Jazz Philadelphia's Hometown Heroes: Spotlight on Guitarist Pat Martino

Nov 2, 2020

Born in 1944 in South Philadelphia, guitarist Pat Martino was playing professionally in New York City clubs by the time he was 15 years old. His lessons in Philly with Dennis Sandole sometimes would give him the opportunity to sip hot chocolate with John Coltrane while both discussed the intricacies of improvisational music.

New York City’s historic Smalls Paradise club was a favorite early gig where he hung out in the late 1950s with guitarist Wes Montgomery through the early morning hours after the gig, while during the summer, Martino was a mainstay in Atlantic City at the Club Harlem on the famous Kentucky Avenue entertainment strip.

This 22-year-old guitarist’s first album, El Hombre, for Prestige in 1967 with Philly organist Trudy Pitts, showed the music world he was on his way. Martino continued to mine the musicians of Philadelphia jazz for his album East!, which featured compositions and performances by pianist Eddie Green and bassist Tyrone Brown.

His 1976 album Exit for Muse would be his last until 1987 because Martino found himself battling for his life with a brain aneurysm that ultimately left him without the ability to play the instrument that had made him famous worldwide. His hard work coming back was documented in the film Martino Unstrung, and come back he did with a vengeance heard on his next album set live at Fat Tuesdays called The Return.

Through the 1990s and up until 2017 with his album Formidable, Martino collaborated with many blue-chip musicians, turning out stellar efforts again and again. But recently, he has been sidelined by Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and muscular issues in his left hand that have left him unable to tour or play at all.

Recently, his friends and fans created a GoFundMe effort to raise money to help Martino with medical and monthly expenses. Over the decades, Martino has toured and recorded with Philadelphia organ stars such as Charles EarlandRichard “Groove” HolmesTrudy PittsJimmy Smith, and Joey DeFrancesco; piano greats Jim Ridl and Eddie Green, bassists Tyrone Brown and Steve Beskrone, always looking homeward for his inspiration. Now his hometown stands by him, raising over $130,000 for the Pat Martino Fund

"True music, like all true art, is an experience to be shared, not judged, for praise cannot make it better, as blame cannot make it worse.” – Pat Martino

The Pat Martino Trio performing in Italy in 2018: