Organ trios and funky rhythms: The Philadelphia roots of Vince Ector
He grew up in South Philadelphia where his father would take him to see organ great Don Patterson at Dino's. Drummer Vince Ector would study hard, and it paid off, with performances or recordings with Freddie Hubbard, Randy Weston, James Moody, Jimmy Heath and "The Mighty Burner," Charles Earland, among many others. Vince's new recording with The Organatomy Trio+, Live At The Side Door is a scorching live date, showing Vince's performance versatility. Recently he chatted with me about his career path, and his ongoing work with Arts for Kids.
Don’t sleep on this one. There's an Organatomy Trio+ release performance April 16 at SOPAC in South Orange, N.J.
Watch our conversation here:
Gary Walker: Today, we're gonna take a trip. You don't have to pack your bags, but we're gonna take a trip to Philadelphia. We're gonna talk to one of Philadelphia's own, a fabulous drummer who grew up in the sounds of brotherly love around Freddie Hubbard, Randy Weston and the Heath Brothers in South Philadelphia. But for Vince Ector, it didn't start in South Philadelphia. It actually started in West Philadelphia. We're gonna talk to him today about some of those early times when his father would take him to a place called Dino’s and drop him off and wait for him while he went in and enjoyed the organ of Don Patterson. I bet you still remember those days, don't you?
Vince Ector: I do. I can see it just like it was yesterday. It was amazing.
Talk about that, man. What was the feeling? How old were you?
I think I was about eight or nine years old, and I remember the steps. They had steps, so I thought about it later on. They actually had to carry the B3 up the steps to get up there. Amazing. Maybe 30 steps.
Now, was that the place that kind of looked like an old house?
Well, that was Morgan's, that was another one. I'll give you that story. That's a Charles Earland story, but not as many steps. I guess that was a common denominator in Philadelphia and some of these real joints is that you had to actually go upstairs. Maybe someone can fill us in on that. Why was that?
But sometimes and we're talking about going to see Don Patterson and many times it was just a duo. It was Don Patterson and Bobby Durham.
Exactly. That's who was there that day. It was just Bobby and Don. Wow, if I had understood the significance of that at the time, I probably would've ran out of there screaming for my life. It was just incredible to see.
Well, I think over the years you have understood the significance, considering that the cat we're talking to here has done work with Freddie Hubbard, Randy Weston, Houston Person and Gloria Lynne. I remember those great nights at the Priori with Charles Earland and behind the drum kit making it smoke with the Mighty Burner with Vince Ector. He's got a brand new recording out that was captured live at a place called The Side Door in Connecticut. And we're gonna put it front and center here as we chat about Organatomy Trio+. We're gonna talk about the plus too, because that's also an integral part of something that means a whole lot to Vince Ector. Talk about this recording and how this trio came together, and then we'll talk about the plus.
It's funny. Right before the pandemic, I had a recording out called Theme for Ms. P. This was 2019 and we were building up a lot of steam with the recording. We were getting a lot of plays and we started getting some concerts.
And you were also getting play at home because your mom, that's Ms. P. The record was dedicated to your mom Pat.
Exactly. Everyone that knows my mom knows Ms. Pat. My mother was the secretary of the local elementary school where I grew up, and most of the children and then their children and then their grandchildren in the neighborhood. So there are probably some folks listening now that have grandchildren that actually attended McDaniel School, where my mother was the secretary for 30 years. She was known as Miss Pat. I just couldn't call her Pat. So I substituted the P for Pat and she said that was fine. My mom really liked it and we're getting a lot of steam on it. We decided, hey, let's run some concerts and see what happens.
We'd already been working for quite a bit and the frontline was Bruce Williams, Pat Bianchi and Paul Bollenback. We had a gig at The Side Door on January 6, 2020. Unfortunately, Bruce had to have a procedure done and he's a busy person like I am. So he said, “Look, I'll get this done over the holidays, but unfortunately I'm not gonna be able to play for a few weeks.” He called Justin Jones, who was his student at Juilliard. He had graduated already. Justin learned all of the music. I think we had one rehearsal and we did the concert not knowing that it was actually going to be recorded.
