Pat Martino. A name that strikes anything from fear to sheer awe and reverence in musicians who know who this is. And what he's done and been through. And continues to go through. The name resonates a bridge between the true Jazz swing era throught the organ trio groove and into the modern era and its (digital and electronic) resources of today.
A musical prodigy, Pat has always challenged himself...from his long and remarkable self recovery from amnesia brought on by a near fatal aneurysm to the ridiculously heavy string gauges and action he favors, yet nimbly maneuvers. One would think he simply sets unrealistic parameters for himself, but nothing keeps Martino sharper than these challenges themselves. He seemingly thrives on what would be their resistance to anyone else.
For Pat's not only learned to play on this level once, but twice. Due to a brain aneurysm almost twenty years ago, Martino was given the prognosis that he might live for two days and only then a 50% chance if he got an emergency operation. With this devastating information Pat immediately flew back to Philly from LA and though he obviously survived, he didnt recognize the family and friends who came to encourage him - those close to him and who he'd performed with, such as George Benson. His loss of memory caused him to have to experience doubt and relearn the guitar at a point that should well have been the height of his career. The laurels and repayment for so many years of brilliant output. After a series of tentative starts he's come back in full, some say better, and with a bit less of the darkness formerly present in his sound.
Though known for his incredible technique but not reliant on it as an end, Pat radiates the dictum which Cecil Taylor has expressed, that: "Technique is a weapon to do whatever must be done". And no more or less: efficiency. Technique serves the music, the musician does not serve the instrument (nor his accumulated facility for its own sake). And Pat does not serve anything but the music and its potential for depth and unique beauty.
There are some artists who make us smile, rhythmically nod, dance, even feel, but few who elicit what Pat does...to think and to know. Know there is a purpose, a balance and a logic and logical structure to the universe as sensed through sonic vibrations over time: music. Soul, definition, a catalyst and key to life...improvisation ...possibilities...spread before us to peruse like rough gems happened upon in a Arabian flea market. The most unlikely beauty found among the funkiest of surroundings. Beckoning.
As with Miles, a similar dark beauty resides in Martino's tone and sonic substance.
A minor sensibility experienced both theoretically and sonically. There is no doubt, no tentativity in his statements or direction. No amendments or false starts...just a pure and dominant ferocity of thought to touch - head to fingers - unleashed upon six incredibly heavy yet, yielding strings. Pat just sees ahead. Way ahead as he solos. Winding with effortless, though controlled abandon. An cortradiction of terms only with a lesser musician. The numerous recordings and anecdotes say it all... Consider the following and I think you'll agree.
As if fulfilling a cosmic inevitability via incantation, Pat's father upon his birth is said to have uttered, "with these hands ... you will play guitar". A wish the elder Martino (Azzara) had hoped for himself. How little he could have known the auspiscious start he rendered.
Pianst Ron Thomas, who's worked with Pat many times, expresses his thoughts: "I studied with Karlhienz Stockhausen and got to know John Cage quite well but I must say Pat is really the most astounding of all of them".
Guitar and recording industry icon Les Paul has been quoted as saying that after hearing him play, Paul seriously considered asking the 12 year old Pat for lessons.
Even Benson himself came to New York unprepared to walk into the first club he came to only to witness a 17 year-old Pat soloing like no one he had ever heard and causing the 18 year-old to seriously reconsider his chances in this profession (as he assumed that this must be what was simultanesously happening in clubs across the city).
And the recordings...classics like "Joyous Lake", "Exit", "Footprints", "We'll Be Together Again", "Concsiousness", "Live!", all are lessons not only in how to be an original in jazz but in taste, power, depth, improvisation, groove, stamina, structure and truth.
Just as there are people and experiences in life that can change you, the experience of seeing Pat perform and/or meeting him goes beyond the music and sometimes well into the spiritual realm. You come away with something undefinable...you start to ponder all that you thought you 'knew' and if you have the strength you might start again, from scratch, if you're willing, with this new perspective on possibilites and perception. Either way, you've changed. If Zen has a place in improvisation as life, it resides within Martino.
Now having returned to his place, re-ignited...as master improviser (in every sense), composer (including string quartets and symphonic music), leader, arranger, teacher (imparter of guitar lore), artist, calligrapher, thinker, creator, renaissance guitar force and sonic architect, his journey continues. As does ours. Listener and musician, together again.
MB - Its really a great pleasure to be able to talk to you today.
PM - Oh, its my pleasure
MB - Thank you for taking the time.
PM - Its really a pleasure. Joe Donofrio filled me in on everything and I was looking forward to hearing from you.
