Courtesy of John Patitucci

Concord Records


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 it.

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 or whatever.

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 her.

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 job.

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 him.