Tuesday, April 25, 2023

The Organic Pat Martino

“…probing, imaginatively controlled musical clarity and coherence – fleet as the wind when required but always easy, fluid, full of gracefully virtuosic touches (to remind you of the control behind the ease) – imperturbable, supremely cool, and quietly intense.” - Pete Welding on Pat Martino as quoted by Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler in The Encyclopedia of Jazz in the 70s

Guitarist Pat Martino (1944-2021) was one of the finest guitarists of late twentieth-century jazz. His dexterity was matched only by his sensitivity. No matter how fast his fingers flew across the fretboard, it was never at the expense of the melody. He could have easily shown off or loaded up his solos with lots of notes, but his gymnastics were always in the beautiful employ of the song or the groove.

But Martino was inexplicably one of the least celebrated of the jazz guitarists of his generation. Born Patrick Carmen Azzara, Martino’s renown was eclipsed by such predecessors as Kenny Burrell, Johnny Smith (like Wes Montgomery, an influence) and Jim Hall; contemporaries George Benson, Larry Coryell and John McLaughlin; and such later guitar heroes as Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Bill Frisell.

Whereas jazz guitarists of a certain generation were locked out of the pantheon for attempts at “crossing over,” one of the castigating reasons that likely doomed Martino to cult status is his career-length attempt at “crossing back in.”

Martino came up – by choice – in organ combos and soul jazz, and it was held against him right from the start. Virtually all of the above-named guitarists – with the possible exception of Grant Green – loaded up their discographies with enough critically-accepted “straight ahead” jazz to forgive their wayward journeys into music that was considered more fun or funky than serious or straight-laced.

Although the bulk of Pat Martino’s discography includes no organ – and little of it bows to what is often derisively referred to as “soul jazz” (pianist/organist Mike LeDonne has said that all jazz is soul jazz – the guitarist is sidelined from the pantheon by the organ-combo records he did do on his own and with others.But this careless disregard ignores some especially fine records Pat Martino waxed in organ-based groups.

Today, perhaps only guitarist Peter Bernstein (b. 1967) can best Pat Martino for the sheer number of unapologetic organ combos he finds himself in (his long association with Larry Goldings and Bill Stewart is especially notable). Like Martino, Bernstein often shines brightest in organic company.

What follows are the organists that recorded with Pat Martino over the guitarist’s formidable half-century career. While the volume of such recordings is notable, it is curious that the great bulk of these recordings are not under the guitarist’s own name:

Pat Bianchi (b. 1975): Born in Rochester, New York and a graduate of the Berklee College of Music (where he now teaches), Pat Bianchi is one of the more notable B-3 bombers in contemporary jazz. He’s recorded in the 21st century organ combos of Ed Cherry, Ralph Peterson, Chuck Loeb and Tim Warfield (including a tribute album to Philadelphia native Shirley Scott, who surprisingly never recorded with Martino).

Bianchi also hosts the weekly Sirius XM show Organized, devoted exclusively to the art of organ jazz. Bianchi is the last in a long line of organ players to work with Pat Martino: In The Moment - Pat Bianchi (2018 – “Mr. PC” only); Formidable - Pat Martino (2017 – Martino’s final [known] recording).

Joey DeFrancesco (1971-2022): At the turn of the century, Joey DeFrancesco had single handedly brought the organ back to jazz. Not yet thirty, he had built a sizeable discography with many jazz legends and an impressive catalog under his own name. DeFrancesco’s magic came from absorbing and mastering the art of his predecessors while delivering a signature all his own.

It was Joey DeFrancesco who brought Martino back into the organ-combo format after several decades grooving in other bags. Sadly, their collaboration is limited to a mere handful of releases:

Live at Yoshi’s - Pat Martino (2001 – Martino’s first organ-based disc since his 1967 solo debut); Keepers of the Flame - Charles Earland Tribute Band (2002 – “What Love Has Joined,” “On the Stairs” and a superb cover of “Pick Up the Pieces” only); Ballads and Blues - Joey DeFrancesco (2002 – “These Are Soulful Days, which Martino performed in 1974 with Don Patterson,” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is” only); Falling in Love Again - Joey DeFrancesco featuring Joe Doggs (2003); 6 String Theory - Lee Ritenour (2010 – the sublime “L.P. [For Les Paul]” only).

