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Music / Pat Metheny

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"A lot of jazz artists think people should like what they're doing just because it's jazz. I don't buy that."

Patrick Bruce Metheny (born August 12, 1954) is a jazz guitarist from the Kansas City suburb of Lee's Summit, Missouri, United States. Though he originally learned the trumpet from his grandfather, father and older brother, it was seeing The Beatles on television in 1964 that made him more interested in the guitar. His proficiency at guitar quickly translated to tutelage under well-respected jazz musicians, and a teaching position at both the University of Miami and at Berklee College of Music before the age of 20.

Metheny's debut album Bright Size Life was released in 1976, at the age of 21. Within a year, Metheny would meet pianist Lyle Mays, who would become a key collaborator for over 25 years. 1978 saw the debut of Pat Metheny Group, a contemporary jazz band that would later come to symbolize Jazz Fusion in the 1980s, incorporating elements of Americana, Brazilian popular music, New Age and smooth jazz. The Group would acquire 10 Grammy awards across its 27-year, 11-album career. (Metheny himself would garner 20 Grammys, the same number as Bruce Springsteen; and he maintains the record for both most consecutive wins in a category - seven - and most wins across different categories - also seven, including Best Rock Instrumental Performance and Best New Age Album.)

Elsewhere, Metheny released solo albums, as well as collaborations with other names in jazz, with vibraphonist Gary Burton, pianist Chick Corea, bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Antonio Sánchez and saxophonist Colin Potter among them. One of his most admired collaborations was the 1986 album Song X, that he made with veteran free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman; for years, this was the album that hardcore old-school jazz fans who weren't otherwise keen on the Pat Metheny Group would grudgingly admit was evidence that Metheny could play serious jazz if he really wanted to.note  He's also had the fortune of working with Joni Mitchell (becoming part of her backing band for an elaborate 1980 tour), David Bowie (on "This Is Not America" from Metheny's score for the film The Falcon and the Snowman) and Steve Reich (who composed the much sampled "Electric Counterpoint" for Metheny.)

Metheny's musical style is greatly influenced by Bill Evans, Wes Montgomery, Miles Davis and The Beatles. At the beginning of the 1980s, Latin and Brazilian music also heavily influenced his compositional style. His signature guitar tone is of a hollow-body electric guitar (formerly, a Gibson ES-175, now replaced by various Ibanez signature models)—reminiscent of Wes Montgomery, but not quite as dark; up until the 1990s, he was a fond user of digital chorusing and reverb effects to provide extra space. However, his sounds over the years include: altered tunings on 6 and 12-string acoustics and electrics, the Roland GR-300 Guitar Synthesizer—which Metheny used to give his guitar a timbre equivalent to that of a trumpet, the Synclavier digital synthesizer workstation, and he also owns a Pikasso guitar created by Canadian luthier Linda Manzer; it contains 42 strings across two guitar necks and two autoharp sections.

During the revival of smoother/kitschier 80s sounds in the 2010s, many have come out on record stating that Metheny's music has been instrumental in finding success in their own fields, from dance producer Todd Terje and drum and bass producer Goldie, to guitarist Thurston Moore and ambient composers CFCF and The Orb. An amusing anecdote about Metheny comes from famed television producer Chuck Lorre: Lorre was invited to audit a guitar course at the University of Miami, as he was a working musician at the time. Metheny was introduced to him as the "guest educator" for that course and Lorre had his world abruptly destroyed upon hearing a 16-year-old Metheny play. Lorre credits his later switch to television to this moment, and his entire anecdote appeared on one of his signature Vanity Plates after an episode of The Big Bang Theory.


    Solo Albums or Albums as Band Leader 
  • 1976: Bright Size Life
  • 1977: Watercolors
  • 1979: New Chautauqua
  • 1992: Secret Story
  • 1994: Zero Tolerance for Silence
  • 1996: Passaggio per il Paradiso (film score)
  • 1999: A Map of the World (film score)
  • 2000: Trio 99 → 00 (with the Pat Metheny Trio)
  • 2000: Trio → Live (with the Pat Metheny Trio)
  • 2003: One Quiet Night
  • 2008: Day Trip (with Antonio Sánchez and Christian McBride)
  • 2008: Tokyo Day Trip (with Antonio Sánchez and Christian McBride)
  • 2010: Orchestrion
  • 2011: What's It All About
  • 2013: The Orchestrion Project (live album/film)

