“If it’s not jazz, and maybe it’s not, then I don’t know I what to call it. My music is based on the principle of playing bebop: it’s chord changes and improvisation on the changes,” Pat Metheny told New Republic. Perhaps jazz fusion, or jazz/rock, are better categories, but Metheny isn’t interested in categories, only in playing his music—which he does to packed venues ten months out of the year. He is a hard-working and unassuming musician, happiest when he’s on the road performing in tee-shirt and high-top sneakers to appreciative audiences.
Metheny comes from a musical family. His grandfather, father, mother, and older brother all played the trumpet. Marching band music was their favorite style, and country music was also pervasive around Lee’s Summit, Missouri, where Metheny was born and grew up. But he enjoyed all kinds of music, from the Beatles to the Beach Boys to Miles Davis. At age 12 he discovered Ornette Coleman when he found an album of his for fifty cents in a record store cut-out bin: “I thought it was the greatest thing I ever heard in my life,” he told down beat.
Following the family tradition, Metheny learned to play the trumpet first and then took up guitar at age 14. By the end of his high school years he was balancing his time between jazz gigs with small bands in nearby Kansas City and playing French Horn in half-time shows in order to earn the music credits he needed to graduate from high school. He briefly attended Miami University but then moved to Boston to take a teaching assistantship with jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton, who was teaching at the Berklee College of Music. In 1974 he was asked to join Burton’s band and stayed with the group for about three years, recording on three albums. After leaving Burton he organized and toured with his own bands; toured with singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell; scored the film soundtrack for The Falcon and the Snowman; and by the late 1980s had garnered four Grammys from more than a dozen albums.
Because he began listening to jazz as a child, Metheny has developed a great respect for tradition. As he told down beat, “if you’re 15 and you want to be a jazz musician, you’ve still got to go back to 1900 and start checking it all out…. And I’m more convinced of that each year—you have to have a thorough understanding of the tradition in order to consider going one step further.” And his career has focused not on traditional jazz, but on extending the tradition by evolving his own personal style, which, while rooted in jazz, incorporates elements from other traditions as well as new technology.
A down beat review of an 1984 concert provides a good overview of the complexity of the artist’s diverse
Full name, Patrick Bruce Metheny; born August 12, 1954, in Lee’s Summit, Mo. Education: Attended Miami University.
Began playing guitar at age 14; member of local jazz bands in Kansas City, Mo., while in high school; guitarist with the Gary Burton Quintet, 1974-77; musical director and guitarist for the Pat Metheny Group, 1978—. Composer of film scores, including Under Fire, 1983; (with David Bowie) TheFalcom and the Snowman, 1984; and Twice in a Lifetime, 1985.
Awards: Winner of four Grammy Awards, 1982, 1983, 1984, and 1987; received award for best jazz album, Boston Music Awards, 1986; named best jazz musician in Jazza magazine’s readers’ poll, 1986; named best jazz guitarist, Boston Music Awards, 1986; Pat Metheny Group selected outstanding jazz fusion group, Boston Music Awards, 1986.
Addresses: Offices —c/o Ted Kurland Associates, Inc., 173 Brighton Ave., Boston, MA 02134.
style: “Metheny balances three separate aspects in his music—the first being his own irrepressible Midwestern lyricism, the second a penchant for Brazilian rhythms, and the third the wild card of Ornette Coleman’s jagged, insular logic.” His work with keyboardist Lyel Mays and Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos on the albums As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls and Off ramp illustrate the first two of these aspects, emphasizing his flowing, melodic style and appreciation for exotic rhythms. And his lyricism is particularly emphasized in his straight-ahead jazz performances with Ornette Coleman on the album Song X, and with Coleman alumni Charlie Hayden and Dewey Redman on 80/81 and Rejoicing.
As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls established Metheny as a unique new voice in jazz. In a down beat interview he stated: “With that record we wanted to do a piece of music that was somehow away from the song form. So much of what we were doing were songs in which the improvisation was based on the harmonies in the song—in the jazz tradition. We wanted to try something where the improvisation happened not so much in the linear sense as in the textural sense.” On the album, Mays, a multi-keyboardist and composer with his own album releases, moves easily from stunning solos to creating lush musical environments for Metheny’s guitar work. Vasconcelos’s drums and simple acoustic instruments offer an earthy rhythm with a grounding effect on the otherwise predominateiy electronic sound. “As hip as synthesizers are,” Metheny told interviewer Tim Schneckloth, “they’re 10, 000 years away from being able to approach the power and the beauty of an acoustic instrument.”
