Jazz Mas­ter

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.

Wisconsin Gazette - - Front Page - By Michael Muck­ian Con­tribut­ing writer

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.

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