of John Patitucci
FIRESIDE CHAT WITH JOHN PATITUCCI
I was first introduced to John Patitucci by a local lounge pianist named
Les Czimber. He raved about him for months to me before I finally gave
in and saw him. Good thing because Patitucci's bass playing blew me away.
I was floored. So I have been wanting to talk to John for some time now.
And when I got the opportunity, I jumped all over it. May I present unto
you, John Patitucci, unedited and in his own words.
FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.
JOHN PATITUCCI: Well, my older brother is a guitar player. We grew up
in New York at first. We were at first playing by ear. My brother was
taking some lessons. At first, I wanted to be like him. I always wanted
to be like him because he is three years older. I wanted to do everything
he did. I tried the guitar, but that didn't feel too good. He suggested
that I try the bass. At first, I had a little electric bass for a while.
For about the first five years that I played, I played electric bass only.
And then, when I was about fifteen, I was in high school I finally got
my hands on an acoustic bass, a double bass. What really wetted our appetite
was my grandfather, who used to work in New York at one point fixing roads
and things, working on crews fixing roads. He came home one day with a
box full of records that somebody had thrown out on the sidewalk in Manhattan,
which people often do when they are moving. They put their stuff right
out on the sidewalk. He came home with a box of records that had in it
Wes Montgomery records, Jimmy Smith's organ trio records, Art Blakey and
the Jazz Messengers with Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard. The Wes Montgomery
albums had Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter and it was just amazing that
all this music was just sort of dropped in our lap. We were amazed by
it. We had never really heard anything like it. That was just some of
the records. There was also Oscar Peterson, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band
record, the first one they ever made, and on and on. So that was my first
experience hearing it and being very excited about it, by that music.
And later on I heard Charlie Parker and Miles. So that was how I got into
FJ: What characteristics of the music drew you?
JOHN PATITUCCI: I think the feel that I got from listening to, I guess,
the first thing that really drew us in was Wes Montgomery. These were
some records that he had done in the early '70s, where he had done some
tunes that were, some straight ahead stuff and some stuff that was like
pop tunes that were rearranged in a jazz way. We were pretty young, so
those things grabbed us immediately. Also, just the feeling of the swing.
It was Ron Carter, Grady Tate, Herbie Hancock, and Wes. The feel that
they played with and the emotion and that intensity that is relaxed, but
at the same time moving forward. All that stuff sort of jumped out at
us. I'm sure we couldn't even explain it at the time. We were just sort
of reacting to it on an emotional level.
FJ: Did you take formal lessons?
JOHN PATITUCCI: Yeah, I mean, my brother was my first teacher. As he progressed,
he was the trailblazer in the family. He was the first musician. As he
started getting better instructions, he would pass on what he learned
to me. When I was in high school, actually, Fred, I should back up a little
bit. When I was in eighth grade, we moved to California and I started
going to school there. I met this guy named Chris, who was a great musician
in the Bay Area, had his own big band and he played with a lot of cats.
He was a bass player, played both instruments. He hipped me to a lot of
stuff. He was the one who got me to learn music. He was a big help. He
introduced me to Miles' records and a bunch of stuff. He really turned
me on. My brother and then he were my first teachers. As my brother started
studying classical guitar in college, he started passing along things
that adapted to the electric bass. And this guy, Chris, helped me get
started on the acoustic bass. I played a lot of jazz and started working
on my classical towards the end of high school. My first year in college,
I was a performance major on the double bass playing classical music.
I was also in the jazz groups too, but that was my major. I moved to the
Southern California area around '78 and spent a couple of years at Long
Beach State before I hit the road.
FJ: Let's touch on your extensive tenure with both Chick Corea's Akoustik
Band and his Elektric Band.
JOHN PATITUCCI: At the time, in the early '80s, late '70s, early '80s,
I was doing a lot of playing up in Los Angeles. Around '82, I was playing
with many people including Victor Feldman's trio and that's how I wound
up getting in touch with Chick. Chick used to have these Valentine's Day
parties every year. He had one at his house and he invited all these cats
to come and hang out and play some music. So as a member of Victor Feldman's
trio, there I was in Chick's living room playing for him. That's where
he heard me. From then on, he took an interest. He approached me about
doing some playing in a little chamber orchestra that was helping him
rehearse for some gigs that he was going to do in Japan with Keith Jarrett.