MB - Yeah, he sounds like a great guy.
PM - Yeah, he is.
MB - You seem to be real busy these days...with your recordings, gigs, clinics...(videos, books).
PM - Yeah, thank God for that. Its been really a prosperous time, you know, so I'm happy about that.
MB - Yeah, no doubt. A couple of people asked me to say hi for them...Dave Frank
PM - Oh, thats great.
MB - And...do you remember Charlie Miller? GIT? (student of Pat's and also my old roomate at Berklee).
PM - Oh, listen, when you speak with both of them; either of them, please give them my best.
MB - I certainly will. Be glad to....."All Sides Now" (Bluenote) was a really interesting concept...
PM - Oh, thanks. That was totally the idea of two other producers who came in specifically for a project like that and it kind of was secondary to what I had planned for Bluenote and it was a really time consuming event or series of events.
MB - Yeah, I guess you were recording all over the country, werent you?
PM - Yeah, there were like each duet with a completely different session.
Mb - Yeah, I mean, were there rehearsals at all...were they even neccesary?
PM - There were no rehearsals for anything. They were completely spontaneous.
MB - And you hadn't played with any of those people.
PM - Exactly.
MB - The things with Mike Stern were amazing.
PM - Yeah, I really enjoyed that.
MB - I'm sure.
PM - Yeah, well, Mike is just a pleasure to be with.
MB - Yeah, yeah, he's a great guy.
PM - Yeah, for sure.
MB - You seem to be in a state of perpetual open-mindedness and gratitude, even moreso since the operation. Do you feel that?
PM - In a way, yes I do, you know I just...there were periods of time where it seemed that creative output had reached its end, you know, and I was really surprized, I was shocked after recovery that recovery included reactivating my entire career. I was really happy about that.
MB - Yeah. Were you surprized that that even happened...that there was a catalyst?
Pm - Yeah, absolutely.
MB - When you hear your Prestige or Muse sides what do you hear as far as any difference in your playing or conception, from that time to now?
PM - I wish I could answer that. Primarily the problem in answering that question is that I rarely listen to any of those performances or any of those sessions.
MB - Right, oh, I'm sure. But I'm sure you're aware of them as well.
PM - Yeah, yes I am aware of them. One of the most effective natures of each of these albums was the continuance of social interaction with a lot of great people. And in some senses they demanded more of my attention in terms of remembering events and remembering different aspects of those sessions. It was the people that I remember more than the music itself.
MB - So seeing faces, hearing voices, that kind of jogged your memory?
PM - Exactly. Yeah. exactly.
MB - Interesting. Do you feel that you left anything behind; that you lost anything that you'd maybe be able to use now?
PM - No I dont feel that way primarily because I really dont see any value other than the events themselves and the archives of history, you know. In the past..its the past.
MB - Being in the moment...
PM - The moment is the issue, is the primary issue at this point.
MB - Absolutely. I think few know you've created music of such variety, they know you primarily as a jazz artist.
PM - Sure.
MB - But you've got orchestrations, electronic music, solo guitar pieces, a ballet. You know, its like, how do people categorize you? Where do they put you in the bins at Tower? Of course, a lot of the stuff doesnt get put out. How do you transcend being known publicly as a jazz artist and privately as simply being creative force?
PM - Well, I think there are two realities, you know. They work hand in hand. The only difference is that privately there is no marketing taking place with regards to those particular creative shapes, you know? And I dont expect that, they're just personal events during very private moments and the intimacy of it is enough in itself. I dont know what to say about that. I think that my main concern, as a priority, is jazz guitar. And it still is.
MB - I don't know if I should say 'passed up', but I guess you passed up invitations to work with Ray Charles and Oscar Peterson apparently?
PM - Sure, yeah, years ago.
MB - ...God, those collaborations would've been something.
PM - Well, you know, I was offered the job with Ray Charles' band. I passed that primarily because there was a choice to go with John Handy's band as opposed to Ray Charles'.
MB - Right, thats what you did, yeah.
PM - Yeah, so the same with Oscar Peterson. At that particular time Joe Pass had asked me if I would do him a favor to take that engagemant on, you know. And, I was in the midst of a number of other things. If I remember correctly, that was during the period of 'Baiyina', an album I did for Prestige records.
MB - Clear Evidence, yeah.
PM - Yeah, Clear Evidence. And I was really involved in terms of commiting myself to directions and paths that really had very little to do with that particular arena, you know. And my decision was to continue seeking the opportunity as a leader in my own right, as opposed to taking advantage of a great opportunity but still being a sideman and per se.
