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John Patitucci: Celebrating Jazz Heroes

R.J. DeLuke By

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As sayings go, "One man's trash is another man's treasure" is pretty straightforward, especially for those enamored with garage sales. For lovers of jazz music, it may hold a bit more significance, for it played a fateful role in the life of one of today's superlative artists in the genre.

John Patitucci is one of the finest bass players in jazz. A mainstay of the Wayne Shorter quartet for years, he's also blessed the world of music by augmenting the art of folks like Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, B.B. King, Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker, George Benson, Dizzy Gillespie, Natalie Cole, Queen Latifah, Sting, Carly Simon, Joshua Redman, Freddie Hubbard, Tony Williams, Mulgrew Miller, and many more.

But in the 1960s, young John and his brother—both into music—were investigating sounds of the day: Motown, Eric Clapton with Cream, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles,The Rolling Stones and other outfits from the famed British Invasion. Hey—it could have gone another way. Some things are inevitable, like Patitucci's immense talent. Who knows? But at times in history, seemingly minor things have resulted in twists of fate that have had major ramifications. Ask Mrs. O'Leary about her cow.

Whatever one's faith is in such, the road for the young Patitucci brothers was altered one day: "What happened one day was that my grandfather, he was fixing roads in Manhattan for a while with crews, with a jackhammer and all that," recalls the convivial and warm-hearted bassist. "Somebody comes out of their place in New York and they put boxes in the street that they wanted to get rid of. It was a box if records. My grandfather said, 'Wow. Can I take these? I have grandsons that are into music.' So he brought them back. It had all this jazz music in them: Art Blakey, Oscar Peterson, Wes Montgomery, Ray Charles' Genius + Soul = Jazz (Impulse!/ABC-Paramount, 1961), which had Roy Haynes on it. All these people. The first Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band recording called Solid State (Solid State, 1966).

"They were new and different. I think the Wes Montgomery album helped us come in because it was guitar, and we had been listening to all this music that featured guitar. And here's Wes playing blues and jazz—bebop oriented stuff on the guitar, but with such an amazing rhythmic feeling that he really grabbed us... But the Art Blakey record called Mosaic (Blue Note, 1961) was in there. That killed me. It freaked me out. I couldn't understand it, but I loved it. That had Wayne Shorter on it, Freddie Hubbard, Cedar Walton. Incredible record. And obviously Genius + Soul = Jazz—that killed me. That was so soulful. 'I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town'—classic Ray Charles stuff."

It was his first exposure, and headed him down a path of investigating improvisational music. While he studied classical music in college, he grew to the point where he was doing jazz gigs on the side. He eventually left school and went on the road. The road has led him to today, where he stands as one the examples of excellence both in and out of jazz. The multi-dimensional Patitucci also writes classical music and dabbles in ethnic music.

The latest addition to his enviable resume is a new, adventurous and enticing recording Remembrance (Concord) with Joe Lovano on sax and Brian Blade on drums, each also masters of their respective instruments. There's some assistance from his wife, Sachi Patitucci, on cello and Rogerio Boccato on percussion. It's an outstanding documentation of dialogue among inspired musicians, on songs written by Patitucci in celebration of some of his musical heroes—among them, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Alice Coltrane Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard and Michael Brecker.

That's in the wake of a fine Jack DeJohnette trio recording which he was a part of, Music We Are (Golden Beams, 2009) which includes Danilo Perez.

The seed for Remembrance was laid down years ago. Patitucci was developing his Communion (Concord, 2001) album that included Lovano, Blade and pianist Brad Mehldau. The group went to rehearse at Lovano's home, but the pianist couldn't make it. The three carried on without him. The bassist recounts, "Joe has a really nice place upstate, and we had this nice room with a high ceiling and started playing together. The sound of it, the space of it, the whole feeling of it, and the connection that we had right away was just amazing. We felt it. We all looked at each other, like: 'Wow! We need to do something like this some time.'" Patitucci would bring it up periodically to the others when their paths crossed in ensuing years, and it finally came to pass.

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