Just Jazz Guitar Interview
GUITARIST INTERVIEW with Pat Metheny on 4/23/2001
JB: When were you first drawn to the guitar.
PM: I come from the middle of the generation that viewed the guitar almost as an icon of some sort of youthful revolution. It began in the 50’s and continued into the 60’s when I caught the wave. It was most personified through the Beatles and I was about 7 or 8 when the Beatles began to have hit songs. They brought to my mind a consciousness concerning the guitar that wasn’t there before. Even though I come from a very musical family, the guitar was considered kind of a secondary instrument. My older brother Mike, a trumpet player of some distinction, when he was 8 or 9 was already kind of child prodigy on the instrument and my grandfather (MY mother’s father) was a professional trumpet player all his life. I started playing trumpet when I was about 7 under the teaching of my brother Mike, who is five years older. Our family was very serious about music and it was all centered around classical and concert band music. Having said that, I grew up in Lee’s Summit, MO which is in the center of the country music aesthetic. Around town there were guitars everywhere. I remember at the local barbershop there would be all these guitars hanging on the walls and when there were no customers, they’d pick them up and all play. So, my first exposure to the guitar was a combination of the Beatles – the rock and roll thing, and the country thing. My family really looked down upon rock, but didn’t really have an opinion about and seemed to tolerate the country thing that was so popular in my town. The musicians that my family looked up to were trumpet players like Maurice Andre’ and Doc Severinsen.
But, before I ever owned a guitar, I was so captivated by the instrument that I would draw pictures of them. My first contact with the guitar was through my neighbor friend whose dad owned a Gretsch Country Gentleman, of which we were forbidden to even go near it. But being boys, we’d go in anyway and take it out of the case and just look at it. To my young mind, this electric guitar was just coolest thing on earth. We thought “Wow, do you just plug it right into the wall?”(laughter) We didn’t even know about an amp, I’m surprised that we didn’t electrocute ourselves (laughter).
JB: Were there any guitar players in Lee’s Summit that inspired you?
PM: Not in Lee’s Summit. There were just guys, like my friend’s dad, who got together to play country and bluegrass music. On Friday and Saturday nights you’d find five OR six guys sittin’ around playing guitars, mandolins and banjos. Bill Monroe was the player these guys all looked up to. I’m sure it wasn’t high level playing, but it was what I first listened to when it came to guitar music. The Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night came out and I saw it about 15 times around then. My friends began getting guitars for Christmas and birthdays and, of course, I wanted a guitar too. My parents first reaction was “You will never bring a guitar into this house,” which at that stage of my life was like throwing gasoline on a fire; then I wanted a guitar even more. Finally, I convinced them that if I earned the money, their Christmas gift to me could be just the permission to use that money to buy a guitar. I had a paper route, I saved my money and got my first guitar.
JB: How old were you?
PM: I was eleven. Within a couple of weeks I learned the theme to Peter Gunn and the Batman theme.
JB: You taught yourself?
PM: I did take a couple of lessons at the local music store. But it didn’t help me because it was like “Mel Bay book 1...E, A, and D chord” kind of stuff and all I wanted to play was Beatles songs. But about that same time, something important happened. My brother brought home a new record by Miles Davis. When I heard that record, I immediately gravitated toward it.
JB: Do you recall which album it was?
PM: “Four & More.” It’s an album that Herbie (Hancock), Tony (Williams) and others made with Miles. You know, you hear people say that jazz is this style of music that people need to acquire a taste for and that it takes time to develop a love for, but for me it was immediate. For this eleven year old kid, it was like the light switch came on. It was the most exciting, fascinating, intriguing, interesting thing that I had ever heard. Of course, I had no idea what they were doing. I mean, it is an extremely advanced place to “jump into the pool.” ON that album they were begining to look at a more abstract way of thinking about bebop that continued throughout the 60’s with Miles greatest quintet with Wayne Shorter.
JB: What was it about the sound of that album that was so appealing to you?
PM: Everything about it. In some ways the Tony Williams factor was a huge thing. It sounded so modern. It wasn’t that I turned my back on rock and roll and the Beatles and all that stuff as a fan. I’ve always liked it as well as other styles of music. For me, I don’t really divide things up into styles. But that Miles record, I had never really heard anything like that. My parents played some Glenn Miller and swing music around the house, but to hear music at that level changed me. In fact, to this minute in time, it remains the central thing to me. It began there and it never stopped. I began the process of learning what jazz is all about it continues to this day.
JB: How did you process this to jazz guitar, were you on your own or did you get some help from a teacher?
PM: From that Miles record, the world of jazz opened up for me. Even though I was developing on the guitar, I continued to play trumpet all through high school. My dad worked in a garage and in the evening I would go down to his garage, that had a great echo to it, and put my Harmon mute into my trumpet and play “Milesy” kind of things. Because my brother Mike was five years older and a fine trumpet player, I was always in his shadow. I thought I was always going to be known as “Mike Metheny’s little brother.” I didn’t really dig that and I knew I would never be as good as he was on the trumpet, so I began to think, “Well what is the guitar’s role in jazz?.” So, I began to try to learn everything I could about the guitar in jazz and very shortly discovered Wes Montgomery. He became my model, my favorite, my hero, and still is.
JB: You were learning things off of Wes Montgomery records?
PM: Yes, learning off his records. I mean, I played with my thumb, I played in octaves, I did everything I could to sound like Wes in those first couple years I played jazz guitar. I liked other guys too. I liked Kenny Burrell a lot and a little bit later, I discovered Jim Hall. Kenny and Wes were my two real early heroes. I actually saw and met Wes at the Kansas City Jazz Festival in April of 1968 when I was 13, just before he died. I got his autograph.
When I was about 15 or so, I had been playing a few years and my parents were a bit concerned about me and the guitar because I was so fanatical about it. I mean, I would practice 10-12 hours a day, everyday, I wouldn’t sleep, I just wanted to learn about jazz music. My grades in school were just awful. I was the classic case of a kid any parent would be concerned with.
