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John Patitucci: The Gentle Soul

By Published: November 5, 2012
AAJ: What is it about classical music, from your point of view as a jazz musician, that actually attracted you?

JP: Well, I think for me it was more of a cultural bond because my family is extremely Italian, and I grew up hearing opera in the house- records of great tenors singing opera-which had a profound impact on me as a musician, and even my identity as a bassist, and my desire to always sing on my instrument. Plus I sang a lot, too. And I love that music, so it was part of my culture. It was inescapable, in a way. So it was a big part of who I am and also very, very organic, I would say, with me. And also because of Chris Poehler, my teacher-he furthered that connection when I was getting ready to go to college. He said, "You really need to study classically." He said, "It would help your playing. It certainly will help you play the instrument better, but there is a lot of music that would inspire you." I was a Classical double bass major. I studied Bach's music in counterpoint class. I had theory and all that. I think because jazz, harmonically, is a very sophisticated music, I think there is a tie with the harmonic tradition of European classical music. But it is also mixed with the harmonic ideas that came with jazz music, too-you know, extending the harmony in different ways. So that's tricky, a hard question to answer, in a way, but in another way it was very organic with me because of being Italian.

AAJ: Tell us more about your Italian roots.

JP: Well, all the family is from the poor regions of the south. That is an old story in New York Italian culture because most of the people that came to New York were from the south-the part of Italy that was struggling the most with poverty and stuff. So the Patitucci side of the family is from Torano Castello. It's a very small hill town, which I visited last year for the first time in my life, and they made me an honorary citizen [laughs]. I took my father-my mother is no longer alive, so I took my father-and his new wife, my wife and kids. It was very emotional. I played a big concert there. So my Italian roots are very important in my family. I was raised with the cooking. The culture was very strong. My grandfather came when he was about 16, on a boat to the new world. My grandmother, his wife, was also from the same place, Torano Castello. I think they met here, though. And so, that side of the family is from Torano Castello.

For my mother's side, you have to go back to the immigration that happened in the 1800s, towards the latter end of the 1800s. They were part of the families from Naples, and the other part was from Padula, which is near Salerno, which is not that far from Naples, either. So the cultures were very powerful. The cuisine was very strong; in fact, I cook, myself, too. I can make handmade ravioli. I love to cook. I have a great appreciation for Italian wine. I was raised in maybe a stereotypical fashion. Food was a pretty high priority in my family [laughs]. All those things were part of it. I'm also an espresso nut. I love the culture of the music. I love Puccini. I have the same birthday as Puccini. I love all kinds of music. I love Vivaldi's music, too. There are a lot of things about the culture that I feel very strongly connected to. And I speak some [Italian], too. Even though my father- his father didn't really want him to speak Italian, he wanted him to learn English. My Dad understands quite a bit of Italian, but he doesn't speak much. He speaks a little dialect from the south. My grammar is not so great, but I get by pretty well in Italy.

AAJ: You are also known to be a very kind man.

JP: I appreciate that. But I think, for me, it has to do with my faith. That's the most important thing in my life. God requires a certain kind of expression. If I say that I'm a Christian then I have to walk as closely as I can in the footsteps of my King. And Jesus is my King. So I feel like I have to really live it. If I tell people that that's what I believe and I don't live it, then I'm a hypocrite. So I'm trying the best I can to do this, and it's very important. I mean, my brother is a pastor. And uh, you know, I work. I am an elder at a Presbyterian church out here in New York; we're actually trying to plan a new church in my town. It's the way you treat people and the way you talk to people. The way you express yourself in this life is important to me. I am trying to live a certain way. And I know I have my limitations. I know that I am like anybody else that is a human being; we have our flaws, and we have our problems. The other thing, too, that helps me keep me straight and on track is that I have an amazing wife and two daughters. And when you're a father, it is a very humbling experience. I have two super-power little girls-they're not so little anymore. They are 14 and 11. But they have a lot of energy. And they are also very smart. So the times when I live up to my faith, and when I'm walking the way I talk, they receive that. They resonate with it. But if I am not, they will tell me about it[laughs]. Yes, they are powerful little ladies.

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