Musicians react to the death of jazz guitar great Pat Martino at 77

Pat Martino
(Image credit: Leonard M. DeLessio/Corbis via Getty Images)

Musicians have been paying tribute to jazz guitar great Pat Martino, who passed away yesterday (Monday 1 November) at the age of 77.

"Pat Martino 1944-2021…my teenage hero and still," wrote John Scofield on Instagram, "when I hear him I try to play guitar like that but it can’t be done. He was such a nice man to us younger players, thank you Pat - RIP".

"Martino hugely influenced the sonic characteristics of every living jazz guitar player, whether they like it, whether they admit it, or whether they are even aware of it or not," wrote UK jazz guitarist Ant Law in his own tribute. "It’s built into the DNA of jazz guitar at this point."

Born Patrick Carmen Azzara in Philadephia, Martino's legacy is all the more remarkable after the comeback he made following a near-fatal brain aneurysm in 1980.  It left him with amnesia and no recollection of being able to play, or knowledge of his career. He relearned how to play from scratch and his slow recovery accounts for a near-decade gap in his discography that also represents one of the most remarkable comebacks in guitar history. 

And rather than dwell on what could have been, Martino instead saw starting over as a new way to approach the instrument. His recovery and return was the focus of the 2007 documentary Martino Unstrung. 

“What’s on my mind is a greater focus with more intimate accuracy on each and every moment so that I can truly focus on what life is really all about,” Martino told the Philadelphia Inquirer about the effect the recovery had on his life. “The mind has a way of thinking about things that have nothing to do with the moment, but if I can love my life in that moment, I’m in the right place at the right time.”

During his early career he played with musicians including Jimmy Smith, Gene Ludwig, Charles Earland, Willis Jackson, Trudy Pitts and Joey DeFrancesco. His 1967 debut El Hombre saw the 22-year-old Martino as a bandleader that began an incredible run, including a trio of seminal albums with Consciousness, Joyous Lake and Starbright between 1974 and 1976.

“He changed the way you play the guitar,” said fellow Philadelphian, jazz organist DeFrancesco, who again toured with Martino and drummer Billy Hart, recording the 2001 album Live at Yoshi’s. “He took his influences like Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell and people like that and he just made his own way of playing. He and George Benson are the most influential guitarists.”

Martino's final album was 2017's Formidable and his last tour before took place in Italy during 2018.

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