Pat Martino - The "Cleansed" Guitarist

Photo by Tom Beetz

Pat Martino is quite a character. I have been a fan of his playing for many years, having first heard him in my early days at Berklee College of Music. His way of improvising was always kind of a mystery to me. Not necessarily due to complexity, but because of his way of thinking. Here is a short bit from his biography on PatMartino.com:

When the anesthesia wore off, Pat Martino looked up hazily at his parents and his doctors. and tried to piece together any memory of his life.

One of the greatest guitarists in jazz, Martino had suffered a severe brain aneurysm and underwent surgery after being told that his condition could be terminal. After his operations he could remember almost nothing. He barely recognized his parents. and had no memory of his guitar or his career. He remembers feeling as if he had been "dropped cold, empty, neutral, cleansed...naked."

In the following months. Martino made a remarkable recovery. Through intensive study of his own historic recordings, and with the help of computer technology, Pat managed to reverse his memory loss and return to form on his instrument. His past recordings eventually became "an old friend, a spiritual experience which remained beautiful and honest."

In many ways, his experience was similar to that of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. He was left with nothing, not even his own musical abilities. It must have been amazing to re-learn a skill from a person no longer in existence, even though that person was himself.

He has made a recovery, but this emptiness still shines through his words. Watch the following short video, and pay close attention to the language he uses.

I find it interesting, as I constantly have these "failures of memory," Pat speaks of. I find it quite a strain to remember what I might have done the day before. For example, as I sit here now (thinking of yesterday), I can remember looking in a bookstore, but I do not remember how I got there. That is all. I have no idea how I got there, or how I came home, or if I even came home at all. But Akiko didn't question me, so I guess I did return at some point!

This is a constant emptiness. Takuin just cannot seem to hold onto anything. Even the memory of the bookstore will be lost by tomorrow. But it is such a beautiful thing. It is a freedom, free from all description of freedom. Within that freedom, perhaps hidden, is the realization there is nothing to be free from, and no one to be free from it.

It is all breath, until one day, the breathing stops.

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Note: For those interested in seeing Pat's complete musical performance in this video, please click here.

Also, Pat has written a wonderful book on his method of musical expression called, "The Nature of Guitar." It is a fascinating look into the mind of a unique musician. It can be found for free on his website.