A Conversation with Brian Patneaude
“ 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. ”
New York's Capital Districtthe collective sobriquet for Albany, Schenectady, and Troy as well as Saratoga and a few outlying areashas produced two major names in jazz: Baritone saxophonist Nick Brignola and vibraphonist and Blue Note recording artist Stefon Harris. Indeed, right up until his recent death, Brignola was Upstate New York's greatest contribution to modern jazz. With Brignola's passing, and Harris's move downstate, tenor saxophonist Brian Patneaude seems primed to fill the void. Aside from being one of the Capital District's finest working jazzmen (Brian was recently honored in Metroland 's Best of Albany issue), Brian is also one of its busiest. Brian divides his time between his own working Quartet ' which has a weekly residence at Justin's, a local club ' Alex Torres y Los Reyes Latinos, a weekly jam session at Schenectady's historic Van Dyck club with pianist Adrian Cohen, and a spot in the reed section of the Empire Jazz Orchestra. Brian is a busy man, indeed, and much in demand. In addition, his Quartet, which features some of the area's top talent, has released its debut CD Variations (reviewed elsewhere on this site. See Patneude Review ) to considerable acclaim. Busy as he is, I was able to track Brian down for an interview. We sat on the sidewalk on Albany's Lark Street, not far from the club where Brian plays his weekly Sunday night gig. As we talked, there was a constant stream of pedestrian traffic, several people stopping to chat with Brian. All of them asked about upcoming gigs, about the next jam at the Van Dyck, etc. Brian was more than happy to talk to his admirers, and I noted that Brian's considerable recent success had not affected him in the slightest. As I sipped my Latte, I turned on my tape recorder and began:
All About Jazz: How did you get started in music?
Brian Patneaude: I picked up the saxophone in fifth grade, just like any other kid given the option of playing an instrument. I played it for a while and wasn't really into it. It wasn't fun. It was work. Like most kids, I did other things and just played the sax in school. Once I got into high school, I started to get a little more serious about it. I got into more music that was saxophone based, and I started to think 'Gee, this thing can do more than play 'Mary Had a Little Lamb!' I went to the College of Saint Rose, where I got a degree in music education and then did some graduate studies at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music at the University Of Cincinnati. After I moved back to Albany, it just sort of blossomed from there. I started playing professionally, working with a lot of different bands.
AAJ: Aside from tenor saxophone, what other instruments do you play?
BP: I also play soprano, alto, and baritone.
AAJ: I understand that you used to play drums?
BP: I dabbled. I was in high school. It wasn't fun to play the sax, but it was fun to bang on the drums. Nothing I would play in public now.
AAJ: What drew you to jazz?
BP: There were really two things that drew me to jazz. First, it was a music that featured the saxophone. Second, it was more a complex music than I was listening to at the time. In high school, I was into Metallica and other heavy metal bands. Then I started getting into Rush, Pink Floyd, Yes'bands that were a little more harmonically adventurous. The prog rock bands led me to jazz, fusion at first, and I went from there.
AAJ: Name some of your influences on your instrument.
BP: Michael Brecker, Seamus Blake, Chris Potter, Chris Cheek, Bill McHenry, David Sanborn was a really big influence when I was younger, Hank Mobley, Joe Henderson, John Coltrane ' the list could go on and on and on.
AAJ: You've worked in a number of styles and genres. Tell me about some of those experiences and how they've affected your development as a jazz musician.
BP: One band I've played with is the Refrigerators. They're a ten piece cover band, I guess you'd call them a party band. I've learned about the entertainment side of the music, and the business side as well - what's required to get yourself out there. Currently I'm working with a 12 piece Salsa/Merengue/Latin Jazz band called Alex Torres y Los Reyes Latinos (http://www.alextorres.com). Working with Alex Torres has been an education as far as Latin music and Latin culture is concerned. I couldn't have told you the difference between meregue and salsa four years ago, but it's like night and day to me now. I've also learned a lot about the business from Alex [Torres]. He's got a twelve piece band that he keeps working regularly, whether its at a festival or a club or a school. He's got the band working and recording and selling CDs.
AAJ: As a member of the Empire Jazz Orchestra, you have worked alongside veterans like Jimmy Heath and Slide Hampton. What do you think you learned from that experience?