He was going to play a Mozart piano concerto by himself and with the orchestra
and then they were going to do the Mozart concerto in E flat, the double
concerto. That was the first thing he wanted to do, get people together
to rehearse with him. I did that and when we were at his house for that,
he said, "Do you play electric bass?" And I said, "Yeah, that is what
I started on." He said, "I'm thinking of putting together this group where
we use electric instruments in a different way." That was the beginning
of the Elektric Band. I joined him.
FJ: How long was your tenure?
JOHN PATITUCCI: Ten years. It was great. He encouraged me as a player,
as a composer, and got me my first record deal. He urged me to have a
band. I started having my own groups as early as 1987. He was a big supporter
of all that I was trying to accomplish and gave me a lot of room to expand,
not only on the electric bass but also on the acoustic bass.
FJ: That is a sensible philosophy as a leader.
JOHN PATITUCCI: His philosophy is great in terms of, what he does is he
picks guys that are already going the same way he is, like going in a
similar direction and then he gives them the space to grow and create.
Generally with bass players, I find that, to work with him as a bass player
is one of the most wide-open chairs in his group. He would just pick guys
and give them lots of room. I always got a lot of room when playing with
him, a lot of encouragement and we just hit it off.
FJ: Do bass players need room?
JOHN PATITUCCI: I think you can have room if you are disciplined about
what you play. If you're not disciplined and you're playing too much,
the bandleader is going to have to make more suggestions because the role
is really foundational. As much stretching out as I do, still, when I'm
playing within my group context or any group context, over the years,
you learn how to play simply enough to make things happen and not take
up too much of the space at the bottom of the music, so that the music
has a chance to have plenty of room in it to expand. If the bass player
is playing a whole bunch of stuff and not taking care of their role on
the bottom, the foundational part of the music, then there are problems
with the music. It handcuffs the other players. So you kind of have to
learn that. Now with Chick, I'd also gotten a lot of experience prior
to Chick, playing in studios and other things and so I learned about discipline
and editing myself. When I came into Chick's thing, plus I was a really
huge fan of his music, I was really dedicated to coming up with parts
that would make everything work. He helped me expand in the role as a
soloist. He helped me expand in that way and as a composer and in just
a lot of overall ways.
FJ: What did you prefer at the time, the Akoustik or the Elektric Band?
JOHN PATITUCCI: Well, Fred, I think they were both really enjoyable and
people always try to get me to tip my hat one way or the other.
FJ: And here I thought I was original.
JOHN PATITUCCI: (Laughing) Well, I am real reticent to do that. Although,
I can tell you that there is nothing quite like Chick Corea sitting at
an acoustic piano. He's one of the greatest that ever touched the instrument.
He's also great with all the electronic stuff. He did sound great in that
too, but there is something about the piano. I am a huge fan of the piano.
I have to say that I loved hearing him play the piano.
FJ: Is fusion good?
JOHN PATITUCCI: "A," the term is not good. The term is a lousy term that
became meaningless from people arguing and trying to figure out what the
hell it meant anyway. I don't know what it is anymore, the term. Now,
to me, the creative guys that started that movement that got branded fusion
with Miles, and Chick, and Herbie, and Wayne, and Mahavishnu Orchestra
and all those guys, I think that was very creative stuff, very interesting
stuff. The eventual watering down of that medium, where it became smooth
jazz or whatever, that is not good, in terms of something continuing to
be diluted and diluted and diluted. Some of that movement is distressing
to me when you have radio programmers dictating how music is composed.
That's dangerous for a creative artist in my opinion. I have no problem
with, I don't like saying one kind of music is better than the other.
It's really about who is making the music. What we're talking about is
pretty subjective I suppose. I can't blanket say that all fusion is good
or bad because there is a lot of terrible stuff and there is a lot of
good stuff. Also, the term became so meaningless. People tag that term
to all sorts of music. I'm confused to what that means anymore.
FJ: Your thoughts on your last album for the Concord label, Now, with
Michael Brecker, John Scofield, and Chris Potter.
JOHN PATITUCCI: Chris Potter is an amazing giant of the saxophone. He's
only like twenty-seven, twenty-eight years old, and he's a phenomenon
to me. He is also on my new record. He's playing with me some in my band
when I can get him. The two guys that I'm focusing on right now are he
and Mark Turner, in terms of tenor players that play my music. They are
both unbelievable and very individualistic, very different, yet fantastic.
