The longer I live I find a preponderance of evidence that God's sovereignty is not just perfect, but it exists beyond our ability to comprehend. God makes no mistakes and incredibly weaves His Spirit within our lives with a sense of precision timing to achieve His perfect will. In fact, the complexity of God's creative mind is unfathomable to the point that our only logical response is to affirm our faith in Him. Music is one of God's most treasured and far-reaching gifts to the world--the gift of His love and salvation being the only other gifts to vastly surpass the level of impact on the human spirit. Music has the ability to connect the lives of people globally and touch the full range of human emotion even without the uttering of a single word. There aren't many artists in the music marketplace of today that have truly accepted the "calling" and seized the opportunity to explore God's infinite power through music to the degree that Jazz bassist extraordinaire John Patitucci has. Now coming full-circle, John's impact on my life personally and professionally is indeed a demonstration of the sovereign will of God.
As a premier musician having released several of his own solo CD projects, and one who has recorded, worked and performed with the very best and most renowned in the business (including Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Stan Getz, Wynton Marsalis, Joshua Redman, Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Freddie Hubbard, Tony Williams, Hubert Laws, Mulgrew Miller, James Williams, pop and Brazilian artists like Sting, Milton Nascimento, Astrud and Joao Gilberto, Airto and Flora Purim, Ivan Lins, Joao Bosco, Dori Caymmi, and even film composers like Jerry Goldsmith, Ry Cooder, James Newton Howard, Dave Grusin, Henry Mancini, John Williams, Mark Isham, Michel Colombier, Carter Burwell and Howard Shore, John Patitucci is very much a household name to the many fans of contemporary Jazz and of music as a whole. Yet, Patitucci I'm sure is not as familiar to those who listen mainly to Gospel and Christian music. Nevertheless, John's impact on the international stage is no less profound and comprehensive in his God-based focus.
Patitucci (as a student of many cultures musically) explains in detail his prolific thirst for the totality of God's gift of music. But then John expounds as a "Christian" virtuoso with genuine humility on his dedicated commitment to excellence and straight-forward, heart-felt praise as a Jazz musician "after God's own heart." John's story and testimony are just too rich with relevance and encouragement to sum up in a single issue; therefore, JGC is fortunate to present his life-inspiring message to our audience in two parts.
The first thing you notice when speaking with John Patitucci is his personable spirit and love for the Lord. His amazing career takes a back seat to what's most important to him; his Lord and Savior, his family and his church. As we begin the interview, John fills us in on what he's been doing lately:
JazzGospelCentral.com: I saw you at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, when you performed at the KC Jazz Club there. In fact, when I met you, I gave you a copy of a project that I had done. I've just been very inspired by your music. One of the things that I wanted to do with Jazz Gospel Central is to really provide an opportunity for people who are Gospel-Jazz musicians and Christian believers who perform Jazz to come together and have a chance to dialogue and basically showcase some of the talent out there. This hopefully will help build up the whole idea of Gospel-Jazz as a genre. I really wanted to have an opportunity to feature you in one of our upcoming issues.
