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Lots of jazz musicians learn to play by listening to other folks’ records. Pat Martino is one of the few to do it by listening to his own. In 1980 he was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm, and after corrective surgery woke up with no memory of what his guitar playing sounded like. Fortunately he had plenty of reference material to sift through, having recorded a slew of albums going back to 1967. Pre-1980 he’d tempered a straight-ahead jazz guitar sound with occasional modernist touches: a Joni Mitchell cover, a feint at south Asian music. Things didn’t change much after his comeback. A mid-90s producers’ extravaganza, All Sides Now, paired him with pickers from Les Paul to Joe Satriani, and he covered that Joni Mitchell tune again. But Martino has always sounded most at home in blues- and soul-drenched organ groups like the ones he cut his teeth in as a Philadelphia teenager, and that’s the concept of last year’s well-received Live at Yoshi’s (Blue Note), recorded in Oakland in December 2000 with a trio featuring fellow Philadelphian and onetime teen prodigy Joey DeFrancesco at the keys. For these shows the all-Philly trio also includes the organist’s drummer for much of the 90s, Byron Landham. Martino loves the heavy attack and trebleless amp sound so many jazz guitarists still swear by. He’ll occasionally play jumbled phrases that cut sideways through the chords, or end a long and winding line with a genial clunker, but more often he plays by the rules, whipping off trippy triplets and slide-rule chords while remembering to leave breath pauses like a horn player. It’s been done, but few do it this well–steeped as Martino is in the old ways, he rarely sounds like he’s going through the motions. Hey, life’s too precious for that. Friday and Saturday, March 1 and 2, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, March 3, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/David Perry.