MB - Right...when you're that much in demand you just cant split yourself in half.
PM - Well, you know, its a funny thing. We're each...I believe each of us are blessed with specific gifts, you know, and thats one of the reasons why we each of us look different. As a sideman there are certain responsibilities which are not neccesarily in tune with your gifts and because of that reduce your continuity to mediocrity, comparitively.
MB - (laughs)
PM - And I personally came to a point in my life where, maybe it was a mistake to even perceive that way, but I made a decision to take advantage specifically of the gifts that were given to me, personally, without having to adhere and uphold responsibilities that were to illuminate the gifts of others. So this I think is a decisive point in anyones career where they become a leader in the sense of structuring a canopy that is really designed for their own shape.
MB - That makes a lot of sense.
PM - Yeah. And I think that that is one of the best things to be done. Of course, you know, there is a danger in that ..in time if thats pursued to an extreme. One becomes out of touch with the nature of things in terms of surroundings and social interaction for the sake of growing and evolving with others, you know. So thats one of the reasons why I'm enjoying what i'm doing right now with all the different sessions. Again back to taking a place to respond and be part of a collective whole, you know, where ...but at this particular point I can understand it a lot better and enjoy it a lot better than I did in the years past when I was a lot younger, you know?
MB - I guess there's certain things you have to go through whether they're painful or not.
PM - Sure.
MB - To get to where your supposed to be.
PM - Yeah, absolutely. I think thats really important.
MB - I know its sometimes hard relegating whatever creativity I have to music alone. Not many people know that you do the sketches and calligraphy and everything. When and how did that begin? Was it a part of the recovery process?
PM - I think that its impossible to focus ones attention upon one given (thing), all the time...and that being the guitar. Calligraphy has come about throughout my life. Its always emerged under circumstances where that was my only tool, penmanship.
In behalf of sketches and any of these other factors, there's times when I find it difficult to absorb more of the music. Its becoming overwhelming at times and, you know, its leading to a point where I feel overloaded with it. And I need to ...I need to push away from it for awhile. And in periods like that I really become committed to what I'm doing, even a hobby, you know, and many times that took place with computers, with regards to artwork on the computer itself - graphic art - or in terms of writing..you know, in my diaries with a pen; penmanship. So, thats really been rewarding in the sense of a certain level of artistry, of concern about the quality of what I'm doing and in a sense I think thats a part ...its part of being a Virgo (laughs).
MB - (laughs). There you go. That was the perfect answer.
PM - Well, its true (laughs).
MB - Yeah, I'm sure, you know. Sometimes it just comes down to your personality.
PM - (laughs) Yes, thats very true.
MB - You know, who you are.
PM - Exactly (laughs).
MB - Thats funny, thats great. What was the hardest part of the loss of memory for you? How did you deal with... I mean, was it predominantly fear of the unknown?
PM - No. I think in light of the experience in total that I've gone through so far, the most important part of that was the need for individualism; the need to be able to establish and identity once again. And it was very difficult to do so having lost touch with everything that had given the strength to build up to that point in my life in terms of the roots of the tree itself, had been blindly lost, you know?
MB - Not knowing what you were missing what caused you to want to reach out and regain what you didn't know you'd lost on some level?
PM - Boredom. Boredom and the lack of interest in many things. I mean there were periods of depression during those times.
MB - Oh yeah, I've read a lot about that.
PM - Yeah, for recovery. And I think that as much as we can fear elements of that nature, its the irony of it is its very those very latent elements, you know, fear itself, that lead us to make a decision and it was exactly that that caused me to pick up a guitar, and even though it was a hobby at the time, and relearn it.
MB - Thats amazing. That just doesnt seem, you know, right for you to be saying that - as a hobby - I mean, being that you focus so much and commit to whatever's at hand.
PM - Well, what I really picked up, first and foremost was the computer and the more I doodled and played with it the closer I got to the process, due to the same innate needs.
MB - The computer was your catalyst.
PM - Yeah, that was the catalyst. And finally it crossed over into music itself again. And that led to wanting to be able to be functional with music on other tools as well, you know, and there were plenty of guitars around. And I finally started picking them up again.
MB - I know you've got clinics coming up in Europe.
PM - Yeah.
MB - Have you gotten too busy to teach at home?
PM - No, in fact five minutes before your call came through I was speaking with someone who was coming in from Vancouver, that when I returned from New York City asked if I would do some private time with him. And I feel good about that.
PM - Yeah, I've had friends that have come back from lessons with you and said that, you know, I dont know if they had any preconceptions, but they probably felt that with other teachers you're going to get a half an hour, an hour and they might've spent the whole afternoon with you...
