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An AAJ Interview with Mario Pavone

AAJ Staff By

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...my experience has been to work with composers who understand the important link between composing and improvisation. In fact, one goal for many of us is to blur the line between the two.
"Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can play weird—that's easy. What's hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple complicated is commonplace—making the complicated simple, awesomely simple—that's creativity." —Charles Mingus

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." —Albert Einstein


Mario Pavone This interview was first published in December 2002.

It is often overlooked that a significant amount of dedication, determination, and plain ol' hard work goes into making things seem simple. But it is a "simple" truth that we are surrounded by complex systems in our everyday life. From automobiles to aircraft, refrigerators to radios, and coffee makers to compact disc players, a lot of work has gone into making things "just work."

The very fact that you are reading this now is a testimony to numerous industries and technologies working together. Although this "Internet stuff" can be outrageously frustrating and, at times, downright painful to use, the fact that it even works at all is fairly amazing, nearly miraculous, and unquestionably cool.

The above statements can often be said of music, especially jazz. It is not coincidence that the musicians who are best at making their art look and sound effortless are also the ones who have put the most effort into making things "just work."

One musician whose work especially embodies the Mingus and Einstein principles of making the complicated simple is bassist/composer Mario Pavone.

Although having been a professional musician for nearly 40 years, and having worked in the 60's—'80's with the likes of Paul Bley, Bill Dixon, and Leo Smith, the bulk of Mr. Pavone's recorded output has primarily occurred over the past decade as a member of the late Thomas Chapin's Trio and with a half dozen utterly remarkable discs released under his own name (please refer to "Selected Discography" which appends this article) which find him accompanied by saxophonists Marty Ehrlich, Josh Redman, Anthony Braxton, and Thomas Chapin, trumpeter Dave Douglas, drummers Matt Wilson, Mike Sarin, Pheeroan ak Laff, and Steve Johns, pianist Peter Madsen, and trombonist Peter McEachern.

While Mr. Pavone first began playing in the "free" or "outside" New York loft scene in the 60's, his recordings are anything but immersed in the music of that turbulent era. Nevertheless, this early experience has provided a unique element to his music.

In 1995, Mario Pavone told jazz journalist and educator Howard Mandel the following:

"I think my compositions have a special sound because of my outside leanings, but my bottoms have always been rooted in the tradition and groove-oriented. My tops are angular. I pay attention to rhythmic detail so it's not 4/4 all the time. I like to switch it up...You see, I'm thinking as a listener when I prepare this music...it's about surprising the listener with changing textures and varieties of ensemble soundsswitI love performing, but I love recording and the crafting of every detail even more. I think that kind of care brings people closer to understanding the music..." (extracted from liner notes to Song For (Septet) (New World/Counter Currents, 1995))

Seven years later, AAJ managing editor Nils Jacobson writes of the CD Mythos (Playscape Recordings):

"As always, Pavone treads the line between swing and punch, structured composition and free improvisation—blending styles in interesting ways without ever getting noisy or pretentious...But the most exciting part of Mythos is Pavone himself. You can take many approaches to listening to this record, but if you make the effort to listen to his lines, you'll hear an unswerving devotion to forward motion...Mario Pavone remains impossible to categorize, with roots all over the map. This is toe-tapping, misty-swirling, percolating, mind-bending, heat-emitting music, all wrapped in one.

Jazz. And it works."

Mario Pavone's most recent release is Pivot (released December 2002 on Playscape Records), his third recording as co-leader with guitarist Michael Musillami and including trombonist Art Baron, drummer George Schuller, and saxophonist George Sovak.

Special thanks go to Mary Pavone and Wendy White for assistance in correspondence.

Extra special thanks to Mario Pavone for taking time out from the creative process to participate in the Q&A.

All About Jazz: Would you please tell the AAJ readers about where you were born, raised, and what your earliest musical memories are?

Mario Pavone: I was born in Waterbury, CT on November 11, 1940. I grew up there and actually loved music early on. I can remember playing hairbrushes on plastic kitchen chair seats to the 4 Aces on the radio. But I had no music lessons or studies. In 1954 I went to a primarily black high school (it was called "Leavenworth High") and I quickly became aware of black music, rhythm and blues and the most popular black vocal groups. The black versions of songs, say by The Penguins, and the white version by The Crew Cuts. It was clear to me how much better the black groups were—where the music really came from. First lesson!

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