Senior jazz prodigy rises to national acclaim
“Be original; not everyone is going to like your originality.”
These words of Aidan Pratte, a senior musician at Northgate, paint a realistic meaning behind jazz, especially the technique of improvisation.
While improvising heavily on the double bass, Pratte plays what feels right in the moment, creating his own strategies and style as he goes. Though he is able to see this as freedom to escape the limitations of ordinary music, many musicians often find improvising to be difficult because there is nothing written out to guide them.
“It’s a skill not many people invest their time into,” Pratte added. He continues to gain achievements in jazz based on improvisation.
Pratte earned an Honorable Mention from the National YoungArts Foundation in Jazz in both the 2020 and 2021 competitions.
The National YoungArts Foundation is an audition-based competition for young artists; it includes music, writing, performing arts, photography, and more. Musicians, writers, and artists from throughout the nation aspire to win for many benefits. Among these are instruction from professionals, nomination for the U.S Presidential Scholar in the Arts, a private network for the winners and alumni to upload their work and help inspire each other, and cash awards ranging from $100 to $10,000.
Pratte created a portfolio to audition in improvised jazz on his bass. A few of his friends recorded with him as accompaniments on drums, piano, and the trumpet. Rather than having paid professionals accompany him, Pratte felt that “it was just more natural” to play with his friends. Because his friends from other schools were also auditioning for the National YoungArts, they practiced separate parts to accompany one another for each of their portfolios. They then met up on a scheduled day to record all of the music.
As a senior, Pratte described the recording process for the competition to be “less rigorous than college portfolios.”
Pratte has been involved in music since the age of four, having started with the piano and learning other instruments later on. However, it has only been six years since he first started playing the bass. Nevertheless, Pratte worked hard and applied consistently to the National YoungArts and other competitions every year since eighth grade. Although he was rejected multiple times, he did not stray from his goals. When asked who inspires and motivates him, Pratte replied without hesitation.
“My sister inspires me the most personally,” he said, referring to Bianca, who plays flute and piccolo and is a 2015 Northgate graduate. “She’s a hard worker and she would be constantly practicing.”
Due to the recent and still ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, almost all events involving physical or social contact have been cancelled. To the disappointment of many, including Pratte, the awards ceremony for the winners of the National YoungArts was also cancelled. The ceremony, a sunset soirée, had been planned to take place in Los Angeles at the end of March. Pratte had been looking forward to that week: “I was going to meet up with other instrumentalists … that won awards on different instruments and play with them.”
However, amidst the bad news, a friend of his released an album during quarantine, in which Pratte plays in. He claimed it is a “mix of live and electronic” and that this experience was special to him.
Pratte has been involved in Northgate’s Jazz Band I, Jazz Combos, and Orchestra throughout his high school years. He is currently in the SF Jazz ensemble, as well as part of a regular gig in Oakland. When asked what is next for him, Pratte said he is “looking at double majoring” with music and science, having recently found interest in “especially environmental studies or biology.”
Greg Brown, director of instrumental music, calls Pratte “an immensely talented musician.”
“He is able to absorb what he hears from other musicians, intermingle that with what he hears in his head, then deliver a beautiful and original response all in the moment. His ability to embody this, the essence of great improvisation, sets him apart,” Brown observed.
Pratte has applied to many colleges, including music schools, but affirmed that “there’s this … notion that you need to go to a music school to be a musician” and that it is one of “the biggest lie[s] in the music industry.” As long as he produces what he likes, then he is satisfied.
What does music mean to artists like Pratte?
“It helps me express most of my thoughts. Having the freedom to be able to do that is extremely important to me and I take advantage of it by playing music everyday,” he said. Pratte refers to music as “a creative process.” There is no doubt he puts a substantial amount of effort into what he does, but his gratitude and dedication play a large part in creating the base for success.
As an experienced, older artist, Pratte has advice for young musicians: “If you like a certain artist, learn what about it it is that you like- … extract what you really like about them, take those practices and apply it to yourself. Compare yourself with them and ask: how do I stand next to these people I really like? How do I improve?”