Pat Metheny’s 2001 Jazziz interview
JM: You seem to have always managed a rather hectic tour schedule. I remember meeting with you in a trailer 20 years ago for our first interview. You were on the road then and it seems like you’ve never let up. Do you enjoy being on the road so much?
PM: “I love playing so much. and you’re right, I don’t think I know of anyone who has done as many gigs as I have over the past 20 years, at least not in the jazz world. For me it hasn’t really been hectic as much as it has been really fun – and an incredible opportunity to learn about music and playing. It was always a dream for me, the thing of getting out there and playing a lot, night after night. It is what I always wanted to do more than anything else. As much as practicing and thinking and working on music can benefit a players progress, I don’t think anything compares to the impact that just getting out there and playing night in and night out has. It all becomes real onstage; there is nothing theoretical about it.
Having said that, the past few years have been somewhat different for me. It’s not that I don’t still love going out and playing hundreds of gigs at a clip – I do, but I have to admit that I have been putting more attention and energy into different things, including the thing of taking the recorded medium itself a little more seriously by taking more time to try to make better records. Also, composing has become much more consuming for me as the standards of what I really accept melodically keep going up all the time. But, beyond that, the most significant change is that I now have a wonderful family life with two beautiful little boys at home and I love being with them so much. I certainly will still do a lot of gigs, but I don’t think it will be of record-breaking lengths anymore.
JM: Does your music translate better live than it does via, say, a compact disc?
PM: In many ways I see records and live concerts as being connected but somewhat unrelated activities – especially where improvisation is involved. They functionally occur at such distinctly different temperatures that they are bound to bring out different aspects of one’s musical personality.
I have always had a hard time with the way that recordings seem to be perceived as the defining evidence of a players career and music, although objectively I suppose I can see why that is so. Especially in the very early years, I felt the records were really more just like an ad to get people to come to the gigs when we would show up in their town. It seemed like during that period, there was much more of a difference between the records and the live thing, especially since so many of those early records were really recorded in a day or two with not much opportunity to expand on what they actually were going to be beyond just being a documentation of that particular band on that particular day. As time has gone on, I have been able to take the records themselves much more seriously and feel much more reconciled with their taking a more definitive place in things.
As far as translation goes, I just think that they are different. Live performances, for whatever reasons, just seem to have the capacity to generate a certain and very particular kind of energy that you rarely get in the studio. On the other hand, there is a certain detail and focus that you get in the studio that is often elusive live, especially for things that you want people to be able to listen to over and over and over again. The goal is to be able to work effectively in both zones for periods of time and feel satisfied with the results.
JM: Do you think your live performances actually help to put the many sides of Pat Metheny into perspective?
PM: I notice that live, people are much more ready for a variety of things than they might be on a record. The unifying factor of seeing the same group of musicians standing right up there in front of you seems to give people a kind of hook into a particular musical reality that is indisputable. On a record, especially these days where you often have to look on the CD jacket to see who is on which tune and whether it is the same bass player or drummer as the tune before, etc. etc., there is a certain refreshing thing when you go hear a band, and it is really a BAND. That seems to be especially true when the musical goal is somewhat eclectic in nature.
JM: Do you find that people tend to open their minds up more in a concert setting?
PM: I think that concerts are one of the occasions in our modern world where people are really offering their attention in a complete way to music. So often, way too often in my opinion, music is used in our culture as a component in things – not as an end in itself. To me personally, music by itself has always been way more than enough to captivate every bit of my attention – to the point where if there is something going on musically that I find interesting, I am basically incapacitated to do anything else. When people come to a gig that I am playing on, I take it as a real compliment, and also as a real responsibility. You become like their travel agent; you want to take them somewhere, show them things that are new and hopefully meaningful. Every minute of every gig is serious business for me.
JM: Baseball great Cal Ripken once said, practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect. You used to be a practice fiend – did you practice perfect?
