Big John Patton
With the advent of numerous reissues claiming to be the 'Roots of Acid jazz', it might be nice to be updated on those artists (once described as 'Soul jazz' players) who have been so cleverly left out of the marketing mix. Big John Patton has been a prime example of this. Although he may be receiving some residuals from the record companies for his reissues and new entries, I'm not so sure that he's been inundated with new bookings, tours and recording opportunities. He is, after all, one of the most soulful of the organists and can authentically link today's 'Acid jazz' with the golden era of the Hammond B-3. He has fueled such luminaries as Red Holloway, Lou Donaldson, Fred Jackson, Grant Green, Jimmy Ponder and, more recently, John Zorn since his entrance in 1959.
One of the first things to know about Big John is that he's not really 'Big', per se. He may have been heavier earlier in his career but as he explained it to me one time, it was the title of a pop song that inspired the tag - 'Remember the tune, 'Big Bad John'? ... yeah, well, that's what they started calling me and at first I didn't understand it but I love it now. It's just a name; if it's going to help you, then boogie on up in there!'
John was born in Kansas City on July 12, 1935. His mother introduced him to the piano and stressed a fundamental approach to playing which he eventually turned into a self-teaching style. He was inspired by the music he heard in his home town but was eager to move east and find professional work after high school. One night in Washington D.C., he ran into Lloyd Price who was appearing at the Howard Theater and just happened to have been looking for a new piano player. John's audition for Lloyd consisted of playing the introduction to 'Lawdy, Miss Clawdy' before he was given the job. This R&B combo soon expanded as did John's responsibilities and awareness. "I learned everything with Lloyd. I was his 'strawboss' and the leader and he dumped all this on me and that was an experience that I got a chance to deal with". John soon found himself in the middle of issues that challenged his integrity. 'I was dealing with musicians that thought I was 'tommin' or doing whatever Lloyd told me to do...Well, you're damn right I did, 'cause he was paying the money and I wanted the experience and we came together with a lot of it"
John's self-teaching method kept him close to the real musicians; those who he admired and emulated. ml went to the 'University of the Street' and majored in everything I could get to... musically collaborating with the MASTERS!" One of John's most revered friends was Ike Quebec who was an early Blue Note recording star and very helpful in John's recording career. "That's my mentor...he was beautiful. He hipped me to Grant". Surely, Grant Green was one of John's most important musical friends. "Grant is my love...I never heard nobody play the guitar like that brother...Grant started playing when he was about twelve and he was out there a long time. I got a chance to meet his father and his mother in St. Louis. His mother kinda reminded me of my mother...They loved Grant to death...and I was so thrilled that I got a chance to play with him, man, but he was greedy, (like a) Gemini, (but) I was a mule...I didn't care; I sho' learned!" ….