    Pat Metheny Group 
  • 1978: Pat Metheny Group
  • 1979: American Garage
  • 1982: Offramp
  • 1983: Travels (live album)
  • 1984: First Circle
  • 1985: The Falcon and the Snowman (film soundtrack)
  • 1987: STILL life (talking)
  • 1989: Letter from Home
  • 1993: The Road to You (live album)
  • 1995: We Live Here
  • 1996: "Quartet"
  • 1997: Imaginary Day
  • 2002: Speaking of Now
  • 2005: The Way Up
  • 2015: Essential Collection Last Train Home (greatest hits album)

    Pat Metheny Unity Band/Group 
  • 2012: Unity Band
  • 2014: KIN (←→)
  • 2016: The Unity Sessions (live album/film)

    Selected Collaborative Albums 
  • 1974: Jaco (with Jaco Pastorius, Paul Bley and Bruce Ditmas)
  • 1980: 80/81 (with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, Michael Brecker, and Jack DeJohnette)
  • 1980: Shadows and Light (with Joni Mitchell, Jaco Pastorius, Don Alias, Lyle Mays, Michael Brecker and The Persuasions)
  • 1981: As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls (with Lyle Mays and Naná Vasconcelos)
  • 1986: Song X (with Ornette Coleman)
  • 1989: Electric Counterpoint (with Steve Reich)
  • 1990: Question and Answer (with Dave Holland and Roy Haynes)
  • 1997: Beyond the Missouri Sky (Short Stories) (with Charlie Haden)
  • 1997: The Sign of Four (with Derek Bailey, Gregg Bendian and Paul Wertico)
  • 2006: Metheny Mehldau (with Brad Mehldau)
  • 2007: Metheny Mehldau Quartet (with Brad Mehldau)
  • 2013: Tap: Book of Angels Volume 20 (with John Zorn)

Tropes in his life and work include:

  • And Starring: Percussionist Naná Vasconcelos, though being absolutely vital in creating the sound that Pat Metheny is known for, was only ever credited as a "special guest" for As Falls Wichita... and Offramp, as well as the accompanying live album Travels.
  • Berserk Button: Metheny went off on smooth jazz saxophonist Kenny G for releasing a post-mortem duet with Louis Armstrong. Probably the only time Metheny has been on-record for swearing.
  • Celebrity Is Overrated: "I don't know if I would qualify as mainstream. I think I have managed to function pretty successfully on the fringes of the music world and have been able to play exactly what I have wanted the way I have wanted."
  • Concept Album: Secret Story seems to read as the blossoming and dissolution of a relationship.
  • Cover Version:
    • Bright Size Life featured a medley of two Ornette Coleman songs, "Round Trip/Broadway Blues". "Broadway Blues" also appeared on The Orchestrion Project.
    • What's It All About is an album of covers of other artists, most notably The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel and Burt Bacharach. The previous solo album, One Quiet Night, also featured a couple.
    • Live concerts sometimes include a cover of the Hutch Brothers song, "All the Things You Are".
  • Design Student's Orgasm: STILL life (talking), Letter from Home, Secret Story, We Live Here and KIN (←→) feature painstakingly detailed collages for their cover artwork. "Quartet" also counts, but most of it is washed out into a series of light grays.
    • The cover of Essential Collection Last Train Home, designed by the studio behind Jojos Bizarre Adventure, was assembled to deliberately mimic that of STILL life (talking), from which the titular "Last Train Home" song comes from.
    • Imaginary Day's artwork is an image substitution cipher. By lining up an arrow on the CD with one of three colours on the CD tray, the front and back covers, along with an essay in the liner notes, can be deciphered.
  • Epic Rocking: Metheny's composed several songs that exceed the 7-minute mark. In a more literal example, 1997's film score-ready "The Roots of Coincidence" is inspired by drum and bass and hard rock, and during live performances required his pianist and percussionist to switch to playing power chords on guitars. The song won Best Rock Instrumental Performance at the 1999 Grammys.
    • Pat Metheny Group's final album was a 68-minute composition titled "The Way Up".
    • The first track on his 1997 collaboration with Derek Bailey, The Sign of 4, is an improvisation called "A Study in Scarlet" which is nearly 63 minutes long. One of the drummers on it, Gregg Bendian, suggested listening to it only after having listened to nearly everything else on the album.
  • Everything Is an Instrument: In 2010, Metheny revived the 200-year old concept of the orchestrion, a machine designed to play any number and combination of instruments simultaneously, so as to sound like a band or orchestra. His version, depicted on the front cover of Orchestrion, includes pianos, guitars, bass guitars, a drum kit, vibraphones and xylophones, an organ and blown glass bottles — all controllable by his guitar.
  • Fading into the Next Song:
    • "Third Wind" → "Distance" → "In Her Family" on STILL life (talking)
    • "Every Summer Night" → Better Days Ahead", and "Are We There Yet" → "Vidala" on Letter from Home.
    • "The Heat of the Day" → "Across the Sky" → "The Roots of Coincidence" → "Too Soon Tomorrow" on Imaginary Day.
  • Foil: Pianist Lyle Mays was this for Metheny for 27 years. Nearly every song from Pat Metheny Group was written by the duo, and they played very well against each other.
  • Grand Finale: The final Pat Metheny Group album, The Way Up, is one 68-minute composition.
  • Gratuitous Panning: Some elements of percussion have a tendency to whirl around the stereo field on his albums.
  • Greatest Hits Album: Essential Collection Last Train Home is notable for being created specifically to accompany a season of the Japanese anime Jojos Bizarre Adventure. It remains a Japan-only import album.
  • Grief Song:
    • "September Fifteenth (dedicated to Bill Evans)", written and improvised by Metheny and Mays after Evans' passing.
    • The final three songs on Secret Story.
    • "Is This America? (Katrina 2005)" was written in regards to the lackluster government response to Hurricane Katrina hitting the Southern United States in 2005.
  • Iconic Outfit: Metheny loves horizontally striped sweaters, despite going on record as saying he doesn't care what he wears.
  • Improv: Despite the tight songwriting and arrangements that Metheny employs in a lot of his work, there was still plenty of room for improvisation. "Quartet" is built almost entirely out of jams. Elsewhere, "September Fifteenth" consists of two short pieces (one by Metheny, another by Mays) followed by a lengthy piano solo with sparse guitar accompaniment when the pair ran out of sheet music. There's also his free jazz pieces, where only the brief main melody (known as "the theme" in jazz parlance) was the only part that was written down.
  • Lighter and Softer: Metheny's solo and duet albums tend to be much more intimate in their compositions, except for the epically skronky zero tolerance for silence.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: His albums for ECM always fell into this trope, as part of that label's Signature Style. First Circle is the most minimal, with the band name in grey on white, and a handwritten album title.
    • Song X's original cover had just the musicians' names and the album title on a white background.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • First Circle's opener "Forward March", with its gratuitous Stylistic Suck (noted below.)
    • Those expecting a nice, softer guitar album out of Zero Tolerance for Silence were instead greeted by 40 straight minutes of guitar noise.note  The quote on the sticker from Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore should have clued listeners in to what they were getting.
  • New Sound Album: As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls and Offramp would solidify the "Pat Metheny sound" for the following decades.
  • The Oner: Metheny noted that his earlier albums for record label ECM all had to be recorded under a strict deadline that every artist on the label had to adhere to, which necessitated this trope: "You recorded for two days, you mixed for a day, that was your record. For better or worse...whether you liked it or not, that was your record."
  • Orchestral Version: Metheny has not only performed with a live symphonic orchestra, but revived the self-playing orchestrion instrument to perform several of his compositions.
  • Performance Video: Pat Metheny Group has several concert videos out there in the wild. They also made a couple of music videos in the 80s, and those are really only performance videos as well.
  • Power Trio: Metheny, Mays and bass player Steve Rodby became the nucleus of Pat Metheny Group, with Rodby becoming an avid engineer and producer during his time with the two main songwriters.
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Some of his compositions became popular amongst black step dancers in the 90s.
  • Rearrange the Song: Metheny has re-arranged and re-recorded his songs for solo guitar, jazz trio and orchestra at different points in his career.
  • Sampling: We Live Here experimented with some very 90s drum loops.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "James" is inspired by James Taylor.
    • "Every Summer Night" was dedicated to Stanley Turrentine.
  • Signature Style: The Pikasso guitar and the guitar synth.
  • Stylistic Suck / Throw It In: First Circle opens with "Forward March", where everyone switched to concert band instruments and played like a high school band's first time playing something harder than their skill level. They immediately switch to their regular mode on the next song. "Forward March" was included as the opener to First Circle because "it sounded like a good idea at the time." The album still won a Grammy.
  • Subdued Section: Several of the epic titles feature changes in dynamics like classical music. Notable entries include the middle of "The First Circle" and the opening to "Minuano (Six Eight)".
  • Uncommon Time: Metheny adores using odd time signatures. "The First Circle" is the most gorgeous piece in 22/8 (along with other time signatures.) He even wrote a song called "45/8" as an exercise, while the following song "5-5-7"'s main riff is two bars of 5/4 with one bar of 7/4.

Alternative Title(s): Pat Metheny Group