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Pat Martino’s Remarkable Comeback

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When the superb guitarist Pat Martino steps on stage Tuesday night at Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood it will be something of an event.

Martino will be making his first area appearance in nearly 20 years. But the real story is that he will be here at all. Because the last time Martino was in Los Angeles, he nearly died.

He was living here and consulting at what was then the Guitar Institute of Technology in Hollywood (now Musicians’ Institute). Just 35, Martino had given up playing two years earlier because the inexplicable seizures that had plagued him all his life continued to get worse.

This was quite a blow to Martino who, at the age of 15, began working with such notables as saxophonists Willis “Gator” Jackson and Red Holloway. Eventually acclaimed as one of the top guitarists of his time, he also led his own bands, which featured the likes of pianist Cedar Walton and drummer Billy Higgins.

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In late 1979 he suffered a major seizure and was diagnosed as having a congenital brain aneurysm.

“The woman I was living with saved my life by taking me to a hospital,” Martino said in a telephone interview.

Doctors told him that he needed immediate treatment, and if he didn’t get it, he would die. So Martino flew home to Philadelphia to be near his family and undergo surgery. After two operations the problem--which over the years had been misdiagnosed as everything from manic-depression to drug abuse--was corrected. “Everything has been straight-ahead since,” Martino says.

Well, not quite. Coming out of surgery, Martino had amnesia, with scant recollection of anything, including his ability to make music.

His father would play Martino’s albums, such as “East!” on Prestige Records and “Consciousness” on Muse Records, but there was little recognition from his son.

“I had no interest in music, no muscle memory of playing the guitar,” Martino says.

But over the course of time, that interest gradually returned as he listened to his highly regarded recordings for Prestige and Muse, which variously explore hard bop, Latin and contemporary jazz.

In 1984, just about five years after his life-threatening seizure, Martino resumed performing with other musicians, among them pianist James Ridl, who will appear with Martino through July 23 at Catalina’s.

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Martino, who will also work at Catalina’s with bassist Steve Breskrone and drummer Scott Robinson, will offer selections from his recent “The Maker” CD on Evidence Records.

Information: (213) 466-2210.

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Pilgrimage Playing: The role that be-bop played in the Hollywood music scene in the ‘40s and ‘50s will be investigated at Jazz Pilgrimage ’95, a concert featuring Teddy Edwards, Buddy Collette, Bill Holman and Supersax. The show, which takes place Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at the John Anson Ford Theatre, will be hosted by KLON-FM personality and jazz historian Ken Poston.

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“I had a great time in Hollywood during that period,” says tenorman Edwards, one of the many local musicians who were quite active during those years working at such Hollywood venues as Billy Berg’s club, where Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie appeared in December, 1945. Collette and Holman also played many rooms in Hollywood, including Jazz City and the Peacock Lounge.

Edwards will play as part of a quintet on the Ford program, while Holman will offer the Hollywood premiere of his extended work, “Swing to Be-Bop.”

Information: (213) 466-1767.

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Surfing the Jazzwaves: John Breckow and Safford Chamberlin host a six-hour salute to the late tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh on “Smoke Rings,” airing Sunday at midnight on KPFK-FM (90.7). Numerous out-of-print albums will be heard by the renowned saxophonist, who died in mid-performance at Donte’s jazz club in North Hollywood on Dec. 18, 1987.

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Free Jazz: The invigorating B Sharp Jazz Quartet plays Wednesday at noon at California Plaza, 350 Grand St., downtown, (213) 687-2159.

That night, ace percussionist Adam Rudolph’s Moving Pictures can be heard at 7 p.m. at the Century City Shopping Center, (310) 277-3898.

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