Glenn Patscha: Sideman Success and New Wave Nocturnes

June 17, 2014

Keyboardist and vocalist Glenn Patscha is one of New York’s most in-demand musicians, both as a sideman with artists like Marc Cohn and Roseanne Cash, and as a leader with the bands Ollabelle and The Big Bright.  


HOMETOWN: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada


MUSICAL TRAINING: I started playing by ear at the age of four. I took organ lessons until age 12, and studied piano with the Winnipeg-based jazz pianist James Gillies from age 12-18. Later I studied jazz piano with Ellis Marsalis and Harold Battiste at the University of New Orleans.


FIRST GIGS: Playing with cover bands in and around Winnipeg. I also played with older jazz musicians in Winnipeg like guitarist Larry Roy. They really opened my ears up. The first band I joined in New Orleans was the Victor Goines Quintet, with Victor, Nicholas Payton, Brian Blade, Roland Guerin and myself. What an amazing time!

MUSICAL INFLUENCES: Neil Young, Hank Jones, Ahmad Jamal, the Staples Singers, Donny Hathaway, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Miller, Bill Evans, Harold Battiste, Ellis Marsalis, Roberta Flack, Billy Preston, Oscar Peterson. Too many to list. . . .


WHAT I’M LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW: A lot of Jimmy Giuffre. He really got a unique sound with his trio. Tinariwen’s record Tassili has been in pretty constant rotation too.


INSTRUMENTS PLAYED: Piano, organ, quirky keyboards of all sorts including a Casio CT-310, Estey Portable Reed Organ, Lowrey Genius, accordion, guitar, and pedals galore.

MY BIG BREAK: Probably the most life-changing break was meeting Wynton Marsalis in Winnipeg in 1988. He put me in touch with his father who gave me a scholarship to study at UNO. Also, producer T Bone Burnett falling in love with our band Ollabelle and getting us signed to Columbia/Sony records.

LATEST ALBUM: I have a new collaboration with Fiona McBain and Liz Tormes called The Big Bright. We made a record of lullaby version of songs from the 1980s called I Slept Thru the ’80s. I am proud of how beautiful the arrangements are on this one. I like to think of this collection as “New Wave Nocturnes.”

FAVORITE KEYBOARD GEAR: If I could name one piece it would be my Wurlitzer 200A electric piano. It helped me fall in love with music again a while back. You can play such simple things on it and it just sounds beautiful. I also love the way it blends with guitars, too. Being kind of a pedal nut, I love how it sounds when I mess with it through them.

WHAT’S NEXT: Touring this spring with Marc Cohn and Rosanne Cash, two great people who always have such great bands. It’s a pleasure to be in their company musically and otherwise. I am also going to score a few films, one by Mary Ellen Mark and Martin Bell and another by an amazing young Finnish director named Alli Haapasalo.

ADVICE: Music is a constantly changing creature. I believe you can enjoy it most when you have the ability to roll with those changing circumstances. Make the most of what is happening in the moment. Develop your ears to the greatest possible extent and never stop pushing yourself to reach further into uncharted musical and artistic territory. There is always such great beauty and joy waiting there.

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