JB: You were just teaching yourself with guitar records and books?
PM: Yeah, I just immersed myself in jazz. I got into Ornette Coleman at that age too, then, Trane and then pianists like Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner. Freddie Hubbard was and continues to be a huge favorite and influence upon me. Trumpet players in general have really affected me. I studied Clifford Brown’s music and articulation a lot. You know, after all these years, I still think in terms of trumpet most of the time. I think in terms of how one would tongue a phrase in the back of my mind all the time. Back then as well as today, many jazz guitar players often sound stiff and wrong in terms of articulation to me. I still often have a hard time accepting traditional jazz guitar articulation as being “ok,” when processed through my horn playing aesthetic. I have worked very hard trying to simulate that kind of articulation that, to me, rings true as a horn player.
By the time I was 15 I was beginning to get opportunities to play around the Kansas City area which was about 35 miles from us. Had there been a teacher there for me, he would have certainly gotten all the gigs instead of me. There were two or three jazz guitarists there, but they didn’t teach. A man named Don Winsell was the main jazz guitarist and one of the greatest jazz musicians to ever come out of that area – but he was unfortunately killed in a tragic accident around the time I started playing. There was a great scene around K.C. at that time, and there was even room for me to do gigs there at an early age. In fact, the jazz scene was so active that I was needed as a player. So from the time I was 14 until I was 17 and left town, I was able to do a lot of playing. I was often playing five or six nights a week in mostly organ trio based settings, which was a very popular sound at that time around the midwest especially. These were all great players in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, the best players in town and I had to do my best to rise to their level. One of the things that probably sets me apart from other players is that my education took place on the bandstand. I never studied in a university or school program early on. My academic challenge was knowing that this guy that I will be on the bandstand with in a few hours likes to play “The Song Is You” really, really fast and he is likely to call it in any of the 12 keys, so if I don’t want to be embarrassed tonight, I better have it together. That was my reality.
My reality was also that there was this trumpet player that I played with for a good part of that period, who is still a major jazz artist in Kansas City, named Gary Sivils. Gary could play a ballad so beautifully, so melodic, so soulful, that it would just rip your heart out – and then right next to that I would start to solo playing licks and stuff; and it just sounded horrible in comparison. So if I didn’t want to repeat that, I’d better have it together the next night. Also, the audiences in Kansas City were very sophisticated. They responded well to a substantive solo and they could let you know it when you weren’t cutting it that night too.
JB: During those teen years what guitar were you using?
PM: It wasn’t the guitar I got from my paper route.
JB: What was that guitar, from the paper route?
PM: It was a Gibson ES 140. A three quarters size 175. They are very rare. I wish I still had it. It got smashed on an airlines when my family took a vacation soon after buying it. The airlines gave me a $100 to get a new one. A father in a town near my home had a son who had a blond ES-175. His son had gone to Vietnam and never came back and my Dad talked this man into selling it to me for that $100.
JB: Is that the ES-175 you’ve played all these years?
PM: That’s it. I was really lucky to get it. It is a really great guitar. So, I was using my 175 and a Standel amp on those gigs. I still have the amp too. It barely works. Those two thing are where my sound has developed from.
JB: When you graduated from high school, you went to Miami?
PM: From the time I was 16 I could basically play and hold my own with these older guys, like I mentioned, and I started to become known as kind of a youn teenaged jazz sensation or something. I started doing some regional jazz festivals and began to become like the “star quarterback” on the guitar and in jazz that colleges would pursue. So, several of the jazz schools were coming to town and offering me scholarships. This one night I was playing a gig and this guy came and sat in who was very good. He was Dr. Bill Lee from the University of Miami School of Music. He asked me to come to University of Miami with a full scholarship. I should add that at that time I was also in the process of flunking out of high school. I hadn’t taken a book home since the 6th grade (laughter), because I was practicing all the time. I wouldn’t get home from the gig until 2-3 in the morning and there in Lee’s Summit with all the farm kids school would start about 6:45am.
JB: Your parents were tolerating this?
PM: Barely! There were a lot of conflicts between my parents and me then. Looking back on it now, and as a father myself now, I have to give my parents a lot of credit. I was struggling in school, playing with these older guys, often in the bad part of town, playing this weird music – jazz, very foreign to the culture of Lee’s Summit. There was only one other kid in school, a bass player, who even knew who Miles Davis was. I mean, we were so far to the left that we weren’t even on the radar in Lee’s Summit’s cultural world. My parents were worried. But, they would come to gigs and see that I was hanging with these older guys. I think the thing that did it for my Dad was that I was making some money. I think he thought, “I’m not going to argue with that. At least the kid has got an income!”
JB: And then when the universities came calling...
PM: Exactly. There was this guy, Dan Haerle, a piano player whom I had worked with and he was going to teach aT the University of Miami and that settled my decision to go there.
It turned out that going to the University of Miami was a really great decision. The year I went was the first year that they had made jazz guitar played on an electric guitar an acceptable major, so it was new and fledgling program. Which for that time was ground breaking. There was Berklee and one other place in the country to study jazz guitar at a college level, and that was basically it.
You have to keep in mind that at that point, I hadn’t been really anywhere in my life. I had never seen another kid my age play jazz guitar. I would think to myself, I’m pretty good for my age in Kansas City, but there must be lots of other kids somewhere who listen to Wes (Montgomery) and play jazz. So when I got to the University of Miami and it was audition day, I walked into this hall and there were all these kids with L-5s and Johnny Smiths and I thought “Here they are.” Then I thought, “If they have a guitar like an L-5, then they must be really good, and I’ll never make it here.” The first night I was there I went to this place and there was Jaco Pastorius playing electric bass in this big band. I about had a heart attack.
JB: Was he playing like the Jaco we know from his albums?
