Bassist Pat Senatore has played with some pretty big names in jazz and pop--Stan Kenton, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, Les Brown and the VIP Trio with pianist Cedar Walton and drummer Billy Higgins.
There's little doubt in Senatore's mind that his shining hour was as the proprietor/house bandleader/chief bottle washer of Pasquale's, which from 1978 until it closed in October, 1983, was one of the Los Angeles area's best-known jazz rooms.
"There isn't a day that goes by that someone doesn't come up to me and say how much they miss the club and all that," said Senatore, 54, of the club that was perched on Carbon Beach in Malibu, just south of the Malibu Pier. It has since been reopened as the Pier View Cafe.
Asked what he most misses about the club, the answer was easy: "The music." "Man, I don't think I really understood how great it was there," he said. "I was hassled by so many problems. I wish I had that scene now, because I'm more into playing and learning, though I learned by playing with those great cats every night."
Pasquale's--Pasquale is Senatore's given name--was a special place. The oblong room that seated about 150 people had glass walls--with doors that opened--on the western and southern faces and a deck that overlooked the beach a few feet below, giving customers an oceanfront view. When the doors were opened, the ocean breeze would waft in, providing an exhilarating mix of heated jazz and cool winds.
Opened by Senatore and his wife, Barbara, in early 1978, Pasquale's quickly became a favorite with the public and the musical community. Senatore--a native of Newark, N.J., who attended the Juilliard School for two years--felt this happened not only because of the room's spectacular atmosphere, but because he insisted that the music be given top priority.
"Pasquale's was a bona fide jazz club," he said. "The whole reason for the place was the music. Too many clubs feature other things. You have to spotlight the music first, and everything else is an embellishment.
"I remember one night after we'd first opened and there were only two people in the room and they got up and started dancing. I yelled over the microphone, 'There's no dancing in this club,' and our only two customers left," he said with a laugh.
Soon customers were there by the hundreds. Often, they could be seen lining up outside the club's front door, eager to hear such jazz notables as pianists Chick Corea, George Cables, Roger Kellaway and Alan Broadbent, saxophonists Joe Henderson, Joe Farrell and John Klemmer, singer Willie Bobo and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. And on sunny days, crowds would gather on the beach below the club, listening to the sounds that wafted out.
As successful as Pasquale's was for the Senatores--who ran the club mom-and-pop style--the room was also a source of seemingly continual problems, often caused by the weather when people couldn't get to the club. Heavy rain closed Pacific Coast Highway on many occasions, putting an additional financial strain on Senatore, who was operating on a five-year lease from Ishmael Barrera, who owned the land and building that housed Pasquale's.
When Senatore's lease expiration approached, he attempted to negotiate a new one, but Barrera wanted to carry him on a month-to-month basis. "He wouldn't budge or negotiate," Senatore said. "And the room needed some work, but there was no way I could do that without some guarantee that I could stay, so I closed on October 23, 1983.
"It was a magic spot but the obstacles after a while turned it into a nightmare. I was fighting with everyone."
Senatore continues to look for a club site, and feels that the only way to control an operation is to buy the building. "Then you don't have to worry, you're in charge." He says he has a couple of irons in the fire, but nothing he wants to talk about.
Music is what's occupied Senatore in the years since Pasquale's. Going back to being a free-lance bassist wasn't easy at first for the soft-voiced, quick-to-smile Senatore, but it's gotten better. "People didn't know I was available," he said, "but now the gigs are coming in pretty steadily. And I can say that since January, most of my income has come from jazz gigs."
For more than four years, Senatore, who can be heard with the VIP Trio on "Standard Album, Vol. I & II" (California Breeze), has been part of the Pat Britt-Wilbur Brown quintet, an energy-filled be-bop-based jazz unit that plays Sunday evenings at the Cat and Fiddle Pub and Restaurant in Hollywood. "It's become such a part of my life that if I didn't do it, I'd feel like something was missing. It's always a ball," he said of playing with the band led by the two vital saxophonists that also features pianist Dwight Dickerson and drummer Clarence Johnston.
Brown, who while living in New York from 1960 to 1970 played with such premier jazz men as trumpeter Kenny Dorham and with the renowned Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, in turn has solid praise for Senatore. "Pat is an excellent bass player," he said. "I can trust him. When he tells you he knows the song, he knows it. He's not going to play the wrong changes. And he's got a feeling for the music. Like they say, 'stay within yourself'; well, he does that. He's not out there reaching for something that may or may not exist. I can see how Herb Alpert liked him, I can see why a lot of people like him. He's a musicianly guy, the kind of guy you like to have around."
Drawn to music as a child, Senatore began five years of violin studies at age 5--"I hated it!"--and then quit, picking up music again at Newark's Arts High School, where he played baritone horn, then trombone, then string bass. At first he was a fan of the great Woody Herman trombonist, Bill Harris. "We had a two-story house and I used to stand at the top of the stairs and play this one tune of his, 'Everywhere,' over and over," Senatore said. "Those stairs were a perfect echo chamber."
Toward the end of high school, Senatore switched to bass and after graduation, worked for a while before applying to Juilliard, where he went on scholarship. He had to play an audition before six musicians, including cellist Pierre Fournier and Fred Zimmerman, who was then the principal bassist with the New York Philharmonic. "I was so nervous, my knees were literally banging into each other. I thought surely I'd flunked. . . . I asked Zimmerman what happened and he told me they had an allotment for nine bassists and only seven had applied. 'Your timing was right,' he said," Senatore recalled with a chuckle.
In 1960, with two years of basics from Zimmerman under his belt, Senatore headed for the West Coast, where he was soon working, first with unknowns such as Eddie Grady and the Commanders, then with the big guns such as Kenton and Les Brown. In 1964, with the latter, he traveled to Southeast Asia and Korea, as part of Bob Hope's annual Christmas tour for the members of the armed services.
Senatore will always remember his tour of Vietnam with Brown. "We played in places where there'd be so many soldiers, you couldn't see them all," he said. "And they were so appreciative of us being there, I felt like I was contributing in my own little way. And after the initial shock of being there, what with the bombs and the gunfire and the curfews, it wasn't any problem."
The bassist hit the big time, monetarily at least, when he joined trumpeter Alpert's Tijuana Brass for a five-year hitch in 1965. "That was a good gig," Senatore said. "I figure I made over $250,000 in five years, and that was back then. And at first the music was a ball because it was all new. It was nice to have a certain kind of reaction to your playing. The music wasn't the kind I wanted to play, but we had fun with it and I got to travel the world." (Alpert offered a melange of pop tunes played with a Mexican brass band flair.)
Looking over his varied career, Senatore said, "I don't have any regrets. I started out wanting to play jazz and that's what I'm doing now. I'd just like to get a little more exposure but maybe that will happen. Really all I enjoy is playing that big piece of wood. It's a gas."