It was just over a year ago, on Nov. 1, 2021, that we lost jazz guitar icon Pat Martino. To celebrate his life and legacy, Pat's former manager, Joe Donofrio, organized a three-night event at the intimate 220-seat Gateway Playhouse (Nov. 3-6). A bevy of guitarists turned out to pay tribute to Pat by playing tunes closely associated with the South Philly guitar legend, quoting some of his signature licks along the away, and offering some heartfelt testimony about the profound influence he had on them, both musically and personally. I was honored to emcee the proceedings, presented over three nights by the South Jersey Jazz Society.
Thursday night kicked off in swinging fashion with a recreation of Pat's 2011 album, Undeniable, featuring the band from that HighNote release (organist Tony Monaco, tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts) with guest guitarists Howard Paul and Chico Pinheiro filling in for Martino. They came out burning on "Lean Years," a tune that did indeed appear on that record but had originally appeared on Pat's 1967 Prestige album, Strings! From there they settled into a bluesy shuffle on "Midnight Shuffle," with Tain setting the pace before organist Monaco went to church on Pat's "Goin' to a Meeting," grimacing and nearly tearing the roof off the Gateway Playhouse in the process. Guitarist Wolf Marshall then joined Monaco and Tain for a soulful rendition of "A Blues for Mickey-O," a tune that Martino dedicated to his father, Mickey Azzara, on his first album, 1967's El Hombre (recorded when he was just 22 years old).
Chico Pinheiro and Howard Paul
Wolf Marshall, Tony Monaco, Jeff "Tain" Watts
Following an intermission, Chicago-based guitarist Fareed Haque came out with his group (keyboardist Kevin Kozol, bassist Alex Austin, drummer Greg Fundis) to recreate tunes from Martino's game-changing fusion album Joyous Lake. Haque's playing was razor-sharp on those fleet-fingered, angular lines from that 1976 classic (released right around the same time as Weather Report's Heavy Weather, just to show you what was in the air at the time). The excitement level jumped off the charts when Fareed's group was joined by special guest drummer Kenwood Dennard -- who appeared on the original recording of Joyous Lake and was a key member of Pat's touring band back then, 45 years ago -- for intense recreations of Dennard's composition "M'Wandishi" and the exhilarating title track from that Warner Bros. album.
Thursday night was capped off by guitarist Lefteris Christofis (who had flown in from Athens, Greece for this gig ) performing a solo guitar rendition of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now," a tune that Pat had recorded solo on his 1974 album Consciousness and reprised in a hauntingly beautiful duet with singer Cassandra Wilson on 1997's All Sides Now (which I co-produced with Matt Resnicoff).
Friday Night opened with pianist Jim Ridl, a longtime member of the Pat Martino Group who had appeared on two of Pat's comeback albums in 1994, The Maker and Interchange, as well as on 1996's Night Wings. Ridl was joined by guitarist Sheryl Bailey, bassist Steve Varner, drummer Byron Landham and Philly tenor sax icon Michael Pedicin, on a swinging rendition of Benny Golson's "Along Came Betty," Pat's gorgeous ballad "You're Welcome to a Prayer," and two other Martino originals, "Portrait" and "Turnpike." The band then left the stage and Ridl was joined by guitarist Joel Harrison for a tender duet reading of Pat's lyrical "Country Road," which the pianist had recorded with Pat on their 2015 duet album on HighNote, Nexus.
Following and intermission, guitarist Russell Malone joined pianist Rick Germanson for a tender and lyrical rendition of Henry Mancini's "Dreamsville," which Pat had recorded in duet with Gil Goldstein on Fender Rhodes electric piano on Martino's 1976 album, We'll Be Together Again.
Next up was a group consisting of Pat Martino alumni Rick Germanson on piano, Craig Thomas on bass and Byron Landham on drums. They were joined by the great Philly guitarist and longtime friend of Pat's, Jimmy Bruno, on a burning uptempo swinging rendition of "Just Friends." Malone returned to swing out with Bruno on "Alone Together," accompanied by Martino alumni Germanson, bassist Craig Thomas and drummer Byron Landham," and they closed their invigorating set with a rendition of Wes Montgomery's "Road Song.
Jimmy Bruno and Russell Malone
New York guitarist and Pat Martino protege Charlie Apicella then joined the rhythm section of Germanson, Thomas and Landham for a spirited rendition of "These Are Soulful Days," a Cal Massey tune that Pat recorded on Philly organist Don Patterson's 1974 album of the same name as well as on the late organist Joey DeFrancesco's 2002 album, Ballads and Blues. Pat also played the tune live with his latter day bands featuring saxophonist Eric Alexander.
Charlie Apicella playing "These Are Soulful Days"
The second night concluded with guitarists John Mulhern and David O'Rouke joining the rhythm section of Germanson, Thomas and Landham, along with some orchestral backing tracks arranged by O'Rourke, on a darkly beautiful rendition of the "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?," which Pat had recored on 1972's The Visit on Cobblestone Records, which was reissued in 1975 as Footprints on Muse Records and then again in 1997 on 32 Jazz.
The third night of this "Celebration of the Life and Legacy of Pat Martino" opened with Pat's last rhythm section, organist Pat Bianchi and drummer Carmen Intorre Jr., recreated material from Martino's final album, 2017's Formidable, with trumpeter Alex Norris, tenor saxophonist Nicole Glover and guest guitarist Paul Bollenback. I found it somehow a poetic bit of coming full circle that Pat's very first album as a leader, 1967's El Hombre, as an organ group date featuring Philly organ legend Trudy Pitts, and that his final album 50 years later was also an organ date. In between, of course, he explored all manner of music including1968's tabla and tamboura-laden Baiyina: The Clear Evidence, subtitled: A Psychedelic Excursion into the Mysteries of the Koran, his mid-'70s flirtation with fusion in Starbright and Joyous Lake, his 1997 collaboration with tabla master Zakir Hussain and sitarist Ustad Habib Khan on Fire Dance, his 1999 excursion with guitar synthesizer on the orchestral Seven Sketches, and his heady 2003 Blue Note album Think Tank with Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Joe Lovano, Christian McBride and Lewis Nash. Guitarist Mark Whitfield then joined the Formidable quintet for a smoking version of "On the Stairs" from Martino's 1974 album, Consciousness.
Following an intermission, a string of guitarists came out to play individually with the rhythm section -- Whitfield on "Willow Weep for Me," Rodney Jones on Duke Pearson's "Jeannine," Jonathan Kreisberg on "Along Came Betty," Dave Stryker on "Goin' to a Meeting." Stryker and Kreisberg then joined together for a gorgeous rendition of "We'll Be Together Again," the title track of Martino's 1976 duet album with pianist Gil Goldstein.
And for a grand finale, all six guitarists came out to exchange licks on "Sunny," the Bobby Hebb tune that Pat made into an instrumental hit on his 1972 album, LIVE!
So many notes! So many good vibes, both in the audience and at the backstage hang. It was a warm and wonderful three nights on the Jersey shore in memory of the great Pat Martino. He touched so many lives and left behind a recorded legacy that guitar players will be dealing with for generations to come.
Six String Summit: Paul Bollenback, Jonathan Kreisberg, Dave Stryker, Barry Greene, Rodney Jones, Mark Whitfield