PM - Sure.
MB - And that was certainly a great surprise, you know, the kind you dont tend to come across too often.
PM - Well, there's something about aging...(laughs).
MB - (laughs)...Yeah, there is.
PM - (laughs) That causes situations that, you know, inherently... just dissolve our youth and our childhood because the responsibilities that we feel and certain levels that we find it neccesary to live up to.
MB - Yeah.
PM - I personally always had a great amount of fun, you know, just interacting with guitar players and I still do and it really, it lengthens my youth and its something thats never really changed.
MB - Right, its like energy that you just toss back and forth.
PM - Exactly, yeah.
MB - Thats funny, but life will hand you as much stress as (laughs)...
PM - As you want...(laughs)
MB - (laughs) Yeah, as you'll accept, yeah.
PM - Yeah, sure.
MB - What do you hope to impart to students that visit you?
PM - You know, my need is to be able to be as clear as possible and to provide access to the intrument itself as a teacher. I think its a form of log ic... that can be shared, in a sense. But not neccesarily create a decisive move for any individual unless they themselves, you know, see a way for fulfilling their own needs, which came long before the interaction. But, you know, I hope I can provide something that endlessly unravels more information from its own source. And thats what the guitar does in terms of what I've seen in it. It has become the teacher for me and what I try to do is share that, and in doing so, prevent the need for a teacher.
MB - So, you're basically illuminating a window or a door.
PM - Yeah, exactly. Its kind of like opening Pandora's box.
MB - There you go, yeah; difficult to close.
PM - Sure.
MB - The first experience that I had even knowing about your music was when you came down to the Guitar Conservatory in SA.
PM - Sure.
MB - I dont know if you would remember that but, I think it was '79.
PM - I certainly remember San Antonio.
MB - Jackie King...
PM - Yeah, sure, of course. I dont remember it, you know...
MB - In detail.
PM - In detail.
MB - Right, of course not. I remember you showed up with an Adamas acoustic and handing out some very cryptic information on string organization, (the) 12 point star.
PM - Sure.
MB - The octave chromatic displacements and some classically influenced solo guitar pieces ("Country Roads")
PM - Yeah.
MB - Can you just briefly discuss some of those?
PM - Well, you know, its difficult to just scratch the surface of any one of them.
MB - True.
PM - You know, when I refer to string combinations or string groups, they're every possible combination of strings on the guitar - the six strings. They can be single string, single note line forms, you know: melodies. They can be 3 note chords, 4 note chords, 5 note chords or even 6 note chords using all six strings. Or any combination of spaces in between what's being used and what's not being used.
MB - Which would also include some impossibilities, too.
PM - Yeah, exactly. So in that sense we're going back to what I had briefly brought to your attention, which resulted in its conclusion as Pandora's box. These are access points to the logic of how the machine was built. And the same thing with multiple symbols, you know, that you would not only see in music but you would be reminded in everything else you see. So that if it can be seen that a 12 hour clock or 24 hour clock, in a circular formation, you know - from 12 noon to 12 midnight - can also be seen as (a) 12 tone row.
MB - Ok.
PM - This too is a repetition of symbols that are used throughout the history of mankind. And I think that that provides proof of a logic that is simplistic as well as complex, depending upon how one sees it, you know? And to be able to bring that up as a subject of perception, you know, in a class, to me, is kind of important. So that it can be seen that music can be drawn from anything. So that if you had a diminished row and you saw that (as) diminished scales or chords and you saw that as 12 o'clock, 3 o'clock, 6 o'clock and 9 o'clock, you see the inversions of those notes, you see. And if you see it as 12 o'clock, 4 o'clock and 8 o'clock you see the augmented triangle in the same clock.
MB - Three from twelve, yes.
PM - Yeah, three of them from twelve. So, in a sense, the music is coming out of the world itself, you know, that surrounds us and everytime we take a walk we see so many different things. And its when we put the music down the music is always there, we just cease to find it interesting in terms of a priority topic. But its latent in everything that surrounds us and Ive found, at least personally, that that was an interesting and a valuable factor to bring to the attention of serious music students.
MB - That makes a lot of sense. As far as your other concepts, you know, the diminished and dominant and the minor/augmented chord explorations and extensions and so on. Do you have anything that you're currently working on of that magnitude?
PM - Well, you know, everything I have ever done in the past - which a lot of it I don't even remember - as well as anything that I can do in the future is still, you know, dependent on all of the factors we're discussing at the moment. Because they're universal concepts and they're endless and its up to the individual...and I also think that its impossible for any of us to be able to experience the totality of any one of these things.