Actually, on the new record, there is a tune where they both play together,
which is pretty wild. Now was a dream come true to me. I'm a huge fan
of John Scofield. I love John Scofield's playing. I love his writing.
I think he's an incredible musician. He played on a couple of tracks of
one of my earlier records and I enjoyed that immensely. We had bumped
into each other since I moved back to New York. We worked on this record
for Gary Burton a few years ago or something. I talked to him and said,
"John, I really enjoyed when we did that thing years ago. Would you be
open to doing some more with me? Play on a couple of tunes on my next
record." He said, "Man, I'd like to play on the whole record." I said,
"Wow, really? OK." That was sort of the straw that broke the camel's back.
I said, "OK, well, I've got to do this." I had been thinking about doing
something with him and also Bill Stewart, who I think is a brilliant drummer.
Michael Brecker is an old friend. We've been playing together for years,
so he's part of the family by now. I'm been using him here and there in
my band since '94, '93. That's what's happening. That record was a really
enjoyable record. I really had fun. The guitar quartet was a nice change
for me because most of my records have piano players on them and not an
emphasis on the guitar. That was a real blast.
FJ: Now has an interesting version of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps."
JOHN PATITUCCI: That was just me. I'm a big Coltrane fan. I thought it
was significant how if you listen to it, there is an old recording of
"Countdown" that Trane plays basically the whole tune with just him and
the drums. "Countdown" is even harder than "Giant Steps" to play, actually.
I wasn't ready for that one. Not that any of us are ever really ready
for "Giant Steps" either, but I had been working on that a long time.
I felt like, "Well, OK. I will put it out there and take a chance." I
decided that I would try to do it a little bit more like what I felt was
one of the ways that Trane heard those changes and that was with a solitary
voice over the drums. I thought, "Well, no bass player has ever jumped
in there in this way." So I gave it a shot and I thought the six string
bass would be an interesting color and a voice for that. I sort of view
that as my tenor.
FJ: And your latest recording on Concord, Imprint.
JOHN PATITUCCI: Well, this record, the reason why I call it 'Imprint'
is because Imprint to me, the concept of that is everybody carries around
imprints on their personality shaped by, not only their family, but also
experiences that occur in their lives, spiritual, philosophical ideas,
and values and things that happen to them in their lives that shaped them
in a certain way. They leave their little imprints on people. Well, music
has a huge hand in that in people's lives. People associate certain times
in their life with tunes, even people that aren't into jazz. Maybe they
like pop music and there is a certain tune that reminds them of a certain
time in their life. The reason why this kind of goes hand in hand with
what was happening was that we lost my mom last year. So I dedicated the
record to her in a tribute to what she left. That is what the record is
about. Now, the other thing is I've been fooling around with Afro-Cuban
rhythms for a while now. I've always sort of had my hand in, I did a Brazilian
record before. I did an African record before. I've always like rhythms
and the different flavors of music that comes from South America. So this
time I decided, "OK, I'm going to deal with some of this Afro-Cuban stuff
in the context of some of these guys that I had been meeting with and
playing with." "El Negro," Horacio Hernandez, this guy is an unbelievable
drummer. He's from Cuba originally, but he's been shaking up New York
for quite a while now. He's a great drummer, unbelievable. I wanted to
do something more with him. We had done a few things together. Giovanni
Hidalgo is the conguero on the record. This guy is one of the greatest
conga players to ever walk the planet. If you ask any of the real heavy
Afro-Cuban guys, they will tell you this guy is one of the, you can count
on one hand the guys that are in that class of playing. So I wanted to
do some stuff with those guys, but I also wanted to do some more stuff
with Jack DeJohnette, who I have gotten a chance to play more and more
with now that I moved back East. He's a phenomenal player, very strong
musician, so I had some music that I wanted to do with him on the record.
I have Danilo Perez again, from Panama, unbelievable piano player. We've
been doing a lot of stuff together with Roy Haynes in a trio. We have
a record coming out this year there too. So we had been getting together
and doing a lot of stuff. I've been picking his brain about some of the
rhythmic independence of Afro-Cuban music, as well as bugging "Negro"
too. And also John Beasley, who has been playing with me on and off since
I started having groups in 1987. This is out West. I wanted to bring him
back and do some stuff and in fact, Fred, he's in my touring group right
now again. Also, Mark Turner and Chris Potter, the tenor players, these
young men who are visionaries and who have their own sound in a time when
it is not easy to find your own voice. They've gotten their own voices.