PM: At least, or maybe even more so. I had played some bass gigs around Kansas City and I thought “There must be kids (Like Jaco) at this level of musicianship in every city in the country. Jaco was just three years older than me and his playing that night was “off the scale.” The next day the first guy I heard was Steve Morse, who had a group The Dixie Dregs, and was a freak guitar player, plays amazing classical guitar, incredible rock. He had more technique on the guitar than I had ever seen before. There were outstanding drummers and sax players as well. In fact, there were about a dozen guys that first year who went on to become name players. So, there I was, a kid with some chops, but surrounded for the first time with kids more or less my own age with all this talent.
Along with the music there were the regular academic classes at the university. Remember, I had just barely made it through high school. I was lost in the English and history classes and didn’t really have any desire to learn that stuff. I still wanted to learn just music. After a couple of weeks I realized that I didn’t want to stay in school. So, I went to Dr. Lee to tell him though I appreciate this scholarship, I was going to leave school and devote myself to just practicing. Dr. Lee said that he had wanted to call me in to ask me something. He said that they had over 80 guitar students and one teacher...
JB: Who was that teacher?
PM: Stan Samole, a really good player. Dr. Lee said that some of the faculty had met the previous night and decided that they needed another guitar instructor and had decided to ask me to join the faculty to teach guitar. I said “Join the faculty?!” He said that I was qualified to teach because I was quite a bit more advanced than the other students. Which in some ways was true. Those years on the bandstand in Kansas City had made me more advanced, at least in reall ife, practical ways than most of the other students there. I thought, “Well at least I won’t have to tell my parents that I’m leaving the University” (laughter). So, I continued to live in the dorm and everything, but instead of studying there I taught there for a year. At one point during that year, I came back to Kansas to do a jazz festival and met Gary Burton, who was one of my major heroes. Gary’s band was at that time one of my favorite jazz groups with guitar in it. Around that time, Jerry Hahn and Larry Coryell had played in his band. They were a group that was trying to push the limits of jazz and that was really of interest to me.
Gary offered me the opportunity to go to Boston and teach at Berklee. What he was really doing was getting me closer so to check me out more before hiring me for his band. I was 19 at the time.
JB: Was Berklee a full-time teaching position?
PM: Yes. Again to my father’s relief, I at least had a steady income. They didn’t hire me to teach the Berklee method, but to teach more or less “advanced improvisation.” Some of my students have gone on to make a name for themselves, for example Mike Stern. It was kind of an uneasy time for me because I was younger than most of the guys I was teaching which was kind of odd on a social level. But, once I began playing in the local clubs in the evening, and especially after I joined Gary’s band, people had the chance to hear me play more and could see more about where I was coming from musically.
JB: How long were you on Berklee’s faculty?
PM: A year and a half.
JB: I want to go back to your formative years, like when you were in high school. What are three of the most influential jazz guitar albums and why?
PM: Well (Wes Montgomery’s) Smokin’ at the Half Note is certainly number one. That record just defined so many things for me. Rhythm section playing, melodic playing, Wes’s solo on “If You Could See Now” is the greatest guitar solo I have ever heard. That’s the one. It is like Coleman Hawkin’s solo on “Body and Soul” or some of the other great solos to me. That solo is the ideal, perfect improvised statement that any guitarist has ever made.
The second would be another Wes record. It is one of the last three records that he ever made. It’s Down Here on the Ground. I know that this is one of the records that many people are always putting down because they say “he went commercial” around then. The people who dismiss those records are missing some of the most profound playing that Wes ever did, exactly because it was so simple. The way he plays the melody on the song “Down Here on the Ground” is about the closest thing that I have heard that any guitar player has ever done to achieve the kind of melodic playing that Miles (Davis) did. It is so specific and there is so much information in each note. Playing simple to me is way harder than playing complicated. With all the aspects of Wes’ playing, and there are many things we could talk about, the thing that strikes me and inspires me is how he could play simple and make it sound so beautiful and so deep.
JB: I have heard others speak of the challenges of playing simply really well.
PM: It all depends upon the story you want to tell. There have been times when I play a lot of notes, but there are ways to play simply using a lot of notes. It goes beyond the quantity. It is the atmosphere that you create on a narrative level that separates musicians that are improvisers who can manifest images as opposed to just notes, they can make a sound have an almost literal meaning. It can be done a lot of different ways. When I think of the best of Wes (Montgomery) it transcends everything. It transcends guitar, it transcends all the details you could talk about with his technique or sound, it speaks to people who aren’t even musicians. It just does. That is why he was so popular. It goes beyond all that to this other dimension that is really special and it’s elusive to guitar players, especially jazz guitar players for reasons that are very complicated.
JB: What would be the third jazz guitar album?
PM: A Kenny Burrell record called “Blues – The Common Ground.” It is also a record that people sometimes criticize for sounding “commercial,” which to me it never was at all, it’s just that it has some big band accompaniment on it. There is something about the way that Kenny plays with the rhythm section on that record, where he places the beat in the time that I really love. And his sound too.
JB: Well, you mentioned being influenced by trumpet players, what are some of the non-guitarist albums that influenced you?
PM: What they call now “The Complete Concert:1964” (My Funny Valentine & Four & More. It’s an album that I keep coming back to for many reasons, not the least of which is Tony William’s amazing drumming. Almost any of the John Coltrane albums from 1958-1963 were huge for me. Also Ornette Coleman’s album “This is Our Music” is gigantic to me in terms of his conception. I would also have to add the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet “Live At Basin Street” and I would have to put a Freddie Hubbard album in there, “Red Clay,” because Freddie just plays so incredible on it.
JB: When you were at the University of Miami and Berklee, what did you want to do with the guitar? Where did you want to go with it?
PM: At that time I was very dogmatic in wanting to push the guitar to new places where it had never been in how it was used in jazz, because guitar players were so far behind other instrumentalists. Also, other musicians weren’t really interested in guitar players, because generally speaking, they couldn’t hang...
JB: They couldn’t cut it.
