The current Pat Metheny Group members are Pat Metheny (guitars), Lyle Mays (piano and keyboards), Steve Rodby (double bass, electric bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums), Cuong Vu (trumpet).

He is also a fan of several pop music artists, especially singer/songwriters including The Beatles; James Taylor (after whom he named the song “James” on Offramp); Bruce Hornsby, Cheap Trick, Joni Mitchell, and is also fond of Buckethead‘s music.

Pat Metheny: An Idealist Reconnects With His Mentors

….Growing up in Lee’s Summit, Mo., Mr. Metheny began to develop his certainty as a high school-age professional in Kansas City. In 1975, when he was 21, he made his first album, “Bright Size Life,” with a trio including Jaco Pastorius on bass and Bob Moses on drums – and started to make a major change in jazz. It introduced a lyrical strain in the music that didn’t come from the blues or old popular standards; he wasn’t aggressively overplaying, as many jazz-into-rock guitarists were at the time, and he suggested new areas of harmony that had not yet flooded American jazz pedagogy, but soon would.

A few years later he formed the Pat Metheny Group and has kept it together since 1977, playing music that is melodically rich, harmonically advanced, besotted with the possibilities of electronic effects and recording technology, and usually kind of glossily pretty. That prettiness – and the adaptations he’s made to the sound of the guitar, especially the guitar synthesizer, with its limpid, brasslike sound – has been insurmountable for many people who prefer their jazz based in the rudiments of swing and blues. But his audience has never abated….

There is a plainspokenness, a kind of folkish natural feeling, to Bley’s lines and his harmony, I added. Is the idea of “inevitability” related to that?

….”Well, for me,” he answered, “let’s keep jazz as folk music. Let’s not make jazz classical music. Let’s keep it as street music, as people’s everyday-life music. Let’s see jazz musicians continue to use the materials, the tools, the spirit of the actual time that they’re living in, as what they build their lives as musicians around. It’s a cliché, but it’s such a valuable one: something that is the most personal becomes the most universal.”….

Mr. Metheny redirected his thoughts. “What I was going to talk about is Miles’s solo. It’s this completely invented language that happens to line up perfectly with all the things we now have quantified in jazz, in terms of its language and grammar. It wasn’t quantified then, as it is now, that if you see this kind of chord, you’re going to play this set of notes. This is not an easy tune. It’s not like playing on a blues. It moves around a couple of keys, then a bridge, does a weird move that you’ve got to deal with. He deals with it in such an abstract, hip way. It’s melody, and it has this whole thing of glue – the way ideas are connected with other ideas on a phrase-by-phrase basis.”

Davis had to slow down his imagination to a much calmer tempo than the song’s, I suggested, to imply so much swing in each note and phrase.

Mr. Metheny took a deep breath. “Yeah. You know, that word swing is almost a political buzzword. To me, in the language I’m using here, that’s the glue I’m talking about. The connection of ideas.

“But there’s another way that music connects: with who the person is, the time he’s living in, how he’s able to manifest a sound that represents all that. To me, that’s swing, and it doesn’t have anything to do with jazz.” (His accent renders the word “jee-azz.”)

“Swing is kind of this quality? It exists in human interaction. In the way somebody talks and moves. I find its resonance in architecture, and literature.”….

Now he lives in an Upper West Side high rise, with his French-Moroccan wife, Latifa, and their two young sons, Jeff Kaiis and Nicolas Djakeem.  (Update, he has now moved back to Kansas City, Missouri…)

For a few years during that touring period, he spent a lot of time in Brazil and got to know Antonio Carlos Jobim before the great composer died in 1994. (The influence of Brazilian music on Mr. Metheny, rather than the reverse, is an often-disputed point.) Mr. Metheny wanted to hear “Passarim,” a three-and-a-half minute condensed masterpiece from Jobim’s last album whose words protest environmental pollution; it appears on the CD of the same name in English and Portuguese, and we listened to the Portuguese version.