So fast forward into the pandemic, I'm sitting at home like everyone else depressed, and everything is shut down and it's just a mess. And Ken Kitchings emails or calls me and he says, “Listen, we recorded that night. I wanna send it to you. Let us know what you think.” So he did and I sat on it for another two months maybe. I finally started listening and I realized that we could do something with it. I held it for almost the whole pandemic. I just procrastinated. Should I do it? Should I not do it? I’m trying to write new music. Everything is coming out really dark and sad. I said, “No, we gotta stop this now.” I decided, “Let's just edit it down.” Because, as you know, Gary, the live recordings, they're pretty long. No one's gonna play them. We have to chop them down. So this recording, there's no mixing. It's straight to the board. We only edited the timing down, so we eliminated a solo here and there. It's just as if you were there that night. There's no additions, no changes, no nothing. Thank you, Ken, for sending that. You actually saved us from the pandemic with it.
The new recording is yourself and Justin Jones, Paul Bollenback and Pat Bianchi. Paul, Pat and you have worked together for quite some time. People may have the misunderstanding though that Vince Ector is just an organ drummer. Well, go to his first two records. They didn't even have an organ on the records and go even beyond that to his training period. There were various schools involved. He left and then went back to William Paterson. We'll talk about that.
You know, Keith Jarrett told me that his biggest form of training was playing at weddings because people would come up and ask for things and you never knew what they were gonna ask for. Well, for you, it might have been a stint in the Army in Texas, Fort Bliss. Now don't confuse that because you know, there ain't no bliss in the Fort. But when the musicians got out and played various things, and it'd be all kinds of things like weddings and ceremonies and all that, you always had to be on your toes and know what you were gonna play. That diversity had to serve you well during your time after, don't you think?
Absolutely. We played polkas, I did marches. When I graduated from basic training, I actually played a change of command ceremony a week later. Then I went back to the same basic training area to play the graduation for the next class as a corporal. So now I'll go from a PFC to a corporal, which is an NCO. When my drill sergeant saw me, they almost leveled me. They couldn't believe it. “What are you doing with stripes, huh, Ector?” A long story short. I go back, play another change of command ceremony. Lock my knees on the bass drum and pass out. So I wake up 20 minutes later and I'm on my back with this huge bass drum in front of me. I never did that again, but it was a learning experience. But again, polkas, marches, parades, jazz combo, concert band, just about anything. It was a great opportunity. My only regret is that I didn't stay longer because I signed up for a reserve option. They extended my orders as long as they could, and then I had to leave. But if I could do it again, I would've stayed there for quite some time. It was a beautiful time.
Sounds like it, man. It does provide that diversity that is necessary in many cases to be a working musician. Because it's not a jazz gig every single day of the week. Sometimes it's other things that you gotta be doing, and you gotta be prepared for them when you consider you wouldn't play the same for a Randy Weston or a Charles Earland that you would for a James Reese Europe performance. And you've got one of those coming up with TK Blue in April, I believe.
Your daddy was a piano player and had some pretty decent friends in the world of piano playing, Barry Harris being one of them.
Barry was his dear friend. Every time I would see Barry, he would look at me and he said, “Your dad played just like Bud Powell.” Can you imagine that, I mean, coming from Barry Harris? I think what happened with my dad, he came to New York at a time when everyone was here. Can you imagine if you played piano and Monk is here, Barry's here, like everyone is here. I think he might've decided that it was a little too much and he was always a family man.
On this new recording, Organatomy Trio+ Live at the Side Door, the very first track on the album is “The South Philly Groove.” That's an original of yours, but talk about the South Philly groove.
South Philly is a place that has a little bit of everything. One of the things that they had was Charles Earland, whom I met indirectly through his niece, who was my pediatrician's secretary. Every year from the time I could remember going to the doctor, she would be at the front desk and she would say, “Uncle Charlie has a new recording out. I know you play drums.” Every year. “Uncle Charlie has another one.” And she would give me recordings and it went on and on and on. One day I got a phone call from Charles Earland. “Hey, Hector.” That's what he called me. “Hector, I heard you play drums. Do you wanna do this gig with me up at Morgan's in Germantown?” Of course, I'm there. The thing about Morgan's is that they didn't have drums and it was on the third floor, not the second floor. I would take my red Premier drums at the time with the 22-inch bass drum and as drummers know that's a huge bass drum. I would carry my stuff up to that third floor and I got to play with Charles Earland. Then he just kept calling and the rest is history.