PM: They often couldn’t cut it. They would mess things up. I’d hear guitar players with guys and I would cringe, they weren’t making the changes. I’d hear horn player after horn player play great stuff and then the guitarist would solo and he would stink the place up. It was awful. It would happen again and again, even in well known bands.
Also around that time, there were many things that are possible with the guitar that to me hadn’t really been explored that much. The guitar seemed to be a little stuck and I was determined to mess with it. There were some other younger musicians, like Jaco (Pastorius), probably my best friend at the time, who were really upset and rebellious and we kind of said we have to move this along, we’ve got to change it. Even though “Bright Size Life,” looking back on it now, may not sound like it, we were pissed off. That album is a very strong political statement from us on how we felt what our instruments needed to do to hang in jazz. Listening to it now, with 25 years of perspective, I think our message got across, I believe we did change things. That album was a manifesto of some very specific things that we felt strongly about, it terms of harmony, it terms of interaction, in terms of the sound of the instruments, more than I can talk about it. You have to listen to that album to hear where we were at, at that time.
JB: Were you trying to do the same type of things with your first recording with Paul Bley, Jaco Pastorius, & Bruce Ditmas, or was that primarily Paul’s record?
PM: That was primarily Paul’s record. Jaco and I were playing a lot with Paul at the time. Which was a great experience. If I was to keep going with my list of influential albums, about two or three records down the line would be a Paul Bley album entitled “Footloose” which is a record that kind of changed things for me and I think a generation of musicians including Keith Jarrett and lots of other guys.
But, that record with Paul, Jaco, Bruce and myself came about kind of uniquely. I didn’t know that it was to become an album – none of us did. I showed up to this place that I thought was a rehearsal hall and it turned out to be a recording studio. Paul had rented this stack of Marshalls and a wah-wah pedal, because he had just heard this rock band and knew he had an electric guitar player coming, and wanted me to play like that. I had never even seen this kind of wah-wah pedal before...
JB: What kind was it?
PM: A Morley Wah-Wah pedal. I asked, “Do you really want me to play through this? And with this stack of Marshall amps with my 175?” I didn’t even know how it would sound, but that’s what Paul wanted, so I tried it. I spent the day with this pedal trying things and again, I didn’t even know it was a recording date. I think Jaco felt more like he was on his own turf – at least he got to use hiw own amp! – and he certainly did better than me on that date. This was 1974, so it was two years before Jaco had joined Weather Report and become well known. So, when he got famous, Paul put the record out again with a new cover and called it “Jaco.” Then about three years later I began to get pretty well known myself with my own band, the Pat Metheny Group, and Paul put the record out again, plugging it this time as “Pat Metheny’s first recording.” I am sure he will put it out again. And again. And again. (LAUGHTER)
JB: Tell me about the guitaristic challenges and exhilarations of working with Gary Burton in the mid-70’s?
PM: I could talk about my three year period with the Gary for a long time. It was a massively important period for me. But not just because I was playing with Gary, who is a hugely important musician for me, but also for playing with Steve Swallow the bassist, Bob Moses the drummer, and for the first half of the time, Mick Goodrick, the other guitarist in the band. For me to be in that environment with those guys, even though I had played with some great players and been in other high level situations, this was a whole other thing, this was international level, world class improvising musicians. It was really valuable for me to be around those guys. They had a lot of patience with me. I learned so much from all of them.
It was during that time that my sound and approach to the guitar, “my thing,” came about. If you heard a tape of me from my year in Miami, you would recognize my sound, but it was still very rough around the edges. But, in the three years I was with Gary, I went from being a talented kind of semi-pro level improvisor to someone who could at least pretty much hang with world class guys. It wasn’t that way when I first joined the band. In the first six months in the band, I would get 1 or 2 solos a night – and probably for good reason. It was a little frustrating for me then, but now I understand – those guys were functioning at a different level and it took me a little while to get up there with them.
JB: What did you do to get up to that level? Did you just do a lot of woodshedding on the guitar.
PM: Yes, but also Gary was and continues to be a very effective band leader who was able to articulate in very specifically terms what he wanted and what I was unable to deliverer at that point, and what I needed to work on so I could deliver.
JB: What were some of those things?
PM: They were things that were conceptual. It had to deal with how to develop a solo on a narrative level over time. It didn’t have to do with bad notes or that I wasn’t swinging. on the surface level everything sounded and felt fine. It was more that I was jumping around from idea to idea, which I probably was, and not making statements and not really telling long narrative stories. Gary would say “It is like this,” and then tell me what I wasn’t doing right. Gary was one of those musicians where you always wished that you soloed first, because he is such a hard soloist to follow. He would improvise these masterpieces, that were exciting, inventive, everything you would want in a solo. It was the same with Swallow, Goodrick, and as well with Bob Moses. In that first year, they would always have me solo first, because there was no way that I was going to hang after that. In time, I would get second solo, then third solo, so it was good, I felt I was making progress. But, it was hard. Gary was one of the toughest leaders possible. At least he was then, he’s probably mellowed, everybody mellows with age it seems. I would get yelled at for an hour or more after every gig for not connecting with the audience, but it was great. I was very lucky to have someone at that level be willing to spend time with me.
During the three years I was with Gary I began to get some recognition, you know, the kind of attention you get when you are the new guy on the scene. I won some polls. I was given the opportunity to make the “Bright Size Life” album for ECM. To make a record for ECM, for me at that time, just was incredible to me.
JB: In making “Bright Size Life” you chose Jaco as bassist because of your time with him in Miami?
PM: The trio with Jaco, Bob Moses and myself was an ongoing trio. We played together the whole time I was with Gary. When Gary wasn’t doing gigs, we’d play together.
JB: This is pre-Weather Report for Jaco?