Mr. Metheny smiled as the music started. “It’s so much more than a tune. This is really like composition. Especially that little bit.” He backed up the disc to where the chorus of female voices, made up of Jobim’s friends and family members, repeated lines over descending and shifting harmony.

Jobim’s catarrhal voice re-entered. “See, you could call this part the bridge,” Mr. Metheny observed, “except that it keeps spinning off into this other stuff, kind of like in ‘Desafinado.’ It should end there, after he’s finished, but it doesn’t, and it goes into this whole other thing. Then it keeps modulating into these different keys.”

….The music suddenly shifted from bossa to waltz time. “This is so advanced,” he said. “The beauty of the harmony – major triads moving down throughout this whole thing, with different kinds of voices. Plus, all that glue, melodic glue: it never stops, from the first note to the end. Where are we now? We’re almost two minutes into the track, and nothing has repeated yet. I mean, that’s advanced the way Paul Bley is advanced. There’s a connection there.”

It works because Jobim’s ideas are complete within themselves, I suggest, and he wills them to fit together, regardless of traditional ideas of structure.

“Yeah,” Mr. Metheny agrees. “It’s like when you first wake up in the morning and you don’t really think about what you’re doing, and maybe you write your best stuff. You’re not in the way. When talking about writing, I often use the analogy of archaeology. There are these great tunes all around. Your skill as a musician allows you to pick them out without breaking them.”

Bringing the Music to Life

After Bley, his hallowed supernova – and then issues of rhythm, melody, harmony and extended composition – Mr. Metheny wanted to talk about touch. He put on Bach’s Fugue No. 22 in B-Flat minor, from the pianist Glenn Gould’s 1965 recording of “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” Book I, and read along from the score.

“B-flat minor, the saddest of all keys,” Mr. Metheny said, at the end. “The main reason I picked this was the way he was able to invoke this almost lyrical, vocal, singing quality from an instrument that doesn’t involve breath. We all have the same mandate, in a way: we try to communicate the kinds of phrases that would be believable if somebody were singing them.”

Part of the reason that some people resist jazz guitar-playing, Mr. Metheny said, is because guitar players don’t convey that sense of breath. “Saxophonists have a very wide dynamic range. They’re dealing with a ratio of about that” – he spread his hands to indicate a foot. “With guitar we have a ratio of about this” – he spread his thumb and index finger to indicate about four inches – “in terms of what we can do with our touch.”

Mr. Metheny talked about how Gould made phrases of music come almost physically alive. “No two notes are ever the same volume. With the guitar, you really have to model in your mind this wider thing; you’re trying to create the illusion of a bigger dynamic range. The guy who defined that, on guitar, was Jim Hall, who opened up five or six degrees of dynamics on both sides by picking softer. He could then make certain things jump out a little bit more.”

Making Every Moment Count

Two hours into the marathon session, Mr. Metheny seemed as fresh as when he came in. Preferring to continue without a break, he produced a snack and kept talking. Near the end, we got around to his favorite guitar solo of all time: Wes Montgomery’s chorus and a half on “If You Could See Me Now,” from “Smokin’ at the Half Note,” recorded in 1965 by the Wynton Kelly Trio with Wes Montgomery.

As a young musician, Mr. Metheny did everything he could to sound like Montgomery, including playing without a pick and improvising parallel lines an octave apart. “But when I was 14 or 15,” he said, “I realized that what I was doing was really disrespectful because that wasn’t me, that was him. I grew up in Lee’s Summit, Mo. I didn’t grow up in New York City. I’m white; I’m not black. I’m from a little town where you couldn’t help but hear country music, and I loved it. I always wanted to address those things with certain notes, qualities of chords, kinds of voice-leading.”

He cued the solo. We listened once, then listened again while he talked.

“This is such an incredibly strong melodic opening,” he said, during the first four bars of the solo, before Montgomery moves into triplet patterns in bars five through eight. “And also, that first phrase is pretty full, like a full speaking voice, but then he’s really soft here. It’s almost like Glenn Gould; every note’s a different volume.”

