Pat Metheny - Biography
By Nick Castro
Pat Metheny, who was born in Kansas City in 1954, is one of modern jazz's leading guitarists. Metheny came from a family of musicians and he was playing the trumpet since grade school. By middle school Metheny had made the move towards guitar and it was on this instrument that would excel. It was only 3 years later that he began playing professionally. He soon began to garner the experience and wisdom of older local players. He attempted to attend college at the University of Miami but after a semester it was obvious he could play better than anyone working there. He subsequently quit and was offered a teaching position instead. For a short while he there and at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, all still as a teenager. By the time he was 20, an unusually young age for the jazz world, Metheny was touring with jazz vibraphone giant, Gary Burton. Metheny has gathered 17 Grammys in his career and has recorded and performed with artists as diverse as Ornette Coleman, Steve Reich, Milton Nascimento, David Bowie and Jim Hall. Metheny is also known for his teaching jobs and his workshops at many important music schools around the world including the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz and the Dutch Royal Conservatory. He has bridged the gap between rock fans, popular music fans and jazz fans over the span of his long and successful career. his brother, Mike Metheny, is also a relatively well known jazz trumpet player. The two brothers would later record two albums together, Day In - Night Out (1986 - Impulse) and Close Enough for Love (2001 - 3 Valve).
It was with the Gary Burton group that Metheny developed his, now famous, tone and style. His first recording with the group was Works (1972 - ECM), which also featured pianist Chick Corea, drummer Bob Moses and Bassist and pianist Steve Swallow. Though Metheny was not allowed a very upfront role on this recording, it did introduce him to some important players as well as to people from the record label, ECM, with which he would later work. Metheny also played on Ring (1974 - ECM), where would play alongside guitarist Mick Goodrick. He then recorded Dreams So Real (1975 - ECM), again with guitarist Goodrick. Goodrick would mainly dominate this session on the electric 6-string guitar, as Metheny played the 12-string electric guitar. This is considered one of Burton's most important works and one can hear Metheny's earliest stages of his new tone which would come to dominate the jazz guitar sound of the 80's. It was on the next Burton album though that Metheny would begin to receive a much larger role in the group. They released Passengers (1976 - ECM), which featured 3 compositions by Metheny himself, "Nacada", "The Whopper" and "B&G (Midwestern Nights Dream)". Goodrick had left the group at this time and this allowed Metheny to open up and fill the void where two guitarists had been before. One cannot help but think that the success of Metheny's first solo album, released the previous year, had some impact of Burton's perception of the young player. Passengers would be Metheny's last with the group.
1975 saw Metheny's first solo album, Bright Size Life (1975 - ECM). Metheny borrowed Burton bassist, Moses, as well as added the newly found young bassist, Jaco Pastorius, on electric bass, to round out the trio on this album. Metheny also wrote all of the compositions minus "RoundTrip/Broadway Blue", which was written by Ornette Coleman. Gary Burton wrote the liner notes for this album. Though this album mainly consists of more subdued sounds, one can still hear the freer playing, which Metheny would later adopt, in the subtleties of his solos. Watercolors (1977 - ECM) was Metheny's second album and was a proto-new age album of arrhythmic mood compositions. Here, Metheny began, what would be, an important collaboration with keyboardist Lyle Mays. Metheny also began to incorporate subtle hints of synthesizer into his music, making an attempt to bring this new jazz into the future and into the mainstream. On this album Metheny writes all of the compositions and is assisted not only by Mays, but also by drummer Dan Gottlieb and bassist Eberhard Weber, whom he knew from Burton's group.
His next musical phase would be as the leader of his new Pat Metheny Group, which would become legendary in modern jazz circles as well as mainstream audiences, who had not before been into jazz music. Their first album was the self titled Pat Metheny Group (1978 - ECM), which featured bassist Mark Egan, drummer Gottlieb and Mays on keyboards. Metheny was establishing himself as a prolific composer and onthis record co-wrote 3 of the compositions with Mays. These were "San Lorenzo", "Phase Dance" and "Lone Jack". Here the band blend stylings of jazz alongside folk melodies and added their own unique floating sound to it all. The Pat metheny Group would feature, over the years, many important players such as pianistChick Corea, bassist Dave Holland, guitarist John Scofield. This group would prove to be highly successful in their field and has become vastly important to a young generation of guitarists and jazz fusion players alike.
Metheny began to develop his signature electric guitar sound, which was a blend of his famous ES-175 Gibson guitar with multiple guitar effects including delays, phasers and overdriven tone. The sound of the group was rounded out by Mays' frequent use of synthesizers alongside acoustic pianos.
In 1980 Metheny made an important recording, with musicians Dewey Redman and Mike Brecker, of a double album called 80/81 (1980 - ECM). They were assisted by musicians Charlie Haden, of the Ornette Coleman group, and Jack DeJohnette. After this album Metheny began to be accepted more by the main jazz scene and critics as it established as a solid jazz player as well as a futurist. Metheny co-wrote the opening track "Two Folk Songs", with Haden.
Metheny has continued to provide an important role in the jazz music scene since his earliest recordings and still maintains a furious live schedule. He has spanned many musical genres including latin jazz and rock. His Pat Metheny Group has won 10 Grammy Awards alone.