Pate, John William "Johnny"
Date of Birth: 12/5/1923
Originally From: Chicago Heights, Illinois
Pate, John William "Johnny"
Born in Chicago Heights, Illinois December 5, 1923, Johnny Pate is a self-taught bassist and arranger.
He learned these skills while serving in the 218th AGF Army Band during World War II. After his discharge in 1946, Pate played with Coleridge Daviss big band and from 1947 to 1949 he worked with Red Allen and J. C. Higginbotham. Following those gigs, Johnny worked, in succession, with jazz violinists Stuff Smith and Eddie South. While performing with South, Pate furthered his musical training by studying at Chicagos Midwestern Conservatory from 1951 to 1953. In 53-54 he was with Dorothy Donegans Trio and moved from there to the Ahmad Jamal Trio in 1956. During this same time period, Johnny worked for the Club De Lisa as the arranger of its shows production numbers which were modeled after the famous Cotton Club reviews in Harlem. The featured male singer in the show was a young man by the name of Joe Williams. Pate often says that he met Joe long before Basie even knew who he was, although he is reasonably certain that it was at the Club De Lisa that Basie first heard Williams sing.
Toward the end of the 50s, Pate led his own trio that served as the house band at Chicagos Blue Note. There, he worked with such jazz stalwarts as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Duke Ellington. Pates stint as Ellingtons bass player at the Blue Note was the result of Jimmy Woode, the bands bassist, having taken ill. Johnny ended up subbing for Woode throughout the entire Ellington Blue Note appearance. Unbeknownst to Pate and the Ellington Orchestra, a "bootleg" recording was made and eventually released in 1994 much to Johnnys surprise. On that recording you can hear Ellington recognize Pate following his solo on Satin Doll.
Having recorded as a bassist with his own trio on the Federal, King, Gig, Salem and MGM labels, Johnny wrote the arrangements, played bass and conducted on James Moodys 1958 Argo album, Last Train from Overbrook. That album was one of his last as a bassist as the demand for his services as an arranger, conductor and producer of jazz albums forced him to make these his main musical pursuits. Among the albums that Pate produced or arranged in the 1960s were Wes Montgomerys Movin Wes on the Verve label and Shirley Horns Travelin Light on the ABC-Paramount label, the latter of which also featured two of Pates songs: Have You Tried to Forget? and Yes, I Know When Ive Had It. Other Verve albums followed: Stan Getzs Didnt We?, Kenny Burrells Asphalt Canyon Suite, Phil Woods Round Trip, Monty Alexanders This Is Monty Alexander and Jimmy Smiths The Other Side of Jimmy Smith. In 1993 Johnny produced a second album for Smith, Sum Serious Blues, on the Milestone label that features the vocal work of Marlena Shaw.
Pate also successfully ventured into the rhythm and blues field at the request of record producer Carl Davis who wanted to add a new musical twist to his recordings of "doo-wop" groups. Johnnys suggestion was to add some brass to the backup arrangements. The first recording was of a tune titled Monkey Time by Major Lance that became a big R&B hit. The composer of the song, Curtis Mayfield, was the leader of the R&B group the Impressions. Mayfield was so taken by Johnnys arrangements that he asked him to do the arrangements for the next Impressions ABC-Paramount recording session. Pate accepted the offer and soon found himself working for ABC-Paramount full-time as a producer. In his own words: " all of a sudden now, Im doing rhythm and blues things that Im picking checks up (for) that look like telephone numbers and I wasnt getting these kind of checks doing jazz!" Johnny worked with Mayfield on a string of singles hits that included: Its All Right, Amen, Keep on Pushin and People Get Ready. Pate would later arrange, orchestrate and conduct all of Mayfields original music for the highly successful movie Superfly.
B. B. King signed with ABC-Paramount right around the same time that Pate joined the company, and Johnny soon found himself regularly producing albums for B.B. One of those albums, B. B. King Live at the Regal, is considered one of the greatest live rhythm and blues albums of all time.
Johnnys success in the R&B field was followed by film and television scoring projects in the 70s, the best known of which is the music for Shaft in Africa (1975). Pate also did the scores for the Shaft television series (1976) that, unfortunately, was rather short-lived. Other Pate movie scores include: Brother on the Run (1973), Bucktown USA (1976), Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde (1977), Satans Triangle (1978) and the original score for Bustin Loose (1980).
When Johnny finally decided to seek "retirement" in Las Vegas, he quickly found his good friend, Joe Williams, on his doorstep insisting that not only was he not retiring yet, but that he had several projects for which he needed Johnnys services as both an arranger and conductor. Williams was getting more and more requests to perform with symphony orchestras and Joe was adamant about having Pate as his conductor. From Johnnys arrival in Las Vegas until Joes passing in 1999, Johnny wrote arrangements and conducted for Williams on many occasions. He and his wife Carolyn also accompanied Joe and Jillean Williams to England for the recording of the CD Heres to Life with Robert Farnon. Included in that album was the ballad that Shirley Horn had recorded in 1965, Have You Tried to Forget? under its new title Someone Youve Loved.
Today, Johnny continues to produce music, but at his own tempo, and shares his great musical expertise with music students at UNLV where he now teaches. He is learning to like the game of golf that he plays faithfully every Wednesday and of greatest importance, he maintains close friendships with the artists with whom he worked through an illustrious career. The reciprocation of the love he has for these artists is evident in the presence of those artists on todays program. They are here for one reason: they truly love Johnny Pate.