My Time with Pat Martino: From Admiration to Friendship and Musical Enlightenment

My Time with Pat Martino: From Admiration to Friendship and Musical Enlightenment

Life is a beautiful journey, made all the more so by the people we spend our time with. Upon visiting Pat Martino’s house for the first time for a lesson, he handed me a book he wrote which consolidated his lesson and masterclass materials from the past decades of his work. “Fundamentals: A Broader Interpretation of the Guitar” is an intimidating volume containing diagrams, I Ching hexagrams, illustrations of the guitar fretboard, and conventional music notation.The esoteric and philosophical nature of his approach is encapsulated on page 1 of the book:


Often one goes for one thing and finds another.

Neem Karoli Baba

Insight doesn’t always come from where we thought it would. If one’s intentions are to master a craft, it’s extremely important to learn as much as possible about the instrument chosen to function within those activities prior to anything else. In this case, the issue is a study of the guitar itself, before our study of the universal language of Music.

Pat Martino was an extraordinary person. From the moment I discovered his music, I remained fulfilled as a fan and a listener. On an emotional level, I am grateful to have had a friend and mentor in Pat Martino. On an intellectual and artistic level, I appreciate the contribution he has made to music. His gifts have enriched the lives of listeners all over the world.

He was generous with his time, and I always felt he enjoyed talking with me in a way that helped me remain curious and able to generate fresh musical ideas. He was such a broad-minded person that our conversations were about music only some of the time and often veered into Eastern ideas, as well as sharing wisdom and observations about life in general.

One night at Blue Note in 2014, Pat gave me his business card and invited me to his house for lessons. I visited his home seven times over the next four years. It was always illuminating and enriching to be invited into his world, but more importantly, to be offered the opportunity for us to create a world together.

At first, I was intimidated to be in his company, which is something we often project onto a person we greatly admire. But his manner was so warm and curious that I soon felt like a friend; he was a great listener and generous. Pat gave me the confidence to pursue my career and provided a tremendous professional boost by calling folks in his circle and recommending me to them.

A key pillar of his teaching style was the idea that the student studies the lifestyle and behaviors of the master in equal parts to the study of music and the guitar. Pat was clear in describing anecdotes from his past and how he assimilated new ideas from those lessons. He placed much emphasis on his early sideman work performing for a Chitlin Circuit crowd and appreciating the culture and community that his music grew up in.

I was able to draw on my interest in Taoist and Buddhist thought in my conversations with Pat. Familiarity with these concepts provided us with many shared laughs. They also provided a point that kept Pat interested in me, as they gave more depth and background to some of the things I would ask him. For example, I once told him I believed “nothing was hard, only unfamiliar.” He enjoyed that thought and encouraged a similar freedom of thinking in me. My early exposure to Yusef Lateef taught me a lot in connecting with Pat, who was an artist and elder I respected very much.

I will cherish our friendship forever and will always feel blessed having known him.

My first encounter with the name Pat Martino was from a guitarist in my hometown. He was the manager of the local record store and directed me to Pat’s CDs. When I entered UMass in 1997, three of us guitarists who met in a music theory class drove to Boston one fall night to see the Pat Martino quartet perform at the Regatta Bar. Pat played his Parker Fly guitar and Roland Jazz Chorus amp.

In the two years leading up to my move to New York, I started getting bookings for Charlie Apicella & Iron City for the late-night set at Chris’ Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia. We were soon promoted to the prime spot of following Pat Martino’s appearances every six months or so.

I would talk to Pat during these occasions, and he would stay to listen to the band, much to my dismay! Every time Pat performed in New York, I would attend multiple nights, always sitting in the front row directly in front of his amp. I always wore earplugs, and I was astonished at the massive sound Pat preferred from his rig; not a loud bright guitar sound, but a full, bass-heavy tone that encased his presence among the organ and drums canvas of the trio. He used an uncharacteristic setup for a jazz guitarist, which included a high-watt bass head and a large Marshall half-stack speaker cabinet.

I remember he preferred to drink Heineken beer after his sets at the nightclubs, and always stayed at the bar during my sets at Chris’, talking with the musicians in his band and fans who would flock to his gigs.

After his Blue Note performance in 2014, Pat gave me his business card and invited me to his house for an interaction. I was confused about what he meant by “interaction,” but when I emailed him a few days later, he laid out his studio policy, timeline, pricing, etc. At that point, it was clear to me he was offering for me to study with him.

I immediately accumulated all his teaching materials I could find, namely two soloing method books and two volumes of a masterclass on DVD produced in the mid-1990s. I watched them endlessly on a loop for several weeks in order to absorb as many concepts as possible. During this process, it was important for me to get a bead on his personality as well. His mannerisms were unique to himself, and I had experienced his strange vocal cadence and interpersonal skills, which were a bit of a challenge to tap into.

I credit my wife, who is a professional violinist, with pushing me to visit Pat as many times as possible for lessons after that first occasion. I visited his house seven times in total, all the way up until his retirement in 2018. In that time, I would bring her, the drummer in my band, and even once my close guitarist friend from Italy.

Physically, his Sicilian heritage gave his appearance many of the same features as my grandmother, her siblings, and our aunts and uncles in Sicily. This has developed into an idea in my life I call “ancestral voices.” The connection I feel with Pat Martino is similar to my connection with distant elders like Jimi Hendrix, Ma Rainey, Grant Green, and Joe Pass, and goes back farther than family lineage can accurately describe. The aboriginal, pan-ancestral, pre-dates human time. He was approximately my height but thin. In person, as with his stage presence, energy seemed to always explode from him. When you would shake his hand or pat him on the shoulder, his muscles radiated with an unseen physical strength that was surprising from someone his size.

In November 2022, I was invited to perform at the Pat Martino Celebration of Life festival in Somers Point, NJ. This multi-day event was curated by Pat’s manager and several of his longtime friends from his inner circle. Many of these folks have now become my friends. These connections are a warm reminder of his impact on our lives, and I cherish the roles these friends play in my life.

There always seemed to be a crew of guitarists, peers, and fans in attendance at every Pat Martino concert, and the festival was one of those times. It was a tremendous honor to perform on that stage with alumni from his career. I presented a tune from his early sideman days with Brother Jack McDuff, a Latin groove called “Song of The Soul” by saxophonist Harold Ousley. The next morning was a farewell party at a local restaurant and music venue. The house band was tremendous, and I was honored to sit in on a couple of tunes that morning as well. I dedicated “When You Wish Upon A Star” to Pat’s memory.

Pat Martino always treated me as a friend, and I loved the time I spent with him. He encouraged me to be proud of myself, and I was happy whenever I was around him. It truly felt like a privilege having him know me and express interest in my work. It was a heartfelt moment of thanks and an acknowledgment of his support and encouragement in helping me think big and reach for a world that for so long seemed just out of reach.

Charlie Apicella