Don Patterson

Discography by Michael Weil
First published in 2006

Discography Pages

Donald B. Patterson was born July 22, 1936 in Columbus, Ohio. He started as a piano player but decided to switch to organ after hearing Jimmy Smith and made his professional debut as an organist in 1959. Piano playing traits always remained an important part of his style, Carmen Cavallaro and Erroll Garner being early influences, with Horace Silver, Bud Powell and Bill Evans becoming important later on; Evans' elegance can be traced in Patterson's ballad playing, Silver's compositional style is felt in many of Patterson's tunes. Wild Bill Davis and Hank Marr were influential organists at that time alongside Smith. Soon a trio was formed in Chicago with guitarist Paul Weeden and drummer Billy James. Weeden was the formal leader of the trio; they soon performed and recorded with Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons, and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis; it is told Patterson also played with Wes Montgomery. By 1964 Weeden and Patterson had parted company; Weeden went to Europe and settled in Norway.

From this time, Patterson often played with only drums as accompaniment, Billy James being his most frequent partner. Their empathy can be heard on many of Patterson's records as a leader, as well as sessions with Sonny Stitt and Booker Ervin, and lasted until the early 1970's, when James joined Eddie Harris' group. Patterson settled in Philadelphia, playing in local clubs. His long series of recordings for Prestige came to an end after the label was bought by Fantasy in 1971, but producer Don Schlitten kept him in mind, having Patterson record another four records between 1972 and 1978 for Joe Fields‘ new label, Muse Records. In 1980 he started an association with trombonist Al Grey. Later in the 1980's health problems restricted his travelling activities, so a sideman session with saxophonist John Simon turned out to be his last recording before his death in Philadelphia on February 10, 1988 – he had been suffering from a kidney ailment for some time.

Patterson always tried to retain some characteristics of piano playing on the organ, and his light touch and fluid phrasing was a perfect match for Sonny Stitt's modern bebop style. At the same time he was not afraid of the organ's big sound potential and was able to raise a solo to a stunning, dramatic climax. Check out his two recordings of "The Good Life" from 1964 and 1977 for a demonstration. He was one of the most original organ stylists of his generation. The pairings of Patterson with Sonny Stitt and Booker Ervin are among the greatest sax-organ teams in jazz history; Patterson inspired Stitt to some of his best playing among his numerous recordings in the 1960's.

Many of his recordings were reissued on CD, except for the Prestige LP with Fathead Newman and three as a trio; the latter included a Christmas album which was one of Prestige's best sellers.

Sources for this discography:

Sonny Stitt often played his saxophone with the Varitone attachment; please look at the instruments abbreviations list. I have tried to identify the different natural and electrified saxophone sounds as best as I could.

Thanks to Nikolaus Schweizer and several other members of the Organissimo forum for sharing information, and to Steve Albin for the BRIAN database software and his support.

Any additions and corrections are welcome, send to: