Turning musical diversification on its head
By Jon Liebman
Week of August 10, 2020
I used to think there were just two kinds of jazz: Latin and Swing. Was I really that naïve during my early years of learning bass? There are so many genres and sub-genres in music, not just in jazz but in pretty much every style. And because of the way music is tagged and labeled, there’s a name for darn near every one of them.
I’ve often talked about the need to be well-rounded when learning bass, and the importance of knowing how to adapt and play in a variety of styles. While I still believe that’s true, sometimes it’s a real eye-opener to do a deep dive within a single genre of music.
The thought came to me this week as I was talking with my longtime friend, bass virtuoso John Patitucci, for the interview we published this week on FBPO. By the time we were done talking, John had me looking at things from an entirely different perspective.
If you’re familiar with John’s playing, it’s likely from his associations with Chick Corea or Wayne Shorter, or possibly from his prolific career as a solo artist, or an in-demand sideman. The topic of the interview this time around was the brand new digital release of Irmãos de Fé, an exquisite collection of Brazilian songs John recorded with his trio.
When considering the country’s musical heritage, it quickly becomes apparent that there’s not just one style of music called “Brazilian.” The music of Brazil constitutes a whole world unto itself. When I asked John to talk about his fascination with Brazilian music, he lit up, rattling off a list of names of people with whom he’s collaborated and/or who had influenced him.
“I have a long relationship now with Brazilian music,” says John. “In the early eighties, I started playing gigs with Brazilian masters in LA. Oscar Castro-Neves was there, Moacir Santos was there.” John also includes Ivan Lins, Dori Caymmi, and Chico Buarque on the list of Brazilian musicians he respects. But getting the gig with percussionist Airto Moreira and Airto’s wife, Flora Purim, was the real turning point for John and his fascination with the music of Brazil.
John cites Airto as a major influence and early mentor who taught him much about Brazilian music. “He was such a great teacher,” John says of Airto. “He taught me the basic stuff for each of the grooves. It was a tremendous help.”
Throughout the course of the conversation, John mentioned samba-cançãos, choros, chorinhos, and other terms that don’t often come up in everyday conversation. At the end of the day, though, “it’s really about the melodies,” says John. “The Brazilians, boy, they can write melodies for days. I love that.”
There’s no question it’s beneficial to be diversified, well-rounded, and able to play in a multitude of styles. At the same time, there’s also great benefit in taking a deep dive within a single style of music and studying the diversity that lies within that genre. John can play just about anything on the bass, whether it’s on upright, electric, 6-string, arco, slapping… whatever. But it’s Brazilian music that has a special place in his heart. Taking a deep dive into that country’s music has been incredibly fulfilling for him.
“That was a big deal for me,” he says. “It changed my life in terms of my ability to understand and start dealing with Brazilian music.”
Diversification is a good thing, so try looking around. You might stumble upon an entire universe hiding within a single genre, just waiting to be discovered. After all, there is more to music than just “Latin” and “Swing.”
How about you? Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, you can check out my interview with John here.