In 1986 Metheny found the opportunity to perform with the idol of his youth when he and Ornette Coleman went on tour to support their first joint album, Song X.A review of the concert in Coleman’s hometown, Fort Worth, Texas, stated: “The audience was a mixed collection of mainstream fusion Metheny fans and hardcore harmonic partisans, all of whom were curious—and if the truth be told, a trifle skeptical—of what would happen when the guitarist’s rounded tones and melodic sensibilities collided with Ornette’s hard-edged angular logic.” The down beat review concluded: “They shouldn’t have worried.”
During the early 1980s Metheny was using a home computer as a composing tool and experimenting with guitar synthesizers. But it was the Synclavier, an instrument with a built-in 32-track digital memory and the ability to create practically any sound for an instrument, that totally changed his way of working. He uses it in the studio for nearly all his composing and in performance to create a wide range of sounds for his guitar. On many of his recordings his guitar takes on tones which hearken back to his youth: trumpet and other horns.
But he cautions those eager to leap on the high-technology bandwagon: “I’m convinced more and more that the guitar synthesizer is bringing along a situation where everything is possible as an improviser,” he told interviewer Art Lange. “This technology is not only making it possible, but it’s so much more fun to have this range to choose from as opposed to just having one sound; now you’ve got any sound, and you can apply everything you’ve learned to that particular sound—if what you’ve got to play is strong enough to support that sound. That’s where it gets sticky.”
In a review of Metheny’s 1985 release First Circle, jazz reviewer Jim Roberts observed: “There is a tendency, I think, to take Pat Metheny’s accomplishments for granted, maybe because he still looks like a shaggy kid in a t-shirt and doesn’t make pronouncements about his ’art.’ But the fact is that the range of his music, on record and in concert, is unmatched by any of his contemporaries (and few of his elders).” Pat Metheny stands to be one of the great innovators in the jazz tradition.
Released by ECM, except as noted
Bright Size Life, 1975.
Pat Metheny Group, 1978.
American Garage, 1979.
As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, 1981.
Off ramp, 1982.
First Circle, 1985.
Song X (with Ornette Coleman), Geffen, 1986.
Still Life (Talking), Geffen, 1987.
Audio, October, 1986.
down beat, October, 1982; November, 1982; May, 1984; January, 1985; April, 1986; June, 1986; August, 1986.
High Fidelity, September, 1981; January, 1985.
New Republic, May 30, 1983.
Newsweek, April 14, 1986.
Rolling Stone, May 9, 1985.
Stereo Review, November, 1981; September, 1982.
Multi-Grammy-winning jazz fusion guitarist and band leader Pat Metheney, noted for expanding the jazz envelope over the course of the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, incorporates elements of pop music, traditional jazz, new technology, and rock into jazz fusion music, and delivers them in a textured, atmospheric style. He told Billboards Bradley Bambarger about the Pat Metheney Group’s 1999 release Imaginary Day, “Our past albums have always had a couple nine-orten-minute songs that really try to take you somewhere, but with [Imaginary Day] we wanted to explore that territory from beginning to end. When I first took what became the title track to the band, I described it as a Chinese opera/blues with a Miles (Davis) “Filles De Kilimanjaro” interlude. Maybe that’s indicative of where we’re at.” Other Pat Metheney Group members include co-composer and keyboardist Lyle Mays, bassist Steve Rodby, and drummer Paul Wertico. Bambarger went on to say that Imaginary Day’s “intricate composition is wedded to spirited improvisation, yielding a far-reaching stylistic hybrid. It’s music rooted in jazz but not limited to any preconceptions of how a jazz band should sound—in league with the legacy of fusion pioneers Weather Report but more evolved and more even more electric.” Metheney’s music is based on the principle of playing bebop: employing chord changes and then improvising on the changes. Bambarger wrote, “”The Metheney Group has always been at the forefront of technology.… But one especially charged new track, “The Roots of Coincidence,” even finds common ground with the likes of Nine Inch Nails.” Metheney told Bambarger, “We question ourselves less and less about idiom as we go on.”