Now let me ask you the obvious question because I helped a cat in Chicago once lift a Hammond B3 up on a stage and it threw my back out and it still goes out every now and then. And that was almost 40 years ago. Did you have to help carry the B3 up all those stairs?
Thank goodness, no, because as a drummer I was there two hours before they even thought about bringing that B3 up the steps. When I got my drums up to the top, I just stayed there. I didn't show my face until showtime. I knew better.
I get it. You also paid tribute to a guy we referenced earlier in our conversation today, and that's Don Patterson with a piece of his called “Sister Ruth.”
Don was the fabric of the town at the time when I was coming up as a child. I think he might have been the first organist that I actually saw live that day at Dino's. I think he was the first. He made a real impression on me and I had covered “Aries” previously in one of my recordings. Most people know Jimmy Smith and they know others, but Don Patterson was very unique. He was on Muse Records for a long time.
He was here in New York and back and forth, but he's somebody that I felt was kind of overlooked. Not too much, but some folks didn't really know who he was. I felt it was an opportunity to put that out there. I thought he did a lot in such a little time. He died really young. I wanted to pay tribute to him as well with these recordings. We actually chose to do another one. I think it might have been at Pat's suggestion because Pat is a big fan.
That's great that you paid tribute because you look at people like Don Patterson, they're like Sonny Phillips, for example. Those are names that for some reason have been horribly overlooked over the years. You picked a tune here made very popular by the Delfonics. “Love Won't Let Me Wait.” You know who was in the Delfonics? Christian McBride's daddy Lee Smith was a bass player with the Delfonics for a long time. Mongo Santamaria and other people too.
I didn’t know that. It's funny because my frame of reference was always the Major Harris version. I didn't even know that they had recorded that. I guess it had to be prior with the Delfonics. So that's an interesting fact. Christian's dad is a great bass player. We had worked quite a bit together when I was living in Philadelphia, so shout out to Lee Smith.
Philadelphia provides such a strong foundation. I went to a 50th anniversary party for Ray Bryant in Philadelphia and everybody got a t-shirt. Right? And the t-shirt was a picture of Ray and Benny Golson and John Coltrane, and I forget who else when they were teenagers. They had like a garage band together.
You know what's funny? The Heath Brothers lived around the corner from my grandmother's house where my dad grew up. My father was closer to their age. My father was born in 1931. My mother is much younger. They all kind of went to the same schools at different times and walked the streets together. The community in South Philly I just wanted to tag onto the part about Charles. I mean, it encompasses so many people, the Heath brothers. You had Mickey Roker there. It’s funny, I was able to see him before he passed because I was hired for a concert across the street from his home at a park, which was never a park, it was always housing. My dad used to take me by Mickey's house. He was his best friend, and he would stand outside of his house and shout “Grandville,” and Mickey would come out and say, “Shh, don't say that too loud. I don't want people to know my name.” I remember those days. To see him sitting out there on his step when we pulled up to play that concert, it was something that was a full circle moment for me. I miss him dearly. He was like a second father to me.
That kind of support when you're starting out, after you got out of the service and stuff, it would be, “I'll come to New York, I'll run outta money, I'll go back to Philly.” So back and forth and back and forth was, which you can imagine folks, I mean, is its own tension convention. How did you work through that as a musician?
Man, that was tough because I did that back and forth. Run out, go back. Fortunately, I was at a point in my career where I was getting better because when I was in Philadelphia, I came up playing R&B and funk music, so I didn't really start playing jazz until I was 19 or 20 years old. I mean, really playing it. I played with my dad, but it was kind of under duress. He would play tunes and I would want to play funk bass with the thumb and plucking and slapping, because I also play bass. It was kind of a childhood protest.
