Pat Metheny’s Induction Speech into the Lee’s Summit High School Hall of Fame
Pat Metheny’s induction speech into the Lee’s Summit High School Hall of Fame (1998)
First of all, I would like to sincerely thank everyone on the committee for thinking of me for this wonderful recognition. It is certainly one of the most meaningful and personal honors I’ve ever received and I am really proud and flattered to be standing here in front of you today.
When I think back to the time I spent here in Lee’s Summit it is always with fond memories and a good feeling, and growing up in this community had a profound effect on me in general. All of that makes it even more special to have been chosen to receive this award.
Well, for all the things I’ve done in my life, I’ve only had to give one real official speech before tonight.
Pretty much all of my waking hours since I was really just a little kid have been filled with the nuts and bolts of trying to learn about music, a vast, endless and literally infinite task, a study that for me has proven to be an absolutely full time job. Any talking that I’ve ever had to do to large groups of people in the past have generally been focused on which fingers one should wiggle around when fingering an F major 7th chord or announcing the names of the guys in my band or what tunes we’re going to play. But, I’m going to try to do my best here today.
I have to acknowledge, however, that there is a real irony to my particular nomination to this elite group of hall of famers. In truth, I was not really much of a student, in fact, I was probably lucky to even graduate from high school at all.
I think the last time I gave full attention to my scholastic homework was for Miss Ferris’s fifth grade social studies class at what was then Miller Park elementary grade school. For me, once the idea of learning about music really kicked in, and I guess that that was about when I was 10, it was pretty much all consuming from that point forward, literally to this day.
The factors that led to that overwhelming interest in music are many. According to my mom and dad, both excellent natural musicians who had a lot to do with my general interest in music, when I was a really little kid I was always singing at night instead of going to sleep and always banging on mom’s kitchen utensils as drums even from an early age. And for sure my earliest direct inspiration was my older brother Mike, whose amazing talent as a trumpet player made him one of the most outstanding young musicians to ever emerge from the greater Kansas City area with an exceptional talent and musical career that started for him at a very early age.
But in the fifth grade, Mr. Keith House, who was already my brother’s music teacher in school and his private trumpet teacher on the side, became my music teacher as well. At some point during the end of my 4th grade school year, Mr. House came around to all the classes giving all of us who were interested in becoming prospective band members the next year our musical aptitude tests; you know, the one where they play two notes and you have to tell which one is higher in pitch than the other.
I remember being kind of in shock when Mr. House came over to my parents house to say that I had done really well on the test. That was really the first time I ever had any indication that maybe I might have a chance to become a good musician myself.
I remember hearing Mike and my dad playing trumpet duets in the basement, and Mr. House playing with Mike while giving him lessons after school, as well as my mom’s father who was also a great trumpeter who would come to visit us sometimes in the summers from Wisconsin and thinking that I never would be able to be as good as any of those guys. It just seemed so cool that they all could play so well.
So, I inherited one of my dad’s old trumpets and attempted to become the next trumpet player in the Metheny family. Under Mr. House’s instruction, along with extracurricular tutoring from my brother Mike, I learned how to read music, how to count out rhythms and mainly how serious music was.
And I use the word serious in the best sense. Through Mr. House I learned about how much fun it was to work on a piece of music and to watch it become something more than a bunch of notes on a piece of paper.
Mr. House had the ability to communicate his own joy and enthusiasm about music to us, a bunch of rag tag beginning fifth grade band students in a way that is the greatest gift a teacher can ever give a student. He wasn’t just passing on information to us. He was inspiring us to look within ourselves to see who we could become, not only as musicians but as listeners and ultimately as people.
Everything was going along fine, except for one thing; I was a truly, absolutely, excruciatingly horrible trumpet player. When I would practice, my mom’s flowers would wither in their vases. My dog George would give me weird looks and walk from the room with his tail between his legs. Birds would suddenly fall mysteriously from the sky when I played.... it was that bad.
To my credit, I guess, I could hear for myself that I really stunk as a trumpet player; even I was shocked at some of the sounds that were coming out of the end of my horn.
Parallel to this sober realization was the next source of musical inspiration for me. During that same year, what would now have been the 6th grade for me, I became friends with several members of the Browning family, the unbelievably musical family that was Lee’s Summit’s own sensational predecessor to the Partrdige family, the Osmond family, the Jackson 5 or Hanson and definitely better musicians than any of those guys.
For me getting to know the Browning clan was a revelation. Not only were they excellent musicians that seemed to rush home from school everyday to practice together as a group, each of them playing seemingly dozens of instruments; they got to go out on the road all the time, skipping school and playing concerts all over the country. To me, this was amazing.
I remember whenever I would go over to their house, there were instruments all over the place; drums, marimba’s, trombones, and over in the corner, played by one of the incredibly beautiful Browning sisters – an electric guitar, a bass actually, but still – it was an electric something with strings on it.
