In my view, Pat Metheny was central to the growth of jazz’s popularity in the 80s and 90’s. He bridged the gap between jazz and rock music as Miles Davis did in the late 60s and early 70s. Both Matheny and Davis were the essential elements that brought my attention to Jazz.
ECM Records listened to Pat and noted his potential. They set into motion a partnership that lasted for 10 recordings. Metheny created crossover music that was accessible to rock and jazz fans. My first experience with Matheny was through his 1976 Bright Size Life album featuring Jaco Pastorius the bass player for the fusion Jazz band Weather Report and his albums with Gary Burton, a strong melodic cello bass player, in the mid 70’s. His fluid Wes Montgomery influenced guitar patterns captured my imagination.
Together, Pat and his keyboard player Lyle Mays, whose presence during the creation of Pat’s music provided the backbone for much of Metheny’s work, initiated a rock band format used to generate multiple albums of jazz – soft rock. First Circle (1984), a favorite album of mine, maintained the rock standard with a strong nudge towards Latin-based music (reflecting my interest in Guaraldi and Santana). This album was selected for a Grammy Award in the Best Jazz Fusion Performance category.
For me, his most stunning album is the solo acoustic album One Quiet Night (2003) which featured, in addition to some beautiful new material, covers for Ferry Cross the Mersey (Gerry and the Pacemakers), My Song (Keith Jarrett), and Don’t Know Why (Norah Jones). This album is notable in the stark simplicity of the presentation.
The arrangements in One Quiet Night were accomplished with Metheny’s unique tuning of a baritone acoustic guitar built by Canadian guitar builder Linda Manzer. He is skillful enough to give the impression he was recording with a second guitarist when in fact he was alone with the microphone. When first heard One Quiet Night I knew it was a baritone guitar and was taken back that he had done these songs with no overdubs. Expertly using a Nashville tuning variation where the guitar is pulled down a perfect fifth, but , in his case, the 3rd and 4th strings are tuned an octave above the norm (A-E-C-G-D-A). This approach adds a minor 3rd to the range of the instrument, but it allows both close and wide interval spreads to be relatively easy to reach for a single guitarist. This tuning provides some very deep notes. The final success element for this album was the ability of Metheny to phrase the melodies in a way that teases the listener to linger a bit longer.
I think that Pat Matheny moves across the various genres of Jazz and Rock with extreme virtuosity. After watching him live, playing song after song, rarely speaking on stage, I have a profound respect for his approach to music. His concerts are 2-3 hours of non-stop outstanding music. When he performs, the respect of his audience is sincere. For each concert I attended, you could hear a dime drop on the floor. People (including me) leaned forward in the chair, immersed in the music.
To me, if jazz is anything, it’s a process, and maybe a verb, but it’s not a thing. It’s a form that demands that you bring to it things that are valuable to you, that are personal to you. That, for me, is a pretty serious distinction that doesn’t have anything to do with blues, or swing, or any of these other things that tend to be listed as essentials in order for music to be jazz with a capital J. — Pat Matheny.