PM: It’s funny, when I look back on my early “fanatical” period, basically from when I was 13 till I was 19, it wasn’t that I was that interested in practicing per se, it was that I had a lot to do, a lot to digest – and I really practically and functionally NEEDED to get it together as soon as possible because I was actually working a lot – probably several years before I should have been. When I would get on a stage with older musicians around Kansas City when I was 15 or 16 or 17, and they would call a tune that I didn’t know, in a key that I wasn’t that comfortable in, at a tempo that was not that great for me – I would get the message in a very clear way that THAT is what I better get together – and hopefully by that same time tomorrow!
These days I am sorry to say when I am not on the road, I barely touch the instrument. If I had more time, I would continue to practice a lot – but it seems my time now needs to be spent addressing compositional and melodic issues in order to keep coming up with things that are inspiring to me. It has been many years since the guitar itself was kind of an end all thing for me – more and more it has become just a kind of translation device for these pieces of melodic and harmonic and rhythmic information to form their own envelope with the purpose of delivering whatever message our kind of thing is capable of transmitting.
I really hope that one day I will again be able to really focus on the guitar more. I love the instrument in a way now that I just simply didn’t in the first 10 year or so that i played it. I do think that if I could spend a year or so now really working on it with the information and general maturity level that I have now that I didn’t have 25 years ago, I could make a lot of real progress.
*You once said, “The main reason I began composing was to develop a source of material which suited my conception of playing. You almost always write the material for the Pat Metheny Group, often along with Lyle. Are there other writers whose work meets your conceptions, and have you ever considered recording their material in the Group?
I have always felt that there were several great composers out there whose work rarely got played by other musicians. A major one is Keith Jarrett who I think wrote a body of songs in the 70’s and 80’s that is absolutely stunning in it’s variety and beauty – and just about no one plays those tunes. I also love Adam Guettel’s writing – to me there is just about no one out there right now who does what he does with that level of harmonic skill. There are others too. Basically, I have so much music of my own that I have never recorded, and so much on the way it seems that I doubt that I would ever get around to doing something like that.
I would like to do a record someday of a whole bunch of the songs in general that I love – tunes that just speak to me. I don’t think that they would all come from just one composer.
JM: Musically speaking, 50 years from now, how would you like to be remembered?
PM: It doesn’t matter.
JM: You talk about your more “out” playing in terms of “density.” Could you expand on that concept?
PM: Actually, I don’t think I would qualify “out” and “density” as qualities that are necessarily connected. For instance, I have always thought that both ‘Secret Story’ and ‘Zero Tolerance for Silence’ were both more or less explorations of sonic density – at least compared to something like ‘Bright Size Life’ for instance – yet, stylistically they are pretty far apart.
The whole idea of ‘filling up the canvas’ is one that came much later to me in whatever evolution has occurred in my thing. Early on, it was always as much about space and silence and the spaces in between the notes as the notes themselves. But as time went on, I really wanted to try for a sound where there wouldn’t even be one speck of white left on the canvas. Those two records I mentioned before were probably the apex of that period in their different ways. Since then, I would say that I am more interested in a kind of case-by-case approach – but generally speaking, the early use of space thing has a lasting resonance that I still find myself continuing to gravitate towards.
JM: Are people who appreciate your dense music better listeners?
One of the things that is different in the post-internet world is that I have a lot more information now than I used to about what people listen to and for in our music. It used to be that you would put a record out and in the 6 months or so that followed you would get your 100 or so reviews from around the world that would kind of trickle in and a few dozen letters from people with whatever opinions they happen to have and that would be that. Now a record comes out and within a few days of it’s release, there are literally hundreds of nearly real time appraisals from all over the planet of every aspect of the playing, the tunes, the production – everything. More than anything, what this has done is render all music critics obsolete, a condition that was already pretty much in evidence anyway through the dearth of even rudimentally qualified music writers, but one that is nevertheless welcomed by performing artists everywhere. Where there may have once been some influence or importance placed in those quarters, whatever remnants of that have now been effectively eliminated.
