John Patton (July 12, 1935 – March 19, 2002) was an American jazz, blues and R&B pianist and organist, often known by his nickname, Big John Patton.
Patton was one of the most in-demand organists during the golden era of the Hammond B-3 organs between 1963 and 1970. He was a major figure in the development of the funk and blues-rooted jazz style known as soul jazz and is considered a roots player who inspired the acid jazz movement. He recorded extensively for Blue Note, and performed or collaborated with Lloyd Price, Grant Green, and Lou Donaldson. Patton had a lower profile in the 1970s but enjoyed a comeback in the 1980s and '90s, often in collaboration with saxophonist John Zorn. His music evolved to incorporate modal and free jazz.
John Patton, born in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 12, 1935, was an American jazz and jazz fusion composer and performer whose work included "Funky Mama" and "Along Came John". He developed the nickname "Big John", not because of his size, but because of a song. "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!"
Patton's mother was a church pianist who taught him how to play fundamentals. When he was about 13 years old, in 1948, he began to teach himself. He was inspired by the music he heard in his hometown, but he wanted to play beyond the Kansas City jazz scene. After high school, he headed East and found professional work. In 1954 in Washington, D.C., he found out that R&B star Lloyd Price was playing at the Howard Theater, and that Price had just fired his pianist and needed a new player. Patton played a few bars from the introduction to "Lawdy, Miss Clawdy". He was given the job.
It was a relationship that would last until 1959. "I learned everything with Lloyd," Patton said. "I was his 'straw boss' and the leader and he dumped all this on me and that was an experience that I got a chance to deal with." He recruited top players for Lloyd, including drummer Ben Dixon. Dixon, another self-taught player, encouraged John to check out the Hammond B-3 organ when they played in clubs that had one. "Some of the clubs that we would play in would have an organ off to the side and every time I would have a chance to get with that organ, man, it was just fascinating to me...especially the bass line."
A man called "Butts" first showed Patton how to set up the organ and find the right registrations. When he moved to New York in late 1959, and began playing gigs around town, Herman Green, a friend who played with Lionel Hampton's band, took him to a Hammond in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and helped him learn how to play it. Patton was fascinated with the differences in the nuance of the sound that an electric organ could produce. "Man, listen, it's so sensitive and it will reveal its secrets if you try to get up in there and learn it...and learn the sound and contact. You can't play it like a piano 'cause that's another thing all together - The notes are the same but, see, that electricity puts another 'jammie' on you, you know what I mean? You must deal with touch and so many other thing...and I was very frustrated at first."
Patton set up his own Hammond organ trio in 1959. Blue Note artist Ike Quebec became his mentor, introducing him into Blue Note and to one of the most important relationships in his career, with guitarist Grant Green. "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...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!"
He worked as a sideman for Lou Donaldson for three and a half years, until 1964. "He says 'Play the BLUES'," Patton recalled. "You don't mess with Lou 'cause Lou knows how to play the Be Bop and Blues and Rhythm and Blues ... I am very fortunate that I got a chance to spend that much time with him and I can't thank him enough."
During the 1960s in New York and on the road, Patton became one of the most recognizable figures in jazz, and was a driving force of the sound of electric organ. He recorded for the Blue Note label with artists such as Harold Alexander and George Coleman on LPs such as Understanding and Accent on the Blues. He was a leader and a sideman for George Braith, Don Wilkerson and Lou Donaldson. Patton worked as a sideman for myriad other labels as well (see Discography). On one Limelight recording "Hold On, I'm Coming," with Art Blakey, he appears under the pseudonym Malcom Bass.
It was in the organ trio of guitarist Grant Green with drummer Ben Dixon in the soul-jazz fusion genre, that he did some of his best and most ground-breaking work. He also worked with Johnny Griffin, Harold Vick and Clifford Jordan, and some of the early experimentalists, including many who worked with SunRa Records during its heyday: trombonist Grachan Moncur III, guitarist James Blood Ulmer, and saxophonists John Gilmore and Marshall Allen.
Patton's style on the Hammond B-3 has been resistant to imitation because of its space and economy. Some have called it minimalist, but Patton claimed that he emulated the sounds of his favorite trumpet and reed players. "I love trumpet, I love trombone, I love reeds...I love it all...Musicians like Fred Jackson, Richard Williams, Grant Green, Ben Dixon and Johnny Griffin...I can go on and on ...This is where I got my concept..."
The acid jazz movement in the 1980s caused a resurgence in interest in Patton's music in the UK. Blue Note released many sessions that had not previously been released, including Blue John with Grant Green and George Braith (listed as Braithwaite on the LP). Blue Note later released two forward-looking albums Boogaloo and Memphis to New York Spirit. Patton made several trips to England where he was embraced by the acid jazz community.
Patton continued recording until the late 1990s. In these later years he developed a loyal following in both Japan and Europe, both of which he toured in addition to his dates in the United States. Several dates were recorded by collectors. In 2001, Patton performed "Money Jungle" with Ron Carter and Black Star for the Red Hot Organization's compilation album Red Hot + Indigo, a tribute to Duke Ellington, which raised money for various charities devoted to increasing AIDS awareness and fighting the disease.
Patton died from complications arising from diabetes, in Montclair, New Jersey, on March 19, 2002.
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