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An AAJ Interview with Mario Pavone

By Published: January 22, 2007

AAJ: When did your first exposure to jazz occur? What was your reaction?

MP: While I was a freshman at The University of Connecticut in 1958 a fellow student had this incredible jazz record collection. Before long I was spending 4 hours a day in his room listening to Ahmad Jamal, Brubeck, Chico Hamilton's "South Pacific", etc. and the love affair with the music began. But I didn't really ever think I would be a player, too old, etc. On my honeymoon in N.Y.C in late October/early November 1961, Mary and I went to The Village Vanguard not really knowing what to expect. Turns out Coltrane was playing there with the classic quintet (Dolphy, Tyner, Garrison, and Elvin Jones). Well, this was the defining moment, for 2 hours we were pinned to our seats, not really knowing what was going on, was this really church, was this the real religion, etc. the torrent of sound, emotion, and love was overpowering! As we all know, and as I discovered later on, they were recording one of the most influential jazz albums ever made—"Live at the Village Vanguard".

AAJ: Your bio indicates that you did not begin playing the bass until the age of 24. Did you have any previous musical education? If so, how would you describe your musical training? Formal? Informal? Both? Your bio also states that guitarist Joe Diorio encouraged you to pick up the bass. Were there any other circumstances that led you to choose the bass as instrument of choice? Please elaborate.

MP: In the summer of my senior year at UConn (1964) I ventured on an impromptu trip with a friend to Chicago, where another Waterbury native, an already legendary guitarist, Joe Diorio, was living and playing. The experience was significant and when I returned I rented an upright bass and took 2 lessons with famed new music and chamber bassist Bert Turetsky. I liked the sound of the acoustic bass underneath the music, but I think primarily I thought starting music at this late age, that the bass would be the easiest instrument to learn. Boy was I wrong!

AAJ: You attended the funeral of John Coltrane. This seems to have been the event where you decided (or discovered) that you had to become a musician. Would you please share this experience with the AAJ readers?

MP: I graduated from UConn with a major in Industrial Engineering and worked for several large corporations. I was playing the bass on and off for a couple of years, but not fully committed. Then in July of 1967 I heard Trane has passed. I left my briefcase, etc. there at my desk knowing, I think, that I would never return, and drove to the city to attend the funeral. It was an unbelievable scene. There appeared to me, to be a mist or cloud or spirit just above Trane, up front on the altar; he seemed to be already rising. In the choir behind him, Ayler, Ornette, Tommy Flanagan, etc. were playing. We knew the music had lost its current moving force, and I knew that I wanted to do music full time.

AAJ: Who or what are your most profound sources for influence and inspiration? (these can include non-musical items) Why or how do these influence and inspire you?

MP: Well, the music of Trane, Scott Lafaro and Mingus all spoke to me most directly and most deeply. The black rhythm and blues vocal groups, as I have mentioned, were early influences. Movie music from the 40's (my mom took me to the movies several times a week when I was 8—11 years old). Today what inspires me is the music and personal integrity of my heroes, Threadgill, Braxton, Leo Smith, Marty Ehrlich, Dave Douglas, Muhal, Dave Holland, Marks Helias and Dresser, and many others—along with today's great young player/ composers, Tony Malaby, David Berkman, Ben Allison, Peter Madsen, Matt Wilson, Mike Sarin, and again - many many others.

AAJ: From 1968 to 1972 you toured with Paul Bley. In retrospect, what did you learn during this time period that proved to make the most impact on your career and/or musical philosophy?

MP: Paul is a master—his open harmony—use of space—long periods of silence—shading of notes, etc., and he is so lyrical. All this left its mark on me back then—but I must tell you that I also learned some important things from Bley about the music business. He was protective of his music, and he believed in documenting when he played. And invariably in Europe, he would bring over one or another incredible historic reel to reel tape to deal with the record people. It wasn't just about playing—early on, he took care of the business and conveyed that "take charge of your own stuff" attitude.

AAJ: Your initial experience as a musician seems to have been primarily with free improvisation. When did you become interested in composed forms and why? Also, are you self-taught as a composer?

MP: In the late 60's I met the vibraphonist and composer Bobby Naughton—who was already issuing his original compositions on self produced vinyl (OTIC). Then in the mid 70's with the formation of the Creative Musicians Improvisers Forum (CMIF) with founding members Leo Smith, Gerry Hemingway, Wes Brown, Reverend Dwight Andrews, Bobby and myself—the chance to compose and have the piece performed became a reality. The CMIF was an organization whose guiding principles were loosely based on the precepts of Chicago's AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Music). The organization based in New Haven from 1978 to 1983 produced concerts and recordings. The major impetus for me to compose came directly from Leo. During this time Leo was really the guiding force in the organization and in my musical life. He was always encouraging members to compose their own pieces. He was just so supportive—with a great sense of integrity for what we were doing. Leo is an incredible trumpet player and equally incredible human being. So, while I am basically self-taught, I would credit Leo and Bobby with offering the motivation, and some ideas about open ended composing.

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