LiveDaily Interview: Pat Metheny

February 15, 2002 by Jaan Uhelszki for

Although heralded as a guitar savant, Pat Metheny first began his musical journey by picking up his brother's trumpet at the tender age of seven. It wasn't until Metheny had entered his teens that he was even interested in the guitar.

But he picked up on the guitar quickly. By the time he was 14, Metheny, who lived in Lee's Summit, Mo., was already playing in sessions with some of the most notable players in nearby Kansas City, finally making his recording debut with keyboardist Paul Bley and bassist Jaco Pastorious on the 1974 album "Paul Bley (Improvising Artists)." While still a teenager, Metheny taught at the University of Miami and Berklee School of Music.

He went on to spend three years with Gary Burton's group before meeting keyboardist Lyle Mays and forming his own band. Almost 25 years later, Mays and Metheny are still together in the latest incarnation of the Pat Metheny Group, releasing their eleventh studio album, "Speaking of Now," and heading out on the road for a three-month tour that opens on Feb. 27.

LiveDaily spoke to Metheny about his very beginnings and why he no longer stays on the road for 300 dates a year.

Jaan Uhelszki: How did you first discover music?

Pat Metheny: My older brother Mike is an exceptional musician, and was a child-prodigy trumpet player who was playing when he was six or seven. He's five years older than me, so pretty much as far back as I can remember it, I was hearing him practice. And also my dad is an excellent trumpet player, my mom is a good singer, my grandfather--my mom's dad--was a professional trumpet player his whole life.

Jaan: You came up during a time when most people wanted to be Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, yet you chose jazz. Was there ever a moment where you thought, "Hey, I want to be a guitar god?"

Pat: I think that most people were into rock and roll and that sort of thing kind of as a way to rebel against their parents and stuff like that, beyond the musical attraction of it. For me, I was not only interested in rebeling against my parents, but I was also interested in rebeling against every person that I knew. So in a way, jazz was much more significant as a sort of refuge, in terms of actual content.

Mike, my brother, brought home a Miles Davis record, "For and More," when I was about eleven. By that time, I was already interested in guitar and the Beatles, and all the stuff that was also happening at that time. Don't get me wrong, I've always loved that stuff, too. I've always been very interested in music in a kind of general sense. It's still a little bit difficult for me to sort of break it down by genre. But when I heard that Miles Davis record, it was sort of like I always hear this thing that people say, that jazz is something you kind of have to warm up to, and you've got to learn a little bit about it, it's kind of difficult. That may be true, but for me, as an 11 year-old, it was like a lightning bolt going off. Instantly, that was my favorite thing. As much as I loved everything else, nothing compared to the feeling that I got from hearing great, improvising musicians play.

That began the journey for me, and I started going to the library and reading books, and discovering all the musicians. And from age probably 13 to 18, I was like the world's biggest jazz snob. I was worse than, like, Wynton Marsalis. All I wanted to hear was Miles and Coltrane and Sonny Rollins and Ornette [Coleman] and Wes Montgomery and Gary Burton.

Jaan: It seems like during that time, anything was possible. Maybe it's a reality, but I think it's a mindset as well.

Pat: I totally agree, and I personally feel that that's because at that point, at least in terms of the arts, it's like marketing had yet to really gain the g-forces necessary to allow it to really take off, you know? It was sort of like, "Let's throw it out there and see what the kids like." And now everything is so scientific, and the world has become so stratified that, in fact, that feeling of "everything" is so limited to most people. "Everything" to most people is sort of like what they see on TV, or what they are exposed to. And, unfortunately, for the masses of Americans anyway, they're exposed to a very, very small percentage of what "everything" actually is.

Jaan: It seems to me that kids are being led into jazz by the jam bands.

Pat: For me, we see that because Trey Anastacio, the guitar player in Phish, is always saying that I'm, like, his favorite. And I guess I must have met him somewhere along the line when he was a kid or something like that, and he talks about that a lot. And we see a lot of [jam-band fans at our] gigs because of that.

And of course, John Scofield is just going after [the jam-band fans], he's, like, working it. It does seem to be true, it's that area of interest that does lead to improvisational interests.

Jaan: When you first started out, weren't you marketed as a rock type?

Pat: Well, there was also a time where I think guitar, any electric guitar, still retained a kind of connection to the pop mainstream just by virtue of the way it looked. That certainly was an element in my case, because I was a young guy, and I wasn't wearing suits and ties and blah, blah, blah, blah. I was floppy. But one thing that has changed is that guitar doesn't have that much of a place in pop music now.

It's quite different now. ... With the exception of the Eddie Van Halen thing, [virtuosity] was never part and parcel of the rock experience. But as of [the era of] Nirvana, virtuosity became ridiculed, literally. It was kind of a joke, almost.

Jaan: It was a reaction to it.

Pat: It was a reaction to that. And the thing for me, in both cases, in the early stage and the late stage, is that none of that has anything to do with what I'm interested in doing. It doesn't even have too much to do with the guitar, it's more of just sound and spirit. That's why the trappings of rock and roll, or the trappings of fame, or whatever in general, have never had much resonance for me.

Jaan: Many think that music is stuck in a rather low moment right now. In your speech last year for the International Association of Jazz Educators, you said that the spiritual engine of jazz is the openness to experiment and be in the moment. Then you name this album, "Speaking of Now." Looking at things in the present-tense seems important to you.