Metheney was born Patrick Bruce Metheney on August 12, 1954, in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, where he was raised. He came from a musical family; his grandfather, father, mother, and older brother all played the trumpet, and marching band was their music of choice. Country and western music was pervasive in Lee’s Summit as Metheney was growing up, yet he enjoyed a wide range of music, including the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and Miles Davis. At age 12 Metheney discovered the massive talent of Omette Coleman when he found an album of his for 50 cents in a record store cut-out bin. He later told DownBeai magazine, “I thought it was the greatest thing I ever heard in my life.” Metheney began listening to jazz music when he was a child and developed a great respect for the music’s history. He told Down Beat, “If you’re 15 and you want to be a jazz musician, you’ve still got to go back to 1900 and start checking it all out.… you have to have a thorough understanding of the tradition in order to consider going one step further.”
By the age of 15, Metheney was proficient at both the trumpet and the guitar, and by the time he was a senior
Born Patrick Bruce Metheney on August 12, 1954, in Lee’s Summit, MO; Education: Attended the University of Miami briefly before moving to Boston to take a teaching assistantship at the Berklee College of Music with jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton.
Proficient at trumpet and guitar by age 15; balanced playing in Kansas City, MO, jazz bands and school marching band before joining Burton’s band in 1974; musical director and guitarist for the Pat Metheny Group, 1978—; worked with keyboardist Lyle Mays and Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos on the albums As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, 1981, and Offramp, 1982; recorded and toured with Omette Coleman on Song X, 1986, and with Charlie Hayden and Dewey Redman on 80/81 and Rejoicing; released As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, 1981; used a home computer as a composing tool and experimented with guitar synthesizers during the early 1980s; toured as part of the backup band for singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell’s Shadows and Light tour; scored the film soundtracks for The Falcon and the Snowman, Twice in a Lifetime, Orphans, Lemon Ski;, Adieux, and Big Time; inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994; scored the music for the films Cinema Paradiso and Passagio Per II Paradiso.
Awards: Grammy Awards as composer or solo artist 1982, 1990, and 1992; with Pat Metheny Group in 1983, 1984, 1987, 1989, 1993, 1885, and 1998; with Charlie Haden, 1997.
Addresses: Record company —Warner Brothers Records, 3300 Warner Boulevard, Burbank, CA 91505-4694, (818) 846-9090; 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019; 1815 Division Street, P.O. Box 120897, Nashville, TN 37212, (615) 320-7525; Internet —http:www.wbr.com.
in high school, he was balancing his time between jazz performances with small bands in nearby Kansas City and playing the French horn in half-time marching band shows for school credit. After high school he attended the University of Miami briefly before moving to Boston to take a teaching assistantship at the Berklee College of Music with jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton. In 1974 Burton invited Metheney to join his band; Metheney stayed in the band for three years, and recorded three albums. Then in 1977 Metheney began to organize and tour with his own band. A 1984 Down Beat review described Metheney’s music as a balance of three parts, “the first being his own irrepressible Midwestern lyricism, the second a penchant for Brazilian rhythms, and the third the wild card of Omette Coleman’s jagged, insular logic.”
Metheney’s work with keyboardist Lyle Mays and Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos on the albums As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls and Offramp illustrated Metheney’s lyricism and penchant for exotic rhythms. His flowing, melodic style was also emphasized in his straight-ahead jazz performances with Or-nette Coleman on Song X, and with Coleman alumni Charlie Hayden and Dewey Redman on 80/81 and Rejoicing. The 1981 release As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls established Metheney as a unique, vibrant new voice in jazz because of his focus on the texture of a song’s improvisation rather than the more linear approach of improvising on a song’s harmony. On the groundbreaking release, Mays, a multi-keyboardist and composer, moved from stunning solos to lush musical environments that enhanced Metheney’s guitar work. Vasconcelos’s drums and simple acoustic instruments offered an earthy rhythmic backdrop, providing a grounding effect for the electronic sound.