John: That's great! Lately, I've been getting asked to do more of this type thing because of my association in doing some outreach events with Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City. We did a special event there on the spiritual music of John Coltrane. I did something one time with Monty Alexander, who's a Christian, and we did something with the great pastor, Tim Keller. I spoke as well as performed with Brian Blade and Jon Cowherd and Joel Frahm on saxophone. We did a bunch of stuff. That was really a special evening. We were also talking about what it means to be in the arts and have a spiritual viewpoint - be a Christian. And, we were talking specifically about Coltrane and how he - though no one knows what he arrived at eventually, but he was raised - his grandfather was a Christian - in the church. Obviously, he knew about what the Gospel meant. Whether he ended up fully embracing that or not, nobody knows for sure. He was certainly someone who had a deep spirit when he played. I tell you what, out of all the jazz musicians that I've ever looked up to; when I hear him play it's like God's voice. He was definitely anointed. Anyway, that was a special thing that we did. We continue to do these little outreach things. I did one recently with Jon Cowherd who plays piano for Brian Blade's Fellowship Band. It was Jon Cowherd and Rosario Piccato, who's a wonderful percussionist from Brazil, we did a trio gig a couple of weeks ago at a venue in the city that Redeemer Church sponsored. We did a lot of spirituals with "re-harms" and some jazz stuff. It was really a wonderful night. This last weekend I played a gig with Ruth Naomi Floyd and Jon Cowherd. Ruth Naomi Floyd is a gospel singer from Philly. She's fantastic. She's also a jazz singer. She's got records out. You should check her out on the Internet. She's played with a lot of people. She's really strong. Her dad's a Baptist minister, and she grew up thoroughly steeped in all that, which is a ton of music. But, she also knows jazz, too. We had a lot of fun. We did a collaborative thing at the San Antonio Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In San Antonio, there's a part of town where they have the George Washington Carver Center that David Robinson built - you know Robinson the famous basketball player for the Spurs. He built this school for the kids. It's a section of town where there are a lot of people who are struggling, and to his credit Robinson is a real strong Christian and he went in there and really made a difference in the community and built this whole thing. So, we played in the Performance Center that's right near the school for the kids. I love doing that. It was fun playing and people came out. It was a good thing. At the end of the month, I'll be playing a Wheaton College (Wheaton, Illinois) with Jon Cowherd again. I've been using John a lot because he's a fine jazz pianist, but he also has a background in R&B, kind of Gospel-ly styles. There's a different way of voicing chords on the piano then a regular jazz musician. So, to find somebody who understands that kind of seriously blues and eclectic and special, rooted in the African American tradition, stuff that I love, I need somebody who can do that. It's not always easy to find a jazz musician who does both, even though most jazz musicians have been influenced by the blues and church music. Anyway, that's some of the stuff I've been doing in this area that I believe you're talking about.
JGC: I wanted to ask you a few questions, but it's great just to hear you talk about what you're doing. Because a lot of the things that you're doing is definitely what we're trying to let people know about. That there is a voice for the musician who does jazz, likes jazz, performs jazz and that can be done in a legitimate setting within the Christian life. That it is not something that shouldn't be done, but it should be something that's supported. I'm going to ask you a few questions, I'm sure some of them you've heard many, many times over. But, it's not every day that I get to speak with someone like you.
First of all, as I said before, I play bass. You actually inspired me to play six-string bass; I'm actually playing seven-string now. [John: uh, oh.] You definitely inspired me, and I know that you said you were inspired, I believe, by Anthony Jackson. I wanted to find out what first inspired you to actually play the electric bass?
John: When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, New York, my brother was a guitarist, and I was always trying to do everything he did. At first, I thought I would play the guitar. I was already playing percussion, bongos, maracas, and I sang. We listened to lots of radio and whatever music was playing. There were all kinds of music to hear - all we could, actually. I first tried to follow in my brother's footsteps and play the guitar. He tried to teach me how to read music and do all this stuff. I was 8 and pretty precocious and didn't really have a lot of patience for all that. I wanted to play and didn't really feel comfortable with the guitar either, because I'm left-handed and I was playing righty with a pick. I was pretty uncomfortable and it just wasn't working. My brother saw it, and I gave up on that. By the time I was 10, I switched to the electric bass. My brother said, "Look at this, you can use your fingers to play." I was more comfortable. I was already hearing Stevie Wonder's music and a lot of other music from Motown on the radio, and that was huge because that was James Jamerson, though nobody knew him because he wasn't credited. A lot of people didn't know who that was because he wasn't getting any credit on the liner notes or anything. I was just a kid. I was hearing it on the radio. Not a lot of people knew who those guys were. They weren't getting a lot of credit. That was a huge influence. That's what started me. Then all of a sudden I was also hearing all the British rock that was coming with the Beatles and all that, too. Then I heard Hendrix, which really blew me away, then blues music and all kinds of things. I was even exposed to some jazz records when I was 8.
JGC: It sounds like you've really been just a student of everything that you've heard. Just the music around you and you've kind of incorporated that into the music you do, the music you write, and the music that you listen to.
John: Yes, I'm pretty curious about a lot of things. I've always been, I guess, fairly eclectic in that regard. I've just been excited about learning about all kinds of music. And, being a bass player, there's a lot of music that really is inspiring and it's such a pivotal part of so much music.
JGC: I've seen you several times in performance and you seem to be at home as much on the acoustic bass as you do on the electric. Which do you enjoy playing the most?
