For the past 2 days John Patitucci has been a resident clinitian at McGill University. I, like most students, found him to be equally enlightening as a speaker as he is a player. Patitucci was really candid and warm with the students but he also called them on a few things relating to respect which I found had a profound teaching for us.
On another occasion the student bass players were invited to play duo with Montreal's veteran pianist Steve Amirault and then receive criticism. Every bass player quickly found a tune to play with Steve and then got about their business. Some with more or less trouble due in part to the lack of drums. I don't think there wasn't a person in the room who wasn't sympathetic to the challenges of 2 musicians playing together without a drummer. As any of you who have already tried playing duo, this playing situation quickly exposes weeknesses and gaps. Only one student called a tune that Steve didn't know. It was a standard. However instead of finding another tune he kicked Steve off the piano only to replace him with a student pianist. Needless to say if there is only one standard out there which is going to make or break you it is a pretty sure sign that you're going to be in trouble in a duo situation. And of course they quickly train wrecked. In fact Patitucci quickly stopped them and laid it out bare for them to learn from their mistake.
"If you call a tune with an older player and he doesn't know it... you call another tune!"
Now maybe the first year bassist was put off by Steve and was nervous to play with him. Or perhaps that one tune was the one and only standard he knew by heart and had never tried playing tunes from memory before or sat in at a jam session. Either way it didn't seem interesting to try to play with an older more experienced player. It was somehow only important that that particular tune be played. I also noticed that both the student bass player and the student pianist left the clinic before the end when Patitucci played duo with Amirault for about 20 minutes. That was an education in playing duo and really a great chance to listen and learn given the context of the workshop.
I guess this gets to the heart of what learning is all about. There aren't a lot of situations these days when character traits such as humility and respect will actually translate into direct gains for a person. It seems to me that in most situations we are constantly trying to figure out what we can get out of it. If we do something, anything from watching tv to having a relationship, everything is done with the implicit econonmic directive: "What's in it for me?". I must admit as a tax payer I'm often yelling that question at my bills. What is problematic about this modus operandi is that it doesn't take into consideration what we need to give sometimes in order to really make growth happen. As human beings who are also jazz musicians we all want to be bad-asses. And sometimes we don't want to peer over the precipice for fear of falling. Our egos don't want us to fall because that would mean we would need to change our self-identity from "bad-ass" to "ass-bad!"
Is this an attitude that will help one learn and develop musically? Isn't playing at a really high level the surest way of insuring one's own "badassness"?
And this is another things that's great about jazz music: sometimes when we least expect it music, as it uniquly has the capacity to do, can teach us the value of humility and respect.