They are amazing tenor players. Mark is doing most of the gigs with me.
He has a beautiful record out on Warner Bros. called Ballad Session. You
throw all these guys together, not only did we do the Afro-Cuban stuff,
but I wanted it stretching out and improvising and be more free in the
jazz tradition too. And then the other stuff is more opened up jazz where
Now left off and extending a little bit in different directions. That's
sort of where I wanted to take this record.
FJ: John Beasley is a heck of a player.
JOHN PATITUCCI: John's been around a long time. He played with Miles.
We used to play together with Freddie Hubbard and Hubert Laws. He's been
around a little bit longer than Chris and Mark. Our time playing together
stretches over a long period of time now.
FJ: Your wife, Sachi, has been on one of your albums.
JOHN PATITUCCI: Yeah, she was on One More Angel.
FJ: How lucky have you been to be sharing your life with another musician?
JOHN PATITUCCI: She's a very unusual person. She's brilliant in a lot
of ways. She's very intelligent. She is really very interesting. She comes
from classical music, but also did a lot of playing with singer/songwriters
and was interested in improvisation too. She has a rich cultural background.
Her mom is Japanese. She's half Japanese and her father was German/English/Welsh
or something. She went to the Eastman School of Music. She's well trained
and she loves all kinds of music. She is very open-minded. She loves jazz.
So it was interesting because she enjoys improvised music. Now, that we
have a daughter, my daughter is two years, two months now, and so the
last couple of years, she has done a lot less playing. She has been very
involved with my daughter, obviously. Now, that she is getting a little
older and we are starting to have some babysitters here and there, my
wife is starting to look towards to what she wants to do musically again.
Maybe between her and I, we can produce a record on her. Do it ourselves
FJ: Who is the better musician?
JOHN PATITUCCI: Wow, it depends on what music. I would have to say, I
can tell you a couple of things right off the bat. She can play the piano
too. She is a much better piano player. You can put a piece of classical
music in front of her and she can read it. I can't do that on the piano.
I guess I'm the better jazz piano player than she is, but you can throw
up some Mozart or whatever and sometimes if I want to work on a piece,
a classical piece with the bass, and it's a piece with piano and bass,
she can read through it with me, which is incredible. Unfortunately, if
it's a classical piece, I can't reciprocate (laughing). If it is a cello
sonata or something, I would be hobbling through the piano part. Piano
was her first instrument. That is one thing I can tell you right off the
bat. I have a lot of respect for her musical skills. Her ears are great
by the way. She's got a great ear. So I think for her, if she had gotten
into jazz as early as I did, she would be screaming on the cello in terms
of playing through changes as well. Unfortunately, she's come to that
a little later. She's working on that. That is just the next step for
FJ: Both of you have been through so much, how is fatherhood?
JOHN PATITUCCI: Wow, I think when you become a parent, I like to say that
it is one of God's greatest tools for making you grow as a person. It
shows you who you are in a very stark and harsh light. It exposes all
your lack of patience. It makes you prioritize your life. It's one of
the greatest joys that is possible on earth. I think, for me and my life,
it has been God's biggest tools for not only blessing me and making me
feel joy to the fullest through my marriage and through my daughter. It
is the thing that can give you the most joy and it is also the things
that can challenge you the most to grow up. If you start having kids,
you have to grow up. You have to be an adult now. I think a lot of us
when we are single, we don't quite realize what the ramifications are
until you have this little person who is dependent on us to help shape
their life, emotionally, spiritually, and give them all that love and
support. It really helps you focus and not be into yourself. That's a
big challenge to anyone. Anyone who tells you that parenting is really
easy for them and it's no problem, probably isn't doing such a red hot
FJ: Has she said, "Daddy," yet?
JOHN PATITUCCI: All the time. She's very advanced with her language skills.
She's talking a lot and she's already playing some drums. She is like
an arts and crafts girl. If she could paint and fool around with music
twenty-four hours a day, that's what she would do. She's got so much energy.
She wears us down, man.
Fred Jung is Editor-In-Chief and fan of Beetle Juice, the Howard Stern
Wack Pack character, not the movie. Comments? Email