Pat Metheny - Jazzmessengers blog
One of the most original guitarists from the '80s to date, Pat Metheny has consistently been a chance-taking player who has taken some wild left turns but never lost popularity with his audience.
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Pat Metheny

Pat Metheny

One of the most original guitarists from the ’80s to date, Pat Metheny has consistently been a chance-taking player who has taken some wild left turns but never lost popularity with his audience. His records like those with the Pat Metheny Group are difficult to describe. They can be classified and perhaps folk-jazz or maybe mood music? Whatever you may think of it his music always manages to be sophisticated, accessible and original, stretching the boundaries of jazz and still remain valid and fresh with the passing of time.

Metheny started on guitar when he was 13. His talent developed quickly; he taught at both the University of Miami and Berklee while he was a teenager and first burst onto the international jazz scene in 1974.

Over the course of his three-year stint (1974-1977) with vibraphone great Gary Burton, the young Missouri native already displayed his soon-to-become trademarked playing style, which blended the loose and flexible articulation customarily reserved for horn players with an advanced rhythmic and harmonic sensibility. He had a way of playing and improvising that was modern in conception but grounded deeply in the jazz tradition of melody, swing, and the blues. With Gary Burton’s group, he met keyboardist Lyle Mays, and in 1978 formed his own group, which originally featured Mays, bassist Mark Egan, and drummer Dan Gottlieb.

Metheny released his debut album, Bright Size Life (ECM, 1976) with Jaco Pastorius on bass guitar and Bob Moses on drums and reinvented the traditional “jazz guitar” sound for a new generation of players.

His next album, Watercolors (ECM, 1977), was the first time he recorded with pianist Lyle Mays, who became his most frequent collaborator. The album also featured Danny Gottlieb, who became the drummer for the first version of the Pat Metheny Group. With Metheny, Mays, and Gottlieb, the fourth member was bassist Mark Egan when the album Pat Metheny Group (ECM, 1978) was released. Within a short period he was ECM’s top artist and one of the most popular of all jazzmen, selling out stadiums.

ECM served him as a recording house where he could develop all his talents as he pleased thus mostly avoiding to play predictable or safe music. As a result his projects were always quite interesting. His 1980 album 80/81 featured Dewey Redman and Mike Brecker in a post-bop quintet; he teamed up with Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins on a trio date in 1983; an impressive duo with Lyle Mays on As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls or a more cerebral but hugely popular Offramp – both in 1981. In 1985 released the very outside Song X with Ornette Coleman.

Throughout his career he has continued to redefine the genre by utilizing new technology and constantly working to evolve the improvisational and sonic potential of his instrument. Other projects away from the group have included a sideman recording with Sonny Rollins, a 1990 tour with Herbie Hancock in a quartet, a trio album with Dave Holland and Roy Haynes, and a collaboration (and tour) with Joshua Redman. Also his body of work includes compositions for solo guitar, small ensembles, electric and acoustic instruments, large orchestras, and ballet pieces and even the robotic instruments of his Orchestrion project, while always sidestepping the limits of any one genre.

Metheny’s versatility is nearly without peer on any instrument. Over the years, he has performed with artists as diverse as Steve Reich to Ornette Coleman to Herbie Hancock to Jim Hall to Milton Nascimento to David Bowie.

To date, Metheny has won 20 Grammy Awards, being the only artist to have won awards in ten different categories. He was inducted into the DownBeat Hall of Fame in 2013, joining the only other guitarists inducted: Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian, and Django Reinhardt. He received an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music in 1996. He continues to record and tour in the United States and worldwide.

Selected Discography

Bright Size Life
Pat Metheny Group
New Chautauqua
American Garage
As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls
Travels (live)
First Circle
Still Life (Talking)
Letter from Home
Secret Story
The Road to You (live)
Zero Tolerance for Silence
We Live Here
Imaginary Day
Speaking of Now
One Quiet Night
The Way Up