During the early 1980s Metheney used a home computer as a composing tool and experimented with guitar synthesizers. The advent of the Synclavier—an instrument with a built-in 32-track digital memory and the ability to create practically any sound for an instrument—altered Metheney’s way of working; he used it in the studio for nearly all his composing and in performance to create a wide range of sounds for his guitar. On many of his recordings, his guitar adopts tones which hearken back to the trumpet playing of his youth. Metheney achieved the sounds of various horns on his guitar which, in part, attributed to his reputation as an innovative composer, multi-faceted producer, and guitar synthesizer pioneer.
In 1986 Metheney was presented with the opportunity to perform and tour with the idol of his youth, Omette Coleman; they recorded the album SongX in 1986. Metheney’s rounded tones and melodic sensibilities contrasted nicely with Coleman’s hard-edged angular logic, and the result was successful. By the late 1980s, Metheney had toured as part of the backup band for singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell’s Shadows and Light tour, scored the film soundtracks for The Falcon and the Snowman, Twice in a Lifetime, Orphans, Lemon Sky, Adieux, and Big Time, and had garnered four Grammy Awards from more than a dozen albums.
In 1997, Metheney received a declaration from the governor of Missouri proclaiming February 25th as Charlie Hayden/Pat Metheney Day in honor of their release Beyond the Missouri Sky—Short Stories by Charlie Hayden and Pat Metheney. Throughout the 1990s, Metheney continued his prodigious output and garnered Grammy Awards as a composer in 1990 and a solo artist in 1992; and with the Pat Metheny Group in 1993, 1995, and 1998. Metheney was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994, and scored the music for the lauded films Cinema Paradiso and Passagio Per II Paradiso. Within the brackets of musical history, Metheney stands to be one of the great innovators in the pioneering jazz tradition.
Ring (Gary Burton Quintet), ECM, 1974.
Dreams So Real (Gary Burton Quintet), ECM, 1975.
Works, ECM, 1975.
Bright Size Life, ECM, 1975.
Works 11, ECM, 1976.
Passengers, ECM, 1976.
Watercolors, ECM, 1977.
Pat Metheney Group, ECM, 1978.
American Garage, ECM, 1979.
80/81, ECM, 1980.
As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, ECM, 1981.
Off ramp, ECM, 1982.
Rejoicing, ECM, 1983.
First Circle, ECM, 1985.
Song X (with Omette Coleman), Geffen, 1986.
Still Life (Talking), Geffen, 1987.
Travels, ECM, 1987.
Letter From Home, ECM, 1989.
Reunion, ECM, 1990.
Question and Answer, ECM, 1990.
Secret Story, ECM, 1993.
The Road to You, ECM, 1994.
We Live Here, ECM, 1995.
Quartet, Geffen, 1997.
Beyond The Missouri Sky—Short Stories by Charlie Hayden and Pat Metheney, ECM, 1997.
Imaginary Day, Warner Brothers, 1999.
Contemporary Musicians, volume 2, Gale Research, 1990.
Audio, October, 1986.
Billboard, October 11, 1998.
Down Beat, August 1986; June 1986; April 1986; January 1985; May 1984; November 1982; October 1982.
High Fidelity, January 1985; September 1981.
New Republic, May 30, 1983.
Newsweek, April 14, 1986.
Rolling Stone, May 9, 1985.
Stereo Review, September 1982; November 1981.
“Pat Metheney Group,” http://www.wbr.com (September 1999).
“Grammy Awards,” The Recording Academy, http://www.grammy.com/awards/ (September 15, 1999).
—B. Kimberly Taylor
Guitarist Pat Metheny has managed to successfully walk the line between innovation and broad-based appeal more than three decades. His accessible jazz albums have earned him and his Pat Metheny Group some 16 Grammy awards (out of 29 nominations), more than any other jazz musician. Not easily classifiable, his music reflects a mellow-sounding experimental journey into the worlds of jazz fusion, folk, rock, new age, and pop. First attaining popularity in the 1980s, he is credited with helping to popularize jazz among baby boomers raised on pop and rock music.
Metheny was born Patrick Bruce Metheny on August 12, 1954, in Lee's Summit, Missouri. Faced with the slow-paced, small-town life and scarce access to television, Metheny and his family found entertainment in music. Following in the steps of his older brother, a trumpet player, Metheny by age eight was learning to play the trumpet, and as a result learning to read and write music. His interest in pop groups like the Beatles and the Beach Boys, was soon overshadowed by early and immediate interest in jazz music. He quickly delved into the world of jazz, quickly learning pieces by greats like Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman, all without a formal music teacher. He received his first guitar at age ten, and by the age of twelve he would abandon the trumpet for what would become his trademark instrument. Metheny soon found his calling playing with Kansas City jazz musicians. Such was his local fame that, when Herbie Hancock came to town, he reportedly sought out the 16-year-old Metheny to jam with him.
