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John Patitucci: The Gentle Soul

By Published: November 5, 2012
AAJ: Is there any difference in playing for others and playing as a bandleader?

JP: Band leading is something that took me years to get comfortable doing, because of all of the other things that are associated with being a bandleader that are away from the bandstand. For me, I just got back from a two-week tour with my own trio, and it was really exciting, and I loved it. But it is a lot more responsibility because I don't take a road manager with me. I do everything. I'm watching out for the guys, making sure all of the logistics happen correctly and that sort of stuff. So, it's a lot more responsibility when you do your own thing. I've also been playing in other people's bands for many years. In a way, it becomes a lot less stressful sometimes when you go and you just show up when it's somebody else's group and play, and you hang out, you relax and you do your thing. You don't have to worry about the logistics or anything. But, at the same time, it's a joy to get to play the music you've written. It's a big deal.

AAJ: What have you enjoyed the most about the music so far?

JP: I started going on the road when I was 19. So, I've already been out here a pretty long time, actually. It's kind of crazy because I started so young. But I am hoping also it will last, like a lot of my older musician friends, like Wayne, or look at Roy Haynes-he's 87. So he's still playing and traveling. That kind of thing is encouraging to me. So it's hard to say, but I guess being in groups that are really close-like, you know, I've been in Wayne Shorter's Quartet now for a while, this steady group with Brian and Danilo, we've been together now for, I don't know, 12 years-and that's a huge thing because not a lot of bands stay together anymore. It's difficult. It's hard to keep a band together sometimes, scheduling-wise with people, especially if they are very active. But with this, it's like a family, and everybody makes it a priority to do the group even if they are doing their own thing. So that's been one of the most exciting things I have ever been a part of.

AAJ: Wayne Shorter.

JP: He's a genius, actually and very sweet and kind, too, and funny. He knows everything about movies. He is just a brilliant man in a lot of ways. I'll give you little story. One time we were sitting there in his house, and I looked across the room, and there was a little sculpture of Nefertiti, and it was beautiful. I said, "Where did you get that?" And he said, "Oh, I did it when I was 20 or so." He did it! He sculpted it. And I was like, "You what?" [Laughs] I was freaked out. So there are a lot of things like that about him-an unusually brilliant man in a lot of respects. He has many gifts, and he has cultivated his gifts-a composer and orchestrator for large orchestras as well. He's maybe one of my biggest inspirations as a composer. He's great. He's always reading books or watching movies. He is wonderful with young musicians and little kids. He is one of those geniuses that are trying to get back to that real pure state that you have when you're a kid. He'll say stuff like "I want to play like I don't know how to play." [Laughs]

So he's pretty amazing in many, many, many respects. And we've known each other a long time. I've been in that band. I've known him longer than the others. I started working with him around 1986. I recorded with him on Phantom Navigator (Columbia) in 1987. I did a couple of tracks on that. From time to time, I would play gigs with him and his band. I was still a full-time member of Chick Corea's stuff at that point. So then when I stopped being full time with Chick in [around] 1995, I got in touch with Wayne because I would play with Wayne every once in a while; even during that time where my schedule with Chick was very full, I would still play with Wayne. Every once in while, he would call. And then when I left Chick finally as my main gig in '95, I called him and we stayed in touch. And toward the end of the '90s he said, "You know I'm putting together a group. Do you want to be in it?'' I said, "Absolutely, man. Are you kidding?" Then these last 12 years have been amazing.

AAJ: Was it a shock to you the first time you played with him?

JP: Yeah[laughs]. He was so deep. I remember playing, and when I was first in the band I was only playing electric bass because he was doing music from that record called Atlantis (Columbia, 1985), which was the record when he first came out as a solo artist from being in Weather Report and leaving Weather Report. That's the first solo record he had done in quite some time. Then when he did Atlantis, that would have been around '86, the band used electric bass. I remember because I played electric bass sometimes when we were on these tight stages, because I remember playing the Blue Note in New York and also in Tokyo. And he would play these unbelievable solos, and then he would turn to me and say, "Do you want some?" You know, "Now it's your turn." And I was like, "Oh my gosh!" I don't know how to play after that[laughs]. It was so overwhelming because there were no licks. You just played pure music. And I felt very immature when I tried to play after that. And it was a big moment in my life, actually. Because I had worked very hard to become fluent on my instrument, and I worked very hard to be a true improviser. And I felt like that was one of the strengths that I had. And next to him, I felt like an infant [laughs]. I felt like a little baby, like I had nothing [laughs]-really, really humbling-and it forced me to really rethink some things.

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