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"Scophile": The Patitucci Code
Bass Player Magazine
Published in July, 2006

For bassists who aspire to play challenging music, there is usually a Holy Grail, a song that requires a level of technical mastery and theoretical understanding that lies just out of reach. For me, that song has always been John Patitucci's "Scophile" (Sketchbook, GRP, 1991), a near-impossibly fast jazz-fusion blowfest in tribute to one of his influences, John Scofield. The honoree himself played on the track, along with John Beasley on keys and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. Four masters, 276 beats per minute, no brakes. And on six bass strings, no less.

A Berklee-era attempt to play it live left my hands in pain and my ego in ruin. For a brief, shining moment in my senior project two years later, I could play most of it, but I never really got it. Not being a true jazz musician, it simply sounded "out" to me, which was why I loved it so much. An authentic, child-like how did they do that? aura existed with it. Thirteen years later, with countless other complex tunes under my belt, this one remained a mystery. Would I need a codex and a "professor of symbology" to crack it?

Then, in late April, I found myself scribbling frantically while on the phone with John Patitucci himself, as a conversation I thought would be about scheduling an interview regarding this song turned out to be the interview. He spoke at a tempo befitting the tune: molto vivace.

"I was a big student of John [Scofield's] style...and I was working on making diminished more melodic," he started. He then exampled John Coltrane's ability to make music that was complex, yet alive and breathing. But why such a complex tune to begin with? And one so difficult to play on a bass?

"My style of playing speaks the language of was natural, music that I was passionate about." This is natural for him? I silently gasped. Then, on technique, he offered, "People tend to write things that lay under their hands...[it was] written around what's comfortable for me to play." Great, I'm thinking, so for some of us it's "Whole Lotta Love" and for him it's THIS?

We went over my transcription, which covered the reprise of the head at the end of the tune. Not bad, only three notes to fix. But I still didn't get it, and time was slipping away. Finally, ten minutes into the conversation, and fifteen years after the tune first baffled me, he let loose the secret.

"It's all wrapped in the A half-whole diminished sound...think about the major and minor arpeggios in the get melodic skyscrapers of sound, but there's mystery to sounds like music as opposed to just a bunch of scales and licks...."

It suddenly, completely popped for me. On the rare occasions I even thought about using that scale and tonality, I'd just play a portion of a half-whole diminished scale and quickly retreat to safer harmonic ground. In Patitucci's world, this was "obvious." He wasn't working on obvious. He was working on making diminished more melodic.

I looked at my transcription. The head melody, with its half-whole motion and scale-related intervals, suddenly came alive on the screen. The arpeggios in the B section looked like skyscrapers, alright. Big, fat, A-half-whole-diminished-tonality skyscrapers.

I got it. The code was cracked, the secret revealed. But now I was right back where I started. Can it be played?

Perhaps, but what occurs naturally under the hands of John Patitucci may not occur naturally for us mortals. Regardless, he strongly recommends not starting with the tablature ("Read the music!" I recall him declaring.)

So, again, can it be played? Maybe so, maybe not. But at least now we know where to start looking.

Reprinted with permission from the July, 2006 issue of BASS PLAYER. For subscription information, please visit NOTE: The actual musical example was handwritten so no PDF exists, or else this article would link to it. Sorry!


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