When Bob Dylan needed a genre-leaping keyboard great to provide supple instrumental accompaniment for his belated 2016 Nobel Prize acceptance speech-cum-lecture, the best person was close at hand.
Alan Pasqua, who in 2009 was named the Chair of the Jazz Studies Department at USC's Thornton School of Music, had toured and recorded with Dylan in the late 1970s. The two live about 20 miles from each other in Los Angeles.
"I did not know the text for Bob's speech, but I knew what it was for and was asked to record about 30 minutes of music, piano musings, nothing too specific. Luckily, I was free that day!" Pasqua recalled. More recently, he performed on "Murder Most Foul," the nearly 17-minute epic from "Rough and Rowdy Ways," Dylan's masterful 2020 album.
"'Murder Most Foul' is an incredible song and the lyrics have many references to jazz," said Pasqua, whose other recording credits range from Ray Charles, Santana, Cher and Trisha Yearwood to such jazz masters as Jack DeJohnette, Gary Burton, Michael Brecker and the late San Diego sax legend James Moody.
"I told Bob: 'This is like (saxophonist John Coltrane's 1964 opus) 'A Love Supreme!' He just kind of looked at me without saying anything, but it really is like 'A Love Supreme' to me. 'Murder Most Foul' is so profound and I get a lot of enjoyment out of making music with him. He transcends any musical genre. It's not rock, or folk, or pop. It's just Bob, man."
Transcending genres has long been a specialty of Pasqua, who on Monday performed a livestreamed Jazz at the Athenaeum concert in a trio with former Weather Report drum dynamo Peter Erskine and bass ace Darek Oles. Because of coronavirus pandemic restrictions, the socially distanced livestream gig was from Erskine's L.A. home studio, rather than from the Athenaeum in La Jolla.
"I've known Peter since I was 18, and we were college roommates," said Pasqua, whose most recent performance was March 9 with Erskine, Oles and saxophonist George Garzone at the Boise Jazz Festival in Idaho. "The lockdown was announced a few days later, so to be able to come back and play with the trio again will be joyful for sure."
Pasqua and Erskine shared a Best Jazz Instrumental Grammy Award nomination for their 2007 album "Standards," which also featured since-deceased bassist Dave Carpenter. Recorded at The Neurosciences Institute (now TSRI) Auditorium in La Jolla, the 10-song album was co-produced by Pasqua, Erskine and Athenaeum jazz program coordinator Daniel Atkinson.
Like the other albums they have made together, "Standards" showcases the seemingly telepathic instrumental rapport between the pianist and drummer. The two met at an Indiana University jam session in 1971 and became fast friends and collaborators. Erskine had been a fan of Pasqua's ever since.