Our first Jazz Studies student to be interviewed is Ruaridh Pattison, a 2nd year graduate student from the United Kingdom. His interview with the Office of International Advisement reflects both his love of jazz as well as his great sense of humor.
How were you first introduced to jazz music? What specifically attracted you to jazz?
I think the story goes that I saw a saxophonist on Blue Peter (a British kid’s TV show) and got kind of obsessed with it from that point onward. My aunt was a saxophonist and a clarinettist and she gave me her alto because she had stopped playing. I should also mention that my great-grandfather played alto saxophone and clarinet in dance bands in the North-East of Scotland and I recently acquired his alto saxophone. It’s a beauty from 1926. You could almost say saxophone runs in the family but my aunt and great-grandfather are from different sides.
I think jazz and the saxophone go hand in hand (sorry classical saxophonists). I first came across jazz and the concept of improvisation when I played in the local big band. After that I was heavily drawn to the freedom of expression that jazz offers. Michael Brecker (like many a saxophonist) was my first hero.
Jazz originated in the U.S. Is jazz popular in your country?
I wouldn’t say jazz is popular but there’s definitely a scene. Last week I was reading an article in The Scotsman (Scottish newspaper) about some recently unearthed recordings from the forgotten Black Bull Jazz Club in Milngavie from the 70’s and early 80’s. The article states that American jazz musicians who were on tour in the UK loved finishing up in Scotland because the audiences were ‘less reticent’ than in England. They enjoyed playing music with the Scots because the musicians apparently had a strong rhythmic vocabulary from playing in Scottish dance bands. A strathspey is a popular traditional dance back home and the accompanying music often is phrased in a manner similar to the swing feel of jazz! You could very, very tenuously say that ‘swinging’ is in my blood.
You are a master’s student at Juilliard–where did you do your undergraduate degree? In what ways was that experience different from your grad degree at Juilliard?
I did my undergraduate degree at The Guildhall School in London. I have many, many dear friends that I met whilst studying there and I would have to say the main difference is that there isn’t a pub that everyone goes to after (sometimes between) classes. There was even a fully operating bar on campus. Imagine.
What was your reaction when you found out you were admitted to Juilliard?
I remember very vividly! I was in a pub (a different pub) with some close friends and when I read the email we all started cheering and jumping around and being generally celebratory. I bought everyone a round a drinks and then we went for burgers (poetic).
Tell us about the city where you grew up? Have you lived anywhere else prior to moving to New York City?
I was born and initially raised in Kirkcaldy which is a typical Scottish town, not very exciting and a bit dreary. When I was eight years old my family and I moved to rural Australia for a year and half which was a completely different experience. We returned to Balado which is a tiny hamlet in the middle of the Kinross-shire countryside. There wasn’t much to do apart from practice which, upon reflection, explains a lot.
When you are not in class or practicing, what do you like to do in New York?
Seeing live music (of all sorts), drinking, cooking and eating. I live in Greenpoint
in Brooklyn, quite close to the East River. There’s a lovely little park with a stunning view of Manhattan and I go there to read quite frequently. It’s very relaxing.
To what part of Juilliard culture was the hardest to adapt.
Everyone is really good and amazingly dedicated to what they do. I had to reassess how serious I was and I realised how badly I want to succeed. I upped my game pretty quick.
What about US culture?
That people are actually seriously entertaining the idea of Donald Trump being president.
What part of your culture do you most like to share with your American classmates?
Unabashed swearing and an extensive knowledge of Scotch.
You have a first name that is not common in the U.S. Where does it come from? Does it have a specific significance (cultural, linguistically, familial)? How would you write it phonetically?
It’s a traditional Gaelic name. I wish I could speak Gaelic. Maybe in the future I’ll move to the north of Scotland and learn it properly. It means red-haired king although I, unlike many Scots, don’t have red hair, and I am the king of nowhere. So not only is it inappropriate, it’s a nightmare to spell to people. Thanks Mum and Dad. I often say you should pronounce it like brewery without the b.
This is our first Eye on Culture for the 2015-2016 academic year. What advice do you have for new international students starting at Juilliard this fall?
Don’t forget why you fell in love with music (or dance and drama) in the first place, the best pizza near school is at Little Italy at 2047 Broadway and the best coffee is at Boxkite on 72nd between Broadway and Columbus.