JazzOnline Q&A 1998 with Pat Metheny

Rare is the improvising artist who reaches the wider audience without diluting his art. Rarer still is such an artist who sees his audience expand apace with his musical vision. At 43, Pat Metheny– virtuoso guitarist, multi-faceted composer, innovative producer and guitar synthesizer pioneer– finds himself in a most enviable position, primarily the result of an insatiable musical intelligence and seemingly unflagging energy. “Running” aptly describes his fast-forward career.

Born August 12, 1954 in a rural exurb of Kansas City called Lee’s Summit, Missouri, Pat Metheny has been a professional musician for virtually half of his life. The guitarist’s credentials, even outside of the Pat Metheny Group, are most impressive. An instructor while still in his teens at both the University of Miami and Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Pat joined Gary Burton’s band at age 19. During his three year stay (1974-77), Pat was featured on three of the vibraphonist’s ECM albums (Ring, Dreams So Real and Passengers). Pat has performed and/or recorded with some of the most innovative musicians of the past two decades: Gary Burton, Paul Bley, Sonny Rollins, Steve Swallow, Dewey Redman, Paul Motian, Hubert Laws, Roy Haynes, Miroslav Vitous, Dave Liebman, Eberhard Weber, Julius Hemphill, Jack DeJohnette, Michael Brecker, Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins, Ornette Coleman, Milton Nascimento, Herbie Hancock, Steve Reich, Joshua Redman, Bruce Hornsby and Trilok Gurtu. In 1979, he was a member of Joni Mitchell’s stellar backing group for her Shadows and Light tour. Having recorded 23 records in 21 years, Metheny’s singular approach has been captured in a variety of settings, each a distinctive piece of a bold, larger design.

In the past few years, Pat has received a declaration from the Governor of Missouri proclaiming February 25th, Charlie Haden/ Pat Metheny Day in honor of the Missouri natives‘ unyielding artistic contribution to the arts and to celebrate the release of their record 'Beyond The Missouri Sky.' Toured with Michael Brecker, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette and Joey Calderazzo in support of Michael’s recording 'Tales From The Hudson.' The recording won a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance and Best Jazz Instrumental Solo (Michael Brecker). Released 'Beyond The Missouri Sky' with Charlie Haden on February 25th to extraordinary reviews. Recorded with Marc Johnson’s group, Bass Desires (featuring Bill Frisell and Joey Baron) on the recording, 'The Sound Of Summer Running.' Performed on Dave Liebman’s new record which is scheduled for release in Oct. 1998. 1997 Joined avant-garde guitar great, Derek Bailey and drummers Paul Wertico and Greg Bendian to record 'The Sign Of 4,' a triple CD of live and studio recordings on Knitting Factory Records. Performed at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz’s 10th Anniversary TV show. Artists who appeared were Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, Clark Terry, Joshua Redman, Ron Carter, George Benson, Jimmy Heath, Natalie Cole, Stevie Wonder and others. Released the Pat Metheny Group recording 'Quartet' on Geffen Records. The recording features the core group of Pat, Lyle, Steve and Paul. The album reached the Number 1 spot on the Billboard Jazz Chart two weeks after it’s release. Performed with the Jim Hall Trio as part of the Smithsonian Institute’s program on the history of the electric guitar. Performed on the last Tony Williams recording, Wilderness with Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker and Stanley Clarke. Toured Europe with the Kenny Garrett Quartet in July. They featured the music from the record, 'Pursuance: The Music Of John Coltrane'; Kenny on sax, Pat on guitar, Nat Reeves on bass and Brian Blade on drums. Received an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music. Completed the 'We Live Here' world tour in South America with the Pat Metheny Group. Performances took place in Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. Composed, recorded, produced and performed all instruments on the soundtrack to the film, 'Passaggio Per Il Paradiso' a/k/a 'Gentle Into The Night.' Metheny also just concluded a major tour for the CD 'Imaginary Day' and a successful trio tour featuring the guitarist along with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Brian Blade.

Do you remember how or when you first "discovered" jazz?

As I was growing up, my parents were enthusiastic fans of music in general, and both of them were very good amateur musicians as well, my mom as a singer and my dad as a trumpet player. They had various records that were on the fringe of jazz, such as Glenn Miller's big band music and artists like Jonah Jones or Al Hirt. There was a particularly strong interest in trumpet players as my older brother Mike was something of a child prodigy on that horn. So records featuring trumpet players such as Raphael Mendez, Doc Severinsen (this was years before the 'Tonight Show' leadership for him), Clark Terry and others were commonly on the turntable. One day Mike brought home a record called 'Four and More,' an at-that-time recent release by Miles Davis. I have often heard people describe how jazz is a kind of music that you have to gradually learn to appreciate and stuff like that. Well, all I know is that within about 30 seconds of hearing that record, this particular 12 year old kid (me) was hooked for life! Everything about it, the mood, the vibe, the sound, the energy, and especially the idea that these guys were improvising this incredible music totally captured my imagination - and it hasn't let up since then.

