Who is Pat Metheny?

Pat MethenyPat Metheny website

As the story goes, years ago way, way back in  Florida, the TV Producer/Writer/Director Chuck Lorre (Big Bang Theory) was invited to a Guitar Master Class by one of his University associates. At the time Chuck was a working musician who thought he had his guitar playing well under control. On first seeing the “kid” who was directing the class he thought he was unlikely to walk away with anything of value. After all he was a professional musician with a lot of hours under his belt. He was wrong. The master class completely changed the direction of his life. After seeing and hearing what he had yet to accomplish he more or less gave up music and switched to TV production. The “kid” was Pat Metheny.

Outside the Jazz arena most people, including a significant number of guitarists, would say “Who?”. And yet “the twenty time Grammy Award winner is one of the most popular musicians of the past forty years, his impact and influence as a composer, guitarist, producer, arranger, collaborator, musical visionary and habitual sonic explorer is without parallel. Metheny’s induction into the DownBeat Hall of Fame is yet another accolade for this perennially restless musician. Having sold 20 million records worldwide  (three RIAA-certified gold), Metheny, as well as being a best-selling artist, is also an educator, poll winner and father of three. He has topped the Guitar category in the DownBeat Readers Poll for seven consecutive years.” – December 2013, DownBeat, page 30.

From his website here is a thumbnail sketch of his biography:

PAT METHENY was born in Kansas City on August 12, 1954 into a musical family. Starting on trumpet at the age of 8, Metheny switched to guitar at age 12. By the age of 15, he was working regularly with the best jazz musicians in Kansas City, receiving valuable on-the-bandstand experience at an unusually young age. Metheny first burst onto the international jazz scene in 1974. Over the course of his three-year stint with vibraphone great Gary Burton, the young Missouri native already displayed his soon-to-become trademarked playing style, which blended the loose and flexible articulation customarily reserved for horn players with an advanced rhythmic and harmonic sensibility – a way of playing and improvising that was modern in conception but grounded deeply in the jazz tradition of melody, swing, and the blues. With the release of his first album, Bright Size Life (1975), he reinvented the traditional “jazz guitar” sound for a new generation of players. Throughout his career, Pat Metheny has continued to re-define the genre by utilizing new technology and constantly working to evolve the improvisational and sonic potential of his instrument.  Metheny’s versatility is almost nearly without peer on any instrument. Over the years, he has performed with artists as diverse as Steve Reich to Ornette Coleman to Herbie Hancock to Jim Hall to Milton Nascimento to David Bowie.  Metheny’s body of work includes compositions for solo guitar, small ensembles, electric and acoustic instruments, large orchestras, and ballet pieces, with settings ranging from modern jazz to rock to classical. (Under his own name he currently has over 43 CDs and 6 performance DVD’s in his catalogue – and that doesn’t include sixteen film scores and a huge number of recordings where he was listed as a sideman).

In the December issue of Downbeat he was inducted into the Reader’s Hall of Fame.

Here is an abbreviated Youtube clip from my favorite album Question and Answers Pat Metheny Trio plays the title track .This was an extraordinary album of straight ahead jazz with two master jazz musicians: Roy Haynes on drums and Dave Holland on bass. The Youtube clip doesn’t have these two original sidemen  and as a result doesn’t have the punch of the original 1990 recording. From the original CD notes Pat says “I’m used to going into the studio with truckloads of stuff, but in this case, I walked in carrying the guitar and that was it: one guitar, one setting. We had a great time. We played for about eight hours, we didn’t listen back to anything, we just played.” The session was just a one day break in their individual busy touring schedules. Don’t we all wish we could pull  music of that caliber right off the top of our heads. No rehearsals – just play.

If you are a guitar player it is easy to spot Pat Metheny’s unusual technique. He holds the pick in a really insecure way and one that defies conventional logic. He uses his left hand in a baseball grip with his thumb hooking over the top. There are no conventional bar chords shapes. It’s weird but, for him it works. If you are not familiar with his work check out his recordings.

And as a special treat here is a link to Pat playing And I love her so and with Herbie Hancock on Cantelope Island and in the weird file there is Pat Metheny’s Orchestrion


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