Minority (Pat Martino style) Jazz Standard by Gigi Gryce (sheet music)
Pat Martino (1944-2021) Jazz Guitarist
Pat Martino was one of the greats of jazz. He was born Pat Azzara in South Philadelphia on August 25, 1944, and was first introduced to music by his father, Carmen “Mickey” Azzara, who sang and played guitar at local clubs. Pat Martino said that he wanted to be a jazz guitarist because he loved his father and wanted her to be proud of him.
He studied briefly with Eddie Lang, a famous jazz guitarist of the day, and began playing at the age of twelve, at which time he dropped out of school to pursue music full-time. He became a figure before he was eighteen and signed a solo contract with Prestige Records at the age of twenty.
His early albums include such classics as “Strings!”, “Desperado,” “The Man” and “Baiyina,” one of jazz’s first successful intrusions into psychedelic music. He is known as a songwriter and guitar player and has dabbled in post-bop, fusion music, mainstream and jazz soul. He has made him famous for his study of the mathematics of music (including the writing of a textbook on Linear Expressions) and his specialist knowledge of music theory, something striking in someone who is largely self-taught.
Martino codified what he called ‘Conversion to minor’: equivalent or similar to giving a minor sound for any chord, be it major, dominant or semi-diminished. These equivalences are reflected by the intervallic distance in which it is established.
If the chord is minor, it will play minor from its tonic: Am7 = Am
If the chord is major a minor chord will also be played, a descending minor 3rd: Amaj7 = F#m
If the chord is semi-diminished, a minor chord will be played with an ascending 3rd: Am7b5 = Cm
If the chord is an extended dominant (from a succession of dominants), a minor chord located on an ascending 5th or descending 4th will be played: A7 = Em
If the chord is altered dominant, a minor chord will be played one semitone ascending: A7 alt = Bbm
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Pat Martino had health problems from an early age. From the age of ten he suffered from hallucinations and epileptic seizures and the first diagnoses were manic depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
The signs that something was wrong worsened in 1976 with severe headaches that increased in frequency and intensity. Partial seizures involved the autonomic nervous system and showed pallor, reddening of the skin, tachycardia, a feeling of discomfort in the epigastrium, and occasional vomiting. During those adolescent years he also presented mental crises such as delusions and olfactory hallucinations, emotional disturbances, time distortions, and behavioral disorders.
The mental crises were increasing and the changes in behavior led to chaos with manic-depressive crises and days of an absorbed state in which he presented a total disconnection with everything around him. Epileptic seizures were increasing and presented motor and oral-alimentary disturbances that generally lasted more than one minute.
Pat Martino recovered with a feeling of confusion and gradually returned to a normal state. During this time he traveled between New York and Philadelphia, the two cities where he regularly played, and recorded fifteen jazz albums. Even so, his life was not easy, and he suffered from prolonged periods of mania and depression, he had at least a couple of suicide attempts and was repeatedly admitted to psychiatric hospitals, where he was treated with prolonged and intense medication and, in at least three sometimes, electroshock therapy.
In 1980, when Pat Martino was 35 years old, he suffered a generalized epileptic seizure in Los Angeles, where he taught at the Guitar Institute of Technology, which took him to the emergency room. He only remembered having suffered a similar attack while working at the Riviera Jazz festival in Marseille.
He was playing on top of a hill to an audience of two hundred thousand people and “ right in the middle of a very labored and fast section, I stopped playing and stood there for thirty seconds. During those moments of attack, you feel as if you are falling through a black hole ».
A CT scan showed that the left temporal lobe of his brain, the area below his ear, contained an abnormal tangle of veins and arteries with associated bleeding. It was a collection of blood vessels that, in the opinion of Frederick Simeone, the surgeon who operated on him, looked like a “handful of worms,” not a very scientific but rather graphic description. It was probably a malformation from birth and may have hindered the development of normal temporal lobe functions throughout his life, particularly the ability to store and express memories.
In a first operation, they removed the hematoma, the most urgent thing, and in a second surgery, after a cerebral angiography, they removed the arteriovenous malformation with a resection of approximately 70% of the left temporal lobe. This lobe is directly involved in verbal auditory memory, speech, and language comprehension. There is also evidence that the left temporal pole responds to complex auditory stimuli, something that would be characteristic of music.
