John Patitucci: Celebrating Jazz Heroes
"For me, it depends on the music I'm playing. I love them both. When I play the electric bass, like when I use it in my group, I use it with a jazz conception. I go for a darker sound. I believe you can swing on it too, although I use it for the other kinds of rhythms that we're doing ... It just depends on the music."
In school, studying classical bass, he didn't say much about his jazz leanings to his professors. "My teachers in college expected me to be an orchestral bassist. They were pretty angry when I left school ... I only went three years to college, and then I left. I went out on the road. I had to go in the direction I felt."
His first road gig was with pianist Gap Mangione. "From there, I played with Airto Moreira and Flora Purim; Joe Farrell; a bunch of the older Italian guys that came out to the west coast, like Frank Strazzeri, a great pianist; Don Menza; a bunch of different people." He was in Victor Feldman's trio and also played with Oscar Castro-Neves and Dave Grusin.
In 1980, he continued his career in Los Angeles as a studio musician and a jazz artist, doing album sessions with all kinds of artists in different genres. In 1985, Chick Corea came calling, and he spent a major part of the next decade with the pianist's bands, including the Elektric Band and Akoustic Band. "That took me all around the world and gave me an exposure that I never would have gotten, had I stayed in L.A."
"Incredible" is how he describes his time with Corea. "Brilliant composer. Brilliant pianist. Got me my first record deal [GRP]. Encouraged me as a composer. Encouraged me as a player. Really had a huge impact. Took me all around the world. People heard me play everywhere. I was able to develop a connection with a worldwide audience with Chick."
In addition to recording with Corea, he did six solo recordings for GRP before moving to Concord in 1996, also the year he moved back to New York City. He continued to be a busy bassist, performing with superior musicians like Jack DeJohnette, Roy Haynes and Herbie Hancock, and creating his own groups. In 2000, the legendary Wayne Shorter set up an acoustic quartet. He called upon Patitucci as well as Blade and Danilo Perez.
"Wayne is a genius. Flat out," avows Patitucci. "The nicest genius you'll ever meet, but he's nevertheless a genius. He's a musician of the highest level. I've learned a lot from being around him. I feel like I've been very blessed to be around him ... Wayne is a beautiful person. He's very generous, kind, very encouraging. He also encourages musicians to really stretch, take chances and grow. That group is such a family. So transparent and very connected in so many ways. It's just really, really, really lots of fun to be in."
So the bassist who was once perhaps headed for classical orchestra has made it to the top of the jazz world. And yet his open and expressive musical mind still hearkens back to the classical world and even genres beyond. "I still work really hard on that," he says about classical music. "I love classical music and I loved playing in the orchestra too. And I love chamber music. Now I'm doing more than ever. I'm writing commissions for classical music. I do different stuff. The last 15-20 years I got way back into it. I'm going to be 50 this year. When I was 19, or whatever, I walked away from those expectations.
"During the time I was playing with Chick, between '85 and '95, he was very encouraging about my bowing. He really liked the way I played with the bow. I started practicing that stuff as time went on. Then I made that record, Heart of the Bass (Stretch, 1992), which kind of inspired me to get back and working on the bowing stuff. From there, I started studying it again, working on my classical stuff again. It's sort of come around. It was my first music, anyway. I did develop a love for it and I did hear opera records around the house when I was a kidtenors like Mario Lanza. Later on, my dad was into Pavarotti."