Pat Metheny is one of the famous names in jazz, even to people who don’t follow jazz.
Here’s the evidence:
• He has won a ridiculous number of Grammy Awards: 19, and not just for jazz. He has won Grammys for Best Rock Instrumental, Best New Age Instrumental and, believe it or not, Best Country Instrumental. He also won an unprecedented seven jazz Grammys in a row for seven consecutive recordings.
• He has been on just about everyone’s “best guitarist” list – Guitar Player magazine, Downbeat magazine, and JazzTimes magazine.
• He’s the rare jazz musician to score a record in Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Pop Albums list – 1987’s “Still Life (Talking)” – and a Billboard Top 40 hit, 1985’s “This Is Not America,” a collaboration with David Bowie.
So the chance to see Metheny perform live would be worth the price in just about any circumstance. In this upcoming Spokane concert, there’s an extra attraction: the Unity Band, a group he put together recently consisting of saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Ben Williams and drummer Antonio Sanchez.
In an email interview, he told us that over the years he’s played with a lot of great players – Michael Brecker, Joshua Redman, Gary Thomas, Tony Williams and Kenny Garrett – but he has only rarely built records entirely around just a few special musicians. That’s what he did with the Unity Band.
“I have admired Chris Potter for a long time and had heard him a few times over the past few years where he completely knocked me over with his amazing growth as a musician,” Metheny said. “He is one of the most powerful musicians on the planet right now. So, I thought it would be fun to build a project around the two of us. Antonio Sanchez and I have had a great rapport for about 13 years now and he is one of my favorite drummers ever and Ben Williams is an exciting new bass player on the scene. Besides having done the record, we have been out playing gigs all around the world since June and it is even better than I ever could have imagined.”
Potter’s saxophone will be in the spotlight for a good portion of the show, but so will Metheny’s guitar, the instrument he switched to from his original instrument – “pretty terrible trumpet” – at age 12.
“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,” Metheny said. “That said, within a few weeks my brother brought home a Miles Davis record and I became a total jazz fan.”
In fact, he became a child prodigy in Lee’s Summit, Mo., near Kansas City. At 15, he was working in Kansas City’s famous jazz clubs. At 19, he became the youngest teacher ever at the Berklee College of Music. He continues to teach occasionally and he gets “more out of it than the students.”
Now, nearly five decades into his career, he is not exactly worried that he’ll run out of things to learn.
“That would not be possible,” Metheny said. “Music, like anything else, is infinite in potential.”
In fact, when Metheny plays or records music, he’s focused not only on the people listening right now. His time horizon goes way beyond that.
“What I have found is that many of the people who end up really having this music be of value to them are often not even on the planet at the time it is getting made,” said Metheny. “So I think about them a lot.”
When asked which of his tunes he hoped people would remember in 500 years, he replied, “To me, it is all one big long tune.”