In his autobiography, Pat Martino tells that after the operations he felt like a zombie. He didn’t remember his name, he was unable to recognize his parents and had forgotten that he was a musician. He completely lost his musical abilities, including theory, technique, and associated skills. In fact, he had severe retrograde amnesia, an inability to remember what had happened before the operation.
He began his slow recovery at his parents’ house. There they showed him photos, friends came to visit and other musicians appeared who played for him with the aim of reminding him of his past and making him rediscover jazz. His father couldn’t believe his son had forgotten his passion for music.
So he started playing the records that he himself had recorded. Paul recalled that ” I was lying in bed upstairs and I could hear this music coming through the walls on the floor, a memory of something I had no idea what it was, something that would never be again or hadn’t even been. ” He gradually returned to playing the guitar, but slowly and with difficulty, more like a toy ” to escape the situation and to please my father .”
Concerned that his son passed by the guitar every day without showing interest in it, the father called John Mulhern to come play with him. Mulhern had taken guitar lessons with Martino and made a frequent mistake, changing a note.
Now, working on a book of old guitar exercises, Mulhern made the same mistake. “Move away,” Martino told him, grabbing his guitar and starting to play again. In the months that followed, the pain and anguish of amnesia and postoperative depression began to ease.
According to him « while I continued working with the instrument, flashes of memories and muscle memory gradually came to me, shapes on the keyboard, different stairs to different rooms in the house. There are secret corridors that only you know about in the building, and you go there because it’s kind of nice. And that’s how you remember how to play, because you remember the pleasure it gave you ».
Years later, Galarza and his research group used an MRI to study Martino’s brain and that of five healthy subjects who were used as controls. The damage to the left temporal lobe was extensive, and the excised area had been filled with cerebrospinal fluid. Damage to the inferior temporal cortex extended more caudally than damage to the superior temporal cortex. The right hippocampus was somewhat larger than the left, which was somewhat smaller than in controls.
However, the projection areas of the left hippocampus (left fornix, mammillary bodies, and thalamus) appeared normal, suggesting that the left hippocampus, despite its atrophic appearance, was probably functional. The tonsils of both hemispheres were the same size and normal in appearance; however, the volumetric study showed that they were smaller than those of the controls.
The perirhinal, entorhinal, and parahippocampal cortices were normal on the right side but abnormally small on the left. Finally, there was some atrophy in the parietal and frontal regions, away from the area of operation, a difference that was somewhat more pronounced than might be expected in a person of Martino’s age.
Is it possible to play better with less brain? A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University studied the brain activity of jazz musicians in the middle of an improvisational exercise. They played on a specially designed keyboard inside a scanner, which I assure you must be quite a feat. The most striking result was a striking reduction in activity in the prefrontal cortex.
Only by “deactivating” this brain region, involved in impulse control, critical judgment, and planning, were musicians able to spontaneously invent new melodies. Scientists compared this “free” state of mind to dreams we have at night, daydreaming during meditation, other creative tasks such as writing poetry, and the fuzzy thinking of young children. Baudelaire was right when he said ” genius is neither more nor less than childhood recovered at will .”
Pat Martino’s neuropsychological analysis also showed some deficiencies, a test on the meaning of abstract and rarely used words showed that his intellectual functioning was affected, and he also had difficulties remembering names and places but not shapes and memory was abnormal for information verbal but not for visual information.
That is, the patient showed specific but subtle abnormalities in some aspects of language, such as defining habitual terms or remembering rarely used words. Still, given the extent of the injury, his cognitive deficits seemed mild. When asked when the Beatles came to America, he said sometime between 1961 and 1963 (it was 1964), but when asked to name a Beatles song, he couldn’t remember the title of any. The differences were related to different types of memory. Semantic memory, which records data such as names and dates, is believed to be located in the temporal lobe, and this explains why Martino did not remember the titles of the Liverpool boys’ works.
Episodic memory, which records our experiences and biography, is normally associated with the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex and therefore should be little or not affected, but he could not remember his family and friends, nor their joint experiences, and it is possible that the surgery would have had non-specific effects on other brain regions.
