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Now Hear This: Pat Metheny

The legendary jazz guitarist on his musical influences.

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Published: 26 Feb 2020


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Few people have dominated the Grammys, and defined the sound of fusion jazz, like jazz guitar giant Pat Metheny. The 20-time Grammy Award-winning virtuoso picked up his instrument at age 12, and hasn’t looked back since. Here Metheny, who was born in Kansas City in the USA, reflects on the music that makes him tick.

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In the third and final episode of This is Jazz: Jazz for the times of your lives, Litmus Jazz Ensemble show you how one song can be played in five different jazz styles for five different moods. Find out what makes these styles distinct and still a part of the big jazz pie. 

Name one jazz album that had a huge influence on you at that young age.

The record I alluded to above was a Miles record called Four and More. That is the record that changed everything for me. When I hear it now, it still has that effect.

You’ve written several hundred pieces of music over 40-odd years. Which are the tracks you are proudest of?

That’s really impossible to say. To me, all of the recordings I have made and all of the music I have written over the years is like one long song, or one long story divided up into different chapters, with different tones, different characters coming and going and sometimes wildly different temperatures represented.

Every record and every piece that I have done has been offered with the idea of trying to reconcile the things that I love about music and that have had resonance to me, with what I perceive are my favourite aspects of the musicians that I have hired to join me on this or that particular part of the journey.

But at the same time, all of those pieces are still alive and in progress. The way they may have existed on this or that record only represents a part of what a certain piece can or could be. Each time is new.

You’ve collaborated with many illustrious musicians from outside of jazz, from David Bowie to Joni Mitchell to Herbie Hancock. Is there one song by a collaborator which continues to inspire you as much now as it did years ago?

Again, it is almost impossible for me to say, for similar reasons. If you look at the long list of musicians who I have worked with, you will also be looking at a list of my favourite players.

What makes a musician interesting to me as a player begins with how I respond to what they do as a fan and follower of music first. When I really love the music that someone makes, it naturally follows for me that I want to understand it and know exactly how it works. That often leads to a kind of shared vocabulary that opens up the possibility of making music together.

Who is your all-time favourite guitarist, and which track by him/her would you recommend in particular?

Well, that one is easy. It is Wes Montgomery. The track I would pick is If You Could See Me Now from his album Smokin’ at the Half Note. I consider that the greatest solo played by any guitarist ever.

You are a father of three teenagers. Is there one song they keep listening to that you really like yourself?

They are an interesting group. One of them is obsessed with ’80s heavy metal and pop hits of that era, one loves film soundtracks and one loves anything that says “Pop” on the XM radio. I can always find something I like in just about anything—at least for the first 100 times or so that it is on repeat.

When you are touring and on the road, what song or piece of music never fails to put you in a relaxed mood?

To me, the only music that ever relaxes me is music at the very highest level. It could be almost anything that reaches that standard. Bach, Coltrane, The Beatles, Aretha, Mahler, Bird…and so on and so forth.

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