However, I have to admit that having read many of the opinions that folks out there have about what we do even by regular listeners has done absolutely nothing one way or the other for me in terms of really understanding how other people, critically or otherwise, perceive music. My own way of listening and thinking about music is so consuming that I have to admit a kind of puzzlement at some of the many ways that other people perceive in a quick moment or two of commentary the same things that I find myself working for months on to understand.
JM: You once told me that a musician is really a good listener who ís capable of hearing what ís inside his head and bringing it to life. What’s inside your head these days?
PM: I would say that for me it has always been a pretty continuous road right from the start. The things that I used to like and study and respond to are all still there and I still feel close to the kinds of sounds and ideas that I suppose most people have perceived me working on the various records and tours that I have done for the past 20 some years. I think there are some musicians who totally reevaluate their whole thing on a regular basis, throwing everything out and starting over with an entirely new version of themselves using all new materials and everything. I’m not like that at all. For me, what I hear in my head now is similar to what I have heard my entire life, even going back to when I was a little kid. The big difference is that now I have a greater capacity to make things sound more close to whatever kind of thing I am trying to get to happen through the manifestation of that particular idea into actual musical sound. The whole thing of “getting better” to me ultimately does revolve around listening skills and improving them, but it is also directly enhanced by just living ones life and getting more experience and maturity as a person in a kind of general sense.
JM: You have a diverse and possibly segregated fan base. Some love your more accessible works like American Garage or We Live Here, but don’t necessarily care for your denser material on Song X or the project you did with Derek Bailey, The Sign of 4, for example. At this stage of your career, are you ever concerned about someone who goes to buy an album by the Pat Metheny Group, sees another Metheny CD in the bin say, Zero Tolerance For Silence añd buys it, takes it home, and cant believe it is the same guy?
Honestly, I don’t worry too much about peoples perception, because it is something that I have no control over, and truth be told, very little interest in. I really just try to play the music that I love and that I feel strongly about. If I were to start worrying now about what I thought someone else likes, first of all I would be guessing, because I simply don’t know. Also, whatever success I have had has been really built on just following my own musical instincts and by reacting to the things that I found to be true in music itself. Somehow, I have been allowed to continue and get gigs and play a lot by doing just that. it is something i feel very fortunate about too, and something that I consider a privilege. With that privilege comes a responsibility that I take very personally. I feel that the ultimate honoring of that privilege is the creation of good music – that is the place where everything resonates or not for me – and it is sort of at that altar of sound that I worship, you could say.
JM: You said that when you did your (PM: actually i had done two or three before that one) first soundtrack, Under Fire, in the early 80s, it was a great experience to collaborate with the master of film scoring, Jerry Goldsmith. You mentioned then that you picked his brain about scoring and supporting films without intruding on them. You’ve scored half-dozen or so movies since then, most recently A Map of the World. With those in mind, how would you say your approach to film scoring has evolved over the years?
PM: Writing music for films is something that is quite distinct from the day-to-day life that I have as an improvising musician, but there is an overlap. In both areas, you are dealing with a sort of moment by moment unfolding of narrative ideas, and the sense of a larger purpose in the way things add up over time is really important.
I really enjoy film scoring for the collaborative aspect of it; it is really exciting to be around people who are from quite different disciplines who are all working together to try to make something great happen. But it is a rough life – and the people who do it full time have my utmost respect. In my case, I am happy to do one every four or five years and I hope to do others every now and then. If you are lucky, it all comes out great and it is a positive experience. For whatever reasons, I think many film composers may agree that that is often not the outcome. Each time I do one, I learn a lot, but at the same time, what you learn on one project may or may not apply to the next one – each one is it’s own world, literally, with it’s own cast of characters both on-screen and off. Flexibility, both personally and musically is probably the single most important quality that you can bring to the table.
JM: Let’s talk about some of the musicians you’ve worked with. I know that Gary Burton was a huge influence on you in the ’70s. Back then, you played in his band and recorded three albums with him. But in the early ’80s when your career really began to take off, you said that Burton began to think of you more as a rock artist and the likelihood of collaborating with him again had diminished. What was it that changed that situation and brought about Burton’s later works like Reunion and Like Minds where you played and even toured with him?