PM: Pre-Weather Report. BUT he was this sort of underground figure among bassists. All the bassists around wanted to hear Jaco. It was a great little trio. Every place we played was packed. It was a lot of fun and we played really well together. In fact, the record producer for ECM wanted me to use more of a name bassist. I said no, I got this guy named Jaco Pastorius. He wanted me to use Dave Holland, whom I love as a musician, and I even got together and played with Dave. But at that time, Jaco and I had this special rapport together, so I convinced the producer to use Jaco. Everybody was happy in the end that I did use Jaco.
JB: So, you met Lyle (Mays) at that time?
PM: I did play with Lyle a few times during that period. So, when I got ready to do my second album for ECM the producer trusted me more because the record with Jaco worked out so well, and I said that I had this really good piano player named Lyle Mays. So Lyle did my second record with me which was called “Watercolors.” It didn’t turn out to be such a great record, because I really didn’t think that album through.
JB: On that record, Eberhard Weber and Danny Gottlieb joins Lyle and you...
PM: Danny and I played together in Miami. When Gary needed a drummer I convinced him to hire Danny and we played together there. I had recorded the Watercolors album about six months before I left Gary. Then, when I left Gary I ended up taking Danny with me. At that point in my career, I didn’t want to start a band. It seemed a bit premature and in fact it was. But, there weren’t any other real alternatives for me at that time. The only one, and I wish I had done it, was playing with Stan Getz, who used a lot of good young guys. Stan offered me the gig, but Watercolors was just about to come out and I had just met Lyle, and Danny was ready to go, it just seemed like a good time to start my own band. There weren’t really any good guitar sidemen gigs at that time. There were organ trio gigs, and I had done a lot of that in Kansas City. I could have played with McDuff, because a few of my friends had done it and he inquired about me a number of times. I was rebellious enough where I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to do some other stuff.
Then there were a lot of fusion gigs. It is ironic that now I am considered in the fusion category by some people. In a way, it is just mind boggling to me now, because at that time I was kind off like Wynton (Marsalis) or something because I was so anti that. I never even remotely saw any of our music as being even remotely close to what the Mahavishnu Orchestra, or the Return to Forever, or what Miles was doing at that time. In fact, we were outright reactionaries to that. We wanted to play through complex forms and wrote music that really demanded specific kinds of improvising. I did not want for us to do vamps or solo over a repeated chord, I wanted to play through changes. I wanted to be more driven by the cymbal, not by back beats and the bass drum. It is ironic that we are considered by some so called authorities to be part of that in terms of aspects of jazz history, but in reality, we are not, if you really look at the music of the time and viewed in the context of what was really happening. It stands out as being really quite different. We were committed to playing with dynamics, playing longer song forms, really utilizing the quartet, and I wouldn’t use distortion. We had this rebellious, reactionary crusade mindset that was a fuel to us to go this different direction.
JB: Was that some of the same aesthetic that brought about sound that the Watercolors album has, or were there expectations from ECM to make an album with the “ECM” sound?
PM: Well, with ECM at that time, you were expected to do your record in one and a half or two days. There was an encouragement from to do an album that sounds like “Watercolors” but not really a pressure to have that spacious sound.
JB: What was it like working with Eberhard Weber?
PM: Good. He had played a lot with Gary Burton and would join Gary’s band as a guest and that is how we became friends. He was an interesting choice because he had such a different sound.
JB: What about his sound that you found most interesting to have?
PM: It is different and has remained different down though the years. There is nobody like that. I have to say that the quality of being different has much more value to me than it seems to have for others. When I hear someone who sounds like someone else, I kind of tune out. To me the whole area of individuality and at least attempting to come up with something that is original and not referenced to this or that is very important to me. It is the essence of what the jazz language implies as an responsibility of the artist. Oddly, as time has progressed, this seems to become less and less an issue with players. In fact, there are players that I hear where it seems that the thought of the pursuit of an original sound has never even crossed their mind. It appears to them it is just fine to try to sound like so and so or to try to play basically in the style of this or that general approach. To me and my aesthetic, my way of thinking about it, this is not cool, in fact, it is kind of an error. It is like playing bad notes, but bad notes on the aesthetic level.
JB: Well tell me about the formation of the Pat Metheny Group with Mark Egan, Lyle and Danny and the recording of your first record.
PM: When I was going to form my own band and go out on the road and make about $200 a night for the whole band, I had to find guys that were about my age who were in it for the adventure of it. I had met Lyle and we had instantaneous rapport. It was like we had been playing together forever. We were like minded musically and in other areas as well and it was obvious that Lyle and I would be the core of the band. I knew Danny from Miami and it was Danny who recommended Mark Egan, who I also knew from Miami, but we hadn’t played together. One of the great things about Mark was that he was willing to do it for $25 a night, which was what I was able to pay at the time (laughter). In those early years after we paid hotels and gas, that’s about what it was. It had gone up to $50 by the time he left. Mark was one of Jaco’s star students and could play both the things that Jaco did on “Bright Size Life” and what Eberhard did on “Watercolors” and because we had done just the one album, we had to fall back on the material of those two albums as well.
JB: You guys had to be on the road a lot to eek out a living...
PM: From May of 1977 to late 1992 I would average 250-300 concerts a year. I was constantly touring. I don’t think there was anyone in jazz who did as many gigs as me over those years, during that period. I would take any gigs we could get. We would drive all over the country and play in any little hole in the wall we could get. We put 300,000 miles on this van in one year.
JB: It was in those early years that Lyle and you did the tour with Joni Mitchell, Jaco, Mike Brecker and Don Alias?
PM: Well, in the middle of all this traveling we were doing Jaco had joined Weather Report and became an international sensation beyond anything we had seen in jazz before.
JB: He changed the course of the electric bass...
PM: Yep, changed the bass – as we all knew he would.
Jaco had made a couple of albums with Joni. I was on tour in Berlin and Jaco called me in the middle of the night asking me to join him as he was planning to tour with Joni. He said it was going to be a quartet of Joni, he, me and the drummer Don Alias. I loved those records of Joni’s and so I said to keep me posted on it. When I finally rehearsed with them, Jaco had also invited Michael Brecker, who is one of my favorite players. As we played together I thought that we also needed a pianist, so I got Lyle to join us and that was the band.
