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John Patitucci: The Gentle Soul

By Published: November 5, 2012
AAJ: In 1986, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences voted you MVP on acoustic bass. Still being very young, how does something like that make you feel?

JP: I was in Los Angeles, and I was there for quite a while; that was a very intense thing because I was very young and trying to fit in. The whole studio scene in L.A. was very political and very intense and very serious, and so many people were competing to get a chance to have jobs in the recording world because it was a very huge scene out there in L.A. And I always had kind of mixed feelings about it because I was very idealistic always, so I wanted to play with certain people, and I wanted to experience certain things. Sure, I also knew that if I got in the studios that I could actually make a living playing music, and I wouldn't have to do anything else. And that was also appealing. But I also had a huge love for jazz, and, you know, sometimes in the studio world, it wasn't all great artistic music. I had to learn how to develop the skill to do the best I could even if the music wasn't particularly trying to be very deep. You know what I mean? It's one thing to play on a car commercial. It's another thing to play in someone's recording of his or her original music. So I had to learn that, no matter what, I had to be honest and give as much as I could. That was my feeling. I wanted to really be strong and committed no matter what music I was playing and not look down on music that wasn't my favorite sometimes. Sometimes in L.A. there was this perception, "Don't tell them you play jazz." It was sort of like a prejudice against jazz in certain ways. Pop music and the movies were all the things that were financially important to the business people in L.A. Those were the things that got the most respect.

AAJ: Your three Grammys.

JP: Two for playing. One is with the Chick Corea Acoustic Trio; that goes way back. And another one in 2005, with the Wayne Shorter Quartet for Beyond the Sound Barrier (Verve, 2005). So those are the two playing ones. Then there was another one around 1987, or 1988, for the writing Chick and Dave Weckl and I wrote, a song that was best R&B instrumental of the year. It was light years away from that Chick Corea Electric Band Record. That was one of those things that they gave one statue to Chick and Dave, and I got little certificates[laughs]. I have two of them-little statues in my house somewhere. I don't actually have them out in the open. I sort of have them in a little thing. They're kind of up in a cabinet. We have a nice thing that a bassist made me years ago in California-really neat guy who was a really close friend. He was also like a phenomenal carpenter. So he made me this thing to hold like my stereo stuff in there, and also now we have dishes and glasses and home stuff in there. Then there's a little place up in there for a couple of Grammys[laughs].

To me, what means way more is having the many, many years of playing with these guys that were my heroes. You know what I mean? That means more than all of the Grammys in the world, really. Those 1960's records that I heard from Miles where he had Ron Carter, Tony Williams and Herbie Hancock, and then later Chick played with him, and Jack DeJonette and all these guys; I know them and have worked with them for many years now, and they've inspired me so much. That, to me, is really exciting. It's wonderful to get an award, and people appreciate what you do, and they like it. But playing with these guys, that is like-it's beyond what I can even say.

AAJ: A higher recognition?

JP: Yeah! Those are the guys I feel like they inspired me and gave me the excitement and the desire to get into the music and really grow, you know? And then they became my friends, which is a huge blessing.

AAJ: Are you more of a musician than a composer?

JP: That's tricky. Hmmm. I think sometimes it's a really tricky conflict in life because I know that if I played less and composed more, I could probably get better at composing than I do. Now I am always working on practicing to be better playing and also working on my craft as a composer. Part of me says I can't do that. I have to do both. I could never stop playing. You know? I think that was my first calling. I think composing came afterwards. But at the same time, composing has become very important. I do a lot of classical stuff now, too. I write a lot of different kinds of music. I love composing, but I think I have to have a dual calling. You know what I mean? Do both. I have some composer friends, and that is all they do all the time-is write music. And I feel like my craft as a composer isn't as strong as theirs because they devote all of their energy to that; but I am trying to learn as I go as much as I can and just keep pushing the level upwards. There's only so many hours in a day, so..[laughs]. And when you have a family and all these other things, it's a big challenge. That's kind of how I feel about those two different things.

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