Jazzoula runs Mon., April 16, through Fri., April 20, at St. Anthony’s Parish Center. 6:30 PM nightly. Visit Jazzoula’s Facebook page for ticket and schedule info. Bob Packwood performs Thu., April 19, followed by a Hall of Fame presentation.
When pianist Bob Packwood is inducted into the Jazzoula Hall of Fame this month, you may wonder whether there was a particular jazz composition or performance that might have put him over the top. If there was, to hear Packwood explain it, it’s almost certainly music that you will never hear.
“I spend hours every day [playing music] that I’ll never play in public,” he says. “I play classical music and I compose electronic music. I’ve spent thousands of hours on that stuff, and it’s enormously influential on any music I play. But that’s just part of the process.” In order to wrap your head around the idea of the importance of music you’ll never hear, it helps to take a step back and look at what brought Packwood to the upper echelons of musical greats who call Missoula home.
Since he was introduced to the piano at age 6, he says, it’s been a nonstop ride. Packwood was still in his teens when he became a full-time professional musician, and the work took him all over the U.S., playing all kinds of music — jazz, soul, rock, even country. By 1988, he’d established himself well enough to be invited to the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. He spent the next 15 years in New York City, where his musical life took an exhilarating turn. He began playing, recording and partying with a veritable Who’s Who of Americana. The Yayhoos, Hank III, Steve Earle, Jim Lauderdale and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel are just a few of the roots-rock luminaries who recognized Packwood’s innate ability to call up just what was needed from the piano.
“I’d found my own voice and I think that’s the main thing,” he says. “I was hired on all those records to play because I had my own music and my own voice, and people found value in that.”
Through a gig playing with Basil Donovan, the original bassist for Blue Rodeo, he wound up touring with the Canadian roots-rock giants, which gave him the opportunity to play with such luminaries as Neil Young, Kathleen Edwards and Garth Hudson. The country-rock and folk songs he played wound up coloring his own style, and his broad palette has served him well. It helps, of course, to be playing alongside world-class musicians.
“Everybody in the session is a great musician and they all have their own voice and they’re playing great music—it’s just magic,” he says. “If you’re playing on great songs, the songs tell you what to play.”
When the time came for Packwood to record his own compositions, he chose to return to Montana. It’s Missoula, in particular, that has captured his heart.
“I’ve never lived anywhere that fits my artistic soul the way Missoula does,” he says. “The genius freaks end up in Missoula, man, and I love them. I feel like I’m around the wizards and the priestesses and there’s just a heightened creative atmosphere that’s very inspiring for somebody like me.”
Packwood considers Rockin Rudy’s owner and Jazzoula founder Bruce Miklus a key contributor to the cultural landscape and credits him with helping to pump Missoula’s creative juices by letting his freak flag fly.
“Bruce has made magic in this community for decades,” Packwood says. “He’s created this thing that’s lasted 14 years now, and it’s so supportive of the creative musicians in Missoula.
“You just look around you and people are alive,” he adds. “They’re awake, and they’re doing shit. They’re passionate and they’ve just got it going on. I love it.”