Friends, fans raising money for ailing Philly jazz legend

Jazz guitarist Pat Martino, 76, hasn't performed since November 2018. PHOTO: Arnie Goodman

Friends and fans of Pat Martino hope he can make another comeback.

The legendary jazz guitarist had to relearn how to play in the early 1980s after suffering a near-fatal brain aneurysm.

Now, Martino, 76, is hooked up to oxygen 24 hours a day at his home in South Philadelphia, and he can’t squeeze his left hand, meaning he is unable to play guitar.

He hasn’t been able to perform since November 2018, when he returned from a tour of Italy and developed an illness that exacerbated his lungs, already weakened by COPD. Martino lost a ton of weight, and doctors told him he wasn’t healthy enough for what he needed — a double lung transplant.

“They can’t operate on him or do anything,” Joseph Donofrio, his longtime manager, said. “It’s a precarious situation. With that said, he always has a great outlook when you talk to him.”

Donofrio started a GoFundMe in March to help Martino pay for his medical bills and other expenses. The fundraiser met its $150,000 goal, but Donofrio decided to keep it going because Martino’s condition hasn’t improved. So far, people have donated nearly $185,000.

Martino was born Patrick Azzara and grew up in South Philadelphia. He left school at age 15 and moved to Harlem to learn from the jazz gurus and play the club scene.

“He was a child protege,” Donofrio said.

He was tutored by master teacher Dennis Sandole, who also trained saxophone extraordinaire John Coltrane. Martino toured around the world and racked up admirers, including other big-name guitarists such as George Benson and Carlos Santana.

John Austin Mulhern, of Bucks County, was 18 years old when he walked into a South Street club and became mesmerized by Martino’s ability.

“He’s a master,” Mulhern, now 67, told Metro. “There’s only maybe two masters or three masters in the world, and Pat is number one.”

Martino taught Mulhern, and the pair became friends, eventually moving to Los Angeles to work at the Guitar Institute of Technology, now called the Musicians Institute.

The elder musician began having seizures in the mid-1970s, and Mulhern was in the room when Martino experienced the aneurysm in 1980.

“I held him down and grabbed his tongue,” Mulhern said. “I saved his life, basically.”

Martino returned to Philadelphia for surgery. At first, he didn’t remember anything — not even his parents. His memory gradually came back, and he studied his old recordings and began playing again.

Pat Martino, pictured at the Guitar Institute of Technology in 1980, had a brain aneurysm and had to relearn the guitar. PHOTO: Marc-Henri Cykiert

His career, which has spanned six decades, resumed, and he received four Grammy nominations in the early 2000s.

“Pat’s gift is creating,” Mulhern said. “He’s a great creator. There’s nobody even close.”

Mulhern helped Martino regain his musical abilities in the 1980s, and he wants to be there for him again, but the COVID-19 pandemic has kept the good friends apart.

Martino, who is being cared for by his wife, Aya, would be extremely susceptible to serious symptoms if infected with the coronavirus. Mulhern is also at-risk.

“I want him to play,” Mulhern said. “How can you just stop playing when you used to practice and do stuff and create 10 hours a day? You can’t just shut that off.”

“I’m just hoping that he sticks around,” he added. “I don’t know if he’ll ever be back to where he should be, but his life is important, and that’s what I’m concerned about.”

Donofrio and Mulhern, who both speak with Martino frequently by phone, said he hasn’t been discouraged.

“He doesn’t think about yesterday and doesn’t worry about tomorrow. He lives the day, day by day,” Donorfrio said. “He’s always in the moment.”

For more information about the Pat Martino Fund, go to www.gofundme.com/f/pat-martino-fund.

More from our Sister Sites