Although “Big” John Patton never attained the 60s popularity of fellow Hammond B-3 maestros Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff, or Richard “Groove” Holmes, he certainly rates as one of the most significant organists of the last three decades. Without approaching the daring invention of Larry Young, Patton incorporated some of his linear, pianistic soloing and usually eschewed the greasy gospel-and-blues funkiness that more or less defined the instrument. His 60s recordings for Blue Note show a rather remarkable range: sessions with guitarist Grant Green and horn men like Harold Vick, Blue Mitchell, and Fred Jackson display a masterful, nuanced balance between funky grit and lyrical sophistication, while a record like Understanding from 1968, with Coltrane-influenced saxophonist Harold Alexander, reveals Patton’s more adventurous side. When electric pianos and synthesizers began to dominate jazz in the 70s, Patton became a scarce commodity, recording only a handful of middling albums for Muse, Nilva, and Spotlite over 15 years. But in the last decade his fortunes have shifted, thanks to alto saxophonist and fanatical Patton fan John Zorn; the rediscovery of organ combos by acid-jazz fans has also helped. For a while in the 80s Zorn led a Patton tribute band, and Patton guested on Zorn’s album Spillane, a favor Zorn has returned on a few of Patton’s recent recordings. Particularly noteworthy is 1995’s edgy Minor Swing (DIW), on which Zorn’s tart phrasing, acerbic tone, and squealed overblowing makes a superb contrast with Patton’s warm, soulful sound. For this weekend’s rare local gig, Patton will be joined by guitarist George Freeman and drummer Bob Guthrie, who between them have played with Holmes, McDuff, and Gene Ammons. Saturday, 10 PM and midnight, Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division; 312-409-0099 or 312-559-1212. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.