Pat: It is, and I think that not just in a sort of macro- way, but in an overall way, I think there's a tendency among all of us to look backward, especially when times are rough. It's funny now that people are nostalgic about the '70s, and it's like, "Wow, really? It wasn't that great at the time." It's, like, so much better now in a lot of ways, especially when I see people being nostalgic about like, "Well, back in the old days, people used to eat better," and I'm thinking, "When everyone died when they were like 21, and grew to be four foot six? And everybody's teeth fell out at puberty, and they were cold all the time? Back then?" We're making gradual progress on a journey that's going to take thousands and thousands and thousands of years. It's still the infancy of all of this.

On just kind of an immediate level, there's a tendency within the jazz world, especially in the last few years, to just kind of, like, stand on the shoulders of the cats who have really done something, and I really resist that. It's attractive, it's an appealing way to do things, it's kind of an easy way to do things, because, man, you know, you can't go wrong with Duke Ellington.

It's great, but I've been lucky to have been around inspiring figures a lot, and the thing that unites them is their individuality, their uniqueness. More than in any other field, I think jazz is something that can't be repeated, it just is. Like Milt Jackson died a couple of years ago, last year. That's it. There's not going to be anything like that ever again. It's a one-of kind of thing. The value in that, to me, is something you have to kind of look into yourself and honor. You are this singular thing, and you will never be anything other than that, and you came from this situation, not that one. I think you have to kind of be in that.

Jaan: Do you still play about 300 gigs a year?

Pat: No, no. From, say, 1977 until about 1992 there was a tour that pretty much lasted all the time. If it wasn't one thing, it was another, and it was great. To tell you the truth, whatever level of "success" we've had--or popularity or whatever, selling significant numbers of records--it's all been built around that thing of going out there and playing lots of gigs, because in fact, our thing has never quite fit in anywhere.

Jaan: In some of your early interviews you prided yourself or making a record in two days, which is good for freshness, and capturing that magic moment--do you still feel that way?

Pat: I don't know about priding myself, because we didn't have any choice, let's put it that way. That was what we did, we had to do it that way. As time went on, we were afforded the chance to do it in different ways, and kind of run with that, and I think the records are much closer to illuminating the ideas we have as musicians now than they were in the early days.

Jaan: How long does it take you now to do a record?

Pat: It takes a couple months, from start to finish.

Jaan: What's your touring schedule like now? How many gigs do you average?

Pat: Probably between 130 and 160, somewhere in there. That seems to be a good zone, where you can still play enough gigs that the band becomes a band, and it really sort of integrates with the material to that degree that happens when you tour a lot. But there's enough time to have little breaks in between the legs of the tour.

Jaan: Is there a downside to touring for you? Are there survival tips or something you can say about that?

Pat: You know, there's no real downside for me. I know for a lot of people it's, "Oh, man, I've got to go out on tour, and it's so hard." I've never really had that, partially because ever since I was a little kid the whole thing of traveling around and playing music, that's like the coolest thing possible. It still is. I consider it really a privilege that you get to go out and play. The fact that people actually show up still kind of blows my mind.

[Note: The following tour itinerary has been provided by artist and/or tour sources, who verify its accuracy as of 15-Feb-2002. Changes may occur before tickets go on sale. Check with official artist web sites, ticketing sources and venues for late updates.]

27 - Northampton MA - Calvin Theatre
28 - Torrington CT - Warner Theatre

1 - Burlington, VT - Flynn Theatre
2 - Rochester, NY - Auditorium Theatre
3 - Syracuse, NY - Landmark Theatre
5 - Toronto, Ontario - Hummingbird Center
6 - Cleveland, OH - Lakewood Civic Auditorium
7 - Detroit, MI - Detroit Opera House
8 - Chicago, IL - Ford Ctr. for Perf. Arts
9 - St. Louis, MO - The Pageant
10 - Milwaukee, WI - Riverside Theatre
11 - Minneapolis, MN - Orchestra Hall
13 - Denver, CO - Paramount Theatre
14 - Salt Lake City, UT - Kingsbury Hall
16 - Vancouver, British Columbia - Queen Elizabeth Theatre
17 - Seattle, WA - Paramount Theatre
18 - Portland, OR - Arlene Schnitzer Hall
20 - Santa Rosa, CA - Luther Burbank Center
21 - Santa Cruz, CA - Civic Auditorium
22 - Oakland, CA - Paramount Theatre
23 - Universal City, CA - Universal Amphitheatre
24 - San Diego, CA - Spreckels Theatre
25 - Phoenix, AZ - Orpheum Theatre
28 - Austin, TX - Bass Concert Hall
29 - Dallas, TX - McFarlin Memorial Auditorium
30 - Houston, TX - Aerial Theatre

1 - Greenville, SC - Peace Center
2 - Atlanta, GA - The Tabernacle
4 - Clearwater, FL - Ruth Eckerd Hall
5 - Ft. Lauderdale, FL - Broward Center
6 - Lake Buena Vista, FL - House of Blues
8, 9 - Washington, DC - Lisner Auditorium
10 - New Brunswick, NJ - State Theatre
11 - Upper Darby, PA - Tower Theatre
12, 13 - New York, NY - Beacon Theatre

maintained by Thomas Hönisch TOP last update: March 9, 2002