Pat Metheny will turn 60 in August. By then he will be wrapping up the European leg of a world tour — about 100 concerts in 2014 under his belt at that point on a tour that begins Feb. 3 in Jackson, Miss., passes through Lafayette on Feb. 18 and crisscrosses the United States over the spring before jumping the Pond. Asia and Australia will complete 2014 during late summer and fall.
So, you know, Pat Metheny ain’t slowing down.
“The truth is when you’re playing music with somebody and somebody goes, ‘1-2-3-4,’ it doesn’t matter how old anybody is. It’s sort of like, ‘Hey, we’re all here and we’re musicians and we’re going to play,” the jazz guitarist with 20 Grammy awards says via telephone from New York City in late January where he and his current project, Pat Metheny Unity Group, have been rehearsing.
Call it The Quest, or The Journey. For the wavy-haired former wunderkind, who was playing professionally by 15, bailing on a music scholarship at Miami University at 18, teaching at the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston by 19 and recording professionally by 20, slowing down is what a song does when the tempo retards.
“I have just infinitely more command and a lot more wisdom about a million things that make the whole thing of playing very different for me in just terms of the execution and also in the meaning of it all and the politics of it all — I’m coming to those things from a much more developed point of view,” he says. “However, the basic thing of ‘I hope I can play this and I wish I could play that and I’m really excited to try to learn to do this’ is sort of identical to me as it was the first day that I got interested in playing music.”
Long the frontman for The Pat Metheny Group, the guitarist in 2011 formed Unity Band with saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Ben Williams and drummer Antonio Sanchez. The group’s eponymous 2012 release was Metheny’s latest Grammy, for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. The current project is an iteration of Unity Group, with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Giulio Carmassi (piano, vocals, sax, trumpet, flute, jeez!), and as one critic notes of the band’s new record, Kin (Feb. 3, 2014 release), “The album takes guitar-led improvisation to a new aesthetic, Metheny’s eloquent guitar etching a kaleidoscope of sonic hues.”
Metheny’s oeuvre is a trailblazing one — from the 42-string, harp-like Pikasso guitar to his early embrace of guitar synthesizers, not to mention his road-tested Ibanez signature six-string electric, which he refers to as “a rock” — audiences at the Heymann Center Show in Lafayette will hear it all. But at its core it’s jazz, with all the improvisational exploration and spur-of-the-moment surprises for which the style is famous. And for a musician known primarily as a guitarist — he also plays trumpet and does most of his composing on piano — Metheny isn’t sentimental about the instrument.
“Guitars for me are sort of like screwdrivers are for somebody who builds a house,” he explains. “I don’t have any real attachment to any guitar or any type of guitar; they’re all just tools and whatever the tune in question seems to want I’m going to go to the tool box and say, ‘OK, this seems to be the right size and the right touch and this, that and the other thing for what this tune seems to be asking.’ And in the course of one tune that might be two or three different guitars, too.”
But underneath it all is Pat Metheny. His phrasing and navigation on the fretboard, the colors he mixes onto and selects from a sonic palette, are distinctly his own. “Most people that hear me seem to know that it’s me regardless of what guitar it is, and that’s a good thing,” he says. “That, to me, is sort of the way I tend to think, because it’s more of a conceptual thing than the sound, and I think if you have that conceptual thing you can apply it to any sound.”
Metheny has played with virtually all the jazz greats of the last half century, including (but not limited to) Ornette Coleman, Chick Corea, Jaco Pastorius, Herbie Hancock and Dave Holland. But it was four British lads with mop-top hair on The Ed Sullivan Show 50 years ago this month that first captivated a 9-year-old Pat Metheny in the living room of his family home outside Kansas City, Mo.
“That was sort of the moment where the electric guitar went from being just an instrument to this sort of iconic symbol of the way the universe was about to change,” he recalls. “And that evening was kind of life-changing for me.”
“The level of musicality is just astounding,” he adds. “Like with Bach — you just can’t even believe that there was a human being capable of that. Now you can’t really compare the Beatles to Bach, but it’s a similar thing that’s probably only going to happen once.”
Ever since then, for Pat Metheny, it’s been The Quest: get better, learn a new lick, explore a new style. Onward. Upward. All the great ones — in any discipline — say it in one way or another.
“That’s one of the great things about being a musician,” he says. “You never are ever even close to where you want to be — it’s always a struggle to get it out the way you want to make it sound, and yet at the same time you can feel progress constantly if you’re really diligent about it and really work in the right ways. So for me it’s just kind of another day — not really that different.”
Tuesday, Feb. 18
Heymann Performing Arts Center
A Performing Arts Society of Acadiana presentation