Pat Metheny, winner of 20 Grammys, has been at the forefront of jazz music for decades. Seemingly indefatigable, he’s spent most of his adult life on tour, often performing 100+ shows a year. He will come to the Ridgefield Playhouse on Sept. 27 in An Evening with Pat Metheny with Antonio Sanchez, Linda May Han Oh and Gwilym Simcock. Andrea Valluzzo spoke with him about his upcoming show.
Andrea Valluzzo: What is the focus of your tour this year?
Pat Metheny: 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 playing lots of music of mine that I haven’t played for a while and Linda (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 likely will, too.
AV: With so much to choose from, how do you choose a set list?
PM: At this point with this band, they know about 80 of my 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. That said, it often happens that certain tunes find their way to the front of the line for different periods of time and I always try to pay attention to that, too.
AV: What inspires your songwriting?
PM: Music is intrinsically inspiring to me. I know there are musicians who look outside of music to find meaning and then bring it into their work, and I almost envy that. For me, it is all built into the sound. Everything I need is all right there. The pursuit of understanding is fundamentally motivating to me. I really want to know as much as I can about music and how it does what it does.
AV: Is a new album in the works?
PM: Like many musicians, I am trying to figure out exactly what the future of recorded music is as the music business changes. At the moment I have five completed albums that I have not put out yet as I am waiting to see where things are going. All of them are very different and I look forward to a time I can release them in a great way for people to enjoy.
AV: Tell us a bit about the Metheny Music Foundation and its mission.
PM: It is a small effort to give back to the community that my brother and I grew up in around our hometown of Lee’s Summit, Mo. We offer scholarships to talented kids from that area for summer music programs.
AV: Working a long time in the business, you’ve seen a lot of changes especially in today’s digital era.
PM: That quest to be a good musician has been pretty much front and center to my consciousness since I was 11 or 12 years old and hasn’t really changed much. The main difference is that I do feel like I am starting to getting to the point where there is a certain kind of connection to what I had always suspected was behind music that I am increasing gaining access to by working hard at it and really trying to give as much as I possibly can in the efforts I make to be a good musician. To me, music functions in and of itself. The syntax of the language can ultimately only be described in the sound itself and the destination represented in the best music is for me something eternal and mysterious.
AV: What are you listening to on your ipod or phone now?
PM: Earlier in life, I was listening constantly to just about everything. As the years have gone on, I find I listen to a lot less. The main reason is simply time — most hours of the day are set on “output” for me — I have almost no time for “input.” When I do get a moment away from having to generate ideas, I have a real craving for nothing — no sound or music at all is about my favorite way to spend an hour or two.
AV: What’s been the hardest — or most important — lesson you have learned in the music business?
PM: What never changes is that you have to keep your eye on the music and play every gig like it is the last time you will ever play and do your best to sound good. That has always been my focus and I have never worried too much about the other stuff around the music.