PM: Michael – the first part of your question is kind of weird to me – I don’t know that Gary ever thought of me as a “rock artist” – there was a period after I left his band that we kind of fell out and maybe I thought that he thought that at the time – but i don’t know that he did for sure – any weirdness that was there at that time was more a personality thing than a musical thing and had more to do with my youth and just the immaturity that comes with being 21 years old and kind of rebellious. So I would rather not deal with the speculation of what Gary did or didn’t think. (you might call him and ask him if you want, and just go to the musical part.
Gary Burton’s influence was huge for me, in so many ways. When I first met Gary and started playing and recording with him, I was really young – I was 18 when we did our first gigs together and I stayed in his band until I was about 22. The early years were great for me because I was able to learn so much just by being around him – and Steve Swallow and Bob Moses and Mick Goodrick as well. To me Gary is one of the greatest improvisers of this era. There are very few musicians who have the capacity to truly invent new melodies each time out with the kind of harmonic ingenuity that he has at his disposal – and there are only a handful of players on any instrument who have a time feel that is as steady and developed as Gary’s. I am especially happy that we were able to reunite years later for the “reunion” record and in particular, “like minds”, where I guess I feel that I was able to contribute more effectively to Gary’s thing, being a little bit older myself. I hope we will occasionally get together every few years and do something else. Our rapport for playing together is real special. The last few times we met, there were occasions during the rehearsals where we played just the two of us and I was reminded just how closely we are able phrase melodies together. There are really just a few people who I can say that we really breathe together like that – maybe my brother Mike, and Lyle and also Gary. When we read down a tune – it just sounds right, right off the bat.
JM: Gil Goldstein is another musician you’ve worked with. In his book, The Jazz Composer’s Companion, you said, “What Lyle [Mays] does is take my little dead ends and mixes them up with his stuff to make them into something. He’s a fantastic organizer.” What would the Pat Metheny Group be like without Lyle?
PM: michael ---- well, i remember choking the first time I saw that quote 25 years ago – if I ever did say that, and I swear I didn’t say it exactly that way – it really does not accurately describe anything that has anything to do with how any piece of ours has ever evolved or been constructed, even at that time. At that point, in 1978, we only would have had three songs that were co-written, now there are dozens and dozens of them. I would appreciate it if you would not use that quote. I think what you are getting at is essentially something to the effect of....))))
JM: How does the collaboration with you and Lyle actually work?
PM: Generally speaking, there have been no rules about how anything has ever developed or been generated. I would say that Lyle and I share a common quality of being very concerned about details, form, effectiveness, drama and sound itself. In many ways, when we work on something, whether as players or as co-writers or arrangers or whatever, it is rarely about us – it is always more about “it”. What does “it” seem to want to be? Does “it” need to be longer, shorter, louder, softer, more linear, more contrapuntal, thicker, thinner – that sort of thing – in order to achieve whatever it is that the basic musical idea at hand seems to be asking for. I think that we both push things as far as we can to get the most out of whatever ideas are being explored. I would say that our areas of interest and expertise overlap and intersect way more than they differ. There is rarely disagreement about what needs to happen next in the process. We usually know when something is done, or messed up and needs to get reworked, or whatever.
JM: And then “What would the Pat Metheny Group be like without Lyle?”
How would the group have evolved had Lyle never been there? Or if he left after a few years? Many things would be different, but also many things would be the same. The original conception of music and the kind of band I wanted to have and the kind of sounds and chords and solos and instrumentation and forms that I wanted to explore were already pretty fully formed by the time I heard Lyle for the first time. By then, I was already recording on my own and touring around the world with Gary Burton and already pretty active on the international scene. When I heard Lyle at a jazz festival in Wichita in 1976, he immediately and totally knocked me out. I had a feeling that we would play great together, and it was just exciting for me to hear someone more or less my own age who had a sense of the music that was that advanced and the ability to improvise at that level. It has turned out that it was one of the best things that could have ever happened for both of us, us hooking up. Lyle brings things to every musical situation that he is involved in that are extremely sophisticated and really beautiful, and I always welcome the chance to get on the bandstand with him or work on a new piece or a new record. We really enjoy working together and seem to have more and more fun each project, even after all these years. For me, I could never in a million years have hoped to have found such a fantastic piano player who would stick with me for all these years where we could both continue to grow and develop our things together. I feel very lucky that we still are going strong and still have so much to talk about – on and off the bandstand. He is simply one of the best musicians in the world.
