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Pat Martino's A Jazz Legend Who Had To Master The Guitar Twice

Tom Beetz (CC-BY-2.0)

Pat Martino had been playing jazz guitar professionally for 19 years in 1980 when a severe brain aneurysm sent him into life-saving surgery - and then into life-altering amnesia. He barely recognized his own parents, let alone his guitar, and felt as if he had been "dropped cold, empty, neutral, cleansed ... naked." Martino's long journey back from that musical erasure began with his father playing back his own recordings for him. Slowly, he taught himself how to play again. By the early '90s, Martino had returned to the soul-jazz, post-bop and jazz-rock fusion scene.

After Prestige Records signed him at the age of 20, Martino recorded albums that are now classics, like "Strings!,"  "Desperado,"  "El Hombre" and  "Baiyina (The Clear Evidence)," one of jazz's first successful ventures into psychedelia. He's played for decades with a who’s who of jazz artists, recording 37 albums as bandleader and playing on many more as sideman. Martino also writes books about guitar theory and teaches seminars and master classes around the world. He's been called the "father of the modern jazz guitar."

Martino has been nominated for Grammy awards in the “Best Jazz Instrumental Album” and “Best Jazz Instrumental Solo” several times, and readers of Down Beat magazine voted him "Guitar Player of the Year" in 2004. After he returned from a recording hiatus in the 1990s, his hometown of Philadelphia added Martino’s name to its Walk of Fame, and the New York Times wrote: "Mr. Martino is back and he is plotting new musical directions, adding more layers to his myth."

Host John Floridis talks with Pat Martino about a career that has featured losing, then regaining the ability to play guitar, and why it might boil down to a favorite quote from Duke Ellington: "A problem is a chance for you to do your best."

(Broadcast: "Musician's Spotlight,"  4/25/19 and 8/22/19. Listen on the radio Thursdays, 7:30 p.m., or via podcast.)

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