The last field is procedural memory, which allows you to play the guitar with unique skill. A professional musician plays at a speed with his fingers that he is not aware of. It is the result of years of practice and repetition, and it is believed that the key area is the basal ganglia, and therefore they were not affected by the lobectomy. However, the fact that he did not show his ability as a professional musician is supposed to be a problem of reconnection, of putting these skills to use. That is, these memories were present, waiting to be reconnected.
The most striking fact in the Pat Martino case is that his musical abilities fully recovered even when much of the left temporal lobe had been removed. He had said after the operation « I feel abandoned, empty, neutral, clean… naked » but « little by little, piece by piece, the interrelationships began to revive ».
Pat Martino recovered his level as an instrumentalist after a process that lasted years. In 1987, seven years later, he returned to record an album entitled precisely “The Return”. It was the beginning of his return to his professional career, an activity that has remained constant up to the present, except for an interruption of about two years due to the death of his parents, and with enormous success. In fact, he regained his former status as a jazz virtuoso.
Our brain maintains a certain capacity for reorganization and flexibility throughout life, but Pat Martino’s experience shows the possibility of an unusual degree of brain plasticity and reorganization in the brains of professional musicians.
It has been commented that musicians have a greater plastic capacity because they have richer connections between the two cerebral hemispheres than the rest of the people, they use the right hemisphere much more than the left, and they present a structural asymmetry of some relevant areas of the brain. If the arteriovenous malformation has been present all life, it is common for it to be surrounded by non-functional tissue that can disrupt blood flow to nearby regions.
If so, it is possible that the brain kicked in compensatory mechanisms early on and that brain function was not as lateralized as it is in most people. In addition, slow-growing lesions, such as arteriovenous malformations and subsequent surgery, allow extensive brain reorganization. Thus, patients with slow-growing lesions and extensive resection have shown a return to normal function after surgery.
Pat Martino’s case is a unique example of a patient who has shown complete recovery after profound amnesia and a successful return to such a specialized brain level as being a great instrumentalist implies.
Pat Martino recently recognized that his memory was quite bad; however, it didn’t seem like it had an effect on his daily life. He said that he did not try to recover the memories that occasionally appeared in his mind, but rather tried to push them away.
He considered his situation to be advantageous, as it allowed him to live in the “here and now” — the title of his autobiography — without wasting time dwelling on the past. He believed that it was a positive thing that had sharpened his musical abilities. It also appears that his emotional response to music changed after the operation. Now he played because it meant something to him, rather than to please other people or to be competitive.
He explained it this way: “ My original intentions before neurosurgery had a lot to do with mastery and climbing the ladder of recognition by others. It had to do with wanting to achieve five stars instead of two stars for an album review. After the neurosurgery, that didn’t make any sense to me anymore. I am more concerned with the reality of the moment, the enjoyment of that moment.
I am more concerned with the musicians who are with me, their feelings, the emanation of shared passion and other virtues that we share in the process. These are things that I find much more rewarding than my achievements as a famous musician. Now it’s just fun, friendship, empathy and concern. It is an enjoyment of all things compared to the enjoyment of specific things. ».
“The greatest and truest essence of creative productivity is joy,” Martino said. “It is a joy witnessed by those around you. They are no longer witnessing an artist, they are witnessing a human being who is happy to live, who projects that aura. “The brain is a funny thing,” he said, ” it’s part of the vehicle, but it’s not part of where you’re going. The vehicle will take you there, but it’s not you ».
Until 2018, Pat Martino was playing all over the world and according to some jazz critics with more happiness and creativity than ever. In November 2018, he returned from a tour of Italy and developed a disease that worsened the condition of his lungs, already weakened by COPD.
His case is an example of neuroplasticity, of that amazing capacity of the brain that allows a certain reorganization and that optimizes the functioning of neural circuits.
When he looked at the photo of his MRI, at the hole in his brain left by the surgery and was asked what he was missing, Pat Martino commented « I would say that what is missing is disappointment, criticism, judging others, what is missing is everyone the dilemmas that make life so difficult. That’s what’s missing. And to be honest with you, it’s a beneficial thing ».
Pat Martino died on November 1st, 2021. The respiratory problems that he had suffered since 2018 —and which forced him to retire at that time— were the cause of his death, according to his representative.
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