MB - Oh, of course not, no.
PM - There are just so many different facets that they apply to that its really difficult. So, to be able to give you another idea of it is kind of hard because it itself circles everything that I've ever done, am doing or ever will do.
MB - Right. I mean, I know these things are universal but, I mean, life is not long enough for any of us to fully comprehend them.
PM - Sure.
MB - There's perspective, there's context, there's perception...
PM - Yeah.
MB - So, and because of that, I guess, each one of us pretty much conceives of these things differently and obviously results in our playing not being the same, at all, but having threads that combine or connect.
PM - Sure, yeah.
MB - So we each develop our own styles even if we were to draw from, maybe, the same template.
PM - Yeah, thats absolutely true.
MB - There's something else at play there.
PM - Yeah, for sure. And there's also the cultural facets or the cultural aspects of where we sit in terms of the importance of how much our gift can be utilized and shared with others. I think that the present times are quite different than, let's say, the 70's...in terms of marketing, in terms of bookings, in terms of the amount of money that is available, you know, in terms of working as a musician. There are so many things that we are going to experience whether we like it or not. And I think from the ...as a result of this, I think the essence of it is how well we can grow from this; how much we can gain from all of this experience, and in a sense, maintain as much optimism as possible, through it, you know. And I think that thats essential. You know, there's a lot of things that happened in the 60's and happened in the 70's that a number of students in all the conservatories worldwide are trying to gain some information on, you know, trying to gain some experience about these things. And the one thing that is missing that is not available for them, is the culture. The nature of the culture itself. We can study...a student can study something that is recorded in 1968 or 1969 or even 1975...and want to attain the sparkling magic that is taking place in that performance...but is losing sight of the fact that what was surrounding that.
MB - Right. The life.
PM - Yeah. What was surrounding that performance no longer exists.
MB - Yeah. What do you think thats missing now. I mean, how do you describe that?
PM - Well, you know, I dont think there's anything missing nowadays concerning culture itself. And I think what is available has to be percieved as realistically as possible and (coughs) - excuse me - and performed within accordingly. You can never take away the beauty of a wonderful person and it seems that that is one of the most powerful things about performing in public: there are so many wonderful people that really enjoy the art itself, that it really stimulates the artist, you know. So that isnt missing. There's nothing missing with that.
MB - I guess I meant what's changed that...
PM - The surrounding where the people are gathered has changed.
MB - Ok.
PM - And the industry itself (doorbell) has changed a great deal, as well. Mike, can you hold on just for a moment, someone's at my door ?
MB - Be glad to, ok.
PM - Hold on......Mike, sorry for the delay.
MB - That's ok. Do you need to run?
PM - No, not at all. That was my window cleaner.
MB - Oh, ok.
PM - Yeah, so here are the kids in the conservatories trying to learn more about jazz and losing sight of what surrounds it, in real time. And I think that thats a story in itself and its a study that is really, really important, you know. And the best thing they can do to learn more about it is to learn the basics of the art itself and then to go out into the realtime life and experience it like that.
MB - Right. You can't just get it all out of a school or educational situation.
PM - Exactly. And that goes the same for the recorded history of it. You can copy Wes Montgomery but you cant experience what was taking place at that time in our culture.
MB - No, and that had a lot to do with why he played what he did and the way he did.
PM - Exactly.
MB - You know, because of his surroundings.
PM - Sure.
MB - You actually had the chance to play with him a few times.
PM - Sure, yeah.
MB - How was that. I mean, that must've been (an) incredible situation.
PM - It was just great. It really was, yeah.
MB - You guys just hung out and...you didn't do gigs though...
PM - No, we didn't perform publically. We used to hang out in hotel rooms and we used to hang out at whatever club we were both working at, if we were in close vicinity. Or, on the other hand there are a lot of times that Wes would be leaving a specific engagement and I would be coming in with the leader that I was with...you know, and I would always see him then, as well. And we'd get together at the hotel, before he left town and before I started on the next night for the gig.
MB - That just sounds like such a great experience.
PM - Yeah, it was really great.
MB - I mean, there's what you're talking about, the culture.
PM - Sure.
MB - I guess you and 'Trane both took lessons from (guitarist) Dennis Sandole?
PM - Yeah, I was with Dennis approximately for about four months. That's before I left Philadelphia and went on the road.
MB - Oh, I guess I assumed it was longer than that.
PM - No, no it wasn't..but I was so dedicated to the instrument at that time that I had the opportunity of meeting 'Trane there and meeting quite a number of really great players...Benny Golson...God, there were so many great players there.
