A Jazz Sage Speaks Out

February 25, 2000 by Ken Micallef for Yahoo! Music


Guitarist/ composer Pat Metheny is one of the most successful, visible, and well-paid artists in the jazz world. Metheny's jazz has performed the rare feat of crossing demographic and stylistic lines, making him a record label's dream come true. Such was the allure that Warner Bros. reportedly signed him to a million-dollar contract a few years back, an unheard-of figure for a jazz artist. With Pat Metheny Group albums like Letter From Home and We Live Here appealing to smooth jazz fans, and other efforts such as Rejoicing, Question And Answer, and Bright Size Life pulling the boppers, it would seem that Metheny's shrewd muse has paid off. End of story? Not quite. When you're as forward-thinking as Metheny, you can't help but be frustrated at the current state of the music scene.

"To me," says Metheny somewhere in New York City, "record stores don't work, radio doesn't work, and they haven't worked for quite a while now. They are both disaster areas. I don't mean Tower Records in New York--they have my records. But you go to the K-Mart in Joplin, Missouri? You're not going to find not only my records, you're not even going to find a Miles Davis record. And as for radio, I don't fit in and I haven't for a long time. 99.7% of what I have ever recorded is unavailable on any radio station. The contemporary jazz stations may play three tunes where they edit out the pesky improvising. Whatever, I'm glad they like my little tune. But the jazz stations won't touch my stuff. I have the odd distinction of being embraced by the contemporary jazz stations for those 3.2 tunes, which to a lot of other people, not having heard [my other] music, excludes me from whatever hipness quotient needs to be there."

With a proponent of fully downloadable music on the Internet, Metheny sees the day when his entire catalog will be Net-ready. He also sees the Net as a boon to artists less fortunate than himself. "If we heard fill-in-the-blank [musician] often on the radio," he says, "our perception of them would be different. If you're a jazz guy, at least the 100,000 jazz fans in the world will know that it exists, but if a pop guy doesn't have a hit, you don't exist. That is as unfortunate for those people as it is that most jazz records only sell 3,000 copies. I don't see the problem as much in the music as I do in the culture and the mechanism that surrounds the music. The Internet has the potential to allow musicians outside the mainstream to find an audience that they probably don't know even exists."

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