John Patitucci: Celebrating Jazz Heroes
Speaking to All About Jazz in August 2009, Patitucci was in the middle of a week-long gig at Dizzy's Coca Cola Club in New York City with Lovano and Blade, playing a lot of the Remembrance material and more. "It's been amazing," he notes, "drawing good crowds each night. With the trio, we don't just have the music on the recording, but we can access a lot of different things. We can even play an entirely improvised set, if we want, because Joe and Brian are so great at being improvisers that there's always room to explore a lot of avenues."
He adds, "It's an interesting format. I'm always curious to see how people receive the music when you have a trio with no traditional chordal instrument involved. On a couple occasions, you have the six-string bass playing sort of chordally. There are no traditional-sounding chords being played. So it's interesting to see how people respond to it. It's a very contrapuntal and very linear expression that results when you do that.
The trio is also playing at the Monterey Jazz Festival (Sept. 18-20) in California. But his mates are so busy with other projects that it's hard for Patitucci to get them. Nonetheless, he continues his trio gigs this year with other fine musicians, including Marcus Gilmore on drums. On sax, John Ellis and George Garzone will do some gigs. Fine players, all. Patitucci himself has a variety of other projects he's involved in, as well as doing gigs this fall with Shorter's quartet.
He's come a long way from being a kid monkeying around with the guitar in Brooklyn. He was following his brother's lead on guitar, but didn't take to it well. He was left-handed, trying to play right-handed. He didn't have the patience for learning that way. "My brother said, 'Try the bass. This way we can play together and you can use your fingers on your right hand to play it.' So I tried it. It felt great. I had a little electric bass first. I started that when I was about 10. Before that, I had some percussion instruments. I had some bongos and maracas, and I sang. Everybody in our family sang. By the time I was a little bigger and could hold a big bass, I was about 15in high school, where I had access to an acoustic bass. I started playing that as well and really enjoyed that too. I embarked on a path where I did both, and that was what was happening."
His fondness for the bass grew the more he played it. "It's not only the catalyst for the musicit's involved with every aspect of itbut it's also it's the crossroads of the harmony, the rhythm, melodic elements, the shape, the counterpoint of the music. All the aspects of the music come together with the bass," he says. "You're connected to the harmony, the melodies. You're supporting all the music. You're sort of the foundational bulwark. It's rhythmically amazing because you're part drummer, part chordal instrument, in a waybecause you're still involved in the harmony. You change the bass note, it changes the chord.
"You're involved in an instrument that's absolutely essential to the music. The layman might not understand all that, but if you take the bass away, I think most people would feel something missing. Anybody who listens to musicwho's not just casually listening, who's involved in checking out the musicthey'd notice it. There's also a very visceral thing about the bass. It's really physical. I love that. You feel like you're involved in every beat and every bar of the music. It's not an instrument where you play the melody and then you stop and wait for somebody else to do something. You're in every bar, every beat."
Patitucci eventually moved to the West Coast and studied classical bass at San Francisco State University and Long Beach State University. While studying, he was also into jazz, playing gigs as he could find them. His major influences, he says, include Ron Carter, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland, George Mraz, Eddie Gomez, Oscar Pettiford, Jimmy Blanton, Wilbur Ware, Percy Heath and Buster Williams. "I love those old recordings of Henry Grimes with Sonny (Rollins). There's a long list. I know I'm probably leaving out some important people."