Pat Martino

Wednesday, November 5; Jazz at the Bistro

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Comeback stories are always compelling, and jazz guitarist Pat Martino's tale has the arc of a Hollywood movie: early success, a tragic and crippling illness, a long struggle toward recovery and, finally, a triumphant return.

Beginning his career in the early '60s while still a teenager, the Philadelphia native quickly earned a reputation as one of the most distinctive stylists of the post-Wes Montgomery period. Martino cut his teeth playing soul-jazz with groups led by organists such as Charles Earland and Jack McDuff and did a notable stint with saxophonist John Handy. Given the chance to record as a leader, he made a series of satisfying albums that tracked his expanding musical horizons from hard-swinging bebop and greasy Hammond-driven funk to more personal expressions incorporating elements of psychedelia, Indian music, jazz-fusion and contemporary classical.

By the mid-'70s, Martino's career was still going well, but he began to suffer from debilitating headaches. Doctors eventually found an aneurysm, and in 1980 Martino had brain surgery to repair the damage. The operation saved his life but cost him large chunks of his memory, including his knowledge of music, the guitar and his career.

Battling depression and the aftereffects of surgery, Martino relearned the guitar by listening to his old recordings. By 1984 he was playing in public again, and in 1987 he made his recording comeback with the aptly titled The Return. After another hiatus prompted by the deaths of his parents, Martino got back to work in the early '90s. He later signed with Blue Note and has released a series of well-received albums including the Grammy-nominated Live At Yoshi's with organist Joey DeFrancesco and master drummer Billy Hart.

For this tour he fronts an ensemble comprised of saxophonist Michael Pedicin, Frank LoCrasto on piano, bassist Jeff Pedraz and Scott Robinson on drums. Expect the Bistro to be filled with fans of all ages, shapes, sizes and skill levels for his performances here in St. Louis, for Martino is a guitarist's guitarist, a six-string Zen master whose live appearances in these parts are rare and whose music, courage and very life are cause for celebration and wonder.

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