It was a very different tour for me, because it was more of a rock tour where you play one night and then you are off two nights. I was use to working continuously and not having that kind of time on my hands. We also played these big halls and there were limousines and Lear jets and the trappings of big time music business. Honestly, that all made me extremely uncomfortable.
JB: But was there something that you gained as a musician from that tour.
PM: Well, it was great to work with Joni. She is such a fine singer and song writer. The band was a little poorly suited for her. The band was like this Ferrari that was limited to just driving around the block. We never got to really do what we were capable of doing.
JB: Tell me the aesthetic or musical goals you had with the album New Chautauqua?
PM: At that time I realized that one of the things I loved most about the guitar was the sound of strumming....(Pat begins strumming vigorously an open E major chord). I never did that because I was always playing single notes (he plays some bebop lines). More than anything, I think the instrument is perfectly suited for this (he strums E major chord in kind of a folk style) and I wanted to deal with that and that is what the album is about. At that point in jazz, nobody had really dealt much with strumming, although Gabor Szabo had a little. Now it is not that unusual, but at that time, to have a record that started with (he strums the beginning of “New Chautauqua) as a jazz guy was really unusual. Today, that kind of playing has blended into the vernacular, but for then, that was a fairly bold move. To have a jazz musician play music built around simple triads was somewhat unusual. Many jazz guys don’t know how to play on very simple triads, without using upper extensions and tension notes, because in fact it is really hard. So, to do some really strongly triadic based songs was something that I wanted to really address. That stuff is what I loosely associate with the Mid-Western sound, the guys at the barbershop in my home town, my neighbor with his hootenannies, all those guys were playing triads. I always felt like, why can’t that be part of the language? The guitar is great at those kind of sounds.
JB: One of my personal favorites of the earlier Group albums is American Garage. Any aspects of that album that remember fondly or musically exhilarating?
PM: That record to me really represents our youth. In fact, we were kids then, I was 24 or so. In some ways we identified with rock bands, even though we weren’t exactly a rock band. Our instrumentation paralleled a rock band and we wanted to address all that. We wanted to investigate those things that were real to us, the openness of (Pat plays the open 5ths of “[Cross the] Heartland”). We wanted to explore open sounds rather than the thick, dense sound of so many jazz chords. We also wanted to explore extended forms. Those were not AABA kind of songs. They are songs with lots of sections that keeping morphing into other things. It was a way of dealing with a quartet that was beyond just head – solo – head, which was something that then, as well as now, needed exploring.
JB: On all your work, but especially on American Garage, you have a distinctive sound to your guitar. How do you achieve this sound?
PM: It’s very bright.
JB: Yes. How did you arrive at the timbre of your guitar?
PM: This is something in the process of time gets a little lost. Starting with the album “Watercolors,” I introduced a sound that became quite popular as a sound in later years. For a few years, people let me alone have it, but then it became part of the modern guitar sound. I called it chorusing. On the first Group record the guitar sonically kind of shocked people, this chorusing, this sound that wasn’t a guitar with a straight tone. I spent a lot of time experimenting with amps and digital delays to come up with this ambient aspect, so the sound wasn’t coming just from this one spot.
JB: Can you tell us what you did to get this sound?
PM: The company that invented digital delays is Lexicon. I got to know some of people at Lexicon and began to experiment with their delays. They were these huge devices and some of them wouldn’t have wave modulation, they’d have straight bucket brigade delays, but I needed wave modulation to get this sound I wanted. I spent time with them and their equipment. About that time, MXR came out with consumer level digital delay at around $3,000. With that box, I could do what I wanted to do. So, I saved my money and got this delay. What was different about my thing was that I put this delay between the amps, and used several amps at once, something that basically hadn’t been done in jazz at that time. To this day, I do not like chorusing taking place in the speakers, I like it happening in the air. This is what is quite different in my sound from other people who use chorus boxes. Everything is always kind of discrete and then it mixes together in the air to make this bigger sound that has life to it. So, I was using matching Acoustic 134 amps and the MXR between them. This is what I used for many, many years. It became a very distinctive sound. About that time Lexicon came up with their version of a consumer digital delay. On American Garage I used the prototype of Lexicon’s delay which is why it sounds so bright. I didn’t quite know how to us it correctly. That became what Lexicon called the Primetime and I was sort of involved in the development of it.
JB: Tell me your Aesthetic or musical goals with the album you did with Lyle, “As Wichita Falls, So Falls Wichita Falls”?
PM: Lyle and I at that time had developed quite a relationship as co-writers and our rapport as players was and is a central component of the band. At the time, I had decided to change the band. I had missed playing with acoustic bass, so I wanted to get an acoustic bass player.
JB: Mark Egan had been with you up to that time?
PM: Yes, and he played only electric bass. So, Lyle and I had the material to do a group record, but I didn’t have the band. So WE decided to do the album ourselves. At this point I had met Nana Vasconcelos and I thought Nana would be an interesting player for our ensemble. At this time synths were evolving really rapidly. We really wanted to address the synth on an orchestral level. The funny thing about that album, this was still a few years before MIDI, so everything had to be played by hand. Remember also, that this was an ECM album and every ECM album had to be done in two days, so this make’s this a very ambitious album to do in two days. That album stands up pretty well as a narrative attempt.