JM: The different bassists that you’ve used over the years Jaco, Eberhard Weber, Mark Egan, Dave Holland, Larry Grenadier – have lent distinct flavors to each project. Over the last few years, Steve Rodby seems to have assumed a greater role in your productions. You’ve done collaborative albums with Charlie Haden and Marc Johnson. Have you ever considered doing a project with just you and Steve, and if so, what might that project entail?
Steve’s increased presence over the years behind the scenes in the studio has been a huge factor in the way the records have been recorded and organized. From “Still Life Talking” onward, he has had a major voice in the making of all the records, including many of the records I have done outside of the group that he doesn’t even play on, like the recent trio records, the duet record I made with Jim Hall a couple of years ago, and others. He is one of the best producers out there and an incredible ally in the studio who makes the difficult process of recording so much easier and efficient. He is an incredible bassist who has allowed me the possibility of putting a number of interesting and fairly far flung bands together over the years by providing a rock solid rhythmic and harmonic platform to build them on. Steve and I have done occasional duet gigs over the years, and I have always enjoyed them. You’re right, we should do more. He is a really great musician.
JM: Most of the drummers you’ve worked with are considered the best in jazz: Jack DeJohnette, Bob Moses, Danny Gottlieb, Paul Wertico, Joey Baron, Billy Higgins, Roy Haynes. Are there certain criteria you use to employ select drummers in certain situations?
PM: As I have said many times, the drummer is the most important person on the bandstand, no matter who else is on the stage. If the drummer is sounding great, everyone usually sounds great or at least pretty good. I have been so lucky in this area – I love the drums and have gotten to play with all of my favorites a lot.
Yes, each situation has a certain vocabulary, and I would say that the first major decision about any project is “who is going to play drums” – everything else follows from there.
JM: You seem to demand certain syncopated rhythms in the Group. How does your new drummer Antonio Sanchez stack up to your other drummers in that regard?
PM: In the long history of this band, we have only had three drummers. The demands of the PMG gig are very specific, very particular and although it may not always sound like it due to the expertise of the guys who have played it, extremely difficult. It requires the ability to think orchestrally as well as improvisationally. It requires the capacity to see the larger picture of what the music is specifically shooting for from both the widest possible view and in microscopic detail. At the same time, you have to be loose, play with real and effective dynamics, deal with odd meters while making them sound natural and be able to play incredibly loud and incredibly soft and sound natural and convincing at all levels in between. Having said all that, the guy has to play everything as jazz, making it up as he goes along and making it new each night – and still deal with all these details. What is so impressive about Antonio is this last part. I think I could find a number of people who could play the gig by doing basically the right thing at the right time – but Antonio has an “x” factor which is really off the scale great. His innate capacity to communicate musically is something very special – and he has been a major inspiration for us this time around. I just can’t wait to play with him on the bandstand each night, and I know that Lyle and Steve feel the same way.
JM: Richard Bona sings and plays percussion in your new group. Like Nana Vasconcelos, Pedro Aznar, Armando Marcal, David Blamires and Mark Ledford before him, he brings a certain sound and voice to the group. I predict that Bona is going to be a major recording artist in his own right. Do you foresee working with him outside the group?
