Sunday night in downtown St. Paul, the Artists’ Quarter will host a feast for jazz lovers and a beguiling clinic for acoustic jazz bassists, as Billy Peterson and John Patitucci team up with vibraphonist Dave Hagedorn and drummer Kenny Horst for a long-wished-for but still fairly impromptu project dubbed Two Bass Hit.
Patitucci is among the top handful of first-call bassists in New York City, a longstanding veteran of stellar, sophisticated bands led by Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea and a treasured sideman on literally hundreds of albums. Peterson, who for decades has toured with the Steve Miller Band, is, for my money, the most talented of the legendary Peterson music clan in Minnesota and the best jazz bassist in the Twin Cities.
Initially it was hoped that Patitucci and Peterson could be corralled into a three-way phone interview before the gig, but Patitucci was touring in Argentina with Shorter’s group in mid-June, necessitating individual phone conversations with each. What follows is a mix-and-match of their respective Q&As.
MinnPost: So, obvious first question: When did you guys first meet?
Billy Peterson: John was hired to play on my brother Ricky’s first record [“Night Watch,” released in 1990]. The session was down in what was then called Metro Studios, right across from the Monte Carlo in Minneapolis.
John Patitucci: I was playing with Ricky Peterson, it had to be the late ’80s or early ’90s. That whole family is ridiculous with all the talent there. Ricky says, “You’ve got meet my brother Billy; you guys have a lot in common.” We first got together at the old Artists’ Quarter and along with being a versatile and eclectic bass player whose playing I just love, he was a flat-out nice cat, very welcoming. There was instant camaraderie because we both like to laugh a lot.
MinnPost: How did the concept for this Two Bass Hit show come about?
Peterson: We’ve always admired each other’s work — well, probably me admiring him, mostly — but our paths don’t cross that often, so we talk on the phone. He came through town with Michel Legrand at the Dakota [in April] and said he was playing with Danilo Perez at the [Twin Cities] Jazz Festival and I said why don’t you stay an extra day and we’ll yuck it up together, which is something I’ve wanted to do for years.
Patitucci: I was in the Twin Cities with Michel Legrand and afterward Billy took me over to the Artists’ Quarter to see Dave Hazeltine play. When I said I’d be coming back with Danilo Perez in June, he said why not do a Two Bass Hit thing. I’ve done them with John Clayton and if you have a like-minded person they’re great. We live so far apart that we don’t get a chance that often, so when he said let’s just tack this on for fun, as a labor of love, I thought it was a golden opportunity.
MinnPost: Have you figured out what you’re going to play?
Patitucci: We’re putting together stuff now, emailing each other. I’ve looked at a way to arrange “Two Bass Hit,” by Miles, of course. Billy reminded me that [influential jazz bassist] Oscar Pettiford was from Minnesota, so maybe we’ll do “Bohemia After Dark.” I figured maybe we could play “Body and Soul” on arco [bowed]. There is a Bird tune, “Visa,” that I’ve been working on. There is a lot of shared music that we love, and Billy’s really flexible, so we can draw on a lot of stuff.
Peterson: We’re doing a little homework, pulling stuff together. John is really excited; he’s been sending me a lot of great ideas. He knows so many heads [head arrangements that cue a song’s melody and rhythm] and I know a ton of heads, so it won’t be a problem. I know that John Clayton and Ray Brown and others have done these three-bass concerts, which can be a little like a novelty in the presentation, but John [Patitucci] is so musical that I think it’s going to be a loose and swinging night.
My major plan for the night is just to highlight John and talk about John and expose his career. He has gotten Grammys for his playing and his compositions and has played with everybody. He’s also one of the funniest cats around, witty and crazy and as Italian as they come — hey, Pat-ta-TOOCH-ee. I actually got in touch with the comedian Jeff Cesario, who wrote for the Garry Shandling show, to see if he can come up with some stuff about my Norwegian nationality and John’s Italian nationality. I’ve known Jeff since he was a freelance sportswriter who did an article on me way back when I tried out for the Olympics in speed skating — he’s worn a lot of hats and is a very funny guy. Plus, we’re going to be playing the whole night and who knows who might still be hanging out from the festival and might show up because of the chance to play with John — maybe Danilo or some other heavy cats.
MinnPost: How are you guys going to handle being out front versus being in the background, both in terms of the quartet and with each other?
Patitucci: That is actually pretty easy to do. We can alternate. When you’ve been playing a long time it falls into place and you know how to blend and shape — it just happens organically. But also, I do hope we can do some duos where we’re going back and forth.
Peterson: I’m sure we’ll figure out how to get out of each other’s way. There will probably be a lot of trading, and then playing behind Dave [Hagedorn, the vibraphonist], and trading eights [eight bar measures].
My power is reactionary playing. I can do solos and that stuff, but a million guys are trying and preparing to make that the thing. Where I like to think I shine is in a musical context when you’re under the gun to make something pop and you are doing that on the spot. I get a kick out of doing that more than stepping out and doing solos. John is one of the greatest soloists but where he really shines is in the mix and under the gun. That is where we are alike and why my respect for him is at the highest level.
Patitucci: It’s all musicianship. Billy and I have both had a lot of experiences. You’ll be in situations where you play starkly and simply and make a deep statement. But there are other situations where there is density, like bebop, where things are harmonically and rhythmically flying around and you learn how to adapt quickly making decisions, because as a bassist you subjugate your ego every moment because you are the catalyst. Sometimes you solo, but what you choose on the bottom affects the whole ensemble and that is a profound responsibility. It makes you a better blender, hooking everything up. So when two bassists who enjoy each other’s style get together, all that comes into play and makes everything shine. And believe me, that’s the fun part.
“Two Bass Hit,” featuring John Patitucci and Billy Peterson, 8 p.m. Sunday, June 26 at Artists’ Quarter. $15.
13th Annual Twin Cities Jazz Festival, June 23-25, Mears Park, St. Paul. Schedule/other venues here.