Ru Pattison - Ru at the top
Ruaridh Pattison may have to file a missing person report. Back around 1998 a saxophonist appeared on the BBC’s Blue Peter and triggered a fascination for the instrument in a six year old that, in June, saw Ruaridh, now 19, become the fifth holder of the Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year title.
The identity of his original inspiration has consistently eluded Kinross-born Ruaridh – it’s pronounced “Roo-ree” but he prefers the simpler “Ru” – and despite going to the length of phoning the BBC to find out if they could name names from their production records, he’s no further forward.
So if you are – or know - this saxophonist, get in touch. Ru wants to say thanks, although the stress and preparation that went into winning the competition followed by the initial daze that winning produces might have made him temporarily curse the night he happened upon the saxophone rather than some more typical Blue Peter activity involving sticky-back plastic.
“Not only do I not know this saxophonist’s name, I’m not quite sure why I latched onto the saxophone or what it was I liked about it,” says Ru. “All I know is, every time learning an instrument was mentioned, I asked for a saxophone. My parents, who weren’t particularly big jazz fans, steered me towards the piano to begin with and I’m glad they did because I learned how to read music and basic theory that came in really useful when I started investigating jazz harmony.”
His heart wasn’t in the keyboard, though, and at the age of eleven, when an aunt who had studied clarinet at the RSAMD in Glasgow gave him the alto saxophone that had been her second study, Ru gave up the piano in favour of learning his way round the saxophone.
“I heard my first jazz album not long after that, a live recording by Thelonious Monk, and although I’m not sure I understood what was going on, there was something about it I liked,” says Ru, who is getting in some useful preparation for the touring musician’s life by conducting this interview by phone from the band bus as the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland heads to Manchester on its annual summer tour with guests, guitarist Mike Walker and saxophonist Iain Dixon. “There was also a schools big band in Perthshire that played things like Birdland and The Chicken. It only came together once a year for a few days but it was good experience.”
More regular experience was just around the corner in the shape of Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra, whose director, the tireless Richard Michael, pointed Ru towards some classic albums, and then the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra.
“Standing up to take your first solo was a real test in FYJO,” he says. “There was great camaraderie but you also felt you had to deliver. After my first solo with the band, Richard Michael asked if it was my own or something I’d taken down from a transcription. It was all my own work, so I felt I was doing something right.”
By this time Ru was listening avidly to Michael Brecker, whose ability to leave his own stamp on the many pop sessions he played while pursuing his own contemporary jazz style made a big impression. Ru was also studying the alto saxophone masters, especially Charlie Parker but also Lee Konitz, Art Pepper, Ornette Coleman and other favourites including Steve Coleman, Tim Berne and Andrew D’Angelo.
For his final school year Ru moved from Kinross High School to the much respected City of Edinburgh Music School. Here, he decided that he wanted to pursue music as a career. He applied successfully to the Guildhall in London (he begins his second year shortly) and as well as studying saxophone with Jean Toussaint, he has thrown himself into the college’s extracurricular jamming culture. Having fellow Scot, drummer and inveterate gig organiser Corrie Dick around at Guildhall too, he says, helped him acclimatise to the big city.
“Winning the Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year is a terrific boost, especially when you see the high standard of the previous winners,” he says. “There’s an expectation that comes with the title, though, and I want to live up to that. I’m planning on forming my own band, maybe putting a saxophone quartet together too. That’s a big step but working alongside Mike Walker and Iain Dixon, guys who have played jazz at a really high level and have their own artistic vision, on this NYJOS tour has been really inspiring and I’m really looking forward to working on my own music now.”
From JazzUK, August/September 2011.