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Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Respect yo - a follow up

I've received many comments on my Patitucci clinic post both in person and on my blog. I have been intending to post my little retraction about how I said the bass player involved in my description of the events that day was in first year. Yes people have corrected me several times. I didn't think this was such a big deal! To me from my very "older" perspective the difference between a first year student and a second year student isn't really that big so I hadn't intended it as a slur. But I must admit when some students corrected me at school last week I was like "really he's in second year already?" So kids the moral is that when you get to be this old time just whizzes by you.

But in all seriousness I read my post again and the fact that I referred to him as being in first year does give my comments a bit more of a glib vibe than I intended. Saying that he "kicked" Steve off the piano implied that he was trying to be rude to Steve when really he was quite unintentionally rude. But rude nonetheless. I sensed a rigidity from the student in that situation which I read as attitude when it was probably more nerves than anything else. For that I apologize. It was never my intention to shame anyone. I don't think anyone needed to feel shame in that situation. I was hoping that we could all learn from an example of attitudes and approaches to learning that we ALL experience.

I found it very interesting that a great player like Patitucci had no problem calling students on their attitudes with both directness and respect. I would like to say that, personally, I have had great teachers call me on my attitudes.  They were tough medicines to take but somehow I managed to get over myself in those situations and learn from them. With my post I was giving the same message to the students of McGill that I have had to learn for myself: "get over yourself because your ego is getting in the way of your love for music and your desire to be a musician!" The fact is that those students had nothing to be ashamed about and were exceedingly lucky to have had a teacher like John Patitucci that day. I was only disappointed when they left the clinic early because they missed some really great playing!

I know when you are younger this situation can feel harsh. However learning situations like this can be an instrumental turning point in a musician's development. The history of jazz is replete with stories of "attitude adjustments" for developing players. Just read the Miles Davis autobiography to hear about some of his experiences both in the receiving and the giving of attitude adjustments. When I was a student I remember how a even just a few choice words from Andre White or Jan Jarcyk could literally change my life. And then when I got to take lessons with Kenny Werner and Fred Hersch (with whom I'm still studying) I grew so much as a person and a pianist. But talk about an attitude adjustment with Fred. Let's just say he'll eat you alive if you show up in his loft and play a standard without knowing the lyrics. A lesson with Fred will undoubtedly ruffle your feathers. Just ask Brad Mehldau, or George Colligan. Fred won't mince words in order to get his point across about your technique or gaps in your knowledge. If you can't get passed yourself in these situations it will be very difficult to learn from them.

Guys, there is nothing I take more seriously than my students' desire to grow and develop as people and musicians. And I would really hope that if you were to ask any of my piano or arranging students that they would say that my comments and criticisms come from a place of love. However as a teacher I do comment and criticize. And I hope that I dole out my "teaching" in a way that I would want to be taught myself. I don't see any way that I can call someone on their attitude without ruffling some feathers. I just can't "not" do it because it might hurt some feelings. But let me tell you from experience that you can't put it on the line as a musician and go out and do the thing that most people in the world will admire you for when you succeed and not experience hurt feelings along the way. It's part of the investment for the enormous return (not so much financially but personally, spiritually) that you get from being a musician. Trust me the hurt feelings from a clinic at McGill where all your friends are cheering you on is nothing compared to hurt feelings on the bandstand or hurt feelings from getting fired from a professional engagement. I've blogged about my encounters with these I hope in an open way that reveals what I've had to learn myself on the topic of humility.

This was my point when I used terms like "badass" because for me they represent a real and direct way of dealing with this particular attitude. My intention was not to use "badass" as a put down. I'm sure I've actually used to the word more as a complement as in "That was badass!" I intended it to be more humorous as when I compared "badass" to "assbad" which is something I feel about myself after almost every recording I make! My sense of the word "badass" is something that we're all trying to be. Meaning that we want to play at a high level, one which sounds... well, "Badass!"

I can't very well fault anyone for wanting to play their best. But I can point out where one's DESIRE to play their best isn't the point of a clinic with John Patitucci. We weren't there to see how great the bass players of McGill sound (although I have to say there were some really strong players which was a joy to listen to) and impress our friends with our playing.  That can be done on any day of the week.  We were there to hear from John Patitucci and for those lucky bass players to get a chance to play with and learn from Steve Amirault while receiving direct instruction from Patitucci. Wow! Now that won't happen any day of the week.

The fact that I got a key detail wrong in my original post about what year the bass player was in undermined the credibility of my comments in that it made me sound like I didn't know or care about the students involved. Believe me nothing could be further from the truth and thanks for calling me on it! I hope you'll continue to read and comment on my blog.

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