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Pat Martino, BeBop, Blues, Pentatonics and the Transition to a Modern Sound

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In Part 2 of the historical and musical perspective honoring Pat Martino, jazz guitarist Fareed Haque discusses the transition to a modern sound.

In November, we lost the great Pat Martino, and I wanted to make a fitting tribute to the man and music whom I love so much. In Part I we discussed his legacy as a jazz guitarist. Here in Part II We’ll focus on his legacy not only as a jazz guitarist but as a jazz musician for all. I will explore Pat’s versatility and breadth as a player and what that can tell us about the evolution of Jazz in the 1960s and 70s in general.

An important point to make here is that while many guitarists have chosen to play ‘Modern Jazz’ or ‘Funky Jazz’ or ‘BeBop’ or whatever label one wants to put on it, Pat seems to move effortlessly thru many genres of jazz.

This is important because it highlights one of the great oversights, if not outright failings, of most Jazz pedagogy. Jazz Academics tend to celebrate the Euro-centric aspects of jazz and denegrate the rootsy, earthy and bluesy side of things. But what if true ‘Modern Jazz’ actually evolved NATURALLY from Blues and R&B??

Whereas a Eurocentric approach tends to frame jazz melody in a 7- note scale system, adding in the 5 remaining chromatics to build BeBop lines, a simpler and arguably more intuitive approach is to start off with a 5 note ‘blues based’ system and add in 7 chromatics. There are MANY MANY organic advantages to starting one’s jazz study from this point, and a case can be made that that is exactly what many jazz musicians from the 30s thru 70s and beyond did….They built Jazz FROM the Blues!

Early jazz, and certainly early jazz guitar, make regular and essential use of the major and minor pentatonic or Blues scales.

Charlie Christian, Barney Bigard, Lester Young, Ben Webster to name a few, all outline pentatonics frequently in their solos.

BeBop flows and evolves naturally from a Pentatonic, Blues Approach – a simple, obvious example is Thelonious Monk’s classic melody Blue Monk :

Check out this basic blues melody and how it follows directly from the Bb Major Blues or Pentatonic Scale [ I use these terms loosely, since that’s how most jazz musicians have historically used them]. I have placed arrows pointing to the notes directly from Bb Blues Scales. Monk is simply filling in blues scales with chromatic notes to create a BeBopping Blues, what a simple and wonderful example of his playful genius!

I can literally find thousands of examples of this same process in the solos of almost all of the jazz greats including Charlie Parker, Grant Green, Charlie Christian.

Later on, many, many players like Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Woody Shaw and the great McCoy Tyner continued to develop the use of pentatonic scales, using them in all 12 keys, and layering them over chords in many ways to find modern sounds that we’re still connected to The Blues.

Pat did NOT study jazz formally, though his guitar lessons with John Coltrane’s teacher Dennis Sadole certainly exposed him to modern concepts in jazz. As such, he missed alot of the ‘so called ‘Jazz Education’ of the 60s and 70s that tended (and still tends?) to take Jazz out of The Club, out of The Neighborhood, out of the Jam Session and imprison it on the concert stage. Certainly ‘concert’ jazz has its place in the modern world of music, but the value of the roots and the traditions of jazz as a community experience, as a product of the urban villages in and around the US, cannot be overstated.

Yet, in the often insecure world of Jazz Academia, the folk and community roots of Jazz are often underplayed, a reflection of the academic discomfort with an earthy, organic approach to music and music education.

But to Pat’s credit, he was essentially a self-taught musician, and self-taught in general. And even though Pat was sensitive about his lack of formal education, Pat was on the road from a very early age, getting REAL SCHOOLING, playing gigs on the Chitlin’ circuit, in NYC, and points South. Many, many gigs, mostly with jump blues and R&B groups, point to his early and earthy connection with rootsy music.

Pat played Rock n roll, Blues and BeBop all together from a young age. Could it be that his early exposure to the roots of jazz, are in fact what connected it all together? I think it is. Blues, R&B and Rock and Roll are most essentially pentatonic musics built on and around 5 note blues scales.

Coltrane, McCoy, Herbie, Chick all used tons of pentatonics in their improvisations..I firmly believe that this pentatonic language has its roots in Blues and Chittlin Circuit, not ‘modal’ jazz theory, somethin Pat actively said he had not studied and did not consciously use in his own playing.

IN my own little world, I was happily surprised as I played more and more gigs, to find that my roots in Chicago jam sessions and Chicago blues allowed me to connect many disparate threads of the jazz language. Analyzing jazz music from a pentatonic starting point rather than a 7-note Euro-centric theoretical model, many complex ideas emerge very naturally. It’s my conviction that Pat’s modern jazz sound evolved as much FROM his blues playing as from other study.

However, we must keep in mind that as an auto didact, Pat’s terminology was personal, and did not conform with more academic, ’official’ jazz terminology and nomenclature.

Pat’s ‘Convert to Minor’ approach to chord changes is essentially his way to describe the pentatonic approach we hear in McCoy, ‘Trane and so many others.

His ‘Nature of the Guitar’ ideas, organising the fretboard into scales built around diminished and augmented chords, is essentially another way of building the connections between Blues scales that we hear in McCoy, Chick and even in John Scofield, Mike Stern, Scott Henderson and so many other wonderful ‘fusion’ jazz guitarists.

A more detailed discussion of Pat’s ideas and how to translate them into ‘Jazz Theory Speak’ is warranted at some point, but too detailed for the scope of this article.

Suffice it to say, most of Pat’s theoretical concepts describe things that other Philly players we’re also doing, just using a different, more personal (and definitely idiosyncratic!) terminology.

Thus Pat Martino is, to me, a crucial jazz musician to understand and celebrate. His rootsy approach connects the modern and the traditional, the old and the new. He played it all, never lost his connection to his roots, and always kept it real.

Dear Pat, How you will be missed! You took us thru the History of Jazz and Guitar from your blues jams with Don Patterson and Willis Jackson, to the beautiful tone, melodies and lines of The Visit, We’ll be Together Again to the challenging, ground breaking, difficult and modern Joyous Lake, Desperado and SO much more.

Your work is a document not only of your genius but of the natural evolution of the tradition of jazz, and it’s organic evolution into an art for the whole world.

RIP Maestro!


Jazz Guitar Today thanks Fareed Haque for his tribute to Pat Martino.

For Part 1, Pat Martino, A Historical and Musical Perspective by Fareed Haque


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