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5 Ways to Play Like Organist Don Patterson

(Image credit: Future)

Don Patterson, the great American organist from Columbus, Ohio, is not as well-known AS Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff, but he has influenced countless jazz organists. Patterson started playing piano as a child and was influenced by the legendary pianist Erroll Garner. He later switched to organ after hearing Jimmy Smith in 1956. In the early ‘60s, Patterson made a series of acclaimed recordings with saxophonist Sonny Stitt and guitarist Pat Martino. This month I’ll present some exercises to help get Don Patterson’s sound into your own organ playing. For all of these exercises, tap on the note in the middle of the pedal staff with a flat foot if you are playing bass pedals, and use the setting 70. The left organ manual bass-line setting is 838000000 for all exercises. The right hand settings are given above each example.

1. Bebop Lines

Patterson was known mostly for his use of blazing fast bebop lines. He also often played without percussion, as heard in Ex. 1. Patterson is rumored to have played all of his lines with only his first three fingers, so try playing this example using that same technique. In the first two bars, we start with a chromatic embellishment of the tonic and then use the Dorian mode (GABbCDEFG) up to the ninth. Next, we have a few descending arpeggios, also from the Dorian mode. In the last two bars, we play notes from the Major scale (FGABbCDEF) ending on the ninth.

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2. Blues Like Basie

Example 2 features some shouty blues “stabs” in the style of the Count Basie Big Band. The drawbar setting used here is called “Half Fat” and sounds great for these kinds of chords. The bass line is a simple Ito-IV progression played by tapping the foot pedals. The chords alternate between Fmin7 and Gmin voicings in the right hand. These little harmonized riffs can be used over an entire blues progression, too. Think of them as a sax section playing background lines for a soloist.

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3. Right Hand Shakes

Ex. 3 has a Blues bass line and three different kinds of “shakes” in the right hand. All of the righthand notes come from the minor pentatonic (EGABDE) and Minor Pentatonic (GBbCDFG) scales. Try shaking from one note to the other in a lazy way. Also, don’t be afraid to smush the notes in the middle to get that authentic organ shmeer!

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4. Push ’Em In!

Ex. 4 takes cues from the great Patterson album Holiday Soul. Here we push all of the right-hand drawbars in, with the 4th out just a little. Put the 2nd percussion harmonic on with a long decay and normal volume. This is a great technique for breaking the organ group down after some loud tunes.

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5. 4-Note Chords

Patterson would sometimes harmonize his bebop lines with 4-note chords that take notes from the minor Dorian mode (CDEbFGABbC) and diminished seventh chords that are used on the passing tones of the top line. Ex. 5 is a little tough to read and has a few double flats so take your time. On Bar 3, beat one, we have an interesting Bb major 7th voicing with a diminished triad that silently hints at the regular tonic chord. The last right-hand chord is one of my favorite voicings, G13 #11 b9, which sounds super crunchy next to the diatonic shapes. Note that this example utilizes the “Silk” organ setting in the right hand, which sounds great for chords like these.

(Image credit: Future)


“When using the organ pedals, tap lightly so only the beginning of the note sounds. When you get more comfortable, you can try walking some turnarounds with your feet,” says keyboardist and composer Brian Charette, who won Downbeat Magazine’s “Rising Star Organ” award and recently released the album Once & Future. He also has a new book out entitled 101 Hammond B-3 Tips: Stuff All the Pros Know and Use. Find out more at

Listening List

Essential Don Patterson Recordings

Steady Comin’ At Ya


Holiday Soul