“Panichi is really one of Australia’s best players. His sound is powerful and intense – filled with conviction – you can hear New York in it” – Jasmine Crittenden, Drum Media.
JK: How did you first get interested in playing music and what were some of your early inspirations?
DP: When I was almost 8 my best friend Richard Brett joined the Bankstown Police Boys Band. When I turned 8 a month later I joined. He quit after six months and I am still at it.
JK: How did the trombone become your instrument of choice?
DP: At 14 I started studying with Harry Berry, who conducted the Burwood Brass Band and was the James Morrison of his time, having a huge range on the trumpet and trombone. At that stage I was a soprano cornet player. After a while Harry suggested I try the bone. Within three months or so I was better on bone than I was at soprano cornet after six years of playing. The next year I turned pro.
JK: You started playing professionally at a very young age – at only sixteen. How was that experience?
DP: In ‘75 I was in fifth form in high school and heard about auditions for a tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, auditioned, got the gig and promptly left school. I was 16 and making more money than either of my parents ! It was a heady time. Peter Cross and Murray Hill were in the band. I heard them sit in at jam sessions at Muso’s Clubs in New Zealand when on tour and decided to learn to improvise.
JK: After you won a scholarship in your early 20s you took off to New York to study composition under the guidance of a number of musical greats. Tell us about that time in your life.
DP: In ‘81 I left for NYC with Graham Jesse and Michael Bartolomei. Got lessons with everyone I could, studying with brass players, improvisers like Dave Liebman and Hal Galper and studying composition with Ludmila Ulehla, who was head of Composition at the Manhattan School of Music at the time. She was excellent at helping you shape a piece. I wrote a trombone sonata and a brass quintet under her. I did the Eastman School of Music Arranger’s Holiday course in ‘81 with Ray Wright and Manny Albam and won the Duke EIlington Memorial Scholarship, which paid my tuition for the ‘82 course. I also had two or three lessons with Bob Brookmeyer after the ‘81 course thanks to Manny Albam, who had told Bob about me. Bob had just moved back to NY after leaving LA and getting sober. He refused to let me pay him and absolutely turned around my entire concept of composition in those two or three lessons. The next year wrote Manhattan at the Arranger’s Holiday Course. A few months later I got into Buddy Rich’s band and we recorded Manhattan in ‘83.
JK: When did you realise you had a real talent for composing and arranging and how has that played out during your career?
DP: When I was 16 or 17 I wrote a chart or two for the Daly Wilson training band – one of Alfie (the Burt Bacharach tune), and a transcription of a tune called Pressure Cooker from an album called Thelma Houston & the Pressure Cooker. The Daly Wilson band played Pressure Cooker when I joined when I was 17 or 18. I got a huge buzz from having the DWBB play my chart (even though it was a transcription and not my tune). I travelled to the US for the first time in ‘97 to enrol at the Berklee School in Boston and studied harmony and arranging a little while there. After returning home from Boston I spent two or three years studying composition with Bill Motzing. He gave me an incredible foundation in the basics and all of my subsequent teachers commented on how good that foundation was. Roger Frampton was another great teacher for me. He really knew how to teach chord scale theory and how to apply it. Hearing your music brought to life by a great band has to be one of the greatest thrills in this profession. Having Buddy’s band play the @#$% out of Manhattan every night was such a high. I felt validated for moving to the US. I was playing with a better band than we had back home and they were playing my music every night. I felt like I was right to move there – I was having experiences I couldn’t have back home.
JK: You spent some two decades in the US playing with a remarkable list of jazz and soul artists. Who amongst them really stand out?
DP: Whilst with Buddy I played with a lot of people who became lifelong friends and were hugely successful. People like Lee Musiker, Mike Davis, Walt Weiskopf, Dave Carpenter. Toshiko’s band of ‘85 or so was another killer band – with players like Brian Lynch, Jay Anderson, Walt Weiskopf (again), Jim Snidero, Conrad Herwig, Matt Finders. Frank Wess of Basie fame played lead alto. I subbed (depped) a lot on Maria Schneider’s band during her residency at Visiones and loved hearing the solos of people like Tim Hagans, Rich Perry. After that I was on Bob Mintzer’s band with Tim Hagans again, Mike Davis my old section mate from Buddy’s band, Jay Anderson, Roger Rosenberg, of course Bob (Mintzer) himself, who has such a beautiful sound. While with Buddy we played for a lot of great singers – Sinatra, Mel Torme, Joe Williams, Nancy Wilson, Tony Bennett and Sarah Vaughan. Sadly we were rained out of an outdoor gig with Ella Fitzgerald. In the ‘90s I also did a couple of gigs with Aretha Franklin – she sang everything you’ve heard her do on record plus played a beautiful gospel version of He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother on piano. I was on Blood Sweat & Tears twice, first around ‘87 or ‘88 for a year and then in ‘97 for six months or so. The ‘97 band was very good. My buddy Jon Owens played some incredible lead trumpet. The book went up to high A and I don’t recall him ever missing!
JK: What have you been doing since you returned to Australia in 2000?
DP: I have been doing a lot of teaching, studied for a Masters and three years of a Doctorate. Formed my septet, big band, the Groovemeisters and organ trio. Played with James Morrison, SSASBB and Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra.