This lion-maned American guitarist emerged on the scene in the 1970s. An adventurous multi-instrumentalist, he has sampled almost every genre, collaborated with many other artists and has never been afraid to explore and experiment with new technology. Much loved by his fans and respected by his peers, he continues to leave his personal mark on the jazz world with his signature style.
Pat Metheny grew up surrounded by music. At a very early age, he began mastering the trumpet before moving on to the guitar. By the time he was 15, he had already played alongside some of Kansas City's most seasoned musicians. Not only was he an accomplished player at an early age, but he was also in demand as an educator. Metheny was barely 20 years old when he was invited to teach at the University of Miami and Berklee College of Music.
His musical career kicked into high gear in 1975 when he joined vibraphonist Gary Burton's group as second guitarist and entered the recording studio for the first time. Before that, Metheny had studied with Attila Zoller, played with Ira Sullivan, and listened to guitarist Jim Hall, one of his main influences along with Wes Montgomery.
Early on, Pat Metheny cultivated his inimitable sound, combining his allegiance to rock and his love for jazz with a passion to produce crystal clear notes, seamlessly fluid playing, and incomparable purity in his harmonies. His signature style was already evident on his first solo album, Bright Size Life, which featured the incredible Jaco Pastorius on electric bass and Bob Moses on drums.
In 1977, he formed the Pat Metheny Group (PMG) with long-time collaborator and childhood friend, pianist Lyle Mays, with whom he has always shared an affinity for solid rhythms and well-structured compositions.
Among the greats
Eventually, Metheny consolidated his place among the modern jazz elite. Critical praise was soon accompanied by immense popular success. At the beginning of the 1980s, he often played huge outdoor stadiums and concert halls.
In 1981, he made his first appearance at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal at the old Club Montréal joined by pianist Lyle Mays and percussionist Nana Vasconcelos. He came back the following year, establishing himself as a festival favourite, giving numerous performances year after year.
Montrealers have a special relationship with certain artists and music groups. Just like the glorious era of Genesis when Peter Gabriel was the front man, that same magical complicity exists between Metheny and Montreal audiences. It was here in Québec where Pat Metheny earned his first standing ovation and where he headlined his first tour, no longer opening for other artists.
In that respect, we could say that Pat Metheny's annual presence at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal has come to represent the event-Metheny is to Montreal what Dizzy Gillespie was for the Festival de Nice or Dexter Gordon to the North Sea Festival.
Metheny came to Montreal in 1982, performing music from the album, Offramp, released the previous year. Crazy about technology, this musician has never been afraid to incorporate and integrate electronic music and modern tools such as synthesizers, Synclaviers, etc. into his arsenal.
The album was an immense popular success, rousing suspicion among some critics. Although on Offramp, as with some of Metheny's earlier albums, not everyone was easily seduced by certain passages. The main interest for him was in the microgroove, which he described "as an introduction to the future of the guitar."
When it comes to his contribution to the jazz world, he says, "I'm not at all on the same level as Wynton Marsalis, because I'm a guitarist and my instrument does not at all represent the same thing as the trumpet does in jazz. Marsalis has integrated the works of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Clifford Brown into his playing. The importance of these heavyweights is crucial, they were the precursors, along with Charlie Christian, Jim Hall and Wes Montgomery, as great as they are, guitarists have never shaken up the history of jazz."
A history of interesting collaborations
In the 1980s, Metheny became consumed with collaborating with other musicians. On top of performing with the Pat Metheny Group, he started racking up additional projects. He has collaborated with many jazz great such as Charlie Haden, Sonny Rollins, and Herbie Hancock, just to name a few. Curious and always up for something new, he has dabbled in all different kinds of genres, seemingly incapable of saying no to anyone or to any project.
His work spans a tremendous range, from rock to classical and, of course, contemporary jazz compositions. In 1988, as part of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, he composed a special 30-minute orchestral piece, commissioned by the Ballets jazz de Montréal. That summer, audiences were treated to no less than eight Metheny concerts at the Festival.
The following year, for the tenth anniversary of the Festival, Metheny was the star of a massive outdoor concert staged on McGill College, which was attended by legions of music fans. The guitarist was perched high up on the stage, overlooking the crowd. The adrenalin rose, the audience waiting with bated breath, and he delivered the performance of a lifetime.
In the same year, he played with another festival mainstay, double bassist Charlie Haden. The musical paths of these two musicians have crossed many times over the years, and will likely continue to do so in the future.
In 1984, for the Festival's fifth edition, Metheny gave a series of five special concerts at Club Soda, with Charlie Haden and drummer Billy Higgins. The same trio recorded the album, Rejoicing, in 1983. Added to this remarkable history of collaborations was the unforgettable performance by Metheny and Haden in 2005. The duo played music from Beyond the Missouri Sky, weaving together poetry, musicality, and vast, wide-open spaces.
Past, present and future
Throughout the 1990s and into 2000, Pat Metheny continued to pursue his musical journey with the same level of curiosity as his early years, surrounding himself with a diverse range of musicians. Although the results may not be as outstanding as some of his other work, they are still worthy additions to his already impressive CV.
Pat Metheny is the bridge between the elder statesmen of jazz from the old school and the new generation. He has toured with the likes of Herbie Hancock and collaborated with jazz legends such as Dave Holland and Roy Haynes. He has also rubbed shoulders with contemporary players such as Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau with the same energy and enthusiasm.
With his instantly recognizable hair, Metheny is unquestionably one of the greatest figures in the jazz world-some even consider him to be one of the most important guitarists in the history of jazz.
Still in love with performing live, he still gives up to 240 concerts a year. In 2009, for the 30th anniversary of the Festival, he has been invited to hit the stage once more with his former colleague and collaborator, vibraphonist Gary Burton.
The following year, Metheny offered the ambitious Orchestrion album, the music of which was created by a veritable orchestra of instruments controlled by the strings of his guitar. An assorted live release, The Orchestrion Project, came out in early 2013.