PM: Richard Bona is one of those rare musicians that comes along every now and then that is pretty much unprecedented. There has just never been a guy like him on the jazz scene. His talent is truly multidimensional, but it’s his singing that really takes me to someplace special. After I hired Antonio, I knew that I wanted to find a few other new musicians who could offer something really unique and I thought of calling Richard, not because I thought that he would do it himself since he has this pretty active career going on his own, but because I thought he might know someone who would be good for us that I may not have heard about. When I described what I was looking for he said, “I’ve got the perfect person – me!!” it turns out that he has been following the PMG thing for many years and had always wanted to do it. The prospect of writing for that voice and having him join us for a tour was so absolutely inspiring that music just started pouring out at the thought of it. I love Richard and admire him so much. And yes, in whatever form that we can work together, I have a feeling we will whenever we can. And I totally agree, he is a major talent.
JM: Not many people know that you began playing trumpet as a kid before you picked up the guitar and that your brother Mike is an accomplished trumpet player. Do those facts have some influence on your use of the trumpeter Cuong Vu in the Group?
PM: Not exactly, although you are right to note that trumpet as an instrument holds a special place for me. I love trumpet and think in trumpet terms a large part of the time while I am playing, both in terms of phrasing and content. It has been a long time since I have heard a young trumpet player that has really captured my imagination – Freddie Hubbard, Clifford Brown and Miles are basically my major trumpet heroes. And I can’t say I was even looking for a trumpet player, although I think in the back of my mind, right from the beginning I have always been somewhat on the lookout for musicians who may be able to offer us what I call the “breath element” that is intrinsically lacking in the basic guitar plus rhythm section instrumentation of our group. When I heard Cuong, it was on an internet radio station, I had no idea who it was – it was a trio of trumpet, electric bass and drums. It was absolutely impressive for it’s originality. I did some research to find out who it was and basically called Cuong up by getting his phone number from 411 in New York. The surprise was that he was a huge fan of the PMG, had grown up listening to our stuff and was totally hip to what we have been trying to do for all these years. Even though the stuff I heard him play on that radio station was stylistically pretty far removed from the PMG thing, there was something about it that really communicated to me that there was a strong common bond between his aesthetic and ours. I then found out that in addition to playing so beautifully, he has a fantastic voice and can sing great too. He added a really special spark to the equation that was forming. When we heard how great he and Richard could blend together, we knew we had a new lineup.
JM: Pop influences – the Beatles, for instance surface in some of your more accessible compositions. I was one of the early writers to compare Metheny and Mays to Lennon and McCartney. That being the case, are you Lennon or McCartney?
PM: As much as I love the Beatles, and both Lennon and McCartney, I would say that there pretty much is no parallel in any dimension that we could be compared either individually or collectively.
JM: By the way, have you seen the Pat Metheny Cartoon site on the Web? It reminds me of the old Beatles Saturday morning cartoon show.
PM: I have seen it. My mom has a coffee mug with me as a cartoon character – I think it came from the same guy.
JM: What other pop artists have influenced you and what pop music are you listening to these days?
PM: Basically, these methods that are used to quantify music – jazz, rock, pop, black, white, American, folk, European, avant-garde, etc. – have all dismally failed as terms that have any value whatsoever for me as a listener or especially as a player. To me, about the best you could say about those tags as useful mechanisms of critical discussion is that they are superfluous. I basically love music and see it – like humanity itself – as one big thing. I feel very happy that I have the capacity to get goose bumps listening to just about anyone playing just about anything if they are doing it at their very best. When they are illuminating something unique and important and special about that particular musical endeavor at that particular moment in their particular lives as musicians and they would suffer greatly unless they could make that moment come alive in that particular way – that is when I dig it. That quality can be found in the most unlikely places. By the same token, that quality is often lacking in the places where one would expect that it would certainly have to be there the most. That quality is also elusive and mysterious, and one can rarely predict anything about it.
JM: You often take on the persona of a pop/rock artist more so than a jazz artist. And yet when you’re placed in the most serious jazz settings, you fit right in. How do you live comfortably in both worlds?
PM: I don’t think about “persona” – I really just try to find the good notes, try to find the right sound, the right spirit – it doesn’t matter who I am playing with or for. It matters even less to me what the mythology around a particular setting is supposed to be.
