Kristina Mascher-Turner: Jimmy, you have brought pleasure to millions of fans around the globe in more concerts than you can probably count. You’ve shown them that brass instruments can be the heart and soul of a rock band. How would you say this role has evolved over the course of Chicago’s history?
Jimmy Pankow: Historically, the role of the brass in Chicago's music was conceived as and continues as a main character in the songs. Essentially, the thrust of my arranging has been to create an alternate melodic voice, almost like another vocal, that weaves around and compliments the lead vocal, while also creating appropriate spots for instrumental step outs. This melodic brass approach has become a trademark signature in our music.
KMT: How do you, Lee, and Walt rehearse? Do you still meet for your own sessions together?
JP: The section typically rehearses with full band to determine the compatibility of the arrangement. When necessary, we shed the parts in the dressing room to test voicing and accuracy.
KMT: How has your approach to the trombone changed since you were younger?
JP: With five shows a week, each one being 2 1/2 hours of non-stop blowing (arguably one of the toughest books on the planet), the days off are welcomed! Before each show, to minimize swelling and improve flexibility, I'll do long tones and arpeggios ranging from pedal F up to double high F-preparing the chops for 'combat'! Several years ago, I suffered a split lip. The voicing is typically a trombone lead with the bone 'upstairs' most of the time. Hence the need to keep the lips well-lubricated. After shows, I often apply vitamin E oil and sometimes I apply ice to reduce swelling and heal the sore tissue.
KMT: With all the traveling you do, have you got a “survival kit” of items you absolutely must carry with you?
JP: My perennial travel companion and absolute necessity is my leather 'gig bag'. It's been with me almost 40 years and contains all my essentials-toiletries, reading and sun glasses, spare mouthpiece, pens and pencils, band aids, lip balms, wallet, phone, iPad, etc. I'd feel 'naked' without it.
KMT: How do you keep your sanity and enthusiasm while playing “Saturday in the Park” for the 40,000th time? A lot of concerts means a lot of repetition.
JP: It's a new and enthusiastic audience every night that creates the excitement around every song. Because of the rousing approval of the audience, it's like the first night every night! There's no greater adrenaline rush than hearing the roar of that crowd! And it surely eliminates any complacency with repetitive repertoire.
KMT: What musical projects are you involved with outside the band, if you have time for that?
JP: It's really personally rewarding (and refreshing!) to do side projects when time allows. The last couple things I arranged and performed (with a section) were tracks for Toto and for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Someday (if I ever have time!) I'd love to put together an ensemble to perform funk, jazz, and r&b, which I would compose. I would hand-pick the musicians and it would be slamming! Stay tuned!!
Photos by Ken Young - Creative Commons, Wikipedia (individual shot) and Peter C. Pardini (group shot).