Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Getting There Twice

Imagine yourself at the top of the musical ladder. For whatever your instrument at the time you are playing, you are the man. You've got the chops that no one else has. You do the things that no one else does, and you make it work. Your technique is just dead solid. You have reached that level of virtuosity where what you play is only a matter of choice. What you think is what you play. You are not hampered by your hands or your lack of understanding or your clumsiness or your stamina or a lack of nimbleness. You are only limited by your imagination. Got that? Great--just being able to wrap your head around that concept and what it means in terms of human expression is quite a feat in itself. I am still struggling with what that would even mean--let alone actually being able to achieve anything close to it.

Ok now imagine that you are not like Whitney Houston, or Mariah Carey (who are certainly virtuosos) in that you have taste. I mean you not only CAN play anything that occurs to you; but also you happen to choose things to play that are classy and knowing and cerebral without being elite or unapproachable. You are most of all Musical.

Now add to that the fact that you are experimental. You are developing new ways to approach your instrument. You are composing in new ways. Your imagination is inventive. It's inventive to the point that not only are you reinventing the approach to your instrument, you are playing with the definition of what a song is. And on top of it all you are playful.

Now imagine that at the peak of all this, you have a brain aneurism. The doctors give you little hope. You are going to die. You have intense brain surgery and you actually make it. You wake up from the anesthetic and you are not sure who you are. You don't recognize your parents. You remember nothing about your musical career. You don't know how to play anymore. Nothing. Just nothing.

This is what happened to Pat Martino.

For the guitar world he was like a Coltrane, a Parker, a Tatum, a Peterson, a Dizzy. And then not. Clean slate.

So he relearned it all. He started relistening to everything he ever recorded. He started relearning the instrument from scratch. He relearned how to read music. He learned to read his own compositions. And using all that, he clawed his way back. He still has missing information--missing parts of his childhood. But hell--Who doesn't. Most of college is blank for me!

Before the surgery one of his experiments that I found especially cool was the album Baiyina: The Clear Evidence.

Here is an Amazon link:


Ok see if this makes sense. Imagine a scale of notes. For the sake of argument, just imagine the major scale--Do Re Mi etc.

Now imagine that you line up those notes over and over like this:

Do re mi fa sol la ti do re mi fa sol la ti do re mi fa sol la ti do re mi

Ok? Now suppose that you pair each note with a letter of the alphabet like this:

Do re mi fa sol la ti do re mi fa sol la ti do re mi fa sol la ti do re mi

(If those don't match up on your computer, use your imagination!)

Now you have a code. You can spell anything with notes. The weird, chaotic heads of a lot of the tunes on this album are an experiment with translating text into notes in this fashion. If I am not mistaken "Israfel", the third cut on the album is a note-translation of a Poe poem of the same title or some phrase of it. On the album cover, where it says that it is a psychedelic excursion into the magical mysteries of the Koran--I think phrases from the Koran (and Poe's poem referencing the Koran) are played with in this way.

And you can put any repeating scale against the alphabet this way. Modals like mixolidian or Dorian or Aeolian. This will of course completely change the feel of the phrase. Go to that amazon link and listen to a few samples. Crazy.

And he lost it all around 1980.

Here is what All About Jazz had to say about it:

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.” This recovery fits in perfectly with Pat's illustrious personal history. Since playing his first notes while still in his pre-teenage years, Martino has been recognized as one of the most exciting and virtuosic guitarists in jazz. With a distinctive, fat sound and gut-wrenching performances, he represents the best not just in jazz, but in music. He embodies thoughtful energy and soul.

Here is Pat Martino in a recent clip playing "Oleo". I think you'll see he's doing ok.

Here is a short little rambling interview with Pat about his experience:

For us guitarists, Pat is like our Lance Armstrong.

1 comment:

Chap said...

According to Pat Martino's autobiography, right around the time of the release of Consciousness, part of the attention/identity seeking graffiti culture of his Philly upbringing at the time drove him to secretly "leave his mark" on the instruments of his idols. He secretly scratched "PM" deep in the bell of one of Miles's black trumpets with a switchblade when they were playing different stages at Boston's Jazz Workshop. Under the left F-hole of one of Mingus's basses, he did the same thing in 1976 in St. Louis when Mingus was opening for HIM! He said it felt like he was giving those legendary instruments a permanent "embrace." Wow.