The Hamptons has seen its fair share of talented acts this summer. Whether at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center or at any of the other theaters on the East End, the Hamptons seems to attract only the most impressive, top-tier talent. Never has this been more true than in the case of Pat Metheny coming to the WHBPAC on Sunday, August 3.
Metheny was kind enough to chat with Dan’s Papers about his influences, his new album and more.
How did you discover jazz when you were a kid?
I am right in the middle of that generation that became interested in the instrument by way of the Beatles and everything that happened in the world around that time that made the instrument almost an icon representing the changes that were going on in the world. That said, within a few weeks my brother brought home a Miles Davis record and I became a total jazz fan. From there, everyone…Sonny Rollins, Gary Burton, Wes Montgomery, Ornette Coleman on and on.
What is it about jazz and fusion that drew you to it?
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.
In addition, whenever I hear the word “fusion”, my eyes glaze over – no musician that I know has ever used the term – just critics and a record company that started using the term as a marketing tool in the 80’s.
I really just try to honestly represent in sound the things I love about music.
Jazz is typically associated with freeflowing musical cues, etc. Do you find that incorporating different elements of jazz really helps to round out your vision?
In many ways, my main occupation over all these years, even before being “a guitar player” has been that of bandleader. Coming up with a concept for a band or a project, finding and hiring the right people and then writing music for it and finally getting it to become a viable live performing unit have been the consistent elements of my focus over all these years regardless of whatever context the music winds up in. Because I have also been the primary composer of the music that my various bands have played, I have always had specific needs to fill to get that particular set of music to sound the best that it can. In a lot of ways, I see the whole thing from Bright Size Life until now as one long trip, one long record, one long composition with a varying cast of characters that come and go to create a kind of exposition on the evolution of the basic premise that I laid out a long time ago on that first record.
That said, I love being around musicians who can really contribute. To me being a bandleader is kind of like being a curator – you are making a certain set of demands of the musicians around you that are based on your own sense of what it is that they do best. Among the many things about this Unity experience that made it such a life changing thing for me was the fact that everyone could really be themselves and each person is able to contribute in a way that lines up exactly with what the music that I gave them asked for without a whole lot of adjustment in any way. Also, it is just a great group of people.
What is it about Unity that inspired the latest album?
This is such a special group of musicians. From the first notes we played together in early 2012, through the recording and then all the touring that we did to follow, there was an instant connection that seemed to go beyond the usual kind of thing. We had such a great time together and the consistency of the playing was at a super high level and we seemed to always get to something night after night.
We all wanted to keep it going, and my sense of it was that we had only scratched the surface of what it might be. My instinct was to push it to be something else, but that that something else could have the benefits of all the playing we had already done together as a place to build from and expand outward from. To me, this recording is exactly that. I am so happy with the way it all turned out.
Kin is a word that implies connection or family or lineage. To me, like the word Unity, it really fits with what I am shooting for – and not just with this band, in music in general. I like the idea of making connections, finding inclusion and forming a way of thinking about not just the way the people making the music may be connected to each other, but also the way the music that I hope to present has connections with all of the other music I love. Beyond that, this may be the first band I have ever had that really can address everything from my trio stuff, to stuff from Song X, all of my regular band stuff, the more straight ahead kinds of things; all of it can coexist under one roof. And the “unpronounceable” symbol that follows the word, (←→), was something that just sort of popped out that I thought did a good job of indicating that our “kin” is not always behind us chronologically in an ancestral sense – we are also going to be the ancestors for many generations to come. And also musically. So this is a message to those future listeners as well.
How have you stayed on top for over 40 years?
One thing that gets a little under-reported is that music in general is really hard. To aspire to be a really good musician is one of the most difficult “lifestyle” choices you could ever make. And to do it year after year is a kind of commitment that is difficult to explain. At the same time, it is never ever anything less than an honor and a privilege to address music. And it is also enormously satisfying and incredibly fun.
That goes for everything, rather making a new record or doing a good job at playing the chords to “Happy Birthday” at a child’s birthday party. What you put into something is exactly what you will get back from the effort usually – but with music is often much much more than that.
What is it about playing with such an eclectic group that created such a great album?
Every aspect of it has been really fun, but the live performances have been the highlight of it all. We are playing around 150 performances this year all around the world in more than 40 countries. I have never experienced this kind of reaction from audiences. Every night is an adventure.
Pat Metheny performs at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, 76 Main Street, Westhampton Beach, on Sunday, August 3, at 8 p.m. Admission is $150, $135 or $110. Purchase tickets at whbpac.org or call 631-288-1500.