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John Patitucci: Celebrating Jazz Heroes

By Published: September 7, 2009
He adds, "I've also been involved heavily in ethnic music, like Brazilian music, African music, Afro-Cuban music, music from Venezuela, music from all over. It's exciting to me."

He's built a solid career and a solid following, earning respect as being one of the top on his instrument, and as someone who can fit into all kinds of situations and make it work. He's a complete musician.

"I've taught a lot of bass students over the years," he notes. "The two things that are most important, for any musician playing any kind of music, are your sound and the rhythmic feeling you play with. How vibrant that is and how it's supposed to make people feel good—the rhythm. You have to a powerful rhythm—a rhythm that's very confident and relaxed, but strong. Joe (Lovano) is a classic example of that. And then sound. Your sound, when you play for people, even if they don't know anything about music, the thing that they're reacting to is your sound—whether it's a beautiful sound, whether it draws them in. And also your time feel ... Those are the things I want to work on and make deeper."

Keeping a career moving is easier said than done in the topsy-turvy music business climate. Talent must be coupled with the requisite hard work. Patitucci writes instructional music books. He is associate professor of jazz studies at City College of New York, "so that I have health insurance and all that. Also, I love teaching. It gives me the opportunity, now that I'm turning 50, to not have to say 'yes' to all the road things. That's the tricky thing as you get older; if you have a family (he has a wife and two daughters). Travel is necessary, if you're a jazz musician and you want to make any kind of living, because America is not the place where you can gain the most acceptance and earn a living playing the music. You have to go to Europe and these places where people place a little bit more value on what we do. You have to hustle and be industrious and have a bunch of different ways to make things work. That's what I do."

And there's uncertainty in the record industry to cope with, as well as how to come to terms with difficult changes that the internet and new related technologies have brought to the arena. "The business of records is kind of crazy. I don't even know how to describe what it is anymore, especially with all the burning and stealing of music that happens through the computer. The computer is a blessing and a curse for our music. In a way, you can reach lots of people. But I tell my younger students—they think it's great to burn and do all this stuff—but when you write your music and you do your records, you're never going to get any royalties," says the bassist.

"The younger generation thinks that music should always be free. Which is a wonderful idea, but how do the composer and the musician make a living? If they can't, then the music goes away. Then where's your music? Would you call a plumber and have him come to your house and expect it to be free?" he says, chuckling. "That's just the reality of it, putting it very simply. It's going to negatively impact the young musicians who are using that. They often do that because maybe money is tight. They're going to college. They're big fans of the music. They wind up burning a bunch of stuff. It's become common for everybody to do that. But there will be some repercussions that are definitely not positive. There already have been.

"The positive side is, some guys are doing their own records, financing them and promoting them themselves. Theoretically, they'll get to keep more of the bread that they make when they sell one. It's just the distribution problems and all that. It's not so easy. It's tricky ... (But) that's a good thing if they can manage to save some money and put up the money up front; they'll do much better in the long run from the recordings. I guess, also with promotion and the internet, you can reach a lot of people. Hopefully."

However, it also feeds into a situation of oversaturation. The amount of CDs out there now for people to hear is tremendous. Many can get lost in the shuffle, ignored by being overwhelmed by the sheer volume. "More people are making their own custom records. I get kids coming up to me at my gigs, handing me their CD. They're so young, yet they've made a CD of their own already. There's good points to that and bad points. The good thing is they're getting experience doing it, and they're going to learn a lot. The first time they go and record their music in a studio, that's a learning experience that will change their lives. On the other hand, if you go in too young and you're not really ready to make a CD, what you're giving out is a business card, or whatever, that could potentially come back to bite you if you're not that developed yet. People will go, 'Well, OK,' and that indifference toward a musician or group can be something that sticks."

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