JM: I’m going to mention a few guitarists. You tell me what comes to mind. Ready? [PAT, PLEASE TRY TO KEEP THESE GUITARIST ANSWERS RELATIVELY BRIEF. THANKS]
One of the most inspired and consistent improvisers of all time and one of the most transcendent inventors of melody ever. My favorite guitarist and one of my major personal heroes. His music sounds better and better as the years go on – I listen to the same records that I have listened to hundreds of times and hear details that I had never noticed before.
I love everything about John – his phrasing, his touch, his harmonic sense, his sense of humor – everything. And the best part of his playing is how it is such a natural and beautiful extension of who he is as a person.
Derek is someone who has a melodic sophistication that is unique and very deep. His ability to maintain a certain kind of melodic tension for long periods of time is totally singular. His touch and sound right off the instrument are instantly identifiable and his genuine curiosity about sound and music is informed with a profound sense of what I think he would term as more “conventional” playing, which gives it a special kind of weight and insight.
A guitarist who excels at everything he does. Besides being constantly engaging as a soloist, he is one of the best accompanists in jazz. His work with Jack Dejohnette, Enrico Rava and recently with Charles Lloyd in quartet settings are some of the greatest examples of what a guitarist can offer as an alternative to a pianist as a primary comping instrument that you could find in recorded jazz history. John always finds something special and central to each of the many situations that he finds himself in.
The sleeping giant. If George made a guitar trio record every year, the world would be a better place. As far as I know, he has never even done one. We really need him. He is one of my favorite guitar players of all time, right there with Wes, Django, Kenney Burrell and Jim Hall. In addition, he is one of my favorite singers. If I could sing like that, I probably wouldn’t play that much either – I don’t think I would even talk – I would just sing all the time!
To me, Jimi was a lot like Albert Ayler or Dewey Redman or Pharoah Sanders – a genuine storyteller that could use raw emotion in extended doses, for extended lengths, with a core that was always natural and real. Like Wes, he is another musician who sounds better and better in retrospect – everything he played was so true.
Along with Wes, the best pure improviser ever on the instrument. and the sound! Just glorious, and so personal. Again, like with all of my favorite players, it all comes down to improvising melodies – it is the most difficult thing about being a jazz musician and there are very few players who can generate melodies that approach the level of the songs that they are improvising on – melodic playing is one thing you can’t simulate or fake, it has to be real. Django had the kind of conviction and power in each phrase that made his solos add up to more than just a string of ideas – they all seemed to be of one piece.
JM: Now I’m going to mention some other artists whom you’ve recorded with If you could, give me a one liner each. (PAT, PLEASE GIVE JUST A FEW WORDS ON EACH)
His humility is what makes his genius shine.
His sense of the world, of the stars and of the miracle of what it is to be human are front and center in every note he plays.
Kenny is, as the saying goes, “on a mission from god”. His commitment, his energy and his amazing sense of time make him the strongest voice of his generation.
I heard Tony’s ride cymbal on Miles record “Four and More” when I was 11 – that sound, along with Miles and Herbie’s playing on that record is what made me want to become a musician. I miss Tony every day.
One of the best singers ever in jazz. Also, one of the best singer/songwriters out there today – her words and voice are timeless and beautiful.
One of the most harmonically challenging improvising situations I was ever in was playing on one of Bruce’s tunes on the record “Harbor Lights” – his music is universal and personal at the same time. He was basically the last guy to actually get good chords on the radio stations that most Americans listen to.
My number one hero on earth. Roy is the human manifestation of whatever it is that the word “hip” was supposed to mean before it just became a word. Always in the moment, always in this time, eternal and classic and at the same time totally nonchalant about it – listening, listening, listening. RIGHT THERE.
One of the great voices and spirits of our time. His voice is the voice of everyone from everywhere who dreams.
Josh is how he sounds – youthful, exuberant, strong, and dynamic. I am so glad he is a musician instead of the other millions of other things that he could be with his incredible mind and talent.
A searcher. When I first heard him it sounded like he was playing everything backwards and forwards and backwards again. It was totally intriguing. Without saying a word, he gave me a chance to play a way I never had before and never have since – about the best thing any leader could ever offer to a sideman.
