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Pat Martino Interview

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Jul 14, 2003    l   By Souvik Dutta

Forever Young

When guitarist Pat Martino walked the streets of Harlem in the late fifties he had within him a burning desire for learning jazz. After studying the music of John Coltrane, he expanded his horizons and delved into all aspects of music to develop his own unique style. Over the years, he has become a very influential player. Pat has led an extraordinary life of great tragedy and the joys of overcoming incredible obstacles. Pat Martino was kind enough to take the time to share some of his thoughts with us.

AL: WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN UP TO LATELY?

PM: It is very difficult for me to classify everything that I have been doing to one general target, so in that sense it is quite difficult to say. I move my life from moment to moment. It is the present moment that is so full of joy and excitement. It is as important and fun as any moment or anything in the past. I have been playing music, traveling and enjoying my family.

AL: YOU'VE JUST FINISHED RECORDING YOUR NEW PROJECT.

PM: The new album is called Think Tank. It has been a great experience for me. The music is really about social experiences that I have had with everyone in my life. When I started the project, I really was not sure how it was going to evolve; however, quite a number of things began to invisibly form and take a shape and a meaning that was not predetermined. Christian McBride and the rest of us have been very involved throughout the project. It was a very deep interest of mine to bring all five of us together in unison. I was a little worried in the beginning, for the material was difficult to choose. Sometimes, you worry if everyone will personally enjoy it. The music has a lot to do with John Coltrane, in fact, it is a personal tribute. There are a few compositions about him. The song, Think Tank itself is similar to a standard minor blues; its construction was odd comparatively. The topic for the motif is drawn from three words: Coltrane, Tenor and Blue. Their transfer into melodies came from the interface of the English Alphabet and the Aeolian Mode, which in itself is a mirror image of the first seven letters of that alphabet, A to G, continuously repeated from H to Z. The placement of the tones, phrasing and chord changes were improvised. It is a study that is referred to as ALPHABETIC JUNCTION . Using all 26 letters of the English alphabet you coordinate scale forms to the letters, in the western context being seven tones in numbers, splitting that into 3 parts and then broken again. I just finished a clinic and part of that was GIANT STEPS by John Coltrane which was a turning point from Bebop to Hard Bop and rather than dealing with normal repetition, it became a deep interest of mine to bring different dimensions. SACRED GEOMETRY is a parallel and similar subject.

AL: ARE YOU INSPIRED TO WRITE MUSIC?

PM: I am not sure how to even answer that. You know, it is very similar to human anatomy. It is a part of my life and the fuel for my inspiration and existence. It is almost impossible for me to contain my emotions and ideas and somehow it takes of itself.

AL: YOU HAVE OVERCOME SERIOUS HEALTH ISSUES IN YOUR LIFE. DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU HAVE BEEN ABLE TO REDEDICATE YOURSELF TO MUSIC?

PM: You bet! My desire and dedication have increased exponentially. Don't get me wrong, I have always loved and desired to play music. When I was starting out, I dreamt of being a jazz guitar player and having a rich and fulfilling career. After I recovered from amnesia and returned to dexterity, my craftsmanship has transcended seamlessly, my focus began to travel towards my destination and everything else around me. The destination was the MOMENT, the PRESENT in essence, this beautiful world of ours. I feel rejuvenated today, seems like I have returned to my childhood with a keen interest and inquisitiveness about everything revolving around my life, the music, the people, the social fiber. Music is my second nature, as Jimi Hendrix would say, the difference between power of love and love of power.

AL: WHAT WERE YOU LOOKING TO DO WITH THE GUITAR YOU DESIGNED FOR GIBSON?

PM: I looked for a lot of sustain in its sound. One of my other interests was cost, so I removed the inlay. The strings lay straight across the headstock, allowing you to place the first finger behind the nut as if it were on the first fret instead of totally open. The Fon the 6th string would now be conceived on the second fret as opposed to the first, along with fingerings that remain similar to the players familiarity. The open strings remain straight like they already do across the rest of the fingerboard. The carved top is made of Tiger Maple on the Custom model and Regular Maple on the Standard model. The fret board is made of full ebony on the Custom and an ebony-rosewood mixture on the Standard. The pick ups are 1957 hum bucking pickups. The guitar itself is a cross between a Les Paul Custom and a L5S.

AL: DO YOU EVER LISTEN TO YOUR OLD RECORDINGS?

PM: I actually do not listen to any of my old stuff. Pat Metheny once told me how he thought that certain stages of recording are the closest experience that men can relate to labor pains. You have to get away from it sometimes. When the album is done, you just have to let it go on its own journey. It has its own freedom and most of the time the result is favorable and surprising.

AL: YOU HAVE REISSUED JOYOUS LAKE AND STONE BLUE.

PM: It was a very personal decision. Joyous Lake was a great band, as well as an exciting recording and I wanted to reactivate the interest. Delmar Brown, bassist James Genus and drummer Kenwood Dennard came along with the addition of Eric Alexander on Tenor Saxophone which brought everything full circle. I had a dedication to the band.

AL: ALL SIDES NOW WAS JUST A GREAT RECORDING. MICHAEL HEDGES AND CASSANDRA WILSON WERE FEATURED.

PM: Absolutely. Michael was such a great soul. Once when I was in a hospital in New York City, he would come and play, even when I was out of reality and consciousness. I really admired it when he brought to my attention his love for 12 tone music and his love for composers like Stockhausen and Morton Feldman. He was also very fond of alternate tunings which made his music sound quite interesting. I deeply miss him today. All Sides Now by Joni Mitchell is a piece of music that I love. It is really about the moment.

AL: YOU HAVE DEVELOPED A FONDNESS FOR DIGITAL ART.

PM: I enjoy exploring concepts in Sacred Geometry as far as forms of the art. It helps me to understand the importance of organization. The computer is like a sketchbook, encyclopedic in size, and allows so much to be done. It is quite enjoyable.

AL: WHAT WAS THE GENESIS OF YOUR CD FIREDANCE?

PM: Peter Block called me and asked me if I would be interested in doing a project with an Indian motif. I love the Indian ragas and tala systems. So, I went out to California and remained there for 3 days. I love North Indian music and all they asked was for me to correlate ragas to western jazz improvisations. Baiyina was idiomatically the first of my east/west recordings and FIREDANCE was the second. Also, JOYOUS LAKE and STONE BLUE, although different, were similar. It seems to be a cyclic event, repeating itself on its own. I am sure it will happen again, sometime in the future.

AL: Thanks a lot for your time Pat, it is definitely a highlight to be able to speak to a living Legend. We wish you the best of health and a long, fruitful, musical journey.

Interview by Souvik Dutta and Dave Watts


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