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Artist’s Choice: Russell Malone on Pat Martino

Picking the highest highs of a guitar giant (8/25/44 – 11/1/21)

Pat Martino 2009
Pat Martino in 2009 (photo: Alan Nahigian)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is the first in a series of personal tributes to members of the jazz community whom we lost in 2021. We’ll be publishing the series on over the next 10 days. Nineteen of the tributes can be found in print as part of our annual In Memoriam feature in the March 2022 issue; this is the twentieth, with which the print issue closes.

I’ve had the good fortune to be on a stage with Pat Martino a few times. The first time—at a jazz festival in Reading, Pennsylvania—was one of the scariest experiences in my life. Imagine going to the zoo and seeing a lion or a bear. They look intimidating enough when they’re on the other side of the cage. But now imagine you being in the cage with that beautiful, powerful animal. They seem to grow a little bigger. You can hear them breathing. You can feel the energy coming off their bodies and you know that at any given moment, they can rip you to shreds. For me, that’s the way it was getting on stage with Pat Martino. I felt lucky to walk away breathing! But I walked away a better musician too.

Here’s a funny story about Pat: One time when we were on the road together, we were in some airport having lunch. I’d gotten a turkey sandwich and Pat wasn’t eating meat at the time. So he was giving me this lecture on the perils of eating meat. I love him, but he was getting a little preachy about it, and I was like, “Well, shit, man, I respect that, but I’m gonna eat this turkey sandwich, you hear me?” A couple of days later, we’re in the airport again, I’m at the gate, the flight’s about to take off, and I thought to myself, “I gotta go find Pat.” So I go in this restaurant, where he’s sitting at the bar … eating a hamburger. I said, “Hey man, what’s up with the burger?” And he got a twinkle in his eye and said, in that really deep voice, coming out of a little wisp of a guy: “Russell, from time to time I like to indulge.” That shit cracked me up.

If you sit down and listen to any of Pat’s music, you won’t be disappointed. But these are my personal favorites.

Listen to a Spotify playlist featuring all of the songs in this Artist’s Choice:

“The Days of Wine and Roses”
Exit (Muse, 1977)
The first time I heard Pat play was when I was a teenager and I bought Exit. And the thing that caught my ear was that beautiful solo on “The Days of Wine and Roses.” I mean, it was just so swinging, and the sound that he got—just a nice, warm, round tone—big sound. And on every note, the articulation was so clear that you could hear everything that he played. Once I heard that record, I went on a Pat Martino binge.

Consciousness (Muse, 1974)
The next record that I bought was Consciousness, and when I heard that I almost wanted to quit playing the guitar. I said, “Man, what the hell am I trying to play the guitar for when this guy’s playing it like that? I’ll never get to that level.” That solo on “Impressions”—whoa!

We’ll Be Together Again (Muse, 1976)
This is from the duo record with Gil Goldstein [on electric piano]. You know, a lot of times when people think of Pat Martino, they think of the drive in his playing; he was just like a locomotive. But on this record, he plays so lyrical. Everything on that record is a home run, but “Lament,” the J.J. Johnson tune, stands out for me.

“Who Can I Turn To?”
Gene Ludwig-Pat Martino Trio: Young Guns (recorded 1968-69; released on HighNote, 2014)
Pat seemed to come out fully formed. You gotta hear this recording he cut in the ’60s with [organist] Gene Ludwig and [drummer] Randy Gelispie. It’s got a nice swing tempo and some of the scariest, most otherworldly guitar playing you will ever hear in your life.

“Just Friends”
El Hombre (Prestige, 1967)
Come on, baby! The lyricism in those lines, the way the solo builds—and he was a kid, he was in his early twenties when he did that. It’s just amazing how he was able to get to such a high level at such a young age. You can take that solo and put it on any instrument and it will sound right. But the beauty of it is that it’s coming out of that guitar, and I love the sound of that guitar.

Pat Martino/Live! (Muse, 1972)
I also have to mention Pat Martino/Live! That solo on “Sunny”? Forget about it! That’s just one unbelievable guitar player.

[as told to Mac Randall]

Russell Malone

Guitarist Russell Malone has recorded 15 albums as a leader and has had significant tenures in the bands of Jimmy Smith, Harry Connick Jr., Diana Krall, Sonny Rollins, and Ron Carter, to name just a few.