John: Everybody asks that. It just depends on what music I'm playing. I try to use the one that fits the tune best. I love them both. Really, I do. My ideal thing is when I play them both and whenever I play in my group, I use them both. When I do these gigs, too, these things that we've been doing, I try to incorporate both often.
JGC: Do you ever play Fretless bass?
John: In my career as a studio musician, I've used it on some things, but I didn't gravitate to it as a part of my principle identity because I grew up in a time when Jaco [Pastorius] hit and everybody ran out and got Fretless basses, I didn't want to deal with it.
JGC: Your career has encompassed so many heights and experiences. What would you say has been the most significant experience you've had musically to date?
John: Wow, well I think in some ways all these people that I've been playing with all these years, and, it's a lot of people now. It's kind of shocking to me. I was very naïve in how I chose this life in music, which is a calling really. I had no idea what I was getting into. I just knew I wanted to do it. I had no idea that my chances were one in a million to actually get to play with all these people. I was very naïve and a dreamer of sorts. For me I guess one of the most all encompassing and sort of the gig that maybe I've been prepared to do by all these other gigs is the stuff we're doing with Wayne Shorter, who is a genius. The stuff that Brian and I - Brian Blade, the great drummer in that band who plays with me on all my records, too - the stuff we're getting into really sort of utilizes all the different things that we love. Everybody in the band is a composer so the music is very interactive and composed in the moment. But then there are some incredible compositions and orchestrations that we get to play from Wayne. We get to deal with a lot of different grooves, utilize our love and our knowledge of African bass grooves as it's traveled through South America or just straight up stuff from the way the African bass players and drummers play certain grooves. We're able to utilize that. We're able to utilize the jazz tradition. We use classical music things in there. Sort of uses everything. The only thing is in these days it's just an acoustic bass job, whereas when I was playing way before [keyboardist] Danilo [Perez] and Brian got in the picture - I've sort of been off and on with Wayne since 1986 - so in the early days it was an all electric gig. We were playing all the stuff from Atlantis and Phantom Navigator and all that stuff. And then it switched over. When the band switched in 2000, it became an all acoustic gig. Playing with Wayne, I think, in terms of group interaction - that group has such a strong spirit. Because it's like a family everybody loves each other so much. That's a big highlight for me.
JGC: I know that many up-and-coming musicians are particularly familiar and inspired with your work with Chick Corea in the Elektric and Akoustic Bands. What was it like working with them?
John: That was very pivotal for me. Obviously, that's right up there, too, in terms of importance. The two most important gigs I've ever done would have to be obviously Chick and Wayne. Chick was really first, even though I started working with Wayne on and off the year after I started with Chick. I was still primarily committed to Chick for the first 10 years of knowing each of those guys, from 1985 to 1995. I was solid in there with Chick doing all the projects with both bands. Chick provided me with an entrance into the world music scene. Took me all over the world. That's where I got exposure where people first started to hear me play all over the place was with Chick really. Even though I played with some people before that, some amazing guys, we just did so much touring with Chick. We were on the road so much with the Elektric and then the Akoustic groups that it was like saturation. And he helped me get my first record deal. So, that really set things up. And, it was exciting music, the Elektric stuff. I found a new voice with the six-string bass and was also developing my acoustic bass with the trio and then later on with the quartet that we had. The last band that I played steady with Chick was that group with Bob Berg on tenor. I was able to develop both electric and acoustic basses and keep trying to move forward and forge my voice on both instruments. That was an incredibly important time for me.
JGC: I know that there is a very special relationship between a bass player and a drummer and I know that the work that you did with Chick, you and Dave Weckl were just really locked in everything that you did. How was that working with him and are there any other drummers that you've worked with that you had that same feel with?
John: With Dave, obviously, there was a big hook up. Also with Vinnie Colaiuta I did a lot of playing even before I started playing with Dave. Vinnie and I did a lot. When I started taking my own bands on the road, in the late 80's and early 90's, I was doing a lot of touring as a band leader, too. I was doing big tours in Europe and stuff. Vinnie did those tours primarily. So, he and I have a special bond. Obviously, Brian Blade and I have a soul bond. It's very deep. One of the deepest I've had with anybody ever on any instrument, frankly.
JGC: I remember when I saw you at the Kennedy Center; he was the drummer that you were working with.