What was the first record you ever purchased? (jazz or otherwise)

The very first record I remember buying was the single by the Beatles that had 'I Feel Fine' on one side and 'She's a Woman' on the other. I am pretty sure that this was 1965 and I was 10 years old.

Name one jazz record that "says it all" for you and why?

I would pick 'Smokin' at the Half Note' - Wes Montgomery and the Wynton Kelly Trio live in NYC at a club called the Half Note. Everything about it attracts me - the melodies, the feel, the ingenuity of all the players, the interaction, the sound - everything. I could list many other records that meet the same criteria.

What's in your CD player right now?

Kenny Burrell - 'Blues; The Common Ground.' Miles Davis - 'Nefertiti.' Keith Jarrett - 'The Sun Bear Concerts.' Wayne Shorter - 'Speak No Evil.' Chick Corea 'Now He Sings, Now He Sobs.' Joshua Redman - 'Moodswing'. Freddie Hubbard - 'Superblue.' Brian Blade 'Fellowship' and the test cd of the record I just made with Gary Burton that includes Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Roy Haynes and myself.

What was the last movie you saw?

I see lots of movies - almost everything I can that comes out. The last movie I saw that I thought was really interesting? Robert Duvall's 'The Apostle.' coming from that part of the country, in my opinion, Duvall got an amazing amount of stuff right about that culture and vibe. 'Dark City' was a movie that came and went real fast recently that had an incredibly original visual vocabulary.

What was the last book you read?

I used to be a voracious reader. Something happened to me in past few years and I have really slacked off. I don't know why. Could it be....... the internet??? The last really interesting book I read was 'Race Matters' by Dr. Cornell West.

What is your favorite escape?

I don't really ever feel like I'm "escaping" from anything, because everything I do is something that I love. I do like to go someplace warm in the winter when it is cold in the northeast where I live; even for just a few days. I like Miami in general, but really like it in the winter. I would say that that feels like kind of an escape for me.

What is your favorite use of music in film?

That's easy. My favorite score ever was 'Cinema Paradiso.'

What inspires you to create?

It is almost a compulsion for me - but not in a bad way. It is just something that I need to do, that I love to do. And in many ways, I don't even see it as "creation". It's more like finding things that are already there anyway and just shining a light on them or making them available for other people to check out if they want to.

Which of your recordings remains closest to you and why?

That is a hard question. Of course all of them are special to me for different reasons, they function as the musical markers for me of different bands, different musical interests, and even the different periods of my life. Yet, at the same time, I feel like records are overrated as a way of defining musicians and their careers. In my case, I have made 20 something records, yet have literally played thousands of concerts around the world during the same time. Each concert for me has been given the same energy as Each record. Some have been better than others in both departments, but records are permanent and concerts happen once and then are gone forever and are thus forgotten. I really feel like the "in concert" thing for a long time, especially in the early years, was way better than the records indicate, but the gap between the two has narrowed. I think, as we've gotten better at making records and have had more freedom to do it the way we always wanted. ok, having said all that, let me anwer the question!!!

Right now, (and this changes all the time) I would say that 'Secret Story' and 'Beyond the Missouri Sky' both have a special place for me and always will. 'Bright Size Life' and 'Question and Answer' seem to be good. 'As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls' also seems to have worn well. 'The Sign of 4' is a really special one. Same with 'Song X.' The two live records, 'Travels' and 'The Road to You' are ones that I feel real close to. And I think 'Imaginary Day' is the best studio group record we have done along with 'First Circle.' If you were to ask me tomorrow, I may say something else....

If you were not a musician what would you be?

I have always thought the only other option for me would be a life of crime -burglary - breaking into houses and stuff. I could also be a drifter. Maybe a jazz critic.

Please complete the following:

"Everybody needs a little jazz in their life because" ... at it's best, it is the most entertaining, fun and stimulating music in the world. It is the "inclusive form" - the one that makes room for the most people from the most places, listeners and players alike, to discover through music who they are and what makes them feel what they feel as the unique, individual human beings that they are."

maintained by Thomas Hönisch TOP last update: October 13, 2001