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A Conversation with Brian Patneaude

By Published: October 27, 2003
AAJ: How did the Variations CD come about?

BP: I knew that I wanted to do a record with this band, and I wanted it to be all originals. So we took the material we felt the strongest about, the stuff we felt we were playing the best at the time, and recorded it in two days. I was fortunate to be able to work with an engineer [John Nazarenko] who really wanted to work with us and to do the project. He went above and beyond the call and really put in the time, especially on the post production. During the recording too, he really helped set the atmosphere and make us comfortable. There was a little inner turmoil in the band. I wanted to just document two days, similar to the way some of my favorite albums have been done. Some of the other guys in the band, I'm not going to mention any names, thought that we should take advantage of modern technology. Do some overdubs and piece it together, make more of a crafted record. There's nothing wrong with that, and a lot of people do it, but that's not what I wanted to do.

AAJ: Do you think you might do something like that in the future?

BP: Yes (laughs). It would be a different record. Variations is more like what you might see if you saw the group live. I would like to do a project where we could create different textures, different segues between the tunes. More of a polished product. Not that Variations is unpolished, but more of a production.

AAJ: Do you prefer performing live or recording?

BP: Live, definitely. The energy that comes from the audience is something that you hear about from many musicians and having experienced it, it's true that there's no duplicating it. Not having that energy to feed off in a studio situation, it's more challenging to record. So I prefer performing live.

AAJ: Variations has been positively reviewed. What is your general opinion of critics and their role in the music?

BP: (Laughs) Obviously, critics are needed to alert the general public to what's out there. People can't go out and buy every record. I think there's a fine line that some journalists cross. For myself, I prefer to read a review that provides a description of the music, maybe a comparison to other albums. The critic might not like the album, and that's fine, but I want to know what it sounds like. You know, is it in a Miles fifties vein or a Miles sixties vein. As opposed to, 'This guy didn't put his soul into the performance.' It makes it difficult for a young artist, say someone who's on his or her way up, to get a negative review. You know, if I'm a jazz fan and I'm considering seeing this artist perform, who I know little about and I read a bad review, that's already a strike against the artist. And if I do go, the artist is going to have to work harder to win me over.

AAJ: You wrote two of the pieces on Variations. What method do you use when composing?

BP: Trial and error. I am by no means a composer. I play on the piano, I play on the sax, and if I find a harmonic progression I like on the piano, I'll pick up the sax and try to play a melody over it. It's not a cut and dry process that I go through, I just noodle. I have a whole notebook, actually it's a folder on my computer now, that's full of lead sheets and ideas that I've never finished. I might go back to them and turn them into something at some point.

AAJ: You participate in a weekly jam session at the Van Dyck. Tell me about that.

BP: It's been a cool thing. It's exactly what this area needs for the jazz community to congregate and grow. I've met tons of musicians from this area who can really play well. One of the things that makes it special is that it's at the Van Dyck, with its history and the people who have played there in the past. It's very well attended, much more so than we had expected. Week after week, more people in the audience listening than musicians waiting to play, which is rare for a jam session in this area. It's also been an opportunity to work with [pianist] Adrian Cohen, who's really great.

AAJ: Tell me a bit about the Albany jazz scene.

BP: Like any mid-sized city, there is a jazz scene. It's a vibrant scene with lots of people who do different things. There are a lot of musicians who play in other kinds of bands ' Latin bands, wedding bands, Irish bands ' who also play jazz. I think if some people had the choice, they would play more jazz, but it makes more sense financially to do the more popular gigs. There are a lot of clubs in the Capital District that feature jazz. Down here in Albany there's Justin's. The Larkin still has jazz shows occasionally. The WAMC Performance Art Center has some nice shows. In Schenectady there's the Van Dyck. In Saratoga there's One Caroline Street and Nine Maple Avenue. In Glens Falls there's Wallabees. So there's a handful of clubs in the Capital Region, and all of them have music on a regular basis. There are a lot of people out there making that music, so you do the math.

AAJ: Would you consider moving to New York?

BP: I wouldn't consider moving there to break into the scene. If I did move there, it would be to get into a more competitive atmosphere and get my butt kicked. I have no qualms about saying that. I'm very happy where I am. There's a very high level of musicianship here. And I'm making a living doing what I love, so it doesn't get much better than that.

AAJ: What are you listening to right now?

BP: I've been listening to Miles Davis's Water Babies and Wynton Marsalis's Black Codes (from the Underground). I think the reason I went back to those is that Adrian [Cohen] just started a new quintet with that instrumentation: Tenor, trumpet, piano, bass and drums. I'm trying to get some ideas for voicings for the horns. I wouldn't mind writing a piece or two in that vein. The Black Codes album, especially, has some great writing and great playing; great interaction between the players. I think that's the direction Adrian is trying to take, if I may speculate on his direction. (Laughs)

AAJ: What musician or musicians do you feel are critically underrated?

BP: In the Albany area there are a handful of musicians a generation or two older than me that deserve as many accolades as can be laid upon them. Folks like pianist Lee Shaw, guitarists Chuck D'Aloia, Jack Fragomeni & Cary DeNigris, saxophonist Leo Russo and drummer Dave Calarco to name a few, have been slugging it out in the jazz trenches for many many years and truly deserve to be recognized for their efforts.

AAJ: Where do you see jazz going in the next five or ten years? Where would you like to see it go?

BP: Where do I see jazz going? I have no idea. Where would I like to see it go? I would like to see jazz embraced by audiences both young and old, with the emphasis on the young. In order for this music to stay alive it needs to be embraced by a younger generation. My hat is off to folks like John Scofield, Charlie Hunter, Medeski, Martin & Wood & Soulive who have shared their jazz influenced music with a much younger audience who then in turn are curious enough to check out other jazz artists. I have seen this happen first hand working in the music department at Barnes & Noble and I hope the trend continues.

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