Pat Metheny is more interested in the 'spirit and sound of music,' rather than its genre


GREAT BARRINGTON — At age 8, Pat Metheny started playing the trumpet. By 12, he had switched to guitar.

In the more than 50 years since that seminal shift, the 64-year-old Missouri native has won 20 Grammy Awards, including triumphs in four consecutive decades. He has redefined jazz guitar and helped foster younger generations of talent through the Metheny Music Foundation, ensuring that his impact will outlast his own music-making.

Metheny still tours voraciously. In the midst of wrapping up a slew of European shows before his concert at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center on Thursday night, Metheny responded to some questions from The Eagle by email. The answers have been lightly edited for grammar.

Q. We're reaching out because you're going to be playing at the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington. You've played there a couple times in the past. What do you remember about those performances, if anything?

A. I was so happy to get the invitation to play there again. It is [a] really nice theater, one of the best in the whole Northeast. A perfect size and a really good sounding room.

Q.  What are some songs that you'll be playing in Great Barrington? When you're on tour, do you have a standard set list you play each night, or do you like to mix things up?

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A. The concept this time is simple — to put together a really exceptional group of musicians and write some music for them, but additionally, to have them also be able to play anything from at any point in my career as well. This is an excellent live band. Each person on the bandstand is a really great player.

We have been having a great time playing together over these past few years. We are playing lots of music of mine that I haven't played for a while and Linda (Oh) and Gwilym (Simcock) really understand the range of my thing across the entire spectrum. And Antonio remains one of the greatest drummer[s] of this or any era. The concerts are very long and cover a LOT of territory. I am sure people who have followed my thing over a long time will enjoy it, and by the same token someone who is really not that familiar with any of it will, too.

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Q.  What projects are you working on currently? New album coming out soon?

A. I have several really exciting records done at the moment and, like many musicians, am wrestling with the realities of what recordings mean in today's world. Touring and playing gigs has always been the primary destination for me. As an improvising musician, it is what you can get to night to night that is the actual final "product" of your efforts. Early on, I think I thought the records were more like an ad to get people to come to the gig. But I really appreciate now that they turn out to be much more than that. But nevertheless, I am already pretty well acclimated to the way things are set up now in the "new" music business where it is really mostly only about live performance anymore. That is basically the way I have always approached it anyway.

Q.  What's the biggest difference between jazz today and jazz in the 1970s?

A. Then and now, I really just try to honestly represent in sound the things I love about music.

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I am not a huge fan of the whole idea of "genre" or styles of music kind of to start with. To me, music is one big universal thing. The musicians who I have admired the most are the ones who have a deep reservoir of knowledge and insight not just about music, but about life in general and are able to illuminate the things that they love in sound. When it is a musician who can do that on the spot, as an improviser, that is usually my favorite kind of player.

I feel like I am a musician in this broad sense first. And all the subsets of the way music often gets talked about, in terms of the words people use to describe music, is basically just a cultural/political discussion that I have found that I am really not that interested in in the same way I am interested in the spirit and sound of music itself. That interest really transcends generations or specific decades.

Q. Who are some students or young jazz musicians that you've found yourself enjoying and perhaps even learning from recently?

A.You will hear three of them on the bandstand with me there: Antonio Sanchez, Linda May Han Oh and Gwilym Simcock.

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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