The incredible Pat Metheny has been pushing the boundaries of modern jazz for over 40 years. John Wheatcroft explores his style.
John Wheatcroft doffs his hat in honour of perhaps the finest modern jazzer, Pat Metheny.
Pat Metheny is a phenomenal guitarist, composer and all-round musician. From the early ‘70s and while still in his teens, Metheny began to gain exposure as a member of vibraphonist Gary Burton’s band on recordings with bass virtuoso, Jaco Pastorius, and as the youngest ever lecturer at Berklee College of Music. From then to now Pat’s career has been staggeringly fruitful, as band leader, in collaboration with artists such as Michael Brecker, Ornette Coleman and John Scofield, as sideman for Joni Mitchell, Bruce Hornsby and many more, and solo performer with ground-breaking projects such as his Orchestrion Project and solo acoustic album, One Quiet Night. He has received 35 Grammy nominations across 12 different categories, winning 20, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
Pat has achieved the Holy Grail in jazz, creating a unique voice on his instrument while sounding completely connected to the history and vocabulary of jazz. So while you can clearly discern the influence of Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall, this is balanced with a more horn-like vocabulary taken from John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Michael Brecker. Add the anarchic free sprit from Ornette Coleman and Derek Bailey, a mastery of Latin rhythms plus an appreciation of the melodic simplicity of James Taylor, govern all this with a considerable imagination and you’re in the general ballpark.
Pat’s compositional prowess is perhaps the main factor that sets him apart. Anyone that can claim to have an entire ‘Real’ book dedicated exclusively to their pieces is prolific by anyone’s standard. Check him out! His playing and writing transcend boundaries with intelligence, flair and beauty. One senses with Metheny that the only thing that matters to him is the music and all the other trappings of his success have limited interest for him.
The following eight examples typify what Pat might play in a specific improvisational situation. This should be considered the start of your studies, so consider some careful listening, transcribing and wood-shedding to get the most from this lesson. Don’t get too consumed with technique, as it’s the musical ideas that have the most value.
Pat favours a lightly-picked legato approach but this could easily be modified to fit your preferred playing style. However, It makes sense to follow the transcribed lines as accurately as possible to begin, and then allow whatever comes naturally to come to the fore while keeping a careful watch on musical factors such as clarity, timekeeping accuracy, flow and swing. As always, enjoy!
I would always contend that talent Is an element, but Ultimately It Is mostly hard work Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny with his Ibanez signature model