Personalities | Pat Metheny | Eighties | Jazz & Blues

Guitarist Pat Metheny emerged in the mid-1970s with a fully realized approach to his instrument that was wholly unique for its time, offering a refreshing alternative to both bop and fusion styles.

His sweeping, warm-toned, reverb-soaked lines and liquid phrasing, once described by Down Beat magazine as ‘the sound of wind through the trees’, had a huge impact on a generation of guitarists and forged a new direction in jazz in the late 1970s. Metheny also made a significant impact as a composer, with original, genre-stretching music that artfully blended his own folk influences with elements of rock, Brazilian music, bebop, new age and free jazz.

A Precocious Student

Born on 12 August 1954 in the small midwestern town of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, Metheny started on trumpet aged eight before switching to guitar at the age of 12. By 15, he was already a local legend in Kansas City, where he gained invaluable bandstand experience working with veteran players on the jazz scene. In 1972 he moved to Florida and at 18 became the youngest teacher ever at the University of Miami. In 1973 he joined the faculty at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and became the youngest musician ever to be on the staff there (he received an honorary doctorate at Berklee in 1996).

Metheny established his reputation through his work as a sideman with Gary Burton’s group – he is featured on Burton’s ECM albums Dreams So Real (1975) and Passengers (1976) – and as a leader of such acclaimed recordings as his 1976 ECM debut, Bright Size Life (a trio date with bassist Jaco Pastorius and drummer Bob Moses) and two powerful follow-up recordings for the label: 1977’s Watercolors (which established his long-running partnership with keyboardist Lyle Mays) and 1978’s Pat Metheny Group (which introduced the band featuring Mays on keyboards, Mark Egan on electric bass and Danny Gottlieb on drums).

Metheny Meets The Mainstream

Metheny broke into mass-market acceptance with 1979’s American Garage, a far more rock-oriented recording than the typically introspective and searching ECM fare. He achieved mainstream popularity and attained gold-record status (sales of 500,000 copies) during the 1980s with a string of melodic, Brazilian-tinged albums, including 1983’s Travels, 1984’s First Circle, 1987’s Still Life (Talking) and 1989’s Letter From Home. And yet he never stopped taking risks and expanding his musical boundaries throughout the decade, as evidenced by such uncompromising side projects as 1980’s free-boppish 80/81 with bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Jack DeJohnette and the twin tenors of Michael Brecker and Dewey Redman; 1981’s ethereal duet with keyboardist Mays on As Falls Witchita, So Falls Wichita Falls; 1982’s abstract Off Ramp (which introduces his use of guitar synthesizer); 1983’s Rejoicing, a subdued guitar-trio setting with bassist Haden and drummer Billy Higgins; 1984’s film soundtrack The Falcon And The Snowman, which included a collaboration with pop star David Bowie on ‘This Is Not America’; and 1986’s provocative...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues, founding editor Howard Mandel


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