Internationally beloved jazz guitarist Pat Martino has passed away at the age of 77. The news was confirmed by Martino’s longtime manager, Joe Donofrio.
Martino’s story is almost as impressive as his virtuosic playing. He began playing professionally at the age of 15, and eventually emerged as one of the great jazz-based guitarists of the 1960s. He was forcednto make a remarkable comeback after brain surgery in 1980 to correct an aneurysm that caused him to lose his memory and completely forget how to play.
He worked early on with groups led by Willis Jackson, Red Holloway, and a series of organists, including Don Patterson, Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, Richard “Groove” Holmes, and Jimmy McGriff. After playing with John Handy (1966), he started leading his own bands and heading sessions for Prestige, Muse, and Warner Bros. that found him welcoming the influences of avant-garde jazz, rock, pop, and world music into his advanced hard bop style.
Martino is widely celebrated for his 1967 album, El Hombre. Martino was only 22 when he debuted with this Grant Green-influenced soul-jazz album which immediately introduced him as a guitarist with a promising future. Organ (courtesy of Trudy Pitts) features prominently, imbuing the album with an archetypal mid-60s soul-jazz aesthetic. Martino, though, is not one to settle for clichés. Even though he was relatively young, he already had his own sound and style.
Martino released a number of critically beloved albums with Blue Note including 1997’s All Sides Now and 1998’s Stone Blue (with Joyous Lake). In 2001, Martino released a live album recorded at Yoshi’s in California. Two years later he teamed with saxophonist Joe Lovano for Think Tank. Additionally, Remember: A Tribute to Wes Montgomery appeared on Blue Note in 2006.
The Philly-bred musician was also an extremely kind player, keen to share his knowledge, through written textbooks on approaches to guitar playing.