Charles Earland (1941-99): Pat Martino’s first-ever road gig was with fellow Philadelphian Charles Earland. Known as “The Mighty Burner,” Earland was also a high-school friend of Martino’s. Surprisingly, the two never factored on any of each other’s own records, but did reunite for a pair of saxophonist Willis Jackson’s records. Both are well worth hearing: Bar Wars - Willis Jackson (1978) and Nothin’ Butt - Willis Jackson (1983).

Richard “Groove” Holmes (1931-91): Born in Camden, New Jersey, Groove Holmes was a prodigious player who recorded many records for many labels during his all-too short life. Unfortunately, Martino and Holmes collaborated just once. But while Groove worked with some great guitarists in the sixties (George Freeman, Boogaloo Joe Jones, Gene Edwards), you tend not to notice the plectrum spectrum on a Groove Holmes record: Get Up & Get It! - Richard “Groove” Holmes (1967).

Jermaine Landsberger (b. 1973): The German keyboard player Jermaine Landsberger entered the music industry as a pianist, but briefly dabbled as an organist (an early such album is cleverly – or ridiculously – dubbed Hammond Eggs). Pat Martino appears on three tracks of this all organ-jazz disc, recorded in Hollywood (with Harvey Mason): Martino considered Landsberger “a formidable artist, a master of the flame.”: Gettin’ Blazed - Jermaine Landsberger (2009).

Gene Ludwig (1937-2010): Pittsburgh-based Gene Ludwig was first drawn to the organ when he heard a Jimmy Smith record in 1956. He started putting out records under his own name in 1963 and recorded and toured the East Coast as well as the Ohio-Western Pennsylvania corridor – often holding court at Pittsburgh’s storied Crawford Grill). Ludwig came to some minimal national attention when he replaced Don Patterson in Sonny Stitt’s band in 1969: Night Letter - Sonny Stitt (1969); Young Guns - Gene Ludwig – Pat Martino Trio (rec. c. 1969, rel. 2014).

Brother Jack McDuff (1926-2001): According to George Benson’s autobiography, when the guitarist was hired by Jack McDuff, neither he nor the organist were entirely happy with each other. McDuff wanted Benson to hear Pat Martino as an example of what Brother Jack was looking for. Surprisingly, Benson was overwhelmed, considering Martino “twice the guitarist” as Benson.

Still, Benson got the gig, even bringing McDuff’s band a whole new level of renown. It would appear that McDuff brought in Martino to replace Benson when John Hammond gave the latter an opportunity to form his own band. Martino seems to appear on quite a few of McDuff’s Prestige albums of the late sixties, but only a song or two on each album feature the guitarist. Martino was with McDuff very briefly and the songs were the result of a few sessions recorded in late 1965 and early 1966:

Walk on By - Brother Jack McDuff (1966 – as Pat Azzara); Hallelujah Time! - Brother Jack McDuff (1967 – “Almost Like Being in Love” and “The Live People” only); The Midnight Sun - Brother Jack McDuff (1968 – “Misconstrued” only);Soul Circle - Brother Jack McDuff (1968 – “More” only);I Got A Woman - Brother Jack McDuff (1969 – Side A only); Steppin’ Out - Brother Jack McDuff (1969 – “Chicken Feet” only); Brotherly Love - Brother Jack McDuff (2001); Bronx Tale (1994 – as “The Kid”).

Tony Monaco (b. 1959): Like Hank Marr and Don Patterson, Tony Monaco hails from Columbus, Ohio. Monaco’s 2001 debut disc, Burnin’ Grooves was sponsored and produced by Joey DeFrancesco. Martino and Monaco collaborated on one disc – a live recording captured at Blues Alley in Washington, DC, in 2009 with Eric Alexander and Jeff “Tain” Watts. There must be more in the archives somewhere: Undeniable - Pat Martino Quartet (2011).

Don Patterson (1936-88): Originally from Columbus, Ohio, the great Don Patterson resided in Harlem in the early sixties (and Gary, Indiana, in the early seventies) but spent much of his life in Pat Martino’s hometown, Philadelphia. Patterson’s name does not often come up when talking about the royalty of the Hammond B-3 – but it should. He was a self-taught pianist but switched to organ in 1959 after hearing Jimmy Smith: “When I heard Jimmy Smith, that was it!” Indeed, Jimmy Smith himself considered Patterson one of the greatest on organ.

