Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, one of America’s most influential guitarists and jazz composers, is back in the United States after a very long and successful tour that took him to Japan and several European countries. Metheny recently released a new solo album called What’s it All About. It is his second solo record to feature custom-made acoustic baritone guitar. The first was One Quiet Night, recorded about 10 years ago.
But despite his prolific history of writing so music, film scores and soundtracks, Metheny doesn’t have a single composition of his own on What’s it All About. Instead, the new album features re-arrangements of 10 classic compositions by Paul Simon, the Carpenters, Henry Mancini, John Lennon & Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach, and other music icons. I asked Metheny why, when we talked about his recent tour.
Metheny was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1954 into a musical family. He started on trumpet at the age of eight. “My whole family is trumpet players,” he explains. “My brother Mike is a trumpet player, my Dad was a trumpet player through his college years and still is good, my Grandfather on my Mom side was a professional trumpet player his whole life. So, to sort-of keep the family thing going, I became a trumpet player, too at a pretty young age around eight.”
But at the age of 12, Metheny decided to quit playing trumpet and switch to guitar. Why?
“Because my brother [Mike] was so good, and he’s five years older than me I was always being compared to him,” he says. “So, I was kind of interested in doing something to separate myself from the trumpet, and that’s when I got interested in guitar.”
Metheny gained international attention in 1974 at the age of 19 when he joined the quartet of vibraphone great Gary Burton. That same year, Metheny also became the youngest teacher ever at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, where he received an honorary doctorate in May, 1996.
Like other musicians who started during the 1960s, Pat Metheny was very influenced by the Beatles. One of the really interesting songs on his new album is “And I Love Her” written by legendary Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
“In fact, the story about that particular track [“And I Love Her”] is that I had done the nine major tunes that sort-of came from that era [the 1960s], and I thought Wow, I can’t do a record like this and not have a Beatles’ tune because in so many ways that, you know, hovers above the whole thing,” says Metheny, who now has over 40 records under his belt.
“The Beatles were not just an influence for me,” notes Metheny. “It was like, without the Beatles I don’t even know if I would be a musician. You know, seeing them on TV when I was a kid was part of the reason I got interested in the guitar in the first place.”
One of the great tunes on What’s it All About is the Carpenters’ “Rainy Days and Mondays”. I would have hoped that Metheny would have added his personal baritone guitar and smooth jazz touch to the Carpenters’ all-time favorite, “It’s Yesterday Once More”. I have a personal interest in that tune because it was one of the great songs of my generation in the mid 1970s, either in English or the French version by the late icon Claude François.
Pat Metheny has netted 18 Grammy Awards in different categories. In 2006, Metheny and acclaimed pianist Brad Mehldau released their first joint album, Ahmid 6. The CD, a rare instrumental combination of guitar and piano production, was a culmination of about 70 tours they did together.
“The music just kept getting better and better as we went along,” says Metheny about the duet’s performances.
“Brad is one of my favorite musicians, somebody that I really have admired from the first time that I ever heard him. I thought he was just a fantastic new [musical] force in the world,” says Metheny. “He is just really one of those heroes in a lot of ways. I mean, he’s kind-of the guy in the generation directly younger than me that kind-of gave me hope that everything is going to be OK. It had been a long time that somebody at that level, especially on the piano, had appeared.”
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