Upon graduating from Kansas City High School in 1972, Metheny went on to attend the University of Miami. Just as student and social obligations had taken a backseat to music in high school, Metheny's dedication to music led him to drop out of university's student body to form part of its faculty. At the age of 18, he was teaching electric guitar at the school. In 1974, he was invited to teach music at Boston's Berklee College of Music (which would award him an honorary doctorate degree in music in 1996). While brief, Metheny's stay at the University of Miami allowed him to meet jazzman Jaco Pastorius, who would go on to be a fundamental force in his early years as a musician. It was with Pastorius, along with jazz pianist Paul Bley, who joined Metheny to recording a 1974 album that would be Metheny's first.
1974 was the year of Metheny's big break into the world jazz scene. From 1974 to 1977, he lent his playing style to the band of vibraphone artist Gary Burton. According to Metheny's website biography, this style entails blending "the loose and flexible articulation customarily reserved for horn players with an advanced rhythmic and harmonic sensibility—a way of playing and improvising that was modern in conception but grounded deeply in the jazz tradition of melody, swing, and the blues." Following the recording of Ring, recorded with Burton and Eberhard Weber, Metheny released his first solo album. With the release of Bright Size Life in 1975, Metheny is credited with reinventing jazz guitar for a new generation. That album marked the beginning of a ten-year relationship with the ECM record label, for which Metheny played to sold-out crowds as the company's top act.
In 1978, Metheny founded the Pat Metheny Group, drawing on the talent of drummer Dan Gottlieb, bassist Mark Egan, and Lyle Mays (the keyboardist he met during his days with Burton). Time referred to the group as a "long-lived fusion quartet whose richly textured, Brazilian flavored albums, with their smooth synthesized surfaces, appeal to listeners for whom jazz is normally a four-letter word."
"If you look at the group's history, right from the beginning we've always been after ways of trying to look at form from different angles," Metheny told the Washington Post. "The whole mission of the band was to explore what a jazz group can be in the modern era that it hasn't been before. And there are some real obvious things that we do that set us apart, starting with the amount of electricity involved to the actual sound of the band and the kinds of things that we've addressed, but underneath the hood of all of it from the beginning has been this thing of really messing with form and trying to write things that were not just tunes."
For the Record …
Born Patrick Bruce Metheny on August 12, 1954, in Lee's Summit, MO; son of Dave and Lois; children: one son, Nicolas Djakeem. Education: Attended University of Miami until January, 1973.
Taught electric guitar at University of Miami, 1973; became music instructor at Berklee College, 1974; guitarist with The Gary Burton Band, 1974-1977; guitarist with Pat Metheny Group, 1977-; recorded Bright Size Life, the first album bearing his name, 1975; released albums through next three decades, including The Way Up on Nonesuch, 2005.
Awards: Grammy Awards, Best Jazz Fusion Performance, 1982; Best Jazz Fusion Performance, 1983; Best Jazz Fusion Performance, 1984; Best Jazz Fusion Performance, 1987; Best Jazz Fusion Performance, 1989; Best Instrumental Composition, 1990; Best Contemporary Jazz Performance, 1992; Best Contemporary Jazz Performance, 1993; Best Contemporary Jazz Performance, 1995; Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Individual Or Group (with Charlie Hayden), 1997; Best Contemporary Jazz Performance, 1998; Best Rock Instrumental Perfomance, 1998; Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Individual or Group 1999; Best Jazz Instrumental Solo, 2000; Best Contemporary Jazz Album, 2002; Best New Age Album, 2003.
Addresses: Fan club—Pat Metheny Group Listener Network, 173 Brighton Ave., Boston, MA 02134, website: http://www.patmethenygroup.com, e-mail: [email protected]
While the group would evolve over the years, the collaborative relationship with Mays would mark Metheny's career for more than two decades. Metheny's collaborations with a wide array of jazz and non-jazz artists would also mark his career. Ornette Coleman, Steve Reich, Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins, and David Bowie were just a few of the artists to play with Metheny. Despite major success with ECM, Metheny left the label for Geffen in 1985 and set up Pat Metheny Productions, which leases its musical creations.
