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Happy Birthday Pat Metheny!

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Jazz Guitar Today would like to wish Pat a Happy Birthday (August 12)! A number of the leading jazz guitarists share memories.

Pat Metheny is one of the most dominant voices in jazz guitar today.  Born August 12, 1954, in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, Pat has been forward thinking and concept advancing force in not only jazz guitar but in music itself.  In this article, I draw upon my many interviews with the giants of jazz guitar as they celebrate how Pat has advanced the artform.

The fluidity of his lines

John Abercrombie: Pat is just one of the most fluid guitar players.  When he taught at Berklee he was influenced by my good friend Mick Goodrick and we were all influenced by Jim Hall.  Pat has a very fluid, lyrical, legato style, not picking every note.  It started with Mick but Pat took it to an ultimate level.  I lot of guys play in his style. Sometimes I’ll hear something new and I’ll think “Oh, a new Pat Metheny record” and it will be somebody else.

Paul Bollenback: Pat is a monster of a guitar player.  He is also very lyrical.  I remember asking Pat one time “Do you sing?” and he responded “I can’t sing ‘Come to Jesus’ in whole notes.  Why do you ask?”  I told him because his lines are so lyrical.  I love his big beefy dark sound. I also love his laid-back way of playing lines that feels very free to me.

Pat Metheny and Ulf Wakenius

Pure Virtuosity

John Abercrombie: Even though he is younger than me, he influenced me because he raised the technical level of the guitar.  He is a very smooth player but he is still connected to the tradition.  He sounds like a jazz player.  He isn’t doing anything terribly unusual.  He is very fluid.   He is also a very intelligent player.  He doesn’t seem to have his usual effects on here.  His way of playing in the trio is to play a lot of notes, which doesn’t leave a lot of room to play chords.  

Marty Ashby: Pat is the most accomplished guitarist in jazz today.  He can play anything. He is always searching for new ground as a guitarist.  He has those different electric guitars and the baritone guitar, the 42 string, and other acoustic guitars to create a pallet of many sounds to choose from.  He is a masterful composer.  There are a lot of great guitar players out there but he puts it all together as a composer, guitarist, and musical visionary.

One time when he was here playing at MCG he was sitting out back on a nice day practicing between the sound check and show and he asked me which line I liked best.  They were each similar 12 bar lines and what was different was about five 32nd notes in one of the middle measures.  I told him that they were both great lines.  That shows how serious and exacting he is in his composing.

Gene Bertoncini: Pat seems to be able to do anything.  He does those amazing straight-ahead things with Charlie Haden and then there are all the albums with his Group.  Pat came up to me one time and told me how much he enjoys my work.

Bill Frisell: Pat was still living in Boston when I went there.  He would line up gigs in these little bars and then hang up handwritten signs around Berklee announcing what bar he was playing at.  I remember the first time I heard him, I thought “Oh man!”  He was already doing all the things I was hoping I would do someday (laughter). Some of the songs I was thinking of doing, like Paul Bley or Carla Bley or Wayne Shorter songs, Pat was already doing those (laughter).  I had to rethink what I was going to do cause he had already did it (laughter).  I remember one of those hand-written signs that read, Pat Metheny and from Florida Jaco Pastorius.”  At the time no one knew who Jaco was.  Even then, he played like the Jaco we all know.  It was Pat, Jaco, and Bob Moses.  That trio was ridiculously good.  They also were kind of out of control. You never knew what they were going to play next.  They would just sort of go in and out of tunes.  They had this energy that was so happening in the moment.  It was awesome.  Pat is just one of those guys that are so important to me.

Jim Hall: I have never seen this side of Pat with the more “avant-garde” type playing.  He is fitting in so great.  Pat can pretty much do whatever he wants to on the guitar.  The couple of times I have worked with him, I have done the kind of “straight man” bit with my guitar and Pat will be playing three different guitars.

