I had the great fortune of seeing a true living Legend of Jazz Thursday night at Chicago’s Jazz Showcase and was able to speak to him before the first set. Pat Martino is one amazing man. He is also one of the nicest people you could ever meet. I sat and asked him a somewhat unrehearsed collection of questions. I did know a bit about him so the questions were not exactly random.
One of the first things we talked about was his approach to taking words and turning them into melodies. Martino explains there are twenty-six letters in the alphabet, seven notes in the major scale. That’s three groups of seven and one of five. You repeat the notes after you get to the seventh degree of the scale. Any word can become a melody. This tells you right away that you are not dealing with a traditional thinker here.
A word that popped up more than once in the conversation was precision. This is the way he seems to approach all aspects of life, not just music. Another key word was awareness. Awareness is a highly-overlooked concept for most people. Musicians who are tuned into what they are playing and the people they are playing with are going to end up on another level entirely. I consider Pat’s thinking to be extremely Zen in nature. “All there is, is now” was my favorite quote of his. It is very eye opening, really. The idea that the past and future do not truly exist is a reality most of us cannot accept. There is so much truth in that statement.
Another thing that struck me was how he talked about not being obsessed with music. That is another strong statement. This at first might seem a bit too casual for a musician to accept. How can a serious musician follow this? It is easy to get so caught up in your music that the rest of your life suffers. The rest of your life should be incorporated into your music. Balance is key to everything, another Zen like concept.
Now, let’s talk about the music. Pat currently plays in an organ trio. For those of you unfamiliar, that is organ, guitar and drums. There is no bass player. The organist handles the bass role most of the time. I personally love this type of trio. I am a huge fan of the Hammond B-3, an instrument that gives off one amazing sound - truly hard to duplicate. Pat Bianchi was the man behind the keyboard. He was Martino’s perfect compliment. He traded solos with Pat and provided superb accompaniment.
Carmine Intorre completed the trio on drums. Jazz drummers are amazing creatures. The way they think of rhythm is off the hook. Rhythm is probably the most overlooked piece of the musical puzzle. Nothing grooves without the groove. I have heard the quote that a live band is only as good as the drummer. Intorre kept it going without a bass to lock in with, great job.
Pat’s own playing was flawless. I don’t remember hearing a bad note. His solos were highly creative. The rhythm of his phrasing brings back that word precision. Here is a guy pushing seventy-three-years-old that can out play people in the prime of their life. Actually, he may still be in the prime of his life. This guy is using strings on his guitar that most guitar players could not use. I am talking some heavy strings, even for Jazz players. I think a lot of it is due to how the man approaches life. Most people his age are shot, just not much left. He seems to really value a healthy lifestyle. I think being, as he described it, “mostly vegetarian” helps a lot. A lot of artists sacrifice their own health in pursuit if their art. Your body and mind are truly your instrument, not your guitar. The Zen concept again comes to mind.
Jazz can seem to be a bit self indulgent at times, all the soloing and all. What it really is a conversation between musicians. That is not always easy to see. However, when musicians are of this caliber, it is. I’m sure a lot of people who go to see a guy like Martino go to see an amazing guitarist. I can count myself on that list but after talking to Pat, I felt like I understood the scene a whole lot more. He talked about how the scene was back in the hey day. It was a community, not just the musicians. Jazz is a very social environment. In some ways, it is musician’s music. The fans are certainly another element. It is an environment for thinking people. An outsider might consider this a snobbish line of thinking. What it really is, is an escape. Jazz is a way of diving into a pool of joy. A lot of intelligent people find it difficult to exist in the world. They need a place to escape. Jazz clubs were at one time filled with people like this. I find it kind of sad in a lot of ways that there really is a very small Jazz scene left. That to me tells you a lot about our society today.
I don’t want to end this on a downer. What I will say is don’t be afraid to think. Think outside the box. My conversation with Pat Martino was a bit of an epiphany to me. It’s okay to think and have your own ideas. You can live your life with a level of precision. This can be a pattern in your life, your music. Incorporating your life into your music is as important as bringing music into your life. I saw an amazing guitar player Thursday night, but I also met an amazing person. Thank You, Mr. Martino.
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