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Not too many months ago my Partner & I saw Pat Martino in ‘Birdland‘ and were captivated by his deep-in-the-groove East Philly style. There could hardly have been a better place to hear him, as this is one of New York’s best Jazz clubs and a friendly intimate space.
Like most out-of-towners we loitered awhile in Times Square before walking the short block to ‘Birdland’. I could hardly believe my luck at being able to see Pat in such a setting as I had become a fan some years earlier; having developed a taste for that whole Grant Green thing.
The first of the band members to step on stage was Tony Monaco the B3 player, quickly followed by the drummer Harvey Mason. Soon Pat appeared with his shining custom-made black Benedetto guitar at the ready – a slightly built man who quickly lost himself deep within the music. The band leapt into their first few numbers with an apparent relish. Obviously enjoying what they do and perhaps that is the hallmark of this Chicago – East Philly guitar -organ-drum style. Seeming to drop deeper and deeper into the groove and then characteristically locking into a phrase until the intensity becomes almost unbearable – then as suddenly dropping back into the melody again.
When Pat plays alongside Joey Defrancesco and Byron (Wookie) Landham the band is a force nine hurricane. No drummer works as hard as ‘Wookie” with his powerhouse locked-in beat and no B3 player owns as much of the room as Joey D. It was however just as interesting to hear Pat with this band and they proved to be solid performers. Tony is great on the B3 and his tendency to grimace and mug as he reaches ever deeper into the groove did not unduly trouble me. The drummer Harvey did what good groove-drummers do and locked into Pats sound. After the faster offerings it was a pleasure to hear Pats well-loved version of ‘Blue in Green‘(Davis/Evans) and the warmth and perhaps the hint of sadness in his sound brought a tear to the eye. The sound Pat gets from his specially wound strings is fat and warm and it hits you right where it should; in the heart.
I have just learned that Pat is about to play at ‘Yoshi’s‘ (Oakland) and I have urged my son and daughter-in-law to go if they can. Pat may have an amazing and unique life story, but it is the warm looping bluesy sound that gets you in the end.
'El Hombre' Pat Martino, Birdland NYC
I was eagerly looking through the information about the up and coming visit from Sonny Rollins when I saw in the fine-print a list of the musicians who would be touring with him. The inclusion of groove guitarist Peter Bernstein pleased me greatly I am a fan of Peter Bernstein with his rapid fire, deep groove, Grant Green style. He plays a lot in New York clubs and when I was there recently I had hoped to see him. As it turned out I missed him by a week but my desire to hear a Chicago – Philly style guitar, drums and organ trio was certainly fulfilled. I turned up at ‘Birdland’ on a hot Autumn evening to find Pat Martino was playing and I thought that I had won the lottery. My wife was a little horrified when she saw the ‘B3’ on the stage and I am the first to admit that it is an acquired taste. Pat ‘El Hombre’ Martino played deep in the pocket and with an intensity that I have seldom witnessed. His ‘Blue on Green’ was pure bliss and I still get a lump in my throat when I think of it. Pat is a guitar hero on many levels and he didn’t disappoint that night. He played his bop infused groove lines as if he were flying free of the world,with his trio in lock step.
Organ-Guitar Jazz is full throated, raunchy and intensely bluesy. This style is redolent of an era when Jazz was losing part of its black audience to R & B and starting to fight back. This funky backstreets music reclaimed some of that turf and found a home on what was termed the ‘Chitlins Circuit’. Richard Groove Homes, Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino, Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Big John Patton. Shirley Scott and many others were associated with this style. One of my favourites in this style was Gene Ammons (tenor sax) who liked to play the Chicago clubs when ever he could. This was not often sadly because he was frequently in jail for narcotics violations. His label Prestige indulged him and recored him frequently; knowing that he would be behind bars again before too long. He is always associated with his ballad albums such as Gentle Jug (which his manager had insisted upon as a good career move), but I still like the badly recorded club dates such as the one where he is accompanied by Eddie Buster (B3) and Gerald Donavan (drums). Those two are now long forgotten but didn’t they groove with ‘Jug’. This is a happy music that sets the body swaying and I will often return to it after a period of listening to more cerebral offerings. This is the intersection in my adolescent life where I discovered jazz and I have joyful memories of bunking off school and wearing out copies of an album called ‘The Chicago Sound’.
For this style of music look on You Tube for Pat Martino’s rendition of ‘Sunny’ with Joey DeFrancesco and prepare to be seriously ‘grooved’.