Pat Martino, virtuosic jazz guitarist, dies at 77

Pat Martino, the internationally beloved jazz guitarist who famously had to learn how to play his instrument all over again midway through his career, has died. He was 77.

His death on Monday was announced on Facebook by his longtime manager Joseph Donofrio.

Martino had been suffering from a chronic respiratory disorder since 2018. He had been breathing with oxygen support and was unable to play since that November, prompting a GoFundMe campaign that raised nearly $250,000. He died in the South Philadelphia house in which he grew up, Donofrio said.

“His legacy is a gift to us all,” Donofrio said. “From the moment he first picked up the guitar to his last day on earth, Pat never wavered from his true calling.”

As a guitarist, Martino was known for his quick fingers and creative improvisations. He had a career that spanned six decades and several different styles, including soul jazz, hard bop, spiritual music and fusion. Beginning in the early ’60s, he released 27 albums as a leader and more than 50 as a sideman.

Born Patrick Carmen Azzara in Philadelphia, Pa., on Aug. 25, 1944, Martino was first exposed to jazz by his father, a singer. He began playing professionally at the age of 15 after moving to New York. He spent some time living with Les Paul.

Martino played and recorded early in his career with Lloyd Price, Willis Jackson, and Eric Kloss. Throughout the years, he went on to perform and record with the likes of Cyrus Chestnut, Stanley Clarke, Joey DeFrancesco, Jimmy Heath, Woody Herman, Sonny Stitt, Lee Ritenour, Trudy Pitts, Jack McDuff, Don Patterson and more.

In 1980, Martino suffered a near-fatal seizure caused by a hemorrhaged arteriovenous malformation that left him with amnesia and no recollection of how to play the guitar. He was forced to learn how to play his instrument all over again — and many say he returned with even more creativity and virtuosity than before.

“As I continued to work out things on the instrument, flashes of memory and muscle memory would gradually come flooding back to me—shapes on the fingerboard, different stairways to different rooms in the house,” Martino wrote in his autobiography published in 2011. “There are secret doorways that only you know about in the house, and you go there because it’s a pleasurable thing to do. And that’s how you remember how to play; you remember the pleasure of it.”

Martino was also known for his generosity of knowledge, writing textbooks and offering online lessons to teach others to play the guitar.

Martino was nominated for four Grammy Awards. He was named guitarist of the year in DownBeat‘s readers’ poll in 2004.

His final album was Formidable in 2017.

Martino leaves his wife, Ayako Asahi Martino.