MB - Yeah, Ive always found it interesting that they were going to a guitar player when, you know, guitar players get the rap for kind of being behind the eight ball as far as the cutting edge of jazz.
PM - Sure, absolutely.
MB - As far as improvisation goes.
PM - Yeah, of course.
MB - I notice you dont use key signatures...everything is essentially notated as if it were in C, which, of course, it isnt, but...
PM - Yeah, that's the funny thing. I was talking about that with someone last night because I'm going into the Iridium in New York City starting next week and (Organist) Larry Goldings is in the group. And Larry sent me some charts and all of the charts are in four flats, five flats, six flats.
MB - (laughs).
PM - You know, and I was saying to ...
MB - You mean he doesnt know you very well?
PM - No. This is the first time we'll ever play together...so I prefer writing almost like twelve-tone music with, you know, with no specific key center. And doing it that way as opposed to having to remember that that note is flat when it looks...free.
MB - Right, yeah.
PM - It just takes a lot off my mind.
MB - He's an amazing player.
PM - Yeah, so I hear, you know, and I've heard some of his new material and its really great.
MB - So, you're not on the gig as a sideman...
PM - No, in fact, I'm leading the band and also Larry's featured with it and also Idris Muhammed is the drummer on this.
MB - Ah, thats great.
PM - So, I'm really looking forward to it.
MB - Is there a fourth member?
PM - No. We had given thought to a quartet and then finally came to the conclusion of just doing it as a trio.
MB - The organ would cover the bass.
PM - Yeah, absolutely.
MB - Yeah.
PM - We were gonna do it with tenor.
MB - I see...so, how did it come about that you would work with someone that you've never played with, you know, with you as a leader, and I guess no rehearsals?
PM - Well, it came about due to the fact that Joel Criss had called my manager and asked my manager if I'd be interested in going into The Iridium with an organ group. Which I havent performed with an organ group since 1965, with Don Patterson.
MB - Its been that long?
PM - Its been that long, yeah. I mean with the exception of the fact that recently I just did an album with Jack McDuff. But I havent really performed with organ for, gosh man, its thirty years.
MB - Thats hard to believe. I mean, you were part of the whole original organ trio thing.
PM - Yeah, exactly.
MB - And its funny how its come back now. I mean everybody from Medeski, Martin and Wood and...
PM - Sure.
MB - Metheny and Brecker. All these guys are doing it now.
PM - Yeah, in fact next week or the week after, in fact it starts on the..we'll be recording on the 6th of June...Its an album that is a tribute to Charlie Earland, you know, and Joey DeFrancesco is playing on it and Eric Alexander and myself and a number of other long term friends of Charlie, you know.
MB - Oh, that sounds so great.
PM - So, it seem that theres a lot of organ taking place right now.
MB - Right. Oh yeah there absolutely is. I mean , I guess something needs to go away for a little while before you realize, you know, you've missed it...I've got a couple of quotes I wanted to run by you...
PM - Sure.
MB - There's a Miles quote, regarding essence..."the only way to make art is to forget what is unimportant". Any thoughts on that?
PM - ...Well, its hard for me to say, in terms of focusing..you know, I certainly find the interest and the neccesity of not focusing upon whats unimportant.
MB - Well, of course.
PM - Yeah (laughs).
MB - But sometimes, sometimes in the moment (laughs) its hard to tell whats important and whats unimportant, you know, in real time, I guess.
PM - Well, I think the most important thing to focus upon, at all times is truth: being honest with yourself.
MB - Absolutely.
PM - And doing what you really wanna do. And I think that there are times; a good example of that is: in 1976 I was doing a concert with the original 'Joyous Lake' and we were performing in about 40 miles outside of Marseilles, in France, on a mountaintop. It was called Riviera '76.
MB - Ok.
PM - And there were about 283,000 people at that particular performance.
MB - Omg.
PM - And it was outdoors, of course. It was like a mini Woodstock... for jazz...and Joe Cocker was involved with it at that time, performing, and Chick Corea's group was there: Return to Forever. Weather Report was in it. It was like a high, heavy-duty fusion.
MB - That must've been really cool.
PM - It really was, but, unfortunately, or maybe even fortunately - its hard to say in terms of the truth of the matter - I was still going through seizures prior to the operations that eventually took place. And I had a seizure onstage and because of that I couldn't play, in the midst of something that was really, really heavy-duty...it was burnin'. And I stopped for about 30 seconds...and then came back in, you know, when I found my place, when I just...because I was falling through a black hole.
MB - Omg. Yeah, I've read about that.