JB: Tell me your musical goals with the album Song X with Ornette Coleman
PM: The musical goals that I have are always the same, that is to try to manifest into sound something that I have found to be true. There are many different ways to think about what music is and how to make it real enough so that other people can hear what you are hearing. For that album I had spent pretty much the year before touring with a trio that I had put together with Billy Higgins and Charlie Haden, which of course was Ornette’s rhythm section. Ornette used to come and hear us a lot and he really liked us and said we should do something together. Well, when I decided to leave ECM I thought that I am going to be with this new record company, I wanted this first album to be something really special. I remembered how Ornette wanted to do something together, so I called him up. We got together and talked about it and decided it would be a good idea. So, we began this month long process of just he and I playing together for about 7-8 hours a day. You see, we both wanted to come up with something really different from what we both had done. What we came up with, of course, ended up much closer to Ornette’s territory than mine. But, when you listen to it in comparison to his records, it is quite different than his records as well. This is what stands out about that album, it a singular album for both of us. Being around Ornette was truly inspiring.
JB: How did Pat Metheny Group continue to evolve during this early to mid period?
PM: The Group from American Garage on, continued to morph into more an orchestral direction. The Group continually seeks to discover potential sounds and use them in ways that are satisfying to us, yet still have some connection to the larger jazz tradition that we all have deep respect for and feel a part of. So, albums like Offramp, the live album Travels and our first couple records for Geffen, Still Life Talking and Letter from Home were real expansions of that area. We were 5 or 6 people trying to make a sound that was a lot bigger than that as well as dealing with form that was beyond that of the Standards and Blues forms.
I love playing on Blues forms and Standard tunes, but it is not enough for me to just do only that. I feel I have an obligation to expand and push the idea of form. And it’s not just me, I feel every jazz musician, no matter how much they love playing the Blues and Tunes to ask themselves, “Yeah, But...?” Each one of us has things that we know that are unique to our experiences and even though we often somewhat take them for granted. We have to look at the implications to the larger jazz traditions and ask, “Is there a contribution that I can make? Is there something in my current situation, my current culture, my current climate that I can creatively represent, that I can express through sound, through improvisation, through jazz, through context, through the embodiment of what this particular band sounds like?” This has been, and continues to be what my philosophy has always been of what the Group should be. It has been my goal to express this through those records.
Another thing about the Group is that is so cool is that we are fully 100% backwards compatible with all of the music we have ever played. It’s not like we through things away never to return to them again. There are a lot of bands that say “Ok, we’ve done that” and they never go back to it. Everything we’ve have done as a band is still in the book, and we still play it, and we still enjoy playing it.
JB: Each time you go out on the road, you have all those tunes up?
PM: We don’t have every tune ready every night. But, when we think about getting someone new in the band, the first thing I ask them to do is to leaern to play every song off the first album. Because, if they can’t play the those songs, they won’t be able to play the later stuff. We still want to go out and occasionally play “Phase Dance” And even if we don’t come right out and play it, it is somehow embedded in all the other stuff we play. All the Group’s music is built upon some basic tenants of what we have always wanted to do. Ironically in some ways, the fundamental criteria to play in the Group is that you have to be able to play bebop. We are probably never, ever going to come right out and do it in that setting, but you have to be able to play bebop. It is all about that. To find guys who a capable of playing hight level bebop but are never going to do it, who have the maturity and sensibility to draw from it without actually coming right out and doing that thing is almost impossible (laughter).
What is special about the Group are the tunes. For example, “Are You Going With Me?” the signature tune of the band, I have probably played that tune a 1000 times. Each time I play this tune it’s like going to another planet.
JB: I have heard you play that tune many times and each time you do there is always something fresh you say in your solo.
PM: It’s a great tune. “First Circle” is another song like that, I never tire of playing it. Those tunes that are the foundational tunes for the band. It is more than how they sound, it is what those tunes represent in our lives and probably in the lives of a lot of fans. They are something beyond what they are at this point. For me, who plays them night after night, they are like old friends, who are endless in their potential. The really good ones, you can play them over and over and never get tired of them. It’s funny at the end of a tour, when you’ve featured the newer songs, to sense which ones are going to hang and which ones are not. The really good ones always hang.
JB: Tell me your Aesthetic or musical goals with the album Secret Story with the orchestra and choir from Cambodia.
PM: It’s a culmination point. I wanted that record to be a sort of “This is what has happened to me so far” kind of record. I originally intended to perform everything on the album by myself. In fact, I had recorded the whole album playing all the parts myself; the synths, guitars, all of it. Then I realized that it would sound better if I got real people, because it always does (laughter). So, I replaced the orchestal stuff with an orchestra playing what I had written, I got some personalities in there like Toots Thielemans, Charlie Haden, a couple of cats that were playing in my band at the time, My brother and some other horn players and filled it out. I made it a human version of this singular vision, and included in that was the sound of this Cambodian Choir. I was trying to knit together this musical collage of all the things that I had seen, heard, felt and experienced over the previous 15 years in kind of a poetic way.
JB: Talking about pushing limits, I want you to talk about the album Zero Tolerance for Silence that is a very, very different album.
PM: For me sound and the expressions through sound is always about melody. To me, melody appears in many different ways. It has gotten to the point that for me, everything that happens is melodic. Every conversation, every experience of walking on the street, every experience of hearing an airplane take off, trash cans falling down a flight of stairs, I perceive all of it as melody. This has become more and more acute as time has gone by. You can find melody anyplace that you look for it. I realized that so much of the music I had made over the years was a distillation of this primary impulse and there was a sound that was going on, 24 hours a day, in my head that everything else is just a part of. Everytime I would improvise or try to write a tune, I would be distilling parts of this main sound, trying to highlight certain things about it. Just pick pieces of it. So, I thought that I should try to show what the whole thing was. That, is what that record is. That is the sound that I have going on all the time.
I did an interview with a Japanese woman when that album came out and she got it better than I ever got it, in a way. She said that most of my music conjures up an imagine of a scene with a river flowing through it. The different albums look at the river from a different angle, or with different filters on the lenses, but there is still this river. She thought the Zero Tolerance album was like being immersed inside the river. I thought “You’ve got it, that’s exactly what it is.”
Also, I always instinctively go for a 3-D effect, distances, relations to space and even time. I wanted to see if I could do an album that was mono-chromatic, two dimensional, kind of black and white music. There is no color in it. It is very flat.
