The great guitarist Pat Martino, born Patrick Azzara, passed away yesterday. He was 77. He had not worked since 2018 due to sever health issues, which apparently turned out to be the result of a chronic respiratory disorder.
Pat Martino was among the greatest jazz guitarists of the last half of the 20th century – though his renown was not equal to what he accomplished during a good half century of performing and recording some of the most remarkable guitar jazz ever heard.
Obviously influenced by Wes Montgomery – whose facility he nearly doubled – and, possibly, Kenny Burrell, whose languorous blues lines also seemed to be as natural, organic and fully-formed as though they were classic motifs, Martino has always been a compelling player; one who is interesting and engaging, without requiring the study or the analysis that seems to benefit other players of his caliber.
One appreciates and enjoys Pat Martino without the academic analysis that necessitates listening to so many other players of his skill and acumen.
Martino recorded a string of terrific records for the Prestige label between 1967 and 1970, my favorites being the trippier ones like East!, Baiyina (The Clear Evidence) and Desperado.
During this time he appeared on some great records by Trudy Pitts (the Philadelphia organist who factors on his debut, El Hombre), Don Patterson, Richard Groove Holmes, Brother Jack McDuff, Sonny Stitt, Barry Miles, and the great and underrated Pittsburgh native, Eric Kloss.
My first encounter with Pat the Great was on the 1972 album The Visit (Inspired by and Dedicated to Wes Montgomery) - a.k.a. Footprints - with Bobby Rose on second guitar, Richard Davis on bass and Billy Higgins on drums.
This is a magical record that goes well beyond a lame tribute to Wes: Martino’s Montgomeryesque title track is a substantial contribution and Martino’s program stretches into facets of Wes that the long-lamented guitarist could never have imagined. Consider Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” or Jobim’s “How Insensitive.”
Martino launched boldly into jazz fusion in the seventies, releasing two albums on the pop label Warner Bros. between 1976 and 1977 that might set off all sorts of alarms. But each is – remarkably – deliriously good and well worth the effort. (Both were released on a recommended 1999 32 Jazz set called First Light.)
Surprisingly, Martino suffered a brain aneurism in 1980. Afterward, he had to learn the guitar all over again…from scratch. And he did. He sounded different when he came back; not adversely, just different. He reacquired his facility, but picked up something new in his phrasing and sensitivity. He was like a young guitarist coming to jazz with a newbie’s enthusiasm and an elder stateman’s understanding of the tradition.
The guitarist returned to Muse Records with, naturally, The Return in 1987. He eventually made the switch to the vaunted Blue Note Records, where he waxed the fantastic Stone Blue in 1998 with Eric Alexander (with whom he’d record on several more occasions).
Martino also had several nice parings with Philadelphia organist Joey DeFrancesco, including Martino’s Livve at Yoshi’s (2001), DeFrancesco’s Ballads and Blues (2002) and Falling in Love Again (2003), Lee Ritenour’s 6 String Theory (2010).
There is much to appreciate and savor in guitarist Pat Martino’s discography. Now is a good time to appreciate all the good he left behind. Thank you, Mr. Martino.
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