Classic Interview Pat Martino Sept 1973

 “I see the guitar in everything.”

The city which spawned such great jazz guitarists as Eddie Lang, Dennis Sandole and Thornel Schwartz, also gave us, 29 years ago, Pat Martino.

As a youngster in Philadelphia, Pat was introduced to music by his father, a singer. There were many father/son trips to the Red Hill Inn where they heard such jazz greats as Art Blakey, Art Farmer, John Coltrane and, especially, guitarist Johnny Smith.

At eleven, the youngster who was eventually to play with Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, Groove Holmes and Jimmy McGriff, took up his first guitar. He had little formal training, but through desire he taught himself the rudiments of playing and music. Pat listened avidly to every Johnny Smith album in the house, copying all he could. Shortly after, Pat began lessons with Dennis Sandole, whom he still considers his greatest influence.

Pat turned professional at fifteen, going on tour with the rhythm & blues bands of Lloyd Price, Willis Jackson and others. It was while with Jackson that the guitarist recorded his first jazz solos, still using the family name of Azzara. (His father worked under the name Martino, and Pat took it for his own after leaving the Jackson band.) Though Pat never attended high school, he doesn’t regret it for a second, feeling that this period on the road was his schooling.

At 22, after recording often as a sideman, Martino released his first album, El Hombre, for Prestige. This record clearly showed that Pat was not only at home with the blues idiom which had been so much a part of his life, but that he could fit in well with the pure jazz form, from standards to originals to bossa nova. His octave-playing on the album was considered by many to be the finest and warmest-sounding since Wes Montgomery. Pat later recorded four more albums for Prestige, some containing East Indian-influenced music, others utilizing an electric l2-string. (His most recent efforts are on the Muse label.)

If one wishes to play and sound like Pat Martino, he need only purchase a handmade Koontz guitar with high action, use medium-heavy strings, use either a celluloid or ebony pick about four times thicker than a medium, and get a four-speaker amplifier. He should then free himself of any pattern-playing on the fingerboard, copy Martino’s records at 16 2/3 speed to catch all the notes, dedicate his life to the discipline of music, have a manager who is not only helpful and beautiful but is also his wife, be at peace with himself-and pray for Pat’s 25 fingers.

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How did you first become interested in the guitar?

There was always a guitar lying around the house. My dad played basic chords and just fooled around with it. He enjoyed listening to Johnny Smith, Django and Eddie Lang records, and made sure that I heard them, too. Eddie Lang gave my father some lessons. So, by my being exposed to the guitar, it was just a matter of time before I got drawn into playing it. Then once I started playing guitar, it completely fascinated me.

Did any guitarists’ playing influence you?

Of course. Johnny Smith, Wes Montgomery and just about any guitar player I ever listened to.

What did Smith’s playing offer you?

Precision! Precision and cleanliness and getting over what you want to say without laboring over impediments. I am always concerned with the present moment, and when I was listening and viewing Smith’s mastery of the guitar I seriously wanted to become another Johnny Smith. I copied all I could comprehend from his albums. But, when I started studying with Dennis Sandole, Dennis made me realize that if Smith stopped making records, I’d have to stop playing. The most important thing about a player is that what he plays is recognizable as far as being cleanly executed with articulation and dynamics. Smith’s playing has all these aspects. Another great thing about his playing is that he has kept his identity; you can always recognize his playing and his sound.

Don’t you find that studying a man’s playing is mechanical, and only covers half the picture? The other half concerns the forces that make them express as they do.

True, especially with the younger cats. They don’t take into consideration that when they are listening to a musician they are actually listening to a stronger force, a force which the musician is in relationship to. For instance, that musician may be a theologian, philosopher, mathematician or politician, but the listeners only see their Mel Bay and Nick Manoloff books. This isn’t their fault, it’s just a matter of reality. Hopefully, with time and wisdom, they will learn that there are more realities than one in expressing yourself in music. For instance, how could you analyze John Coltrane’s music without being aware of what he was in relationship to?

Are there forces in your playing that are not musical?

A lot. They are based on form, symmetry and division. For example, there are only four positions on the guitar before you have duplication of notes. And there are only four registers, too. The diminished chord shows you that in a capsule: You have four diminished chords going up the fingerboard before you hit the fifth, which is a duplication. That’s because the diminished chord is the division of one octave into four equal parts. The guitar is totally based on chromaticism. A lot of players see the guitar as an arrangement of frets. I, instead, see it as a reality where the fingerboard can be broken down into five chromatic scales and a duplication. Therefore, it reduces the terms of redundancy.