JB: In making it, you must have realized that it would be the kind of album that someone wouldn’t play, let say after they got home from work?
PM: I never assume anything. I’ve been surprised too many times.
JB: I want to ask from an audience response, or a marketing standpoint, why you released this album. Years ago the modern classical composer, Milton Babbitt, wrote an article entitled, “Who Cares If They Listen,” in defense of modern classical music sounding dissonant and atonal because that was where classical music was suppose to go historically in its development. If audiences didn’t enjoy the music, that didn’t matter, because composers like Babbitt and others where taking classical music to where it should go. Were your goals similar?
PM: From a marketing standpoint, the record company insisted in releasing the album. That way of playing is a way I played that one day, I never played that way before and I’ll probably never play that way again.
JB: I’m going to ask about another album that is not the same as Zero Tolerance, but from a common listener’s point of view, is not an easy album to listen to. Tell me your esthetic or musical goals with the album “ The Sign of Four” with Derek Bailey, Gregg Bendian and Paul Wertico?
PM: I have no opinion over how people perceive that record or any other record. I have no opinion because I have no control over it – and again, I am constantly surprised. One thing that I find very interesting, is that now having made 20 some albums, it seems that nobody agrees on which of my albums is the best one. I hear one person say “ Of course, it’s New Chautauqua,” another says “No it’s Bright Size Life!,” “No it’s Zero Tolerance!,” “No, it’s the album with Derek Bailey.” It’s like there is no consensus at all! People’s opinions are almost equal about all the albums. I think that is good. I mean I like all of them, and I don’t like any of them (laughter). I just try to come up with something that has some resonance to me, something that I am hearing at that time.
JB: But with “The Sign of Four” you ended up with a product that is so very different your other work. How do you end up with a finished product that sounds so very different?
PM: With “The Sign of Four” you have to begin with Derek. Derek is a musician I really admire. I have been a fan and follower of his music for 25 years. I was excited to get the chance to play with him. The thing that he and I have in common, or maybe the plac we intersect, is that neither of us are really that interested in idiom. In both of our cases, it is almost a willful avoidance of idiom. My perspective is to embrace all idioms, therefore eliminating the disctinction between them. His perspective is to reject all idioms to willfully nullify the entire idea of idiom in the first place. I get to that point by embracing all idioms because I basically like all music. Derek rejects all idioms and in doing that creates an idiom that is uniquely his. Implied in that is that when you play with him, you have to play on his terms or his turf. Which in a way is, in fact, an idiom in itself – and there is even a slight contradiction there. Even if there is, I welcomed the chance to go into that world with him. You know, that first CD of the three CDs was an incredible experience. That was the first set that we played together. That is something really special, I think it is a great CD.
JB: I’m going to “switch gears” quite a bit here in terms of a very different sounding album, tell me your esthetic or musical goals with the album Beyond the Missouri Sky with Charlie Haden?
PM: Charlie and I have been best friends for over 20 years, since the album 80/81. In fact, even before that because Charlie was playing in Keith Jarrett’s Quartet when I was playing with Gary Burton and we did a lot of concerts opposite of each other. We also grew up in towns that were not too far from each other back in Missouri and we know some of the same people from there. Along with that, Charlie played in those early quartets of Ornette and those are some of my favorite albums, so Charlie has been a real influence upon me. We have played together many times, in many different situations – in the trio with Billy (Higgins), with (Michael) Brecker, Ornette in Song X, Abby Lincoln, various tours, on Japanese records, just lots of really varied things. We have a very special rapport together. So, we said to each other that we were going to have to do duet record sometime soon.
After a while when we were recording in the studio I began to realize that we were doing only ballads, and that I hadn’t even touched the electric guitar once. I said, “Charlie, you know that we are only playing ballads here?” He said “YeaH.” I said, “Well, maybe we should pick up the pace here” (Pat’s snapping his fingers) (laughter). He said “No. What else do you have?” I had brought in a lot of my music. We also did other tunes like Jimmy Webb’s “The Moon is a Hard Mistress” which is a great tune. Before we knew it, we were done. It was like a two day session. Then Charlie said, “I want you to do ‘that thing’ that you go on your Group albums. Now, don’t do it on all of the songs, just some of them.” I knew exactly what he meant, it was overdubbing some extra guitars and adding some orchestrations and so I did it and that was the album. I really didn’t think that much about it. It was just Charlie and me hanging out and making some music together. No one was more surprised than me when it became this very successful record.
JB: So, the whole thing about growing up in the heartland and going back to your roots was a subconscious thing?
PM: Yeah, the whole conceptual thing about calling the record “Beyond the Missouri Sky “ and all that came up later. We thought “Great, that’s perfect, that just what it is.” The concept, the cover, everything, it just all came together, beautifully. If I had to pick an album that is a favorite album that I am on, it would be that record.
JB: I imagine that the album has done very well.
PM: Extremely. It is one of the top selling 3 or 4 records that I have ever been on, and it continues to do well. Some records do well because there is a tour that supports it. But that one does well anyway. There is like this little cult that surrounds it. Charlie and I haven’t done that many concerts together and occasionally when we do, all the “Missouri Sky people” are there, who aren’t neccesarily your usual jazz audience. It includes your normal jazz fans, but also includes this whole other group. The concerts are very intense, you have to listen so very closely, because Charlie plays very softly. They are sometimes really great, and always a challenge.
The unique thing about that album for me is that it is the first album where I really play only acoustic guitar. The album is all about acoustic guitar. Charlie really showed me something about myself. The depth of the acoustic guitar is so much greater than the electric guitar in many ways. You can somehow get so much more information from the acoustic guitar because the sound is going through the mikes rather than a pickup. You get this much (big gesture) rather than that much (small gesture). The bandwith is somehow just greater than it can ever be from a simple magnetic pickup. That is especially true in a situation like that where there are no drums to bleed into the mic. You just