Jazz Organist Pat Bianchi Reaches for a Higher Standard

After graduating from the Berklee College of Music in the late ‘90s, Pat Bianchi moved to Denver and started a decade-long run playing organ and piano at local clubs like El Chapultepec and Herb’s. But in 2008, Bianchi, a Rochester native, moved back east to New York City. Instead of focusing on being a leader, he wanted to in situations where he could perform and learn a few things along the way from jazz heavies like Lou Donaldson, Tim Warfield, Chuck Loeb, Terrell Stafford, Ralph Peterson. Bianchi is also currently part of guitarist Pat Martino’s trio.

When Bianchi first moved to New York, he first met Martino for a private lesson where the guitarist showed him a number of harmonic concepts. After running into each other for the next few years, Martino eventually recruited Bianchi to be in his trio. While Bianchi says he’s gotten an education from listening to the guitarist’s stories of playing with jazz greats and from watching him interact with people, like his fans.

“There are so many guitar player nuts all over the place,” Bianchi says of Martino, “and he takes time for everyone. It doesn’t matter if we played a two-hour set after getting straight off a plane in Europe or whatnot, he takes time for everybody. He’s just really warm to all the people who he meets. He doesn’t blow anybody off or brush anybody off to the side.”

While Martino may be warm off the bandstand, he’s a powerful player on stage, and Bianchi says he’s not somebody musicians can coast with.

“You have to be pushing hard all the time and delivering a certain high energy level consistently,” Bianchi says. “You can’t let it sag. So it’s just like being able to hit the bandstand and play with an intensity the entire night and not let up no matter what. That’s definitely something that I’ve taken away from all that too.”

Bianchi’s time in New York landing higher profile gigs has made him a stronger player but a more versatile on the organ, an instrument that’s often associated with boogaloo, jazz-funk or straight up blues.

“Learning how to go into a situation with Lou Donaldson and play a straight-up gutbucket, chitlin circuit kind of blues and that kind of feeling on the instrument and then be able to switch gears and go play,” Bianchi says. “When I was with drummer Ralph Peterson doing the Unity Band, playing Larry Young music, switching gears again and then doing some completely different with Pat. That’s made me grow quite a bit and look at my playing and seeing what else I need to add to it.”

While Bianchi was in fine form on 2010’s Back Home, his last recording as a leader, and 2006’s East Coast Roots, his chops are considerably more fierce on his brand new self-released album, A Higher Standard, which he’ll celebrate the release of during his two-night stand at Dazzle on Thursday, July 16 and Friday, July 17.

The album’s fitting title comes from the idea that bandleaders had expectations that led him to realize that he always needed to hold himself to “a higher standard.” While the disc features standards like “Without a Song” and “Some Other Time,” a few Bianchi originals and a hip rendering of Stevie Wonder’s “From the Bottom of My Heart,” it also includes Horace Silver’s “Blue Silver” and John Coltrane’s “Satellite,” two songs Bianchi used to play with Chapultergeist, a group that played weekly at El Chapultepec that included Laura Newman, Paul Romaine and Mark Simon. 

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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon

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