When Pat Martino woke up from brain surgery after a near-fatal aneurysm in 1980, he remembered almost nothing. He barely recognized his parents, had difficulty recalling his own name, and could no longer remember how to play the guitar. Considering the fact that Martino was one of the world’s foremost jazz guitarists, this was a serious problem.
Born and raised Pat Azzara in Philadelphia in the mid-1940s, Martino’s early exposure to jazz music came from his father, Carmen “Mickey” Azzara, who once studied with Eddie Lang, the so-called “Father of Jazz Guitar.” An avid member of the city’s music scene and a singer at local clubs, Mickey took young Pat to all the local hotspots, introducing him to jazz legends such as Wes Montgomery and John Coltrane. To this day, Martino cites his father as one of his greatest influences and inspirations, and credits him for the decision to pursue a serious career in music.
Martino began playing guitar at age 12, dropping out of high school as a sophomore to focus on his craft full-time, and became deeply involved in Philadelphia’s growing rock scene alongside early luminaries such as Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, and Bobby Darin. He toured with jazz organist Charles Earland and gigged with Lloyd Price, Slide Hampton and Red Holloway before deciding to relocate to Harlem to immerse himself in the vibrant hard bop and soul jazz movement that was forming there.