What other ways can you avoid this repetition, this redundancy?

I have systems of equations which immediately give every chord on the guitar. They deal with things like rotation, which is a great way of overcoming repetition in music. Take a chromatic scale from C to C, which is a l2-point sequence, and write it on the staff; directly below that divide it into a 6-point sequence, which will give you whole tones; below that pull out the notes that are in the sesqui-tone [minor 3rds] of the diminished sequence, and below that the di-tone [major 3rds] and, finally, the tri-tone [flatted 5ths], which IS the division of the 12-tone in half; then connect every point of reference from the C to the F#. You will then arrive at a l2-point star which shows a balance that permeates music itself. It’s analogous to one point of music leading to another to create an idea, or, in this case, a picture. We’re not taught to see things of this nature, but it’s exactly this that I’m interested in. This balance is a binding factor that causes something to be in accordance with equilibrium. It’s these things that I base all my studies and analyses upon. So you see, it really isn’t the guitar that I’m involved with; the guitar is only an instrument, and you soon exhaust its limits. The guitar has only four octaves, and when you’re dealing with the divisions of music itself, you need at least eleven.

With all this in mind, do you still consider yourself a guitarist?

In the first five or six years of my playing I did, but not after that. I’m an observer of environment, including the guitar; I see the guitar in everything. I think that at certain levels of performance the player becomes de-personalized by the instrument, and I don’t particularly care for that. It’s hard to retain one’s identity when you’re locked into the identity of a machine.

Are you a jazz musician?

No. Jazz is a way of life, not an idiom of music. Jazz is spontaneous improvisation. If you ever walk out of your house with nowhere to go, just walking for the pleasure of it and observing what’s around you, you’ll find that you improvise. Everyone in life improvises; jazz is just relative degrees of improvisation.

What does music and the guitar mean to you?

Music is my discipline for my life. I look at the guitar not as an instrument to be mastered, but as a discipline to see life through.

What is the most difficult phase of playing the guitar?

Learning to get away from thinking of the problems of fingering and picking technique. You really don’t have to relate to all that, because after a while it becomes natural.

If Wes Montgomery hadn’t brought octave soloing to the forefront, do you think you would have become aware of this form on your own?

Yes, because I became very aware of the textural aspects of putting things together in terms of note clusters and octave forms. It’s an eventuality as soon as you look into more classical thoughts. When you consider yourself as a density with a parameter for control, as a musician, you’re in direct proximity to where octaves come from. If you’re not dealing with chords, per se, you’re dealing with more ambiguous forms of cluster. Then you can take into consideration the 5-tone unit, the 4- and the 3-tone units, the pentachord, hexachord, tetrachord, trichord and the diad. As soon as you get into the diad you’ll immediately find octaves.

What do you find are your students’ most common problems in playing guitar?

Many times a student has to learn patience and understanding. He may be oblivious or non-sensitive to the reality of where he is and what he’s involved in. Teaching, leading and guiding are when you can get a student to confront his own inadequacies. Sometimes a very short lesson will do as much as a very long one. In teaching you also have the searchers and the finders. The searchers get caught up in the syndrome of searching itself. But they can’t recognize when they’ve found something. These are the professional students, not players. On the other hand, you have the finders who are not interested in searching or questioning and answering. They are just interested in being involved. These people are really alive; they are the players.

In the music you write, you don’t use key signatures. Why not?

I don’t relate to them. I see everything harmonically. I see things in a more 12-tone sense. Chromaticism plays a heavy part in my music. You have to free yourself from locked-in and false perspectives, and use your imagination to create your own breathing on your instrument. This is where your creativity abides. When you create an idea, however, you must also create an audience for it. I believe, though, that nothing is totally new; only what is forgotten seems new.

Do you know which direction your writing and playing will take you in the foreseeable future?

I know exactly where it’s going to take me. I can’t say what it’s going to do for me materialistically, but my writing and playing are going to lead me right where I’m at now. With a certain amount of study you can reach a level where you can remain stationary and get a view of things around you. I call this level Peace, and this is where I’d like to remain. —Robert Yelin