67-year-old jazz guitarist Pat Martino lives in the same home his parents raised him in on 16th Street in South Philadelphia. But all of those memories have been erased for Martino, who suffered an aneurysm in 1979. The resulting surgery to save his life removed 60-percent of his temporal lobe, and with it, most recollection of his life to that point. At that time Martino was 35 years old, had already released some 12 albums and toured the world, yet he emerged as a stranger to his own past.
With the help of jazz historian Bill Milkowski, Martino pieced together the forgotten periods of his life in his autobiography “Here and Now”. Martino will appear at the Spiral Bookcase in Manayunk on Sunday, Dec. 11, from 2 to 4 in the afternoon for a book signing. All About Jazz writer Vic Schermer will lead a question and answer session. “It’s about similarities,” says Martino of his autobiography. “It’s about the experiences of being 50 years involved in the arts…and the reemergence of power from a different direction, form an internal source as opposed to an external.” Martino was born with arterial venous malformation, meaning the blood vessels in his left temporal lobe were entangled. Martino experienced seizures for most of his life, while doctors misdiagnosed his condition as manic depression. When the medication failed to prevent more seizures, Martino says the doctors resorted to even more drastic methods – locked wards and electric shock therapy. Martino endured his anneurysm one weekend in 1979, while he lived in California. The medical intern serving at the hospital where he was delivered gave him two hours to live, as all of the surgeons were gone for the weekend. Martino says he gambled and flew to Philadelphia to be with his family.
“As an only child we had an interest in eachother which was significant enough so to gamble and improvise and find my way back into their arms,” says Martino. “It’s similar to the very thing that takes place in performance as an instrumentalist, to take a chance and gamble with the harmony that coalesces from the harmony and rapport.” After all, Martino says he originally learned guitar out of admiration for his father, a tailor by trade who listened to classic jazz records and encouraged his son to earn a living with the instrument. When the surgery to repair Martino’s aneurysm cleared his memory, Martino once again picked up the guitar to cope with his depression. He had no desire to learn at first, but Martino says his innate ability to play quickly resurfaced. “My father’s deep desire for me to accomplish being a well-known professional guitarist all my life is something I’ve absorbed from childhood,” says Martino. “What I learned in the recovery process was how much I really cared for my dad. That was very much the canvas for the painting of our affair.”Martino now serves as a professor at the University of the Arts, in between extensively touring the world during the last twenty years. His appearance at the Spiral Bookcase on Sunday will mark the end of a tour throughout Europe and Asia, and a few weeks of rest before he hits the road on another tour in January.
Martino says he’s learned to adapt to life and music as an artist first, and a guitarist second. It’s something he tries to impart to his students at the university and in private lessons. “The water takes its shape of what its poured into. It’s not clinging into anything, and because of that it’s free,” says Martino. “The moment is the moment and it demands what it demands. The challenge is to adjust to it as artistically as possible.”