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--- Mar 24 1999 Go to category
Subject: Pat's musical philosophy in his own words
Category: General Musical Conception
From: DOWNBEAT magazine (USA)

This is an article written by Pat for Downbeat magazine about his search for a personal sound and relationship to music.

Pat’s Answer:

the whole idea of developing a personal sound and conception of music has been really important to me right from the beginning. when i think of all my favorite musicians, the thing that they all seem to have in common, in fact, maybe the only identifiable characteristic that they share at all, is that they are all true individuals- there’s only one of them, they’re all originals. when we think of miles davis, wes montgomery, bill evans, freddie hubbard, keith jarrett, charlie haden, ornette coleman, stevie wonder, paul bley, milton nascimento, milt jackson, roy haynes and so many others; within an instant of the mention of their names, we can “hear” their sound in our heads. but for me, as a young musician growing up, even though this abstract idea of having ones own sound was a beautiful ideal, the hard core reality of working towards that goal has been, and continues to be, a life long process, one that has required an enormous amount of thought, work, and consideration.

in my case, i intuitively knew from a very early age (about 12) that improvisation was going to be the most important of musical languages for me, and that the study of it would be all consuming. even though i’ve always loved all kinds of music, from the country music that was everywhere around my hometown (lee’s summit, missouri) to the amazing variety of music that fed the rich mainstream cultural lifeblood of that era - rock and roll (especially the beatles) and the soul music and rhythm and blues of the day, as well as classical music - it took exactly one listen to a miles davis record (“four and more”, brought home by my older brother mike) to start me on that long and fascinating road that it seems all serious improvisational musicians must journey- to understand the history, form and structure of this most beautiful and complex language. from age 13 til 19, i was absolutely obsessed with trying to learn as much as i could about music; those sonny rollins trio records at the vanguard; all the miles records, but especially the quintet with wayne shorter; gary burton’s great quartet of the late 60’s; ornette; monk; the profound advancement of the guitar’s role in jazz made by wes montgomery, kenny burrell and jim hall ; bill evans’ voicings and touch; herbie hancock's incredible overall musicality; the depth, spirituality and innovation that is john coltrane's music; ornette coleman’s melodic beauty; and of course, charlie parker. i practiced constantly; between 6 and 12 hours a day. but where i really learned about music was on the bandstands of kansas city with many of the best players in town (gary sivils, paul smith, tommy ruskin, russ long, and many others). it was the picture of on the job training. pretty much all i wanted to do during those years was to play in bebop and post-bop settings, organ trios and the occasional freer jazz settings.

yet, having grown up as a musician in one of the most exciting and turbulent periods in music history, (the 60’s and 70’s) one of the biggest challenges for my (and subsequent) generations of musicians has been to reconcile the elements of the tradition as defined by the masters that have influenced us so deeply with the particular realities of the world that we find ourselves living in and the changing terrain that identified the musical fabric of our era from others. ultimately, playing standards and blues, as much as i loved doing it, just was not enough for me to feel like i was living up to the responsibility of what the deeper message of that tradition, in a broader sense, seemed to imply. as i really looked at all of my heroes, i realized that there was far more than simply an “idiom” at work here - these were musicians literally manifesting into sound the ideas and feelings that not only evoked, but defined the particular feeling of their living culture and its technology into sound through musical improvisation. i am still constantly and will always be working on ways of playing better in those settings where there are clear markers and signposts left by the masters. but to focus exclusively on that ultimately felt like a way out from the much more difficult and essential task of finding my own particular musical syntax based on the language that i learned from playing in those environments that reflected not the theoretical ideals that i may have glimmered from stepping into someone else’s shoes through emulation or transcription, but things that were true to me, that were resonant to me and had meaning to the time i found myself living in. i made a commitment to focus on and try to bring into sound the ideas i was hearing in my head that might not have existed until my time, things that were particular to what was possible spiritually, culturally and technologically to the life experiences that had informed the development of my own personal aesthetic values.