Lovely person, lovely musician. She also allows me a place in her little musical ‘films’ where i get to play roles that I rarely get to explore elsewhere. And I am a big fan of hers – I look forward to each record and listen to them over and over again. I feel like we are related or something. Actually I feel that way about ALL these people you are asking me about.
Along with Keith Jarrett, the most important living musician, in my opinion. Herbie is the ultimate example to me of what it is to be a musician on earth. His playing skills are off the scale, his harmonic knowledge, his time, his sense of form and drama, his ability to communicate are all supreme. But most important of all – his listening skill is refined to a degree that is simply immeasurable. It transcends music into something close to what religious people seem to call enlightenment. He hears into things with a subtlety and nuance that informs everything he plays at every level of intensity. Any chance that I can hear or be around Herbie, I never miss it.
*******Any young players caught your ear?
I have not really been with my ear to the ground that much in the last couple of years. Most of the guys that I would call young are not really all that young anymore. I am even a little bit concerned – practically from the dawn of jazz, there were teenagers and people in their early 20’s really putting the pressure on the music by keeping it changing and overtly challenging the status quo of jazz. For a couple of generations now, the young guys have been playing great, but more or less adopting the fundamentals and sticking with the tried and true, messing with things around the edges rather than going right at the core. The good part of this is that we have so many more fundamentally solid improvisers around – there are now hundreds of guys around the planet who can play well on changes and really deal with form and structure with a kind of fluency that was, while not rare, not found in the abundance it is now in previous eras. But I keep waiting for some kids to come along and really make me (for instance) rethink everything I know – and that hasn’t happened for me since I first heard Jaco. But I bet it will soon – I just have a feeling about it.
JM: There are few artists who manage their own companies. You of course control Metheny Group Productions and all of your business dealings – the imaging and positioning of Pat Metheny as a product. I know this requires a lot of discipline, vigilance and organizational skills. Most musician’s don’t like dealing with the business side of things. What’s your story?
PM: Actually, compared with the thing of dealing with the music itself, that aspect of things is just barely a blip on the radar screen of the activities that occupy my time and energy. I don’t mind talking about music or working on the details of how music is presented at all, and taking responsibility for how things go down in all of the aspects of how the music is finally put out into the world is a big part of what the stuff you are talking about entails. It is just kind of natural to follow through on everything.
JM: There seem to be a lot of Pat Metheny live bootlegs floating around. Obviously piracy is alive and well with your fans. What is your take on piracy and bootlegs?
PM: The fact that people care enough to tape and trade and catalog all the live things that they have that I know are out there is equal parts puzzling and flattering to me. The bootlegging and piracy things are fairly major irritants however; there are a few instances where pirates have peeled the soundtrack off of video performances and put it out as things that appear to be sanctioned albums that are just out and out theft.
JM: Do you see any difference between traditional bootlegging and the Internet technology that allows for free distribution of music?
PM: Honestly, they are basically the same thing. Having said that, like everyone else, I am having to relearn the social context of what it is to be a musician in this new culture, what our function is, how people do or do not value what it is we do and what purpose we actually serve to the communities that we live in as musicians, or artists or authors or whatever.
JM: It is possible that you’ve covered a wider range of styles in your career than any other jazz artist. With that in mind, I cant imagine what you’ll do next. Any desire to go where no Metheny has gone before?
PM: Again, I don’t exactly think in those terms. There is place you go every time you improvise that is essentially a journey of discovery – you really don’t exactly know where you are going to wind up. You have done a lot of research, maybe you have a plan or a map, some changes or a vibe or something that you know is going to be an element leading you towards a goal, but you still are ready and willing for anything to happen in your quest to bring sound into the air for other people to check out as well. That process is the most fun thing there is. I just want to spend as much time as possible in that search for those moments where the question morphs into the answer as it is being posed, where the idea itself takes you to a place that you always knew was there but had never quite been able to get to before. That is what it all about for me.