Jeb Patton will be in Northern California next week to teach and perform as part of the Stanford Jazz Festival.You can catch his trio on campus Monday at Campbell Recital Hall.
And I urge you to do so.
Patton, it must be acknowledged, lacks name recognition compared to many of the festival’s other performers. Indeed, just consider his fellow pianists: Chick Corea, Kenny Barron, Fred Hersch. You get the picture.
That said, Patton is among my favorite pianists working in jazz today and has been since I first heard his 2009 (and still latest) release, “New Strides.”
The album remains a joy to hear, an example of piano jazz that adheres to the genre’s conventions while speaking with a singular, inventive voice. Joined by David Wong (bass) and Pete Van Nostrand (drums), Patton has created a jazz that’s tasteful and swings yet is bursting with fresh ideas.
It says much about the man and his sound that the disc features Jimmy and Tootie Heath, Patton’s friends and mentors. The 10 tracks include three Patton originals, Jimmy Heath’s “Cloak and Dagger” and such standards as “If Ever I Would Leave You.” (Patton and the Heaths perform August 2 at Stanford’s Dinkelspiel Auditorium.)
“New Strides” is only the second album Patton has recorded as a leader; “A Lovesome Thing” (2006) came first. He received his undergraduate degree from Duke – shouldn’t all jazz artists study there? – and went on to earn a master’s from City University of New York. Patton remains heavily involved in education, too, and when not on the road with the Heaths teaches at Queensborough Community College. Here are excerpts from my 2009 interview with Patton.
Question: You write in the album notes that the project is part of an "ongoing quest to get to a deeper level of expression." Can you elaborate on that idea?
Patton: This is an interesting question. When I reread my quote, I realize how vague it sounds. It goes back to a feeling I use to have, many years ago, as I walked home from elementary school. I wanted to go home and create something on the piano. At that time, I was totally unaware of jazz but I did have that idea of trying to express something by making up a story or exploring some exotic sounding soundscape on the piano. My tools were very limited at the time, but the feeling is the same. This is the quest I speak of when I talk about "deeper levels of expression."
Question: How did you first meet Tootie and Jimmy Heath and what have they contributed to your understanding of jazz, its history and its cultural legacy?
Patton: The Heaths’ effect on my life cannot be explained in a short paragraph. Needless to say, Jimmy, Percy, and Tootie shaped my musical personality immensely. I'm really proud to say that I became very good friends with all three of them.
I first met Jimmy at an audition at Queens College in the fall of ‘96. My first meeting with the three Heath brothers was at the Hartford Jazz Festival in the summer of ‘97. I have to say, they really accepted me as a musician and a person.
Now, having said that, I had a lot of growing up to do as a musician and as a person. They were nice enough to sort of guide me through. Percy, especially, was able to draw me out of my shell. As others might attest, I was extremely shy and withdrawn during this time. Looking back, I think it was mostly because of the fact that I was playing with the Heath brothers.
Besides a wealth of musical knowledge, I learned from them the importance of treating people with the utmost respect. There might be a lot of joking and ribbing going on at all times, but behind that is a love of people and culture that is truly inspiring. All three remember stage hands names from festivals from twenty years ago. They don't believe in star status, and always treat strangers like they've been friends for years. This kind a free-wheeling kindness and candor comes across so strongly in their music.
Question: Teaching plays a significant role in your life. What do you find attractive about working with students?
Patton: When kids (or adults) are truly inspired about learning about the music, I get excited. I've found a lot of musical talent out there that hasn't always been cultivated due to many factors. It's thrilling to see the light bulb go on and see that fire started. I believe the schools are really the most important tool right now to create new jazz audiences. The (jazz) club audience is not big enough to sustain jazz. There's also a component of supporting artistic endeavors that don't always translate into entertaining club acts but are nonetheless worthwhile and deserving of people's attention.
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