Ridiculously prolific, he has released approximately 45 albums under his own name, and who knows how many splinter groups and appearances he’s made on other artists’ projects.
But far from resting on his laurels, and hefty record sales, he hasn’t shied away from taking chances – the most obvious being 1994’s Zero Tolerance For Silence, the melodic master’s about-face into an all-guitar orgy of improvised dissonance recorded in one day. The 2012 CD and film were Metheny’s modernized version of the coin-operated, human-less music machines of yesteryear.
Growing up in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, a small suburb of Kansas City, he took up guitar at 13.
By his senior year of high school, he was flirting with flunking out because, he admits, he hadn’t taken a book home since seventh grade; instead, he was practicing 20 hours a day.
“It’s a way to have a very powerful sound that’s not a distorted sound,” said Metheny. You’ve referred to the guitar as a “tool.” I’m a proud guitar player, and I know stuff about the instrument.
But it’s always been a translation device to get ideas out.
Metheny has worked with a who’s who of jazz and non-jazz luminaries, including Burton, Pastorius, Kenny Garrett, Michael Brecker, Charlie Haden, Ornette Coleman, Billy Higgins, Steve Swallow, Abbey Lincoln, Jack De Johnette, Dewey Redman, Joshua Redman, Roy Haynes, Brad Mehldau, Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins, Tony Williams, Bob Moses, David Bowie, John Zorn, Eberhard Weber, Milton Nascimento, Chick Corea, the Heath Brothers, Dave Holland, Marc Johnson, Cassandra Wilson, Bruce Hornsby, Steve Reich, and brother/trumpeter Mike Metheny.
Not long after, legendary vibraphonist Gary Burton recruited him to teach at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and he soon joined Burton’s group, sharing guitar chores with Mick Goodrick.
After recordings with Burton and fellow UM faculty member Jaco Pastorius, Metheny’s ’76 solo debut, Bright Size Life, turned a legion of guitarists’ heads.
But two albums later, The Pat Metheny Group landed the guitarist on the covers of Downbeat and Musician.
And his group – Metheny, keyboardist Lyle Mays, bassist Mark Egan, and drummer Danny Gotlieb – were as close to rock stars as any jazz combo of the past four decades.
The only thing, from my standpoint, that I can do is sort of, as my dad always said, ‘play the odds.’ I know in my case that the odds are better that I’m going to be able to get to that if I warm up for two hours before. They have three children and enjoy taking them to the city’s numerous museums.