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. Addresses: Fan club--Pat Metheny Group Listener Network, 173 Brighton Ave., Boston, MA 02134, website: http://www.patmethenygroup.com, e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org.
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."
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."
by Brett Allan King
Pat Metheny's Career
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.
Pat Metheny's 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.
- Selected discography
- 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.
February 8, 2006: Metheny's band, the Pat Metheny Group, won the Grammy Award for best contemporary jazz album for The Way Up. Source: Grammy.com, http://grammy.com/GRAMMY_Awards/Annual_Show/48_nominees.aspx, February 9, 2006.
- 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).