The new tour appropriately entitled “An Evening with Pat Metheny” will be coming through Chicago on October 12th at the Chicago Theater. It looks like this tour is coming together after you took some rare time off the past year or so. Before we talk about the new tour I am curious about your thoughts on the importance of taking some time off from touring. Did you find that taking some time off helped you re-charge your creativity and expand your concepts?
Well, that little break was actually a couple of years ago now. In 2014 I was on the road for almost 200 days but in 2015 I only did 4 or 5 gigs. It was great to be home so much. That was probably the most time I was consistently in one place since high school. I could see why people like civilian life.
But these past couple of years I have been back to being very active and this year in particular is quite busy. To me every chance I get to play is a privilege.
Even after a break I realized I felt pretty much exactly the same. The only difference is that I realize now that I am quite happy to just stay in my room (lol). And in fact, as the years go by I realize that it isn’t even entirely just about music anymore for me, it is really fine to just sit there. It is almost like if I never played another note it would be fine. It has kind of gotten to the point for me that everything I do I try to do with the same kind of attention through what I have learned in life through music.
In April of this year you were awarded the highest honor in Jazz, the NEA Jazz Masters Award. During your speech, you talked about how “the majority of people who will get the most out of this music are likely not on the planet yet, not even born yet”. You have inspired generations of musicians and likely will continue to inspire them for decades to come. Is that something you consciously think when it comes to your music and performance and what did it mean to you to become an NEA Jazz Master?
When there is some kind of special recognition along the way, I really try to appreciate it, and I do. There are certain honors like that one that are unbelievable to me, that I never would have anticipated or expected in a million years.
At the same time, because I do live my life playing so much, I could say it like this; on a Tuesday, I played a gig and I played some stuff the best I've ever played it. I finally got to the point on that solo on that fourth tune that I'd been hoping I'd get to all tour long. I finally did it. Then the next night is Wednesday, and it doesn't matter what I played on Tuesday. The people that are coming for the Wednesday gig don't care what I played on Tuesday because they weren’t there and tonight it is Wednesday and I've got to play that fourth tune again and I hope I don't mess it up.
My whole life is geared to enjoying stuff while it's happening and then moving on. If you come to my house you're not going to see one award or anything on the wall. I really appreciate it. I feel honored and humbled by it all, but my thing is, "Okay, tomorrow is the next thing," and really, that's the only thing for me - what’s happening next.
I don’t really think too much about the things that surround the music - my focus is almost entirely on “it” rather than the things that surround “it”. In fact, I wish it were possible for me to garner more gratification from awards and stuff like that than I am able to. I do try to appreciate it when stuff like that comes up. But the only real satisfaction I get is from the feeling of playing well or achieving a specific goal within music itself.
Recording and touring has been something that you have done since a very young age. Do you find that playing with the same group of musicians for an extended period, such as on this upcoming tour, helps you to explore the music in a different way and push the boundaries in your creativity?
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 only about live performance anymore.
Being on the bandstand with great players is an amazing thing and this current band is one of the best bands I have ever had. Pretty much everyone I have ever played with is a hero to me. Great musicians are for the most part the most interesting people I have met, so I feel very lucky to have had the chance to be around people I have really admired at every stage since I was a really young kid.
The new tour will be featuring Antonio Sanchez (drums), Gwilym Simcock (piano) and Linda May Han Oh (bass). You have performed with Antonio Sanchez for many years but the others are newcomers I believe to your group. Can you talk about the concept of putting theses specific musicians together for this tour and how their different strengths will complement your music and playing?
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 lots of music of mine that I haven’t played for a while and Linda (May Han Oh) and Gwilym (Simcock) really understand the range of my thing across the entire spectrum. And Antonio remains one of the greatest drummers 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 hopefully will too.
For about 10 years now I have had my eye on Gwiylm Simcock. He is one of the most talented pianists to emerge in a long time in my opinion. And he shares something with another one of my favorite piano players, Brad Mehldau, in that both he and Brad claim to have been very inspired to take up this music from hearing some of my records as young kids. Gwilym has a really deep understanding of the sensibility of what my thing invokes and requires. But beyond that, he is just an fantastic overall musician. Piano is an odd instrument to me in general - for the most part I have always kind of preferred a very open environment where the melodies express the harmony in an intrinsic way. But with the right player and the right sensitivity, guitar and piano together can be a fantastic combination. Gwilym and I can really get to that.
With Antonio signed up and Gwilym, it was an interesting opportunity to explore who was out there to make it a quartet. There is a rare abundance of players right at the moment in NYC. I made it point to go out and check everyone out that I could or play with folks that had been recommended to me.
After a pretty extensive search, Linda really rose to the top as the best choice. She is something special. She has all the requisite skills; great time, deep harmonic knowledge and a great sound on the instrument and technique to spare; but there is something else going on with her. She has a kind of presence as a musician that invites her listeners to follow the details of her story as she spins it. There is a narrative depth to her soloing and her lines as she accompanies the musicians around her that is particular. Additionally, like Gwilym (and Antonio too actually) she comes with a real deep knowledge of my thing from her early days as a musician. She told me she came of age listening to my trio record with Dave Holland and Roy Haynes, Question and Answer and she really understands that area as well as the broad view of music that is reflected in her own work and all the bands she has played with around NYC. It has been great having her on the bandstand each night - she really brings it.
And I can’t ever say enough about Antonio. As I often say, he is the drummer I thought would never be born. He has certainly been my most important collaborator over these past almost 20 years or so now. I feel like he can contribute to almost any project I launch. And again, his personal maturity and lack of personal drama is a huge thing for me - he shows up to play every night. He is one of the best musicians I have ever known and is really one of the all time greats on his instrument. I love playing with Antonio.
5. Let’s talk about the repertoire selection for this coming tour. With the decades of material you could select to perform on this tour what is the process you are using to decide on the repertoire? Will each show have slight variations?
This is a bit of an unusual thing for me. The standard thing for quite some years now has been the a) write some music b) make a record c) do a tour thing. But actually, as you may remember, I didn’t used to do it that way. When I started, I would often tour for a long time playing the new music before I recorded it. This time I decided I would find some favorite musicians who I knew could hang with me in the territory that I kind of inhabit at this point in time and sort of see where it goes. I have written a bunch of music for them, but we can also play everything from every step of my thing along the way - in fact they play it all great.
At this point with this band, they know about 80 of my older tunes and I can just start playing any of them at any time, so I just kind of follow what the vibe is at any particular time.
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