By the time I got to New York, I think I was about 27 or 28, I was starting to really develop. I was able to come back and still work. So it was good. I would come to New York, really get challenged, and then go back to Philly and then play, and then come back to New York. As you know, Gary, during that time, I came in 1994 or so, every gig was a week long, so I had enough time to make a few dollars and stay. Then go around and try to see everyone, which is where all the money went, of course. And then run back to Philadelphia and kind of recoup. That went on until I decided to come permanently.
Well, the scene was such because you had Smalls, you had Bradley's, we still got Smalls, but you had big bands that would come together. You know, Jason Lindner for example. Early on you hooked up with those guys and through all those guys, you met other guys. You met other guys. And that's how you do it, you network. Does that kind of communal experience exist today, in the year 2023?
Woo. That's a tough one. It's funny, I mean, I can't really speak for the generation that I was, and that exists now for the 20-year-olds or 30-year-olds. But it seemed to me that during that time it was really special, because there were so many guys that were really interested in just being together and playing. We didn't have Instagram, we didn't have Facebook, we didn't have Twitter. There's no Netflix. So you had to really go out and show your face.
By showing your face, even if you didn't decide to play, you heard so much music at a high level, and it was humbling. Then you would go home and practice. It's a little different now. You get to do it virtually. I can't really speak for them, but as far as my generation now, we still see each other and we get together, but maybe we should have something really big. Maybe one of those really significant festivals that you guys used to have. When I came here, you guys used to have a festival. That's when I met a lot of people. I think it was at Newark Symphony Hall. Do you remember that, Gary? Maybe 1994?
We had an ongoing series, but we also had our jazzathons that would run up the Village Gate and other places. That would be like 18 to 24, sometimes 36 hours of live music. You reference the 90s there. When you come to New York, you got to see Billy Higgins. You got to see Tony Williams. You got to see Elvin Jones. You got to see all these cats that were the idols of rhythm.
I think more importantly, I got to feel them through my body. When Art Blakey would play Sweet Basil, you felt him through the floor and it just went through your bones. You can't get that in a video. I think that's important too.
I remember seeing Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers when the front line was Terence Blanchard and Donald Harrison up at Mikell’s up there at Columbus and 90th. Here I am sitting and here's Art Blakey. You talk about feeling. It’s something I'll never forget.
You said R&B and funk were a big part of who you were. There's a track on here, “Renewal Revisited,” that kind of reminds me of the soundtrack of Shaft in a way. It's got that funky thing happening, doesn't it?
Yes, it does. That's the plus. Because with this “Renewal Revisited,” I always said to myself, this needed what we used to call this a shacking guitar. Guy would ask you, “Can you shack?” And that's that strumming that you hear Paul doing. Now Paul's from Baltimore, but he might as well be from Philly. He has that. I said, “This cut needs that.” So I called Paul Bollenback and I said, “I need you to record a couple tracks. Remember the Theme from Ms. P?” We did half with the trio and we did half with the plus, and we added that guitar. Now, fast forward to the live record, we're supporting that recording, so of course we're going to do that. When I heard it, I said we have to include it because it had really developed. That's the plus—that guitar. That was a guitar style that I grew up in, and that was prevalent all over Philadelphia when I was coming up. If you couldn't read music and you could shack, you can work. So it's a big deal.
Shack, I love that. On this new recording Live at the Side Door is “Wives and Lovers,” a tune by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. We just lost Burt Bacharach. Talk about that tune. Where did you first hear that and how did that tune influence you?
I'm a big Burt Bacharach fan. His tunes lend themselves well to our style of music, which is jazz. I decided I'm gonna do a Burt Bacharach tune. That wasn't the only one. I've played a few different ones. But when I was coming up, this was what was on the radio and of course, Dionne Warwick, whom I love. I have to admit, I'm a pop music fan, so it was easy for me. If it has a good melody, I'm interested. Burt's tunes really lend themselves well to recording in this style. I decided, let's just do that one. There's a few more. I'm not gonna mention it because I might do that on the next project, but we’ll see. In any event, Burt is the soundtrack of some of our lives, to be honest. I have an older sister, so my sister used to have a lot of records that I didn't necessarily purchase. And I would take them.
We got a tune on here too that Vince wrote for his sister called “Dex Blues. I take it that she’s a big blues fan.