Jonathan Kreisberg: You can hear the blues in their landscape.  Though it is not a twelve-bar blues, its textures and phrasing are apparent in their playing.  Although Pat is known for his pristine sound, he still has this bluesy nastiness in his playing that I love.  There is a ferociousness in the way he gets around the guitar.  He seems to have limitless possibilities on the instrument.  He has a sound where when you hear him and you instantly know it’s Pat.  He has a really cool way of combining intervallic things and melodic shapes that give great contours to his lines.

Vision for the guitar and music

Paul Bollenback: One of the great things that Pat Metheny has done is to form a style of instrumental pop music that is deeply rooted in jazz and filled with improvisation.  This is especially true of his early Pat Metheny Group era.  It allowed him to explore improvisation but not in a strictly non-jazz setting and make a good living doing it.  This allowed him to do other projects that were not as commercially successful.  You can go into a coffee shop and hear something from Offramp where you won’t hear something from Song X with Ornette Coleman. 


Jimmy Bruno: Pat is a great composer.  His tunes are so hip.  He is also a great producer.  He has excited a lot of young people for jazz guitar.  He reaches guys that would never give me a first listen.  He has exposed a lot of people to the world of jazz guitar.  He has done a lot for all of us who play jazz guitar.

Gary Burton: He had a style of his own that was always very recognizable.  This is always a plus. Let’s put it this way, every player has some unique stylistic things.  It is like how everybody’s voice and way of talking are a little different and recognizable. Right from the beginning, Pat’s sound was very recognizable and very appealing and easy to listen to, and had a kind of happy, positive upbeat nature to it all the time, which is what Pat is like personally. This came across in his playing really strongly to the audience.  That was a wonderful thing.  One of the things that Pat did, even as far back as the first time he was in my band, was experimenting with the sound of the guitar.  Of course, in the years after he left my group he continued to refine his sound even more to the point that when we did the Reunion album he had this clear and easily identifiable sound.

Pat was constantly evolving.  He was always writing new tunes and adding new things to his playing.  So, it was very inspiring to have him in the band because he was a constant source of creative drive and new things happening.  This is one of the reasons I always like having young players in the band because they bring a lot of surprises to the music.   

Bruce Forman: Pat has created a whole style of music and his own style of playing.  He has an Impressionist – Romantic sound with that swirling sound he gets with his delay.  He uses a lot of major pentatonic scales over his grooves.

Jim Hall: Pat has brought attention to the guitar from many parts of society.  People in rock and pop guitar are fascinated with him.  I recently saw a long interview with Pat in the New York Times Arts section.  It had a large color picture of him and in it, he was talking about some of those who influenced him, like Glenn Gould playing Bach.  Pat is pretty amazing in terms of what he has done already and he is still at it.  He is enormously important to the guitar now.  Kids on the street know about Pat Metheny.  

Randy Johnson: One thing about Pat is that he is a business genius who has been able to do a lot of different things and take his audience with him each time he does.  That is a very hard thing to do.  Plus, he is a really great player and a great stylist.  

Jonathan Kreisberg: Pat was a huge influence on me.  I saw him when he was touring with the Letter from Home album.  It just blew my mind.  That music showed me the possibilities in his playing and in his compositions.  It had pop and rock mixing with the blues and jazz elements and it was really sophisticated music performed for a large number of people.  That gave me a lot of idealism about audiences which I still have.


Dave Stryker: He has a very original voice.  He has great time and has very creative lines.  He is a great composer.  He is always searching and seeking to take jazz guitar to another level.  He goes in different directions but he always comes back to being a jazz guitarist.

Martin Taylor: I love the openness of his sound and musical concepts.  Pat is a genius. He is another one of those guitarists, like Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass, who are ground-breaking musicians.  He takes guitar playing to another place altogether.  I have great admiration for him.  His compositions are fantastic! I think of Pat Metheny as more than a great guitar player.  I think of him as a great musician.  When I hear him play, I don’t just hear him playing the guitar, I hear the music. I think it is a sign of greatness when the music is bigger than the instrument.  Pat has the whole thing together, the technique, the musical concepts, the sound, the technology thing, and his albums are recorded so well.  It is as if from day one, he knew exactly what his path was going to be.  He just keeps on surprising everybody and coming up with something new all the time. But, he is totally grounded in the history and tradition of the music. He is a great musician.

