as one would hold a demitasse. Pinky extended, very polite.

The politeness disappeared when pick met string as what hap­pened then was not timid but very definite. As is obvious, I was very impressed and the memory of this lad stuck with me. Although I lost track of him I figured that sooner or later I was bound to hear of him again. All that talent was not to be buried in obscurity.

Several years later I began hearing reports of a young guitarist playing in the New York area who was really scaring other musicians with his ability and musicianship. I tracked him down to a club in Harlem, and aside from the fact that the reports of his being a great guitarist were not exaggerated, I found that this was the same lad who had visited me in Atlantic City.

Now grown up, and with the extra years of practice and experience, he had grown into a musical giant. His name was Pat Martino. (As a side-note, a prominent guitarist told me recently that on his first visit to New York he had gone to the Harlem club where Pat was appearing. His thought at the time was that if Pat represented the type of competition he faced — and Pat not even well known — how was he to surpass or even equal that as well as enduring the other obstacles facing a proposed career in music.) …

Listen to … [his] music and be your own judge but it you happen to a guitarist don't be discouraged. Don't slash your wrists and pray for a decent burial; just practice a lot and perhaps someday someone (possibly Pat) will be writing liner notes for you.” [Les Paul, June, 1970, liner notes to Desperado, Prestige PR 7795; OJCCD 397]

Pat made a similar, first impression on Dan Morgenstern, a Jazz literary luminary who just recently retired as the Director of the Institute for Jazz Studies at Rutgers University:

“Pat Martino is a bad cat. ...

He is an orig­inal, his own man, and his abilities are extraordinary from both a strictly playing and general musical stand­point: great speed; marvelous articulation no matter how fast the fingers fly; an ear for harmony that feeds ideas to those fingers at a speed to match; a sense of form that imposes order on all that facility; a singing tone, and tremendous swing …. [Insert notes to Pat Martino Live, Muse 5026]

Or how about the impression Pat made on the distinguished Jazz author and critic, Gary Giddins.

“[The late Jazz trumpeter and bandleader] Red Rodney once described artistic progress like this: ‘You go along and then all of a sudden, bump, you rise to another plateau, and you work real hard and then, bump, you rise to another one.’

Pat Martino’s talent rises to a new plateau regularly and thanks to his prolific recording career, those bumps have been captured on an imposing series of discs. His records are not only consistent; they evolve one to the next. …

Perhaps the first thing one responds to in Pat’s music is commitment. He plays like he means it.

One aspect of his style consists of multi-noted patterns, plucked with tremendous facility (and time) over the harmonic contour. The notes are never throwaways; the patterns take on their own mesmerizing force, serving to advance the pieces as judiciously as the melodic variations of which Pat is a master. ….

Pat has very clearly honed his immense technique closely to what he most personally wants to express. His music is private, but richly communicative; it commands attention with its integrity – it does not call attention to itself with excessive volume or gimmicks.

Pat Martino doesn’t have time to jive, he’s a musician.” [Liner notes to Pat Martino/Consciousness Muse LP 5039; paragraphing modified]

And Mark Gardner, the accomplished Jazz author and journalist, was also duly impressed by his first experience with Pat when he wrote these comments and observations about him and his music in the liner notes to Pat Martino: Strings! [Prestige 7547]:

“Since Charlie Christian first plugged in his amplifier and revo­lutionized jazz guitar in the late 1930s each subsequent decade has witnessed the emergence of a handful of new string stylists. Barney Kessel, Jimmy Raney, Billy Bauer, Chuck Wayne and Oscar Moore were the dominant voices of the 'forties.

And in the 'fifties Tal Farlow really came into his own to be followed by Jim Hall, Kenny Burrell, Johnny Smith and Wes Montgomery. The 'sixties in turn have produced Grant Green, Bola Sete, Gabor Szabo, George Ben­son and now Pat Martino.

To bracket Martino with the foregoing list of great jazz plectrists warrants some weighty evidence in his favor. After all he is only twenty-three years old and the enclosed sides are the first real jazz sides to be released under his leader­ship. Which is precisely where the proof of my assertion lies— within this album.

It is quite plainly demonstrated on all five tracks that Pat Martino has already conceived a style of his own. To ar­rive at a personal mode of expression so young requires more than heavy chops and good taste, it calls for imagination, the sifting of one's emotional and intellectual resources into an abstract form with discipline. The guitarist has passed through this inner process of self-realization which is essential for every artist before he can begin to create works of lasting importance. Pat is not a 'natural talent' because no such thing exists. He has had to work and work hard to get where he is.

As alto saxophonist Sonny Criss remarked recently, 'A lot of people say that Bird was a born genius. That's wrong. He wasn't born with anything except the ability to breathe. Unless you really apply yourself nothing's ever going to happen.'

What has happened to Martino, a young man with an exciting future ahead, is the result of the sort of application Sonny spoke of.”

Here’s a video tribute to Pat on which he plays his original composition Willow accompanied by Eddie Green on electric piano, Tyrone brown on bass and Sherman Ferguson on drums. If you haven’t heard Pat play guitar before, perhaps your first impression will match that of Les Paul, Gary Giddins, Dan Morgenstern,  and Mark Gardner. If so, you’d be in very good company, indeed.