Improvisational Theater

Making up melodies with guitar great Pat Metheny

by Ed Hazell, January 23, 2003 for Berklee.edu


Pat Metheny certainly doesn't look his age. At 48, he's still trim, his face is wreathed in curly brown hair, and he beams a boyish smile when he laughs. But if his looks are deceptive, then his words betray his years. His answers to student questions about improvisation at a workshop at the Berklee Performance Center last month revealed the wisdom that only years of experience in music can bring. In a wide-ranging question-and-answer session, he spoke on many facets of the improviser's art-leading bands, improvising melody, and the necessity of both education and performing for growth as an artist.

Since first gaining international attention in 1974 at the age of 19 in the quartet of Executive Vice President Gary Burton, Metheny has gone on to create some of the most popular jazz of the past 25 years. Starting with 1978's Pat Metheny Group, his attractive upbeat music, which draws on rock, folk, and Brazilian music, was both commercially successful and artistically challenging. He has also worked with an impressively eclectic range of improvisers, including avant-gardists such as Ornette Coleman and Derek Bailey, as well as hard bop mainstream jazz players such as Herbie Hancock, Roy Haynes, and Michael Brecker.

A Berklee faculty member in the early 1970s, Metheny returned to Berklee in December for a weeklong residency as the third Herb Albert Visiting Professor (Bassist Abe Laboriel and composer/arranger Alan Broadbent are the other two Alpert professors). In addition to concerts and guitar workshops, Metheny fielded questions about improvisation from a student audience that filled two-thirds of the BPC.

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Ed Hazell is a freelance jazz writer whose work appears in the Boston Phoenix, Jazziz, Berklee Today, and other magazines. He is the author of Berklee: The First 50 Years.

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