By Noah Hubbell
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After hearing Joey DeFrancesco's Live at the Five Spot, a sixteen-year-old Pat Bianchi, who had already been playing organ and piano for about nine years, knew he wanted to play jazz organ. After graduating from the Berklee College of Music in the late '90s, the 21-year-old Bianchi moved to Denver to start a residency four nights a week as the house pianist at El Chapultepec, which was followed by five-year stint at Herb's, where he played jazz organ on a weekly basis.
Bianchi eventually got to tour and record with DeFrancesco, who's hailed as the finest organist in the world, and Bianchi appears on DeFrancesco's latest effort, Never Can Say Goodbye: The Music of Michael Jackson. Since moving to New York City about two and a half years ago, Bianchi, a Rochester native, has worked with legendary jazz players like Lou Donaldson, George Coleman and Houston Person. We spoke to Bianchi about his outstanding new album, Back Home, his followup to his critically acclaimed 2006 recording, East Coast Roots.
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Pat Bianchi: A lot of those tunes I've always really liked. Some of them I've played when I was playing piano; other ones, it's just cats I listen to. I love Ornette. I love Chick Corea and Trane, obviously. So it was combinations of those things. In specific, another aspect I've always been trying to address in my recordings is that going back, when you think of Hammond organ in the jazz context, you think of feel-good soul jazz, boogaloo groove kind of stuff, kind of funky stuff, or churchy soulful shuffles and things like that.
You don't hear a lot of drawing from other elements of jazz on that instrument in particular. You will from Larry Goldings, to a degree, and Joey DeFrancesco, for sure. But probably 80 percent to 85 percent of everybody out there who's doing organ records, it's based off the formula that has worked for so long. So for me, [it's about] picking tunes I like and picking things that are a challenge for the instrument and that are not always associated with the instrument.
What would you say you've learned from Joey DeFrancesco?
Oh, man, there are so many different things. Just the playing aspect and being able to do a multitude of different things stylistically. Playing with Lou Donaldson is one kind of thing, one kind of bag, but then being able to fit into playing with George Coleman — or next month, I'll be playing with Gary Bartz — and just really be able to be authentic and hang with the vocabularies of the other things going on.