His Rhythmic Choices

Jimmy Bruno: There’s some tremendous technique there.  I wish I could do like Pat and play his group stuff and then this kind of music (“All the Things You Are”).  He has a great sound.  It reminds me a little of Pat Martino.  Metheny is coming at this from a whole different angle.  It is not your typical jazz lines.  There is not a lot of tension in the note choices but there is a lot of tension in the rhythmic choices.  

Bill Frisell: Pat playing rhythm (“Summertime” from Metheny-Hall), and it is unique how he takes that strumming, the first thing we all learn how to do on the guitar, and pushed it to a new level again.


Steve Haberman: Pat is a great composer.  All jazz musicians respect his compositional abilities.  He is an important link from Wes Montgomery.  You can hear Wes’ influence in his playing. He has a very pure sound.  He’s distinct but it is still pure.  Another contribution that Pat has made are his rhythms. His rhythmic textures are very advanced.  I would listen to his album with Dave Holland and Rot Haynes and sometimes I couldn’t hear where one was because of what they were doing was so advanced.

Commitment to the Next Generation of Guitarists

Tom Dempsey: He is an incredibly lyrical player.  I have taught with Pat in a guitar seminar and up close I have been able to witness Pat’s incredible work ethic.  He is also a musician where everything is about the music.  Last year he wrote this piece for the workshop that was for 48 guitar players, a rhythm section, and one trombone player.  It was a 45-minute piece, 100-plus pages of music, ……all for this workshop for younger players.  When he assembled the guitar players he said to them “For this piece, you guys are all in my band and I always expect a certain level of excellence from the players in my band,” It really elevated the whole experience.

Julian Lage: Pat, of course, is a huge influence.  I was born at a time when his influence was huge because he was the biggest thing during my development years.  I love his Rejoicing album and 80/81.  He and Jaco on Bright Size Life are great.  When I was nine years old Pat came to Santa Rosa to perform and somehow my guitar teacher’s wife got a note back to him that there was this nine-year-old guitar player that really wanted to meet him. He came out with two guitars in hand and he said let’s play a tune.  So, we did and then we hung out together for 45 minutes after his show.  I learned from Pat the importance of humility.  I later took a two-hour lesson from him and he was so helpful.  Pat’s quest for his own unique sound is an inspiration to me in my own quest involving world and folk music.


Frank Potenza: We had Pat here at USC for a Residency.  He is a very nice guy and did a great job working with our students.  Pat is a huge influence…among the younger players.  He is the bridge from rock to jazz for that generation.  Then he would talk about Wes Montgomery in interviews and then the younger guys would then check out Wes.  Today he is a huge figure in jazz guitar.  He’s done the work crafting his style and then driving tons of miles around the country performing and developing a following.

Rick Stone: He is one of the most influential of all the current jazz guitarists.  Just as the Charlie Parkerisms worked their way into everybody’s language a generation ago, now Pat Methenyisms are working their way into the language of certainly the younger generation of guitarists and even other instrumentalists.

Dave Stryker: He is one of my favorites.  I saw Pat in Omaha when he came to my high school playing with Gary Burton’s band.  He was playing 12-string at the time with Mick Goodrick also on guitar.  I took a lesson from him at the motel they were staying in.  He said, “Listen to Jim Hall.”  We see each other from time to time and he is also very supportive.