In the second chorus, the band starts to swing harder, and Montgomery plays powerful, earthy phrases in the second A section. “Then there’s the blues factor in all of this, too, which he just tucks in there,” Mr. Metheny said.

Toward the end of each section, Montgomery forecast the beginning of the next part, building some tension; each time, Mr. Metheny was ecstatic. “He’s starting a new thing, setting it up. And now, look at this” – during the second chorus – “just quarter notes. He gets two or three levels above the time, and then gets right back in the pocket.”

“It’s really hard to play a short solo,” Mr. Metheny said when the track ended. “Like an eight-bar solo. Every single thing about it has to count. And that’s like Bach, almost.” 

(article in NY Times 2005)

(from JAM, August/September 2002)

As a grade school kid growing up in (then rural) Lee’s Summit (MO) 40 years ago, my young imagination was captured by a book called Flying Saucers Have Landed by George Adamski. I haven’t seen it since and have a feeling that, by current standards, it probably wouldn’t measure up to more credible literary works.

Still, I will never forget how it first caused me to consider the possibility that we weren’t alone in the cosmos, especially on those warm summer nights when I’d look up at the stars through the bedroom window screen and wonder what kind of truth might be “out there.”

Today, years of sightings, unexplainable phenomena and tantalizing “X-Files” later, it’s tempting to believe that we have indeed been visited, even though the chances of such contact still seem remote. Call me a hopeful agnostic, with an eye toward the infinite sky.

There is one thing, however, that seems certain. If we have been observed by beings smart enough to get here from there, once they had a chance to look us over and see how we seem hell-bent on self-annihilation, they would surely sigh a collective sigh, shrug a collective shrug, and say something like, “We have nothing to learn from these people. Let’s move on.” (And how fortunate for Gort, Klaatu, and E.T. that they have that option!)

We, on the other hand, remain faced with the daily challenges of earthbound survival as the variety of ways to destroy each other continues to advance beyond limited gray matter and combined common sense.

History doesn’t lie. There are the dates we all know “that live on in infamy,” when humanity showed its uglier side and took things another step closer to the edge. No matter your age, they are the milestones that shaped generations and forged new destinies.

December 7 remains an anniversary that has been rightfully acknowledged since 1941, when a surprise attack drew the U.S. into World War II. The first nukes brought that bloody battle to an abrupt end, albeit with foreboding results.

Late October of 1962 is forever stained into the memories of those who recall when “the other side blinked.” For a period of several days that autumn we were closer to World War III than anyone could have imagined.

And November 22 has been giving pause since 1963. It was on that sunny afternoon in Dallas, also nearly 40 years ago, that the murder of one man literally changed the mood – and direction – of an entire country.

September 11, however, is something altogether different. On a clear Tuesday morning, nearly one year ago, ordinary civilians just trying to do good work and take care of their families were suddenly thrust onto the front lines of an unwanted war, a war that would begin with thousands of innocent, defenseless people brutally crushed and incinerated as a disbelieving world looked on.

And so, now we have a new date for the history books.

How will present and future generations mark this somber anniversary? On 9/11/02, we will begin to find out.

Will there be more tawdry football halftime shows? Will there be slick theatrical releases that trivialize the horror by reducing it to a profitable “entertainment vehicle?” Will frowny-faced talking heads temporarily give up the guffaws before returning to rim shots and “happy talk” on 9/12?

Maybe an entire day of nothing but total silence would be best. A Day When the Earth Stands Still. A day of contemplation, and a day when the value of a deep breath of clean, crisp air is fully appreciated. And, yes, a day when every occupant of this tiny dot in the void gives serious thought to longterm consequences.

Because, like it or not, the approaching 9/11 will also be a day when we will again be forced to wonder not if, but when and where the next shoe will surely drop, as we savor each and every moment of a finite existence. And, as the millennium of our new discontent continues to unfold.

I don’t know about you, but the next time one of those saucers lands, I think I’ll be thumbing a ride.

(c) 2002 Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors
Reprinted with permission