She loves the blues. Dex is her nickname. She was married and her name was changed from Ector to Dexter. So we call her Dex and it kind of stuck. Hopefully, she's listening. Hi, Dex. In any event, she informed a lot of my development musically because I would take her albums. I guess I'm admitting it on the air now, , but she had the New Birth, she had a bunch of Burt Bacharach. She had things that I wasn't necessarily ready for, but I was able to access through her collection. I would borrow a few and that's where the Burt Bacharach came from.
Later on, of course, that kind of re-imagination was apparent all the time with Charles Earland. “I Love You More Today Than Yesterday.” And “The Way You Make Me Feel.” Even Michael Jackson. He would go after it and, and go after it in the right way, man.
I really attribute that to growing up in Philadelphia. We just never separated styles. Like people say jazz, blues, funk, hip hop, R&B, whatever. For Philadelphia musicians, it's just everything because we had to play everything in order to survive. Singing groups, funk bands, jazz organ trios, quartets, big bands, anything. You had to be ready for that. And you'd be surprised. I mean, there's a lot of really accomplished artists there that can play styles that you would never guess.
When we talk about something like that about playing this and playing that, that is also the way to approach the arts in general and it moves my line of questioning here to something else that is extremely important to you. And that's the Arts for Kids program that kind of is a sense memory for you when you think of Mr. Carr and GAMP, which was a big influence in your life coming up as a little kid. It's a place you used to go and you were introduced to all kinds of different types of music and art forms, and now each teach one. You're doing the same thing with your program Arts for Kids. Talk about that.
That's correct. So Arts for Kids was something that my wife Karen and I started in our apartment at the time in Paterson. We started to go out and work as teaching artists. What a teaching artist does is they go into the school and they present their art to the classroom, not as the teacher, but just a visitor, what we call a teaching residency. It's not limited to music. Dance, drama, visual art, technology, coding, robotics. It goes on and on. However, we started to see that a lot of the really good artists that we knew who could do that work weren't doing it. We wanted to give them an outlet to actually go in. What's good about it is you can do this for a limited period of time. You can still tour and travel. You can still work on your fellowships if you have one. You can do it within your schedule. The plus side of it is actually that the kid gets to see someone that looks like them teaching the art form as a professional. Not necessarily thinking that they're going to become this artist, but it's going to impact their lives in a positive way. That was our goal in the beginning and we just kept it going.
Fast forward to the pandemic. We're sitting around and we're sulking about the world and watching too much news as everyone else is. We started writing grants again, we're both skilled grant writers and before you know it, we're writing these grants, we're getting grants and we're putting artists in spaces virtually during the pandemic, which scaled us up. Today we’re statewide, so we're going from Paterson to Camden right now. We have programs in seven counties of New Jersey. We used to be in New York City a lot and I think we're gonna redo that. But what happened was that the work actually shifted to New Jersey and it just became so big that we decided to consolidate our efforts here in the state.
What is the age range, for people watching this?
Right now we go pre-K through 12. We do a lot of early childhood work. We have a lot of middle school. Right now we're just about all over the place. We have a few high schools now. Mostly we're in the middle and elementary. But elementary, it changes according to the area of the state that you're in. So concentrated three to sixth or seventh grade, a lot of that. But we also have the early childhood as well. To be honest, Gary, we're all over the place. We're everywhere we can go.
The primary school kids, they are the hardest to fool. That kind of keeps you on your toes and keeps that syllabus together, that you can apply it to all the age groups. Now, for you it was GAMP. What does GAMP stand for?
Girard Academic Music Program.
Mr. Carr, talk about him.
He’s Dr. Carr now, I understand, but he's still Mr. Carr to me. His name is Jack Carr. Jack Carr was a friend of my mother's. My mother, as I stated earlier, was a secretary and I guess he used to pass by her office a lot. He might have been working at McDaniel as a music teacher at some point. I was very young, so when he came and started that school, I was in the third grade. He knew I played music and he asked my mom, “Would you like him to come with me? I'm starting something new.” In my mind, I'm thinking he's probably the beginning of one of the first charter schools in Philadelphia because we fundraised. At first we were in a church basement, then we were in an armory, and then they finally got their own building. I decided to go to Central High School. I guess I wanted a real high school, but I'm glad I went, but in hindsight, it was something special that I didn't quite grasp the way I should have.
