By Chris Burnett
It is always helpful to have a mentor available during one's life and career as a working professional musician. The subject of this particular musing is my oldest brother, Richie Pratt, a life-long musician, composer, and great human being. He is one of those unsung heroes, who have probably been heard on countless recordings or sessions, but no one knows their names - and that fact doesn't bother him in the least.
Pratt is the quintessential jazz musician, a person who is sincerely at peace with himself and others in the world around him. Music is his life and life seems to parallel his music, as much as it is necessary for him to breath air in order to live. His career and adventures in music to this point should also provide encouragement to others of us as well.
About Richie Pratt
When Kansas City area native, Richie Pratt embarked upon a career as a professional musician on the New York scene in the early 1970s, it was as much due to unanticipated intervention as anything else.
Pratt was born to a musical family and raised at Olathe, Kansas. He studied music and attended various music camps during his formative years as a youth. Eventually growing to around 6'2" and a muscular 300lbs, he attended the University of Kansas under a full four-year scholarship to play varsity football.
During his football career at KU, Pratt was a starting Tackle (KU All-Time Letterman, 1963-65) on the Jayhawk football team (blocking for NFL Hall of Fame running back, Gayle Sayers)! However, Pratt never stopped playing music. He also performed as a percussionist in the jazz, wind and orchestra ensembles while attending KU.
Upon leaving college, he was initially drafted by the New York Giants professional football team. In 1970, Pratt suffered a career ending knee injury prior to the start of his second season with the Giants and left football for good.
New York Scene
His professional tenure as a musician in New York actually began while he was employed as a Host at the famed Village Gate. Richie began sitting in with Jaki Byard and word began to spread about the big guy from the Midwest who played drums. The legendary bassist, Major Holley eventually invited Pratt to "jam" on Sundays at Jacques; which resulted in Junior Mance hearing him play drums and offering him his first "paid gig" as a drummer in New York.
Initially described in the New York press as a "bubbling cauldron of musical vitality," Pratt has added musical diversity to his cauldron by performing with the American Symphony, the Joffrey Ballet, Alvin Ailey; in the Broadway hits: "Ain't Suppose to Die": "Dude"; "Raisin"; and notably, Pratt was the drum soloist in Broadway's smashing tribute to Duke Ellington - "Sophisticated Ladies"!
In the traditional Jazz arena, Pratt spent over three years as a member of the New York Jazz Quartet, which included Sir Roland Hanna, Frank Wess, and George Mraz. Pratt has also accompanied Billy Taylor, Milt Jackson, Milton Hinton, Frank Foster, Monte Alexander, Michel Legrand, Lionel Hampton, Benny Goodman, and Benny Carter among others.
The lightness and sensitivity of his drumming has enhanced such legendary vocalists as: Nancy Wilson, Aretha Franklin, Marlena Shaw, Barry White, Melba Moore, the Temptations, Della Reese, Johnny Hartman, Carol Sloane, and Johnny Desmond as well.
Richie Pratt now resides in Honolulu, Hawaii where he is active on the music scene as a performer and composer. Again, I say thanks to Richie for graciously giving time to this article and answering the interview questions below.
CHRIS BURNETT: Why did you choose to be a musician, how did you start performing, and particularly why did you choose to primarily play jazz music as a professional?
RICHIE PRATT: Growing up in The Kansas City Area, which is a culture conscious community, was the biggest influence in my choice of music profession. Although private study was not available until I attended The University of Kansas Music and Art Camp the summer between my junior and senior year at Olathe High School, music was something I wanted to do for a living.
God answered my prayers by bringing people of influence in my life. OHS Music Director Warren George who made it possible for me to attend Music and Art Camp at The University of Kansas and OHS Football Coach Dick Martin who made it possible to have a Four Year Full Football Scholarship at The University of Kansas. During my college years, I performed with concert band and orchestra. Also, played rock and pop music with four-piece band of students around town.
Jazz was the music most often played in our house. Like all music, it took me to a special place spiritually. The drums communicated to me. I knew this is what I wanted to do the rest of my life. The challenge was how to get there. Divine influence interceded creating a myriad of fortuitous situations.
CB: After having such a prolific active performing career in New York City for 20 years, why did you choose to relocate to Honolulu?
RP: I chose to relocate to Honolulu due to economic problems our country was having during the late 1980's. Gigs were diminishing and politics were increasing.
While sitting in my apartment on upper west side Manhattan pondering my future, I had two choices. I could stay in New York City be depressed and freeze or move to an area which would assuage the anguish of a starving artist. I saw Hawaii the first time during a USO Tour consisting of theatre group from The University of Kansas. From that time, I fantasized how I could live in that environment and play my music. To be based out of paradise would be ideal.
CB: Obviously, fame and fortune seem not to be the primary motivators for you as a musician. What factors have kept you motivated for all of these years, and actively developing your craft as both, performer and composer?
RP: My music is a gift from GOD. It is our special connection. At first I wanted to be recognized as a "World Class Musician". However, music is the size of the universe. I want to keep growing as an artist moving toward the boundaries of the universe.
CB: What goals do you still have with your career, and what type of artistic legacy do you hope to preserve as an artist?
RP: My artistic goals remain the same. KEEP GETTING BETTER. I strive to preserve the integrity of the arts as a musician. Without the arts, the world would be amenable to iniquities.
CB: You have already recorded with many high profile artists. Are you interested in recording as a solo artist or being associated with a recording label?
RP: Yes, the above is part of constant growth.
CB: What advice would you give aspiring and younger musicians, in terms of maintaining a viable career like you have over an extended period?
RP: Focus on your craft and refuse to be denied.
CB: What current projects do you have in development?
RP: Currently, I am working on new music for a recording project and pursuing financing of same independently or via qualified interest in my work from a major record label.
Official Website: RichiePratt.com