MU hosts compelling talk with famous musician Pat Martino

Thursday, November 5, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST
Pat Martino and guitar. Photo courtesy of Jimmy Katz.

COLUMBIA — When Pat Martino heard from doctors that he could die in two hours, his first thought was "joy."

Martino, regarded as one of the best jazz musicians in with the world, was at MU on Wednesday afternoon to share his personal story of dealing with memory loss after a brain surgery removed 60 percent of his left temporal lobe. Joel Shenker, a neurologist at Boone Hospital Center, facilitated the discussion.


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For years, Martino dealt with depression. He  also experienced disorientation, changes in personality and seizures that increased in magnitude overtime, which worsened his depression.

He described his life before surgery as three decades of fear that came from advice from doctors and specialists and time spent in locked hospital wards, undergoing electric shock therapy to cure his symptoms.

Martino also had three nervous breakdowns.

"The first one was horrific, the second one was difficult, the third one was a piece of cake," he said. He described experiencing the breakdowns as getting more calloused over time.

Doctors and specialists tried to find answers, but nothing worked — until one day in 1980 when doctors found the cause of the physical pain he'd been experiencing.

"When fear itself dissolves, that to me is the greatest level of joy . . . That is freedom," Martino said.


When doctors told him he might die, he experienced joy because he finally had the answers he had been searching for.

"I thought, 'I'm not a madman, I'm not bipolar, I'm not crazy,'" Martino said. "The truth was exalting."

Doctors discovered an arteriovenous malformation, also known as an AVM, in Martino's brain. Arteriovenous malformation is a cluster of abnormal blood vessels. Doctors insisted that if Martino did not undergo emergency surgery within two hours, the aneurysm could burst.

After surgery, "I remembered nothing," Martino said. Sixty percent of Martino's left temporal lobe was removed during surgery.

Martino, who lived with his parents while recovering from surgery, was subjected to listening to old recordings of his music.

"I didn't analyze my music like some people assume," Martino said. "I absorbed it, but I found it very intrusive."

Martino continued to experience depression after surgery despite therapy.

"Nothing was working, so I picked up the guitar," he said. "It worked."

Martino started playing the guitar again two years after his surgery. Playing the guitar seemed innate and intuitive, he said. He took 15 years off from playing music professionally. In 1997, he started again.

Martino doesn't think of his experience with depression as an illness or a terrible thing but rather as a preface to enlightenment.

Martino has become determined to live his life "in the now." It was always a thought he focused on, and it perhaps even led to his decision to leave high school in 10th grade, he said.

"There was a lack of clarity with school, what it meant, why I was there," he said.

The revelation to live "in the now" evolved over time, he said. There was a time when he was fulfilled by his profession or an evaluation from a critic, but he no longer has an interest in those things, he said. 

"For me to think about the concert tonight, that would be foolish, but that is how the mind thinks. I don't like to relate to that. I like to relate to the moment and what is taking place within it," Martino said.

Martino has released more than 20 personal albums, and 30 more feature him as a guest artist. He has played with musicians such as Bobby Darin, Joe Pesci, Bobby Rydell, Chubby Checker, Jack McDuff and Don Patterson. Martino currently lives in Philadelphia.

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