The Neighborhood House in Northeast Harbor is best known for hosting chamber music concerts during the summer months. That perception could change Sunday as pianist Ben Paterson and his trio perform in the century-old structure for the first Jazz at the Hood concert.
Paterson, who now calls New York home, honed his chops in Chicago, notably as pianist for legendary Windy City tenor saxophonist Von Freeman. He since has become a triple-threat, performing also on organ and singing.
It’s been a busy year for Paterson. Along with his gigs in the United States, he’s been performing in Japan, Singapore and throughout Europe. Just this week, he was to play Wednesday at an organ summit at a jazz festival in France, fly to New York to perform Friday with the Jordan Pettay Organ Project at Dizzy’s Coca Cola Club at Lincoln Center and then travel to Maine.
The Jazz at the Hood concert was organized by Natalie Raimondi, who retired in 2013 after 50 years as executive director of the Mount Desert Chamber Music Festival.
Paterson was unavailable for a phone interview but did respond to questions via email. The concert in Northeast Harbor came about through meeting Raimondi in New York.
“We met at a workshop for jazz vocalists where I was working as the accompanist, and she reached out to me about putting something together,” he explained. “She has a great passion for the music, and it’s always fun working with her.”
Paterson won’t be sitting behind a Hammond B-3 console at the Neighborhood House; he’ll perform on piano, accompanied by guitarist Daan Kleijn and bassist George Delancey.
Kleijn, Paterson said, “is one of my favorite guys to work with” and “plays with exceptional soul and all-around musicianship.”
He also sings Delancey’s praises, describing him as “one of the absolute best jazz bassists in New York. “He brings incredible energy and technique along with lyricism and a great swing feel, he said.”
Paterson grew up in Philadelphia, studying both jazz and classical music before his move to Chicago. There, in 2007, he began working with Von Freeman, the tenor saxophonist and National Endowment for the Arts jazz fellow.
Freeman isn’t as well-known as many of the other acknowledged masters of the jazz saxophone, a situation one can attribute to his unwillingness to leave his hometown even, as one story goes, when he got the call from Miles Davis to replace John Coltrane, who was leaving the band. Still, Vonski, as he became known, was an icon among Chicago jazz musicians and fans, performing distinctly modern jazz with links to the past and with an unmistakable sound on the tenor.
Paterson, who performed with Freeman until the saxophonist’s death in 2012, said the education he got on the bandstand was unlike that students are getting today in college jazz programs. Freeman would kick-off a tune and the band had to follow, whether they knew the song or not.
“I was forced to use my ears and figure out the chord changes and song structure as we played,” Paterson recalled. “It’s an old-school kind of training you don’t see much anymore. It really helped me train my ears and be ready for anything on stage.”
Paterson has recorded three albums on piano, the first, “Breathing Space,” in 2007. That was followed in 2012 by “Blues for Oscar,” a nod to a major influence, Oscar Peterson, and by “Essential Elements” in 2013. In 2015, he released “For Once in My Life,” where he plays organ.
Paterson began playing organ about seven years ago. He got his start on piano at age six.
“Organ is fun because you get to play the bass lines, which are such a fundamental part of the groove,” he said. “It gives you a lot of powers in terms of creating the feel.”
The sound of the classic organ trio – organ, guitar and drums – appeals to Paterson, especially, he said, because of the interaction between the organ and guitar.
Paterson said he is putting ideas together for a new CD. The Northeast Harbor concert might provide a model for the finished project.
“I sing now on most of my gigs as well, so the next CD will almost certainly include that,” he said. “I might go with the piano/bass/guitar format, so this concert in Maine might be a good preview of what’s to come.”
Paterson performs at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Neighborhood House, 1 Kimball Road, Northeast Harbor. Tickets are $25 and available by calling 276-5039.