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Soul Jazz Organ StarCopyright © 2002The Scotsman
Big John Patton was one of the major figures in the development of the funky, blues rooted jazz style known as soul jazz. The Hammond organ was the instrument at the centre of that development, and Patton's relaxed, bluesy, lightly grooving style made a big contribution to the genre. In later years, he worked with the avant-jazz saxophonist John Zorn, expanding the perceived boundaries of his music in the process.
He was born on the Missouri side of Kansas City, then a major jazz centre, and taught himself to play piano. He followed his brother to Washington in the early 1950s, and began playing in the area, initially as a pianist. His became interested in the Hammond organ while working with rhythm and blues singer Lloyd Price, and set up his own Hammond-led trio in 1959.
He moved to New York and began working with alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson and guitarist Grant Green, and made his recording debut for Blue Note with the saxophonist in 1962. He was a member of Donaldson's band until 1964, then linked up with Grant Green for a time, and also worked with Johnny Griffin, Harold Vick and Clifford Jordan, among others, as well as more experimentally inclined musicians like trombonist Grachan Moncur III, guitarist James 'Blood' Ulmer, or saxophonists John Gilmore and Marshall Allen, best known for their long associations with Sun Ra.
He led his own band from 1963 until 1969, and recorded numerous albums in a soul jazz vein for the Blue Note label, which remain the most characteristic examples of his work. The arrival of more contemporary forms of electronic keyboards and the rise of jazz-rock fusion eclipsed both the Hammond and soul jazz in the 1970s, but Patton continued to perform, although he recorded only one album as a leader in the two decades from 1970.
The revival of interest in the instrument in the 1980s saw a renewed interest in his work. He recorded with John Zorn on the saxophonist's The Big Gundown album, a tribute to the music of Ennio Morricone, in 1986, and worked with the saxophonist again in the 1990s, including a new recording of his own music from the 1960s, Minor Swing, on which Zorn performed. His last issued album, This One's for Ja, appeared in 1995.
He died from complications arising from diabetes, and is survived by his wife, three brothers, and two sisters.