Pat Martino had played rock 'n' roll guitar since he was a kid, but he changed direction in 1960 when he and Charlie Earland, his sax-playing chum from South Philadelphia High School, took a trip to Atlantic City, sneaked into a joint called the Jockey Club, and saw jazz organ sensation Jimmy Smith.
Earland decided then and there to take up the Hammond B-3 organ and, with Martino, put together a combo. Within a month, they landed a gig in Buffalo. It would be almost a decade before Earland's career took off, but Martino quickly graduated to the big leagues. At sixteen, he went on the road with R&B star Lloyd Price's big band, then spent much of the rest of the '60s crisscrossing the so-called jazz chitlin circuit with a succession of B-3 heavies, including Jack McDuff, Richard "Groove" Holmes, and Don Patterson.
"When I was with Don Patterson and [drummer] Billy James, there were only two seats in the van and I used to lay in the back on top of the B-3 with a ukulele while we were driving from small town to small town," the 57-year-old guitarist recalls. "The living elements of that music were quite different than they are today in terms of performance in concert halls and at festivals."
As Martino's star ascended through a series of brilliant albums for Prestige Records, he began appearing with his own groups, which featured piano instead of organ. He returned to his B-3 roots, however, when HighNote Records hooked him up with Philly organ phenomenon Joey DeFrancesco for a few tracks on an Earland tribute album following the organist's 1999 death. The pairing worked so well that Martino and DeFrancesco put a trio together with drummer Billy Hart. Their month-long tour ended last December in Oakland, where they recorded a scorching Blue Note album titled Pat Martino Live at Yoshi's. Martino and DeFrancesco, along with drummer Byron Landham, play a return engagement at the club this week, with shows at 8 and 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 2 and 8 p.m. Sunday. Phone 510-238-9200.
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