By CHARLIE STANFORD
“The past doesn’t exist,” says Pat Martino. “The future doesn’t exist. What exists is now.”
Since 1980, when he underwent neurosurgery for a life-threatening brain aneurysm, jazz guitarist Martino’s memories are foggy, sometimes nonexistent. Partly because of this condition, Martino stresses the importance of the present. He insists that his past experiences and future ambitions aren’t so important.
Martino’s emphasis on the moment sits at the core of his approach to music. His music happens in the now, as he and his band members adapt to each other and the changing demands of each particular song. Accordingly, Martino’s Feb 20th Portland Jazz Festival show at the Newmark Theatre will be an exercise in improvisation, in adaption to the moment. “It’s difficult to give a preface to experience,” Martino says. “Improvisation not only takes place in the structure of the music. Improvisation is life itself.”
Last Friday, I talked with Pat Martino. He told me about his musical philosophy, his upcoming concert at the Portland Jazz Festival with organist Pat Bianchi and drummer Carmen Intorre, and his life — or at least what he could remember of it.
What material will you be playing on the 20th?
There will be a great amount of original material. There will also be some beautiful standards. I love some of the beautiful music that’s been left to us.
How will you you decide which songs to play?
So much is left to the moment. We try to make a set list an hour before the show, but it changes as we play. Improvisation is not only taking place in the structure of the music; it’s taking place in life itself.
You’re playing with organist Pat Bianchi and drummer Carmen Intorre on Saturday. Can you describe your musical relationship with them? How do you interact with each other on stage?
I can’t. That’s like describing the people who are involved in a conversation. It’s so spontaneous, at the moment. There are times when there’s fantastic rapport. There are times when we have to rely on what we’ve done in the past because there is nothing happening that night. It’s adaption to the moment.
Sometimes there’s a disappointment that the music does not manifest in the way you thought it should. When something doesn’t work the way you want it to, it becomes a learning experience, and there’s nothing greater than that.
Looking at your career, it seems that you love to play in a guitar/organ/drums trio. What’s special about this format?
The organ trio has a history of its own, an identity of its own. It demands specific results as a craftsman. There are many things to be considered. The role of the bandleader, though, is objectivity in human interaction. That transcends craftsmanship. Most musicians are focused on the music itself, but bandleaders must direct the social interaction of the group. The craft itself becomes second nature.
The theme of the Portland Jazz Festival this year is “Celebrating John Coltrane.” How has Trane influenced you?
I met Trane at the age of 14. At that time I was studying with Dennis Sandole (Philadelphia jazz guitarist, 1913-2000). Trane was studying with him at the same time. I met Trane there, and I also met Benny Golson there, [Coltrane pianist] McCoy Tyner, [Miles Davis bassist] Paul Chambers. There were so many in and out of his studio.
How did Trane influence me? As a human being more than a musician. For a 14 year old to see someone that serious – not just Trane but also Dennis Sandole and the surroundings — I was influenced by his devotion And of course Trane’s accuracy. I was deeply influenced by that.
What other musical experiences shaped you as a person and a musician?
I have to point out in terms of priority of my life, I’m more focused on the moment. I remember a time when I was influenced by things that had nothing to do with the moment. I was influenced by something not there, not playing. Later on I began to focus more upon reality, on the moment. It’s difficult to be precise to answer some of these questions. The past doesn’t exist. The future doesn’t exist. What exists is now. I’m more influenced by this condition.
That’s how I see Coltrane – as his records stated: A Love Supreme. It’s a focus on the beauty of the moment. That’s a spiritual condition. That’s consciousness.
Pat Martino’s trio appears on a double bill with Kenny Barron at this year’s Portland Jazz Festival on Saturday February 20th at 7:00 pm at Portland’s Newmark Theatre. Tickets are available online.
Charlie Stanford is a writer, teacher, and lapsed jazz guitar prodigy. He grew up in Portland, Or., where he studied music with John Stowell, Dan Balmer, Randy Porter, and Alan Jones. He currently teaches English in Tongyeong, South Korea.