Mike Stern: I was about 20 and Pat was about 18 when we first met. He had taught at the University of Miami and now living in Boston, teaching at Berklee. He was also friends with Gary Burton.  I heard about this great kid and I went up to the door to listen to a bit and thought “Wow, this kid is playing . . .”   So, I knocked on the door and asked if he had any time free for me to take some lessons.  He said yes and we set up a time to meet.  In my first lesson with Pat, we played “Autumn Leaves” and I think I hit all the wrong notes, yet Pat was amazingly supportive.  He said I had a great feel, great time, and sound terrific.  Over the next few lessons, we would just play.  He would offer comments but basically, we would just play.  He said that what I needed the most was just to get out there and play more.  At that time, I was practicing a lot.  I was trying to learn the logistics of guitar, reading, and the language of the instrument.  Pat and Mick (Goodrick), also encouraged me to get out of the room and play and start getting the stuff so that you can speak the language.  They said you “. . . know how to spell the words. Now you need to put it all together and speak fluently and unconsciously.  So, I started playing a lot.  Pat actually recommended me to Bobby Colomby to audition for the gig. So, I went to the audition thinking “Now I will learn what it is like to audition for a famous band and get turned down.” (laughter) There were so many great guitar players auditioning for them but I got the gig.  Those guys in Blood Sweat &Tears were all really great jazz players!

As a Composer

John Pizzarelli: From a guitar point of view, Pat Metheny is the next generation as a guitar player as well as a composer.  Everybody is trying to copy his sound.  He is such a genius.  He and Lyle have also figured out all those modern electronic instruments.  I took my dad to see him at the Beacon Theater in New York in 1988 and my dad was drawn to his playing and all the various guitars he had and the respective sounds that each got.  I have met him many times and he is a real nice guy. I really love his Pat Metheny Group album, the white album.  I listened to it all the time and could sing every one of his guitar solos on that album.  I feel that if Pat wasn’t even a guitar player, he would be one of the great American composers.  He is such a wonderful writer. 

Jack Wilkins: Pat is a brilliant player.  He composes so well.  His playing is magnificent but his composing is even more.  His record Letter from Home was a big influence on me. I loved listening to it.  I listened to it over and over.  I stole some ideas from it.  I liked that first record Bright Size Life.


Anthony Wilson: I admire Pat’s composing as well as his playing. I like the sensibilities in his writing and I think his playing and his composing give each other something.  I love the simplicity and complexity mixed with lyricism in his playing.  Pat seems to carve through harmony with the grace and skill of a surfer carving through a large wave.  

As a Producer and Recording Together

Gary Burton: Of all modern jazz musicians, Pat is one of the most knowledgeable musicians in understanding how the studio and recording process works.  Pat’s albums have lifted the standard and expectations of the sonic and studio qualities of jazz records.  We no longer think of jazz records as albums where some guys go into a cheap studio and loosely set up microphones and record an album’s worth of tunes in one day.  Pat gave care to his albums which were usually only done for pop musicians.  Pat did wonderfully creative things, compositionally, the sound, recording production techniques, and so on, and made it work. Other people attempted those things with clumsy, heavy, and overproduced results.  I am sure there are some jazz purists that accuse Pat of being overproduced.  But the success is in the fact that Pat has put out albums for over twenty years that have been wonderfully successful and he has covered a wide range of styles as well as making advances in the art of jazz guitar playing.  What struck me was that the roles had reversed.  He was now the teacher and I was the student.  Every time I do a recording project with Pat, I learn more about how to make records and I have made a lot of albums in my day and have produced a lot of my own as well as having produced many albums for other artists.  But, Pat always seems to be miles ahead of most of us in the jazz field.  He always has wonderful ideas and approaches on how to use the studio and the technologies that are available.  Pat also knows how to get the most out of the musicians on the project.   Again, every project I have done with him has been a learning experience for me.    

Bill Frisell: Marc Johnson’s The Sound of Summer Running was such a cool project in the studio.  Both Pat and I agree that recording that record almost felt like we were two peers like it was back when we were these two unknown high school guitarists, before we were soloists with established careers, just having fun and playing together.  The feeling was like we were just strumming on some chords and it blended together so well. It felt just so good. We just felt like two guitar players strumming away. I loved playing with Pat as he played these amazing solos.  On “Dingy Dong Dong” I would be playing and I couldn’t tell if it was me or Pat playing.  That is the best feeling one can have.  It was so great having that Ventures feel, yet all those sudden modulations that are in that tune.


Other Jazz Guitar Today articles with Pat Metheny.

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