Virtuoso Pat Metheny helped redefine the parameters of jazz guitar. Winner of 20 Grammy Awards, the 64-year-old appears Oct. 13 at Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts. WiG spoke with him about his storied career.
In many ways, 2018 has been a watershed year for jazz guitarist Pat Metheny.
In addition to embarking on a new tour that embraces all phases of his 40-plusyear career, Metheny was named a 2018 Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, joining such luminaries as Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald.
But such honors are nothing new to the 64-year-old virtuoso, who has helped define the parameters of jazz guitar.
Since 1983, Metheny has won 20 Grammy Awards and is the only artist to have won in 10 different categories. He has been named Guitarist of the Year 17 times in DownBeat Magazine’s annual readers’ poll, received an honorary doctorate of music in 1996 from Boston’s Berklee College of Music, and in 2013 was inducted into the DownBeat Hall of Fame.
The protean musician from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, follows his own muse, whether he’s performing solo on his familiar Gibson baritone acoustic guitar, with his custom-designed 42-string Pikasso I (created by Canadian luthier Linda Manzer), or connected to his Roland GR-300 Guitar Synthesizer.
Regardless of the instrument, Metheny brings a unique voice to it. Local fans can hear for themselves when he brings his trio — bassist Linda May Hon Oh, pianist Gwilym Simcock and drummer Antonio Sanchez — to the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center of the Arts in Brookfield on Oct. 13.
Metheny took time out of his current tour to riff on new directions in jazz with WiG.
Wisconsin Gazette: Which jazz guitarists have had the most influence on your work?
Pat Metheny: While I appreciate players like Charlie Christian, Jim Hall, Kenny Burrell and Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery was my biggest inspiration. For me, the main quality that made him such a giant was his melodic depth. The melody factor in any kind of music is the most elusive quality to develop and especially hard to find among guitar players. Wes had it.
It’s been said that your playing has redefined the parameters of jazz guitar. What do you think about that?
I am not a fan of the idea of music genres. I feel like I am a musician in a broad sense first. All the subsets of music and the words people use are basically just cultural/political discussions that I’m really not as interested in as much as I am interested in the spirit and sound of music itself.
The only currency for me that has any truth attached to it is the music. I feel lucky that I’ve been able to spend most of my waking hours trying to respond to the amazingly high standards that music demands.
You perform on a variety of instruments. Do the Pikasso I and the Roland Synthesizer best characterize the Metheny sound?
To me, imagination and creativity are always magnets that attract. I’ve been really lucky to be able to render into sound some of the ideas floating around in my brain in a pretty precise way, but it sometimes has required a fairly extreme re-engineering process to get to the results. Maybe both those instruments would fit in with that description.
But I also love playing entire concerts with just an acoustic guitar and a talented bass player. To me, no one particular way of thinking of sound and music is mutually exclusive of any other.
How do you go about composing music?
My early experiences writing music were really enlightening.
There was a level at which I wanted to improvise that I found difficult to reach when playing standards or blues or even the work of modern composers like Wayne Shorter or Herbie Hancock.
When I wrote my first tunes, I found that not only could I set up a situation where I could finally play the way I wanted to play, but that also gave me a kind of authority to ask certain things of the other musicians. At that moment I realized for the first time that I might have a knack for being a leader, and it all came out of the compositions.
For me, the composers I admire the most are the ones who write things robust enough to withstand almost any interpretation and still retain their essence. The all-time champ for me would be (Thelonious) Monk. If you hit the right notes of his best tunes, and someone is playing the right bass line, you will sound good, and Monk will be right there in the room with you. You can do it 500 nights in a row and you’ll never get tired of it. For me, that’s the standard.
What can you tell me about the current tour?
I have strong ties to Wisconsin — my mom is from Manitowoc — and I am happy to be back.
And this band is very special and it’s where my focus is for right now. The concept this time is simple — to put together a really exceptional group of musicians and write some music for them. But additionally, to have them able to play anything from at any point in my career as well. This is an excellent live band and each person on the bandstand is a really great player.
The typical concert is very long and covers a lot of territory. I am sure people who have followed my thing over a long time will enjoy it. By the same token, someone who is really not that familiar with any of my work will like it, too.