"I never wanted the headache of actually administering a label," Metheny told Daily Variety. "But I wanted the freedom to do things my way. As long as you can keep an audience intrigued and maintain a level of curiosity about the records, you're keeping up your end of the bargain. We've never compromised—and we've gotten away with it."
For nearly three decades, Metheny went beyond the role of "jazz guitarist" to compose a wide variety of compositions, ranging from rock to jazz to classical and ballet pieces. These included pieces for everything from solo guitar and small ensembles to large orchestras, using both acoustic and electric instruments. "Jazz is the all-inclusive form," he told Time in 2000. "There's room for everybody, for anything of true musical substance. Jazz guys like Duke Ellington or Miles Davis have always transformed the elements of the pop culture that surrounds us into something more sophisticated and hipper. It's their job."
The artist was an early proponent of electronic music, claiming to be among the first jazz artists to take the synthesizer seriously and to use the Synclavier for composing songs. Moving from his original Gibson ES-140T guitar, Metheny's sound evolved with his input into the creation of the 42-string Pikass guitar, the Ibanez PM-100 jazz guitar and the soprano acoustic guitar, as well as many other instruments (such as the sitar guitar). Always one to push his own style in new directions, Metheny broke with his reputation for having a developed sense of melody with the 1994 release of Zero Tolerance for Silence, which some denounced as noisy feedback but which Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, reportedly called "the most radical recording of this decade … a new milestone in electric guitar."
Thirty years after he began touring in 1974, Metheny continued to tour, performing between 120-240 shows annually. He also managed to keep a loyal fan base, consistently winning new musical awards. At the 2004 Grammy Awards, Metheny was awarded Best New Age Album for One Quiet Night, making him the artist with the most Grammy awards in different categories. The Pat Metheny Group's 2005 release The Way Up, led the Chicago Tribune to predict a potential "career turning point for its creators. The single 68-minute opus was composed of "four interlocking movements" joined together by "recurring melodic motifs" in an approach that used technology to "manipulate the studio as if it were an instrument."
Bright Size Life, ECM, 1975.
Watercolors, ECM, 1977.
Pat Methany Group, ECM, 1978.
American Garage, ECM 1980.
80/81, ECM, 1980.
As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, ECM, 1980.
Song X, Geffen, 1985.
Works I, ECM, 1991.
Works II, ECM, 1991.
The Sign of 4, Knitting Factory, 1992.
Zero Tolerance for Silence, ECM, 1994.
Imaginary Day, Warner Brothers, 1997.
Trio Live, Warner Brothers, 2000.
One Quiet Night, Warner Brothers, 2003.
The Way Up, Nonesuch, 2005.
Chicago Tribune, February 22, 2005.
Daily Variety, February 10, 2005.
Time, January 31, 2000.
Washington Post, March 25, 2005.
Grammy Awards website, http://www.grammy.com (May 27, 2005).
"Pat Metheny," All Music Guide, http:www.allmusic.com (May 26, 2005).
Pat Metheny Group Listener Network, http://www.patmethenygroup.com (May 26, 2005).
Born: Lee's Summit, Missouri, 12 August 1954
Best-selling album since 1990: Speaking of Now (2002)
Pat Metheny is among the most distinctive and popular guitarists to have emerged from the electric jazz fusion of the 1970s. Metheny finds common cause with mainstream jazz veterans such as drummer Roy Haynes, fellow-guitarists John Scofield and Bill Frisell, iconoclasts such as saxophonist/theorist Ornette Coleman and discontinuous improviser Derek Bailey, and percussionists from foreign countries such as Brazil, Martinique, Cameroon, and Mexico. He also adapts material by pop-jazz artists such as singer Norah Jones as well as the Choir of the Cambodian Royal Palace.
