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An AAJ Interview with Mario Pavone

By Published: January 22, 2007

AAJ: What recording(s) as a sideman do you wish more people would be exposed to? Why?

MP: One would certainly be "Son of Sisyphus" with Bill Dixon on the Soul Note label (1988) with Laurence Cook (drums) and John Buckingham (tuba). First of all, most of Bill's work has been very under-appreciated. This recording finds him leading the language charge—dialogue, sound and space (silence)—in eloquent fashion. There is so much information coming from the quartet! It's a way of playing that I don't do as much of now.

Also, there's a 1968 trio record (Canada radio) now out of print—with Paul Bley and Barry Altschul that I still like very much.

AAJ: How did you come to meet Thomas Chapin?

MP: In the summer of 1980—a friend suggested that I attend a concert at Bushnell Park in Hartford, CT—To hear this remarkable saxophonist. (The concert was a tribute to Charles Mingus and was directed and conducted by former Mingus sideman—Saxophonist Paul Jeffreys) the band was filled with notables such as Junior Cook, Ray Copeland, Bill Hardman, Joseph Celli, Kenny Barron, etc. It was an exciting concert—but the level was jacked up several notches every time Thomas stood up to solo—it really knocked me out! I met him after the concert—we became friends—and began an 18-year musical relationship—where we played in each other's groups and exchanged ideas and concepts.

AAJ: What have you learned from working with Thomas Chapin that you believe has made (or will continue to make) the most impact upon your musical philosophy?

MP: Thomas was a consummate professional—a stern task master—a virtuoso saxophonist and flautist—who always pushed himself and the group further—adding new challenges. He possessed a huge spirit. During the 80's & 90's we evolved along similar paths—sharing and exchanging concepts. His defining group—the trio—(with drummer Michael Sarin and myself) existed from 1990 to 1997, we had a great ride. I always thought he wrote big band music for trio (He was musical director of the Lionel Hampton Orchestra in the 1980's). He could play in or out with great command of the languages of each genre.

All of this has had a large impact on my music—and I still play several of his compositions in my trio performances.

AAJ: What musicians that you have never worked with before would you like to work with?

MP: Joe Lovano, Jason Moran, Ellery Eskelin, and Ornette.

AAJ: Although this next question is like asking a father to name his favorite child, which recording(s) would you most recommend to someone unacquainted with your work? Why?

MP: I would recommend Song for (Septet) (New World/Counter Currents, 1995) as a good starting place for someone unacquainted with my work. The brilliant arrangements by Marty Ehrlich and the late Thomas Chapin, as well as the instrumentation (vibes, clarinet, flutes) offer a rich pallet of attractive colors and textures. It's a very singing cd.

AAJ: In retrospect, which of your recordings was most challenging and/or "difficult" to complete? Why? Which of your recordings was most satisfying or "fun" to complete? Why? (note: these could be answered from the perspective of composing/rehearsing/recording or any combination of factors.)

MP: The most recent CD Mythos (Playscape Recordings, 2002) took some time to complete and was recorded at several studios in NYC and Vermont—mostly it was about logistics and scheduling of personnel and wanting to do some Quintet cuts along with the Nu Trio. But really most projects have come to completion very easily. Totem Blues (Knitting Factory Records, 2001) was really fun to do—It was a large group (Octet)—but everyone had fun and we got it done in 8 hours!

AAJ: What's the funniest or most embarrassing thing that's happened to you while performing or recording?

MP: Well, while I was touring with the Thomas Chapin Trio in 1992—and had to leave the tour bus—pick-up my own car—drive to NYC to sign a recording contract and then hook up with the tour in another city—I was late and drove for hours—got to the gig and noticed I had a flat tire—I played the set and went out and changed the tire. After the second set the trio (with Mike Sarin) came outside went to my parked car and as we approached it I exclaimed "My God—I have another flat tire!"—well, it turned out that in my rushing I had changed the wrong tire—a perfectly good one—it was a good laugh for all of us—and shortly thereafter Thomas wrote a new composition—entitled "Changes 2 Tires." (which appears on a Thomas Chapin cd called "Sky Piece." (Knitting Factory))

AAJ: Do you have any techniques you personally employ to enhance or restore your own creative energy when you encounter difficulties in composing? If so, what are they?

MP: Well I suppose "composers" block is inevitable at times. When this happens I will try to stay away from the bass for a day or two. Often I will seek out visual stimuli—for instance I'll read a biography of a painter whose work I like—revisit some paintings etc.

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