Guitarist, composer, and bandleader Pat Metheny is the only artist to win 20 Grammy Awards in 10 different categories. A consummate stylist and risk-taker, his musical signature melds a singular, euphoric sense of harmony with Afro-Latin and Brazilian sounds, rock, funk, global folk musics, and, of course, jazz. His 1976 debut, Bright Size Life, and the self-titled Pat Metheny Group two years later resonated with audiences and critics for its euphoric lyricism, dynamics, and rhythmic ideas. 1981′s As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, with keyboardist Lyle Mays, topped the jazz charts. The PMG won their first Grammy for 1982′s Offramp. The Metheny Group and Ornette Coleman cut Song X in 1986. 1987′s Still Life (Talking) and Letter from Home in 1989 both went gold. On 1992′s Secret Story, PMG collaborated with Pinpeat Orchestra, the London Orchestra, the Choir of the Cambodian Royal Palace, and Toots Thielemans. Metheny’s 2011 solo guitar release What's It All About won a Grammy for Best New Age Album, while his Unity Band (with saxophonist Chris Potter, drummer Antonio Sanchez, and bassist Ben Williams), won for Best Jazz Instrumental album in 2013. Metheny was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2018. As a composer, 2021′s Road to the Sun featured his first works for classical guitar. A few months later, the live Side-Eye NYC (V1.IV) commenced an ongoing project featuring alternating rhythm sections performing new and vintage material. In 2023 he issued the solo Dream Box.
Born in 1954, Metheny is from Lee’s Summit, Missouri (his older brother is the trumpeter Mike Metheny) and he initially played trumpet. After coming under the sway of the Beatles in 1964, he eventually moved over to guitar when he was 12. His talent developed quickly. He taught at both the University of Miami and Berklee while he was a teenager, and made his recording debut with Paul Bley and Jaco Pastorius in 1974. He spent an important period (1974 to 1977) with Gary Burton’s group, met keyboardist Lyle Mays, and in 1978 formed his own group, which originally featured Mays, bassist Mark Egan, and drummer Dan Gottlieb. Within a short period, he was ECM’s top artist and one of the most popular of all jazzmen, selling out stadiums. Metheny mostly avoided playing predictable music, and his freelance projects were always quite interesting. His 1980 album 80/81 featured Dewey Redman and Mike Brecker in a post-bop quintet; he teamed up with Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins on a trio date in 1983; and two years later he recorded the very outside Song X with Ornette Coleman. Metheny’s other projects away from the group have included a sideman role with Sonny Rollins, a 1990 tour with Herbie Hancock in a quartet, a trio album with Dave Holland and Roy Haynes, and a collaboration with Joshua Redman.
Although his 1994 recording Zero Tolerance for Silence baffled his audience with its completely experimental approach to noise and feedback, Metheny retained his popularity as a consistently creative performer. In 1994, he made his Blue Note debut with John Scofield on I Can See Your House from Here, and followed it up the next year with the Pat Metheny Group’s We Live Here, 1996′s Quartet for Geffen, and the score for the film Passaggio Per Il Paradiso. In 1997, he and Charlie Haden cut the acoustic duo album Beyond the Missouri Sky (Short Stories), before the guitarist signed to Warner Bros. and released Imaginary Day. In 1999, the duet set Jim Hall & Pat Metheny was issued as a one-off for Telarc, while Metheny’s score and soundtrack for A Map of the World appeared on Warner Bros.
Metheny has remained intensely active in the 21st century, releasing Speaking of Now in 2002, the acoustic solo album One Quiet Night in 2003, the PMG’s Way Up in 2005, and Metheny Mehldau in 2006. Metheny and pianist Brad Mehldau returned to the studio the following year for Quartet. Metheny released the trio album Day Trip in 2008. Orchestrion — which featured him solo playing several acoustic instruments designed and built for him by Eric Singer — appeared from Nonesuch early in 2010. He released What's It All About in June 2011, his second solo acoustic guitar recording for the label. Unlike any other entry in his large catalog, the set is entirely comprised of covers of pop songs by contemporary songwriters (from Paul Simon and Lennon and McCartney to Antonio Carlos Jobim, Burt Bacharach, and Hal David) that have held meaning for him throughout his career. Metheny released Unity Band with saxophonist Chris Potter, drummer Antonio Sanchez, and bassist Ben Williams in June 2012. In August, the promised live The Orchestrion Project was released; it was a CD and DVD document of the one-man tour with the symphonic machine from 2010 to 2011.
In the spring of 2013, Metheny recorded the work of composer John Zorn on Tap: John Zorn's Book of Angels, Vol. 20 on the Tzadik (owned by the composer) and Nonesuch labels simultaneously. Metheny’s Unity Group continued to tour, and in 2013 they reentered the studio. Kin <-->, their second offering, was released in February 2014.
In January 2015, Metheny was part of a tribute to bassist Eberhard Weber, who suffered a debilitating stroke in 2007 and has not performed since. The evening featured works written and inspired by the bassist, played by various groupings of musicians and the SWR Big Band. Co-billed to the guitarist, saxophonist Jan Garbarek, and vibraphonist Gary Burton, it was released on ECM as Hommage a Eberhard Weber in September. Metheny then delivered the live album Unity Sessions and paired with trumpeter Cuong Vu for 2016′s Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny. Almost immediately afterward, Metheny assembled a quartet with Sanchez, Malaysian/Australian bassist Linda May Han Oh, and pianist Gwilym Simcock. This group toured the globe for two years before making their recorded debut with From This Place in February 2020. In addition to the quartet, it included contributions from the Hollywood Studio Symphony conducted by Joel McNeely, vocalist Meshell Ndegeocello, Swiss harmonicist Grégoire Maret, and Cuban percussionist Luis Conte.
In 2020, Metheny changed labels for the first time in more than two decades, ending his long-standing tenure with WEA/Nonesuch. He signed to BMG’s Modern Recordings, a label launched in 2020 to reimagine jazz and classical music for the streaming age, by issuing brave original collaborative works that paired classical and jazz talent from across the globe. Metheny’s label debut, Road to the Sun, issued in March 2021, marked the first time one of his recordings focused solely on the artist as a composer — he barely played on it. He wrote the four-movement guitar sonata “Four Paths of Light” specifically for classical guitar virtuoso Jason Vieaux. The album’s six-movement title suite was penned for and performed by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. In September, Metheny issued the Grammy-nominated album Side-Eye NYC (V1.IV). A live trio outing, it included keyboardist James Francies and drummer Marcus Gilmore. The record was the first in a proposed series of releases to showcase the guitarist offering new and reworked vintage material in trio settings with different — often younger — rhythm sections.
Over the decades, Metheny informally recorded ideas and stored them on a hard drive. In 2022, he played 160 concerts internationally and relished the travel as “free time.” Between destinations and in his hotel at night, he listened to the recordings and was quite suprised by what they contained. He eventually made his way through the entire trove and heard the hard drive’s contents emerging as a coherent whole. He’d never played any of the initial tracks more than once, he captured them as moments in time — and most he doesn’t remember. The assembled compilation of these recordings was titled Dream Box and released in 2023 by Modern Recordings. ~ Scott Yanow & Thom Jurek