Metheny began as a trumpeter, like his older brother Mike, but switched to guitar at age fourteen when his teeth were fitted with braces. Inspired by guitarist Wes Montgomery, he attended University of Miami and was appointed a guitar instructor by his second semester. He taught guitar at Berklee College of Music (Boston) starting in 1973, instructing the likes of Al Di Meola, Mike Stern, and Bern Nix. Metheny also joined the band of Berklee instructor and vibraphonist Gary Burton, along with bassist Jaco Pastorius and drummer Bob Moses, who were his trio mates on his debut album, Bright Size Life (1975). In 1977 he established the Pat Metheny Group with former Miami classmates Mark Egan (bass) and Danny Gottlieb (drums), and Lyle Mays (keyboards), who remains Metheny's writing partner. The German label ECM supported Metheny's approach, issuing ten albums in nine years. The guitarist/composer's broad melodies, open harmonies, and expansive, soothing performances gained a large, young following.
Though Metheny recorded in some combinations that did not employ all of his group members, his own sound—including warm, fleet guitar playing—was a constant. His efforts to establish more mainstream jazz credentials included an eighteen-month tour and double LP recording, '80–'81 (1981), with saxophonists Michael Brecker and Dewey Redman, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Jack DeJohnette. On Rejoicing (1984) he features Haden and drummer Billy Higgins, and on Question and Answer (1990) he improvises freely with bassist Dave Holland and masterly drummer Roy Haynes. But Metheny's Song X (1996), an inspired collaboration with innovative composer/saxophonist Ornette Coleman, is the cornerstone of his credibility with fans who discount his earlier, so-called "pastel" efforts.
In the late 1980s Metheny became infatuated with Brazil, and two of his recordings, Still Life/(Talking) (1987) and Letter from Home (1989), reflect that country's landscape and ecology. The increasing sophistication of his compositions and his use of guests to supplement his group's members were well served by the glossy productions a new label, Geffen Records, afforded him. However, his growing dissatisfaction with Geffen may have prompted such extreme projects as Zero Tolerance for Silence (1993), in which he wrenches dissonances out of his instrument.
Since 1990 Metheny has repeatedly ventured into new territory, including sideman responsibilities in ensembles led by drummer Roy Haynes and pianist Herbie Hancock, among others. He has been amply bestowed with Grammy Awards, taking Best Jazz Fusion Performance honors in 1982, 1983, 1984, 1987, and 1989; Best Instrumental Composition (other than Jazz) in 1990; Best Contemporary Jazz Performance, Instrumental in 1992, 1993, 1995, and 1998; and Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Soloist, in 2000 for the track "(Go) Get It." Given the constancy of the honors, one senses that Metheny is recognized for being Metheny, the crossover guitarist. However, his musicality has impressive range, and he conveys distinctly different content when addressing serious American folk melodies in duet with Charlie Haden on Beyond the Missouri Sky (1997), booting up a rock track such as "The Roots of Coincidence," or involving himself with high-powered peers on the collective album Like Minds (1999).
Metheny's core audience proves its loyalty by following their star through his unpredictable turns; he rewards them by alternating darker, more difficult projects with lighter, more accessible ones. Since contracting with Warner Bros. in 1997, he has produced multilayered, detailed soundscapes such as the double Grammy Award–winning Imaginary Day (1997), the film score to Wim Wenders's A Map of the World (1997), and the Pat Metheny Group's Speaking of Now (2002). One Quiet Night (2003) is his first solo acoustic guitar album, sure to appeal to his devotees and also to attract new listeners.
Metheny's entire career has been a journey of exploration, launched from his Midwestern roots toward even more ambitious and comprehensive territory. Whether performing acoustic solos or conjuring grand, exotic soundscapes with the members of his group, his personal imprint as guitarist and composer represents increasingly global expeditions.
Pat Metheny Group (ECM, 1978); 80/81 (ECM, 1981); The Falcon and the Snowman (EMI, 1984); Song X (Geffen, 1986); Secret Story (Geffen, 1992); Zero Tolerance for Silence (Geffen, 1992); I Can See Your House from Here (Blue Note, 1994); We Live Here (Geffen, 1996); Quartet (Geffen, 1996); Imaginary Day (Warner Bros., 1997); A Map of the World (Warner Bros., 1999); Like Minds (1999); Trio 99–00 (Warner Bros., 2000); Speaking of Now (Warner Bros., 2002); One Quiet Night (Warner Bros., 2003). With Gary Burton: Like Minds (Concord, 1998). With Jack DeJohnette: Parallel Realities (MCA, 1990). With Charlie Haden: Beyond the Missouri Sky (Verve, 1996).