PM - So, I mean that...when I look back at that and I see that and try to relate the value of that or the lack of value in it, I always come to the conclusion that it was what was needed: a moment of silence. And it reminds me of Miles...you know, in many ways.
MB - Right.
PM - Where he would just literally stop, and there would be silence there. So I think that that has something to do with it as well.
MB - Right.
PM - And for me that was a reality, but I also see an artistic perception with regards to perceiving it in a way that turns it into art.
MB - Right. I mean, he was such a master at just getting to the essence of something that...
PM - Sure.
MB - Like he made most of the rest of us look like we didnt have a clue.
PM - Sure, absolutely.
MB - I guess thats kind of what I was getting at. Theres a Stravinsky quote.. "Instinct is infallable. If it leads us astray, it is no longer instinct".
PM - Yeah, thats a very interesting ...
MB - Yeah.
PM - Yeah, if it leads us astray, its, in my opinion, it has to be a distraction by something that is more powerful than our focal point.
MB - Do you feel we can trust our instinct that much?
PM - I think we can. I think we can trust our instincts because no matter what the result is going to be due to it, we're going to learn more about ourselves. And its going to demand a decision. So each moment thats is, in my opinion, that is ...that triggers instinct, is also triggering the growth that we're looking for, that is difficult to call, from our experience, something that is a new experience. So, we learn from our instincts, we learn from the mistakes we make and in fact they're not mistakes at all, they're the roots of learning.
MB - They're part of the growth process.
PM - Yes, exactly, yeah. And I think instinct is neccesary for that.
MB - Right. There's a couple of your own quotes that I really got a lot out of..."life is short and I have spent far too many years thinking of myself as a guitar player rather than as a human being who among other things played the guitar". It sounds almost regretful. But, how do you deal with that?
PM - Well, I deal with it as - and I still feel the same way - I'm more interested in continuity. Again, you know, the accuracy of being a guitarist, a player is no more important than the accuracy of penmanship. Each moment is nothing but a moment of my life and if I need the guitar to provide the neccesity to be accurate, and I dont see that in everything else... then the instrument is a distraction from everything it has given me in life.
MB - Right.
PM - So I dont want to see it that way. I'm much more than a guitar player. I enjoy people. I enjoy meeting new individuals. I enjoy experiencing new, you know, new responsibilities. I mean, there's times when ...
MB - Having a life...
PM - Yeah, exactly. If you walk out the front door and you go...normally you turn left to go to the mailbox...you can also turn right and walk around the corner and around the block to get to the mailbox.
MB - And then you're improvising.
PM - Yeah, then life is improvisation.
MB - (laughs).
PM - You know, and in the process you happen to witness and old lady dropping her bag of groceries and it may fall out of the bag...now you have the opportunity of being a gentleman.
MB - That's right.
PM - And you feel better about life. And finally you get to the mailbox and you drop in the letter that you intended to mail, but look how much you've accomplished and gained ...in the process by being free of mind and at the same time as clear and accurate to what you're enjoying about life itself, which is life itself, you know?
MB - You got the chance to be part of humanity at the same time.
PM - Yeah, exactly, exactly.
MB - There's another one... "in an insensitive world of competition... the most priceless condition is to share the truth". I really like that one.
PM - Yeah.
MB - I guess thats pretty much the bottom line.
PM - Yeah, you know, competitive, anything competitive is strictly based upon marketing and based upon success...with regards to the industry itself. And there's nothing wrong with that, in terms of being part of the whole, you know, the larger sense of what you've set out to do. But in terms of the true value of what you're worth, I don't think its neccesary to compete. I really don't. I think that that's trying to, I don't know, trying to live up to what makes you feel important. You know, competition in that particular sense.
MB - Right.
PM - I guess it is important, but then there's moments of intimacy where there is no one else but you and yourself... and you can't compete with that.
MB - Right. I mean, if it is only to make you feel important or self-important I think they're missing the mark there.
PM - Yeah, again, you're missing the duty and all of the opportunities. Again, you're going the shortest distance to the mailbox...
MB - Every time.
PM - And that's ok sometimes if you have a time appointments, but you have to have the freedom to get away from that... so that you can be closer to fluidity and then you take shape of whatever you're poured into, you know, much like water... or another fluid. As opposed to being as tight as a rock.
MB - Right.
PM - And then you can't fit in the space, you know?
MB - I mean, sometimes you have to open up and be able to, you know, experience.
PM - Sure.
MB - Things like love, even if it does take the longer route.
PM - Yeah, for sure.
MB - Yeah. You've been through so much; the operation literally dividing your life into two parts. Has your faith in God helped you through this experience?