He was a trailblazer and I think our organization is based around that: Going into these spaces in a way that's not traditional, but having an impact. Now I'm way over my age limit. I'm not gonna say how old I am today, but these many years later, I'm still talking about this man that had an impact on my life in the third grade. It really mattered. I think that's what guides us now, catching the kids young and really making an impact. Whether or not you're gonna become an artist, it doesn't really matter, but you see these people that care about you. He would bring in teaching assistants. I remember them coming in from Temple University. We would go there on Saturday and take classes and just involving the community as a whole. College students, parents, friends, family… We would go to his home and have these retreats. It was amazing. There's a legacy there and we try to keep that going. I'm trying to do that here in my own life.
We're chatting with Vince Ector about his Organatomy Trio+ album Live at the Side Door. But you can go in the front door and see them live for yourself. During the month of April, they're going to be at Porta on Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair on the 13th, and then three days later on the 16th, they're gonna celebrate this new recording, with a performance at SOPAC in South Orange, N.J. You got a whole bunch of other stuff lined up in the months ahead. You can find out more about everything he's involved with at vinceector.com. What a treat to chat with you here today. Final question. You're in your car. Karen's probably with you and you're driving down the road. Where are you going and what are you listening to inside the car?
Ooh, that's a good question. We go to a lot of places. Let's say, we’re in the car and we're going to Montreal. We like to drive up there sometime. We’re listening to you, of course. Let me tell you, we listen to jazz, we listen to pop. We like 80s R&B. We like 70s R&B. We like older pop music. Sometime we listen to talk radio, just a little bit. It's weird because we're not limited. I could just press a button and she's fine with it and so am I. We are really like chameleons when it comes to music. We listen to everything and I'm hoping that folks can hear that in my own music. I don't like to just put everything into one category. You're gonna hear a lot in what I'm putting out. So to answer that question, it could be anything.
I know there's a lot of singing going on because I used to see Karen perform in front of her own groups from time to time. Just marvelous, man. I always loved what she did. You know, looking one generation down, some people call it DNA. I think in Vince Ector’s world, it's DNE—Do Nothing Else—because his daughter Mikaili is also a very accomplished musician. What's she doing these days? And what about Melody?
I'll start from the top. Since Melody is the oldest, I'll have to talk about her first. Right before the pandemic, we went to see Melody perform on Saturday Night Live, which was a dream, something that I had never done. It was the Thanksgiving Saturday Night Live episode with Will Ferrell that featured my daughter performing with King Princess. So we went down and we saw her and we took these pictures Then they do it twice. I asked Melody to come down and see the house band rehearse because I knew that Steve Turre and Ron Blake and the guys were in that band and they were gonna be dealing.
So I said, “Listen, why don't you come down early, I'll meet you there and just see what they do because you need to see this.” And she did. She was on tour, she was tired and she came down and she did it. They do the show once and we watch it there. Then they do it again. And we go home and watch it. So that's what she's doing. She's touring with pop artists. She's living in LA along with Mikaili. They're roommates now. Mikaili is actually going back to school. An alto saxophonist, she was here at William Paterson for a year and studying under Vincent Herring, which was great. She got an opportunity to do that. She decided to go to LA because she's selling what they call beats and she has a manager now.
So I said, why don't you just go out there and just stay with your sister and make music? So that's what they're doing, Gary. They're making music in LA and we are here FaceTiming them and pushing them on. It’s a really beautiful thing to see. I'm really proud of them.
It's a beautiful thing to be around. Vince Ector, he had Mr. Carr. Christian McBride, he had Lovett Hines growing up in Philadelphia. The young folk today because of Arts for Kids, they have people like Vince Ector. And how would the young people get in touch with you about the Arts for Kids program?
Yes, we have a site, it's www.artsforkidsinc.org You can find us there. We're on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram at Arts for Kids Inc. Please reach out to us. We'll see if we can make something happen for you. We do have a community page there as well, which will let you know about events that are going on around you that might be free, that might not necessarily involve us, but that we feel that they're accessible to the community. We're a community-based organization and we want to promote that as well.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.