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First Memories of Paul Pacanowski

Or: how I came to dig him...

August, 1996. I was downtown at night, doing some last-minute ATM sutff. On my way back to the car, I passed this artsy-funky coffeehouse with jazz coming out the front door. The music sounded good enough to be a record, but had that unmistakeable timbre of live musicians. I had to get home, but this jazz sounded so good that I had to peek in just for a sec and see what was up.

I slipped just inside the door, looked and listened. The tables were more packed 'n' crowded than I ever remember seeing them, and in the middle of the joint were three guys:
an electric bassist [whom I'm afraid I have yet to identify, even now]; a guitarist playing a very Ed Bickert-looking [and Ed Bickert-sounding] Telecaster [I've since learned that this was up-and-comer Sean Bray]; and, commanding the proceedings, a guy with gray-white hair and beard but a young face, playing the most amazing tenor sax I've ever heard in person.

For long minutes I listened, unable to tear myself away, painfully aware of that unrepeatability that is part of the strange magic of live jazz, knowing that I had to hear this now or never. Then, when a number ended, I did the only thing I could do: find a phone booth, call home, and tell Sharon I was gonna be late! Then I rushed back, managed to squeeze in a seat at the coffee bar, ordered a Colombian, and settled back to drink in the rest of the set. The more I heard, the more impressed I got. He was like the best of everything I've heard all rolled into one. When he announced some original tunes ["originals" composed by his mentor, J. Wyzuty, as it turned out], I expected them to be the low point of a set mostly devoted to standards and classics. Well, I was wrong! The originals were fresh, different, interesting, and really good! This guy was cookin' with gas!

Faster than I could believe [but in fact it was nearly an hour], the set ended, and the saxist, a shy but friendly-sounding guy, let it be known that he had a CD for sale if anyone was interested. Guess who was first in line for it?!
Anyhoo, I had to get home by then, but at least I was returning with tangible evidence of the greatness I had heard. And a name to go with that face... I wasn't sure what to expect from the CD, as it was recorded with a different line-up [a classic rhythm section of acoustic piano, acoustic bass, and drums]. But I needn't have worried; in such a classic setting, Paul Pacanowski turned in a classic performance. Killer jazz from start to finish, immaculately recorded, and all songs composed by that Mr. Wyzuty whose songs impressed me so at the gig.

So I did what I had to do: in my best Mike Hammer fashion , I tracked down leads, dug up an address for Mr. Pacanowski [curiously absent from the CD liner]... and wrote him a fan letter, of course.
And he wrote back, sounding pleased as punch that I liked his sutff and that I'd write to him. He told me of upcoming gigs, etc., and has kept me on his mailing list since then. In other words, he's not only a great artist, he's also a genuinely nice guy!

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