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Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Friday, January 21, 2011

Respect yo

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.

 All the clinics started early and he seemed absolutely raring to get going. However, as with many university events, the steady stream of latecomers would trickle in for the next 15 minutes or so after the designated start times.  It was clear by the second clinic yesterday that this didn't sit well with Patitucci who actually stopped speaking everytime someone walked in and took the time to tell that person that it was disrespectful for them to show up late. He didn't push it further and he also didn't seem to be angry or distressed. He was just as straight-up about talking about respect as he was about talking about time or chord changes. It was just disrespectful and that was it. Teaching given.

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.


  1. Nice recap, Josh! Unfortunately I missed the first day of clinics, and I thought I was super super late for the morning session on Thursday (I thought it started at 10, but seemed to start closer to 10:30).

    The duo playing was an eye-opening thing for me, because I generally tend to sit on top and don't always like bass players being in front of me in duo settings! Definitely made me re-evaluate my playing.

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  3. With all respect, the way you report what happened with the students that day doesnt make a lot of sense. I know the bass player and the piano player really well. First of all, they are in second year and not in first year, right away it shows that you dont know him at all. Then, clearly they didnt "kick" steve out of the piano... Steve asked if any other piano player wanted to play the tune. Of course the right thing to do wouldve been to pick another tune... but with stress and everything and since him and the piano player student have played together often before, he asked him. The bass player you mention knows a lot of tunes and I know a LOT of players who love to play with him. Hes a great player. They left during the masterclass because they obviously felt really ashamed. Trust me they didnt feel "badass" by doing that. It was a simple misunderstanding and nobody thought it would create that kind of situation. Its absurd that you assume all the stuff you wrote in there. I usually appreciate the stuff you write but this is just plain wrong!

  4. Hi M.a.g1

    Thanks for your comment. The point of this last post was "what respect will teach you" and the fact that I used a particular situation at a McGill clinic does paint those students involved in an unfair light. I'd like to say that the purpose of this post wasn't to put anyone down but rather to highlight a situation where our attitudes can quickly get in the way of the learning process. I'm hoping to make it sound like we can sometimes make these mistakes innocently. I'm also very much interested in how Patitucci addressed the students attitudes directly and respectfully.

    However I encourage you to read the post again. First of all I think I took great care to describe just how nerve racking this situation could have been. I spend an entire paragraph describing both the difficulty of playing without drums and the implicit sympathy from the audience that we all felt. Secondly I do know these students. The pianist spend a year in my arranging class. Nowhere do I say that they are in fist year. Also I like and respect these students very much and I think if you ask them they will tell you that I have spoken to them personally on several occasions to complement them on their playing.

    I don't agree with your assessment of the students leaving the clinic because they felt ashamed. To me that doesn't make sense since they stayed for a good 30 minutes after they played. I think the highlight of the clinic was really seeing and hearing for ourselves everything that Patitucci was talking about when he played duo with Steve himself. The fact that these students left for that portion meant that they weren't particularly interested in it. Ashamed or not they didn't want to be there for what could have been really life changing.

    I was really not trying to presume anything by my recalling this event. I find it interesting that you take exception to my use of "badass" perhaps you connote more negativity than I did to this word since I feel that it is something we all grapple with in our pursuit to become better musicians. You obviously are a thoughtful person since you deleted your previous comment. Maybe give the post another read a let me know if anything else has changed for you. Once again I wasn't trying to put those students in particular down but rather ask what we all could have learned from this situation.

  5. I just read my own post again and you're right, I said the bassist was in first year. Getting this wrong does give my post a glib vibe a bit and for that I apologize. Next time I'll be more careful and thanks for pointing out my mistake. Hopefully you can cut me slack on that one because at my age time just seems to go by so quick! Ha. Thanks for calling me on it.