Saltwater Portrait

Music inspires Milton doctor

Jon Patterson moonlights as songwriter
Dr. Jonathan Patterson plays guitar in the recording studio in the basement of his Milton home. BY NICK ROTH
December 27, 2011

Most weekdays you'll be sure to find Dr. Jonathan Patterson working at his office in Milton. But after the white coat comes off and his kids are put to bed, look for him in his basement recording studio working on his latest song.

Patterson, founder of Ocean Medical Imaging in Milton, is an aspiring songwriter who has built a Milton following with his songs about local businesses. So far he's written and performed songs for Po' Boys and Vintage Café, and he's currently working on a techno tune for E.D.G.E. Academy.

His goals are a bit loftier than writing songs for local businesses. For the last year and a half, he's working with coaches in Nashville and Los Angeles to perfect his songwriting skills, and he hopes songs will be picked up and performed by signed artists.

“If I had my way, I'd write all different kinds of music, and no one would ever know that I wrote it because somebody else would take it up,” he said.

He said the best songwriters produce two to three songs per week. But with a full-time job and three young children, he's trying to keep a pace of about one per week. He's also trying to complete two albums. In about two months, he plans to release “Rodney Avenue,” an album named after the street in Dewey Beach. He's also working on an album of songs about Milton, a town he's grown to love.

Vintage Café owner Ami Rae said Patterson performed his song about her Union Street restaurant on a Saturday in front of a packed house. He then presented Rae with a framed copy of the lyrics and a CD version of the song.

“It was awesome,” she said. “He's just a passionate guy. I did know he was into music. He has a lot of varied interests, and he's really happy and excited to do stuff.”

Patterson said he noticed Rae often played Jack Johnson music and modeled his song to emulate Johnson's style. After he hands over the final product, Patterson said, businesses are free to use the song in whatever capacity they'd like, whether in advertisements or just background music.

Patterson's wife, Kristin, said the family loves her husband's passion for music. When he's studying a new genre for his latest song, she said all music in the house is tuned to artists of that genre. When he was working on the Vintage Café song, Kristin said the sounds of Jack Johnson and Bruno Mars could be heard throughout the house.

Last Christmas, his family gave him a ukulele as a gift. As a way of showing his appreciation, Kristin said, he served as the family's alarm clock for the next several months, serenading everyone each morning with the miniature guitar.

Kristin said she was well aware of her husband's affinity for music when she met and married him. When she met him, she said, his friends called him the physician musician. She said she believes it's a perfect way to offset the stress of working as a doctor.

“After a long day, it's nice to be able to shift gears,” she said. “I think it makes him a better doctor and a better musician.”

Patterson said he loves the small-town feel of Milton. Since moving to the town three years ago, he walks with his kids to school every day and then to work. Proof can be found in a dirt path that now leads from his backyard to the office and to Milton Elementary.

Jonathan and Kristin have three children – 10-year-old Agnes and 8-year-old twins Anna and F.X. When the twins were born, he said, he took a brief hiatus from music.

“It's hard to stay out to 3 a.m. when your wife's home with twins,” he said. “Now the kids are a little older, and I have some time.”

Nearly every Wednesday night Patterson performs at an open mic night at the Frogg Pond in Rehoboth Beach. He said he does it mostly to keep his voice in shape.

“I think my voice is probably my No. 1 instrument now because people keep commenting on it,” he said. “I never really took it seriously to tell you the truth, but even if the song is bad, my coach in Nashville will say, 'At least your voice sounds great.'”

Patterson has traveled to Nashville twice in the last year for conventions, which he says only helps him grow as a songwriter. During his latest trip, he said he was put on the spot to perform a country song but had nothing to play. It taught him to broaden his horizons and explore other genres of music. He's since developed a few country songs and is stepping out of his comfort zone to experiment with techno and dance music.

Patterson grew up near Scranton, Pa., and began playing music when he was 11 or 12 years old, taught by his Aunt Reginald, a nun who taught music theory at an all-girls college. It was from her that Patterson learned music theory, which he said is what has allowed him to cross over between instruments.

As he grew older, he began playing in local bands for money and it helped him pay his way through college. He attended medical school at Georgetown University and worked in hospitals in Reading, Pa., Philadelphia and New York City before settling down in Delaware.

“[My aunt] believed that music belonged to God and to be paid for music was sinful,” he said. “So my playing out – she tolerated it, but that wasn't her thing.”

Patterson's aunt taught him how to play piano, but he has since developed into a professional-level bassist as well as an adept guitarist. When one of his songs requires drum tracks, he typically has another musician add that section into the song.

Shortly after moving to Delaware 16 years ago from New York, Patterson played with a band called Pilot Fish. Since then, he's also developed friendships with many local musicians who've been helping him along the way.

But, for the most part, his playing days are behind him. He said his focus is now on becoming a strong songwriter.

“Music is such a great part of life,” he said. “Original music is such an interesting thing too because no matter what great song you've heard, it had to be written by somebody somewhere and played by somebody for the first time.”

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