Metheny's method

By Dave Veitch for Calgary Sun, June 25, 1999, reprinted with the kind permission of the author

Pat Metheny will never forget Herbie Hancock's act of kindness and support.

Almost 30 years ago, Hancock -- a star in jazz circles largely due to his keyboard work with Miles Davis -- heard about a local guitar wunderkind when he was playing a show in Kansas City, Miss.

He decided to check out the kid -- who just happened to be a 16-year-old Metheny.

"I was at this rehearsal, playing with this bass player and drummer, and I look up and there's Herbie, who was then -- like now -- my main hero," recalls Metheny, 44.

"I was sitting down ... and my knees literally started shaking."

"Herbie had this big afro -- it completely blew my mind. He was real encouraging and spent the whole afternoon with us. He even played a little bit on this crummy piano that was there."

Flash forward to 1999 and Hancock and Metheny are both two of the most respected figures in contemporary jazz for a remarkably similar set of reasons.

They're both fearless improvisers; they both follow their instincts and thrive in almost any musical setting; and they've both invented sounds that are now an everyday part of the musical vocabulary.

Calgarians are lucky enough to have Hancock and Metheny perform -- albeit separately -- during this year's Jazz Festival, which begins today and runs until July 4.

Hancock and his Miles Davis Quintet co-hort Wayne Shorter play tonight at the Martha Cohen Theatre; Metheny, playing in trio with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Bill Stewart, perform at the Jubilee Auditorium on Monday.

Metheny also brings with him an incredible diverse canon of material. Since making his recording debut in 1975, he's been responsible for melodic and accessible guitar-jazz albums; for notoriously difficult works such as his collaboration with Ornette Coleman, 1985's Song X, and an album of sculptured feedback, 1994's aptly titled Zero Tolerance for Silence; and for making the global village a little smaller with his excursions into world music (but more on that later).

"I feel like I've really been able to stay true to my own personal sense of what music could be like in the course of one guy's life and I kind of got away with it," Metheny says.

"For that, I feel both lucky and somewhat satisfied that I've been able not to make any compromises at all and be able to survive and continue to make records. So far, you're not going to hear me complain too much."

To create the sounds he hears in his head, Metheny has had to discover new music-making techniques (he was "sampling" long before the hip-hop community made it a common practice) and to invent new instruments and customize old ones. He was a pioneer of the guitar synthesizer, for instance.

"All of that is a reflection of my general curiosity as a musician," Metheny says.

"I'm always looking to mess around with things, whether it's the form of a tune or the sound of something. It's rare when I say, 'That's cool.' I'm always saying, 'That's cool, but ...'"

"On the other hand, I feel very lucky to have come of age as a musician at a time when so many amazing new possibilities and options have come to be born. The whole issue of musical organization through computers -- by that, I mean being able to do scale models of compositions before you commit them to paper -- has been something that really benefitted by growth as a musician."

Metheny has also benefitted from immersing himself in Brazilian, African and Oriental musics -- all of which have informed his recent albums -- though he doesn't buy into the so-called recent rise of "world-beat."

"When Dizzy Gillespie was playing Afro-Cuban-ish music in the 1950s, was that world music or was it jazz? Those barriers have been destroyed for decades," he points out.

"As a musician who gets to travel around the world regularly, I'm always struck by how much everybody is influenced by everybody. In Brazil now, you'll find stuff that sounds more like Metallica than samba.... So I think it's really impossible to create these nationalistic boundaries and it has been that way for a long, long time."


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