in many ways, it was very hard to make that break. having dedicated practically every waking hour for years to trying to figure out how to play and begin to understand bebop, when faced with the opportunity to make my own first recording (in retrospect, what could have ended up being “bright size life”) , my first temptation was to make a record of all standards- it was the music that i had been playing the longest, that i knew the best and that i felt like would give me the best chance to sound as good as i could. i wrestled around with that for a long time- did i really think that i could offer something more to the world on those tunes than had already been played so many times before? was it really my job to come up with yet another version of “autumn leaves”, no matter how hip the arrangement or how much i loved trying to find different ways of improvising on that tune?

around that same time, i realized that as my own playing was developing (by that time i was playing in gary burton’s band) that there was a way i wanted to play and write that really had almost nothing to do with what would be appropriate if i were playing or writing in more traditional idiomatic ways. in some ways, this was scary- there was no road map for this at all. as time went on, especially with the encouragement of steve swallow, i tried to write tunes and attempted to set up playing situations that would feature those kinds of harmonic and melodic zones that i was interested in so that whatever emerging “voice” that i may have had as an improvisor in those areas might get a chance to develop. i was very lucky to be around a few other musicians close to my own age, especially jaco pastorius, who had the same kinds of goals - to try to come up with a new way of thinking about the sound and role of our instruments and the way we wanted to change things, to expand the role of what our instruments could be in improvised, yet structured, environments. i always felt lucky that there were chances to balance playing with musicians that were much older and more experienced with those of playing with people more of my own generation, like jaco.

after making a few records and continuing to tour for several years with gary burton, i felt like i was making a lot of progress towards refining many of the conceptual goals i had set for myself. but when it was time to leave gary, as i looked around the landscape of the scene at that time (1977), i realized that there were very few other settings for me to play the way i wanted to play. with the exception of a few great bands that used guitar players but already had great players holding down the chairs (jack dejohnette's new directions had john abercrombie, etc.) the few other guitar playing gigs out there were either totally “straight ahead” or “post-mahavishnu” - neither of which seemed to be right for me to continue the kind of research i felt i needed. i really had no choice but to form my own band.

luckily for me, i found in lyle mays a playing partner and composer whose interests paralleled my own in an uncanny way. in the almost 20 years we’ve been playing together we have really worked hard at trying to develop (along with steve rodby and paul wertico) a group sound that reflects our shared interests and experiences, as well as our near constant travel. and one of the greatest pleasures of our work as a band has been to grow together to work out the sometimes thorny issues of how to reconcile the potentials of what these new instruments that have evolved over the course of our group’s history are capable of doing with the standards that we all seem to agree on as having been set by our favorite music.

as the years have passed, one of the most consistently notable and exciting things to me is the diversity at work within the world of improvising musicians. the range of musical approaches, instrumentations, philosophies, and personalities that make up the fabric of this community is a cause for celebration and wonder and should serve as an example to the rest of the world in many ways. one of primary beauties of this music is its inclusive nature, the way that it’s best and brightest practitioners have historically been excellent musicians capable of hearing deep inside a wide range of “styles” that were usually informed and inspired by the living culture and music of their time (or sometimes, the rejection thereof) to find a resonant voice through improvisation that illuminates fresh aspects of whatever materials are being drawn from in immediate, endlessly varied and spontaneous ways. it demands that each musician bring to the table a deep sense of the history, vocabularies and disciplines that have made it one of the most formidable and beautiful art forms this planet has yet produced, yet at the same time have the courage to leave all that behind in order to discover new angles and new views.

this, to me, is the tradition that i have always found myself responding to and using as guide in the search for sound. of course, having the basic fundamentals of what it takes to become a good player, a good musician and a fluent improviser totally in hand is a given - in order to do anything musically worthwhile those elements must be covered. but this tradition also demands, at it’s highest level, and just as importantly in my opinion, that the player bring his/her own set of conceptions and ideas to the bandstand that are based on his/her own particular cultural experiences and personal love for music in a general sense. the best musicians i know and the ones who i admire and seem to listen to the most are capable of hearing deep into the musical moment and responding quickly and with meaning to give that moment an immediacy that represents the spirit of the time that they are living in and that it was made in. in many ways, this is about making the folk music of our time, even though it may be hard for us to see that that’s exactly what we are doing while we are in the act of doing it. sometimes it seems there is a magical and indelible watermark time-stamped into the music that we make as improvisors that may impart to future listeners a rare and special message about who we were as a people. to me,that process of illumination and clarification through sound is what people are talking about when they speak of musicians “having a voice”.