By that time, like every other kid in the country, I had seen the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show and had seen “A Hard Day’s Night” multiple times down at the Vogue theater. I sort of knew what electric guitars were, but I had never seen one up close until that day at the Browning's. Suddenly around Lee’s Summit it seemed like there were electric guitars everywhere. There were garage bands popping up like crazy and it seemed like everyone was taking up the electric guitar. I begged and begged my mom and dad to let me buy one with the money I had earned from my Lee’s Summit Journal paper route and a garage sale that we had had where I had sold all my stuff – and finally they gave in.
I continued to play trumpet under Mr. House, later switching to French horn (on which, in all honesty, my sound was even more excruciating than on the trumpet).
But the guitar became my passion. I would practice literally as many hours as I could stay awake. There was, and still is, so much to know.
The odd thing in my case is that during the summer just before junior high school, through my brother and our good friend down the street, John Mckee, I was introduced to jazz music, mainly through the Miles Davis records that they both loaned to me. From that point on, although I always liked and studied all kinds of music, nothing, to this day, affected me like jazz.
I was very lucky over the next few years, right up thru the time I graduated from high school, to have many, many opportunities to play around the Kansas City area with the best jazz musicians in town. A couple of them in fact are sitting right over there, making this event even more special for me.
I learned how to play jazz from playing it with people who were much better than me, on the job, on the bandstand, in jam sessions and other real life playing situations at what I realize now was an incredibly young age.
in many ways, my life as a jazz musician was kind of a secret one that I kept pretty quiet about to most of my teachers and fellow students around high school. I was probably right to believe that there was little interest in the kind of music that I was so devoted to among the student body of the high school at that time.
Most of the other kids that were playing guitars and stuff were into rock, and in many ways they were just as foreign to me as the members of the sports teams and the cheerleading squads were. I was just in a whole other world and I was so into practicing 12 or 13 hours a day that I must have seemed truly strange to most everyone around me. I know my parents were concerned about my grades not being what they might have been and the fact that I was always listening to some kind of far out music or another and making weird sounds down in the basement with my guitar.
Around this time, during my sophomore and junior years in high school, again, Mr. House became a real inspiration to me. As I mentioned, I continued to play the French horn (badly) in the high school band. But it was definitely the part of my school day that I looked forward to the most, not so much for the playing, but for the listening, and the watching of Mr. House in action.
Through watching Mr. House, I realized that although I was primarily interested in jazz, the qualities that make good music good music transcend style or idiom. Mr. House was the kind of musical director that I have run into only rarely in all of my years of traveling and being around good musicians. He was first a very serious and dedicated musician himself who set a standard of excellence in music that was based on the actual reality of music itself; not on the superficial, immediate issues of winning a competition or making music just for effect. The level of musical detail that he insisted on from us as student musicians was a mirror of the amazingly high standards that he had set for himself as a musician.
In most of my musical activities as a player since leaving Lee’s Summit, I have also been a bandleader. Even though the exact nature of the music that I have played has been far removed from what I was playing under Mr. House in the Lee’s Summit High School concert band, every decrescendo that I insist on from my fellow band members has had Mr. House’s musical baton-prints behind it. Every time I have verbally encouraged the use of “dynamics!!!” from one group member or another, it is with Mr. House’s voice behind it. Every time I have to sit down and plan out a program of music and what order the tunes should be played in, Mr. House’s strategies for making a what would be an ok performance amazing would come into play.
With Mr. House’s encouragement, I also began composing music for the first time. I wrote a piece for the concert band my senior year in high school that was twenty-five percent science fiction soundtrack, twenty-five percent imitation baroque music, and fifty percent a ripoff of Michel Legrand’s then current score to the movie “The Summer Of 42”.
But Mr. House had nothing but encouragement for me in my newest musical endeavor.
I was really really lucky to be around Mr. Keith House!
Well, a lot has happened to me since I left Lee’s Summit. When I do look back on the last twenty-six years or so, the main thing I have to acknowledge is just how unbelievably lucky I personally have been to see so many of my musical dreams come true like they have.
I have had the opportunity to play with many of the greatest musicians on earth, I’ve gotten some nice awards and recognition from my peers, even the general public, and mainly, and in the cultural context that we live in maybe most surprisingly, I’ve been able to survive and have a life playing creative music at a high level.
Any one of these things would have been beyond my wildest dreams when I was a little kid in here in Lee’s Summit, thinking about one day becoming a musician. The fact that they have all come true leaves me waking up every morning feeling just unbelievably fortunate and thankful.
Many people have commented through the years about a special quality that they detect in my playing and my writing; a certain rural something that is usually traced to my being from here in Missouri.
Ultimately, that means there is a lot of all of you in the music that I’ve made; and there is a lot of Lee’s Summit High School in it too. Thank you so much for thinking of me today, I really, really do appreciate it.