PM - Yeah, I think so.
MB - Getting reaquainted with the guitar and the memory loss and blackouts and all?
PM - For sure. Provisions, you know. I always thank God for what's provided and it seems like somethings always provided when needed.
MB - Especially if you have that attitude (laughs).
PM - Yeah, absolutely.
MB - Its funny. Its almost ...spooky.
PM - Yeah, absolutely. I agree with you.
MB - You were also involved with the Koran and Eastern thought.
PM - Well, I was more or less involved with Theosophy, in terms of all of the religions, you know. And to me, that was the most important thing: finding the essence of each of these things, and of course, the main essence to all these things is love and truth, you know, and...I think that's the issue of life.
MB - You just answered my next question.
PM - Yeah.
MB - Your music always sounds unmistakeably consistant.
PM - Thank you.
MB - Yes, you're welcome...the listener knows who it is and not just by the tone or the phrasing but by so many idiomatic devices. How do you go about composing and keeping this identity clearly apparent? Even there, as well.
PM - Les Paul once said to me, you know, 'when you play and the audience reacts, keep it. If you play something and there is no reaction, toss it.
MB - Omg. That's great!
PM - Yeah, he says, 'and if you keep...if you come up with seven of these...then you're in good shape'.
MB - (laughs)
PM - 'And you will never be forgotten'.
MB - Only seven.
PM - Only seven is what you need.
MB - Thats amazing.
PM - And I think he's right on the button.
MB - Yeah, well he's been around longer than all of us put together (laughs) I think.
PM - Yeah (laughs).
MB - I think he should have it by now.
PM - For sure (laughs).
MB - (laughs). You've always had an affinity for symmetrical structures and harmonic movement, things like this...
PM - Yeah.
MB - Clarity, organization, precision etc...is that back to being a Virgo?
PM - Yeah, I think so. I think its primarily based on logic, the way the instrument's built.
MB - A lot of math in there.
PM - Yeah, there is a lot of math if you want to see it that way. It can also be...it could also be seen as mirror images of itself...over and over again.
MB - Ok.
PM - And I see it that way.
MB - Fractals...that kind of thing.
PM - Yeah, and I'm really very comfortable with it because of that.
MB - Yeah...yeah.
PM - So that the entire fingerboard - all 24 to 26 frets of it - is reduced into any one given topic. And then can be divided into multiple, miniature areas of change for that topic.
MB - Right. A question just occured to me...you base so much of the logic of what you've distilled about the guitar into the number: 6, I mean, you know, having to do with the strings and the I Ching and everything...It just occured to me that what about guitars with more strings: 7 or 8; you know, Charlie Hunter...
PM - Sure. It can be done accordingly in terms of...
MB - All that still exists there, of course.
PM - Sure, yeah, sure. Its still applicable to all of that.
MB - You just have to re-map it over, I guess.
PM - Exactly. Its the same thing with tunings. You know, the instrument itself is a free...its a free mechanical instrument, you know. Freely mechanical.
MB - Absolutely.
PM - So, it can be changed in any way you want to change it. But I think the nature of the guitar itself with regards to the six strings lasted for the longest time, you know, including the Classical guitar, and the Blues and Rock guitar. And Jazz, as well. Until recently, its going up to seven strings, and I forget who it is that has used ten strings. So, in that case there are exceptions and they're on the margin. But I think that the majority of the instrument and to reduce it into simplicity, because of its logic with the six strings themselves, I think there's a neccesity to that. Primarily being that the instrument itself has been established for, you know, centuries...under those conditions.
MB - I don't suppose you've worked with tunings too much.
PM - It's been a long time. It has been a long time but I did get involved with different tunings - all the different tunings, as well as, a double neck. When I used the (Ovation) Adamas I originally had the Kaman brothers build me two of them. They built the six string, most likely that I had used when I went to San Antonio...
MB - Ok.
PM - And also the, exactly the same color and same, you know, same tools and the same wood and the same graphics...with a double neck. And the top neck was six strings and the bottom neck was six strings. The only difference was the bottom was tuned: EADGBE. And the top neck was EBGDAE; was upside down.
MB - What projects are upcoming for you?
PM - There's a number of them...you know, I dont know where to begin.
MB - Besides Iridium.
PM - Yeah, I have another session, like I said, coming up with the tribute to Charlie Earland. I just finished a 28 piece big-band album that did...(tape ran out here).
MB - Pat, I'd really like to thank you for your time and wish you all the best.
PM - Thank you. My pleasure.
This article originally appeared on
About Jazz website. It is used here by permission of Mike
Brannon. Thanks Mike!