Hooking up with guitarist Paul Weeden’s trio, Patterson spent much of the sixties backing Booker Ervin, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and, notably, Sonny Stitt. The organist waxed his first solo record with the Weeden trio on Goin’ Down Home (recorded 1963, released 1967) but put out a series of fine but forgotten records on Prestige. Patterson recorded four terrific discs for the Muse label in the seventies, including These Are Soulful Days (1974 – reissued on CD as Steady Comin’ At ‘Ya), the first time this listener ever heard Pat Martino. Patterson seemed to vanish from records a full decade before his all too early death at age 52 in 1988.

Unfortunately, very little of Don Patterson’s recorded output is available on CD or streaming. But Martino factored on some of the organist’s best records, including the 1966 debut recording of Pittsburgh saxophonist Eric Kloss – who was 16 at the time (Kloss also played on Martino’s “Blackjack,” from the 1970 album Desperado): Holiday Soul - Don Patterson (1965); Introducing Eric Kloss with Don Patterson - Eric Kloss (1966); Four Dimensions - Don Patterson (1968); Boppin’ & Burnin’ - Don Patterson (1968); Opus de Don - Don Patterson (1968); Funk You! - Don Patterson (1969); These Are Soulful Days - Don Patterson (1974).

Bobby Pierce (b. 1942): The tremendously soulful organist and vocalist Bobby Pierce had the grave misfortune of kicking off his recording career precisely when the Hammond B-3 began falling out of favor. Born in Columbus, Ohio, and heavily influenced by native son Don Patterson, Pierce had the drive and energy of Bill Mason or Leon Spencer and an appealing blue-eyed soulful growl that seemed amenable to crossover success that never came. Pierce recorded only two albums in the early seventies, including his debut with Pat Martino, before returning to Columbus. He returned to recording briefly in 2008 for his third disc on Doodlin’, The Long Road Back. With Martino: Introducing Bobby Pierce - Bobby Pierce (1972).

Trudy Pitts (1932-2010): Like Pat Martino, Trudy Pitts hails from Philadelphia. The two came up through the ranks together. Martino recorded his 1967 solo debut with Pitts while the guitarist was on a break touring with John Handy’s group – one of his earliest non-organ combos. Ms. Pitts, often heard in the company of her husband, drummer Bill Carney, a.k.a. “Mr. C.,” is a terrific and terribly under-appreciated B-3 bomber. The organist’s two albums here were reissued on a single CD set called Legends of Acid Jazz: Trudy Pitts With Pat Martino (1998):

Introducing the Fabulous Trudy Pitts - Trudy Pitts (1967); El Hombre - Pat Martino (1967 – Martino’s solo debut); These Blues of Mine - Trudy Pitts (1968).

Mickey Tucker (b. 1941): At this time, pianist Mickey Tucker was part of a group known as The New Heritage Keyboard Quartet with Roland Hanna that issued one album on Blue Note in 1973. Pat Martino’s sole foray with Tucker found the keyboardist helming electric piano and organ too. It’s not an easy album to find these days and has never turned up on CD or streaming services: Headed and Gutted - Willis Jackson (1975)

Carl Wilson: Almost nothing is known about organist Carl Wilson except that he isn’t the one that’s in the Beach Boys. Between 1963 and 1978, Wilson recorded a handful of records – all under Willis Jackson’s name. Strangely, Wilson doesn’t factor on anyone else’s records and has seemingly never waxed any of his own. Wilson reportedly hailed from Cleveland, but was likely based in New York City during this period. To critics, he had the chops to suggest Jimmy Smith or Jimmy McGriff (neither known to be an accompanist). But to Gator fans, he was the perfect foil. Wilson’s tenure in Jackson’s group seems, strangely enough, to parallel Pat Martino’s, at least on record:

Grease ‘n’ Gravy - Willis Jackson (1963 – Martino’s recording debut, as Pat Azzara); The Good Life - Willis Jackson (1963 – as Pat Azzara); More Gravy - Willis Jackson (1964 – as Pat Azzara); Boss Shoutin’ - Willis Jackson (1964 – as Pat Azzara); Jackson’s Action - Willis Jackson (1964 – as Pat Azzara); Live! Action - Willis Jackson (1965 – as Pat Azzara)Soul Night/Live! - Willis Jackson (1966 – as Pat Azzara); Tell It… - Willis Jackson (1967 – as Pat Azzara); Single Action - Willis Jackson with Pat Martino (1980).

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