One of Pavone's favorite gigs was during a jazz festival in Verona, Italy with saxophonist Thomas Chapin's trio in an ancient, open-air amphitheater. "Things happen on stage," he explained. "Some kind of special electric feeling goes on with the music and it's transferred to the people, who are in a perfect place acoustically and spiritually. It could happen with 20 people in a club. The electricity between the music and the players, there's nothing like it."
Pavone met Chapin in Hartford at a tribute concert to Charles Mingus in 1980. His playing blew him away, and the two became friends. Ten years later Chapin started his trio with Pavone and drummer Michael Sarin. Chapin and Pavone played in each other's groups, recording albums on New World and Knitting Factory Records. "Those years were great years," Pavone recalled. "We were hitting hard, playing everywhere in New York, everywhere in Europe. We had quite a bit of success with that group. He was quite a musician."
In 1998 Chapin died of leukemia. Pavone lost a close friend, and stopped playing for eight months. He concentrated on rebuilding a house for his parents. "I banged away with a hammer. It was great to get aggression out. It was a really therapeutic thing for me." When he returned to music he recorded Remembering Thomas. "I knew the first thing that I'd do would be a tribute to him, and capture his spirit. It was still very much with me, it still is to this day," he said.
Pavone shares close relationships with most of the musicians he plays with. He cites Bley, Dixon, and Anthony Braxton as his mentors. Madsen played on Pavone's last six records, and he said the two have an intense musical telepathy. And most recently he formed great friendships with Malaby and Bernstein, who arranged the music on Orange. "This new era of the jazz musician is so different from the '50s and '60s. It's a healthy environment, and a really earnest and sincere one," he said.
Pavone aims to make the new era physically different as well. He thinks the bass should play a more central role. "Right now the innovations in music are coming from the rhythm section," he stated. "We had a period of Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie, and John Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman. They made major, quantum leaps. Right now I don't hear a lot of horn players going much further than Trane or Ornette. They are, but not in great leaps. The rhythm section is doing things now and that's where I think the new innovations are coming from."
So Pavone is breaking down the structure, and reinterpreting roles. Traditionally horn players lead the group from the front, and bass players are stuck in the back. This is an issue for Pavone. "It's not easy leading a group from behind, and that's one of the reasons why I try to step forward on stage. I'm trying to do it through the notes I play, through directions, through gesture...I think I have a grasp on how to reach people. The balance of forward thinking, and groundedness is what I'm after."