John: Yeah, that guy [JGC: he's amazing], we're really tight. I just love him as a person. His father is a minister, also. We talk about God all the time. He's a very, incredibly gifted person, Brian, in many respects. Not only in his writing and playing - he has those beautiful Brian Blade Fellowship records, but he's putting out a record this year of him as a singer/songwriter. He's a massive talent, unbelievable. I can't say enough good things about him. I love him. So, that's a special bond. I've also developed some bonds with some of the older guys who were my heroes when I was coming up, like Roy Haynes and I played a lot together. We're going to be doing a tour with Danilo Perez a little bit in the summer, as well. Roy and I have had a chance to develop a real rapport. He's one of the giants of jazz in his 80's. Some of the other jazz drummers who are legendary that I felt like we really hooked are Al Foster, a drummer who played with Miles, Roy Haynes and a lot of people. There are a lot of guys; I could go on and on, Steve Gadd, Dennis Chambers, Horacio Hernandez. He was in my band for a while.
JGC: Between the two of you, you can be a band all of yourselves--the way he plays so many different rhythms at the same time.
John: I had fun when he was in my band. He's a great player. I had some great drummers in my band. Alex Acuña and I are close. Billy Hart, another who played with Miles. He played with a lot of people. You know who I had a really exciting time playing with, who I don't get to play with very often, is Steve Jordan. He use to play in the Brecker Brothers. He was also in the original David Letterman band. He also played with some of the guys in the Rolling Stones. He also played with John Mayer. He's quite a producer. Steve Jordan, a monster, one of the funkiest men alive. By a long shot. He's got one of the most vicious grooves I've ever played with. He's just incredible. I've just been real fortunate actually to play with a lot of great drummers. Out on the West Coast, also, Harvey Mason, Peter Erskine.
JGC: I know that you were speaking about the spiritual connection that you have with the musicians that you're working with now. How and when did you become a Christian and how has your faith impacted your musical career?
John: It's absolutely the center of it all really. I became a Christian when I was 17. Obviously, in my early days as a youth, I don't think I was very mature at first, but by the time I got with Chick, which was 1985, I was very strong in my beliefs, so even though I was playing with Chick, who is a Scientologist, and had played with other people who believed a lot of other things, I worked with Herbie Hancock quite a bit too, and he's a Buddhist, Wayne's a Buddhist, other people were other things. God has allowed me to be firm and stand my ground but also loving and being able to share and dialogue with these people about what it is that I believe in ways I would have never guessed. So, they have a respect for what Christianity is in my life.
JGC: Have you had much success in persuading any to come to Christ?
John: Not with those two guys. But, some others I think over the years seeds have been planted and things have happened. Sometimes you have no idea how much you're affecting somebody until later on. But, I don't worry about it. You have to have the viewpoint of Paul, somebody sow some seeds, and the other one waters it. It comes to fruition down the road. The most important thing we can do is be faithful and if God opens up an opportunity to be a witness to that person -- whether it's a verbal thing where you can sit down and talk about it, or whether they are observing you and how you handle yourself in various situations. There's a lot of ways that this can happen.
JGC: Have you ever had people to question you in terms of your faith because you work in a secular music world?
John: Occasionally people have been interested. And, the older I get, the more open I am because I have nothing to lose. I'm getting bolder as I get older. I'm trying to be more sensitive when stuff opens up, whereas when I was younger I use to be afraid to open my mouth and was more worried about what I was going to say. Now I just let God give me the words and just go for it--if it's right. Sometimes it's really important to stay silent. Sometimes the most powerful witness is for you to just listen if they're having a rough time and struggling - just love them. I've had people come back to me later and said how that really helped them. They understood that the faith that I had was a real faith. Even if they weren't in total agreement about what that was yet. They saw that it was genuine. If you love people and show them God's love is authentic even if maybe they're not ready to turn their lives over, they can see that it's for real and that sometimes goes a long way into touching somebody deeply then all the words you say and not living it. At the same time, I've been impressed and blown away at how sometimes God would open something up with someone I would have never thought. Like, all of a sudden, they want to talk about stuff. It was shocking to me. Sometimes the person you least expect to bring it up. So, I have no idea what God's going to do in any given situation. I just try to be ready.
TO BE CONTINUED........THERE'S SO MUCH MORE TO BE SHARED BY JOHN PATITUCCI AND FOR US TO LEARN FROM HIM. STAY TUNED FOR PART 2 IN OUR NEXT ISSUE.