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Straight No Chaser - A Jazz Show

Straight No Chaser is the place for jazz lovers (and those who will soon be jazz lovers) to enjoy podcasts with their favorite music and artists. Winner of the 2017 JazzTimes Readers' Poll for Best Podcast, your host Jeffrey Siegel will take you inside the world of jazz, from the new releases to the best festiva;s to remembrances of jazz legends.

A Q-and-A with Pat Metheny

Feb 15, 2014

Pat Metheny took another unexpected musical turn two years ago when he hooked up with saxophonist Chris Potter to create the Unity Group. Initially a quartet anchored by young Ben Williams on bass and long-time Metheny drummer Antonio Sanchez, the second CD release from the band includes a new face, multi-instrumentalist Giulio Carmassi. Kin is a powerful album, taking the sweeping, arching sound of the Pat Metheny Group of old and turbo-charging it into a 21st century dynamo. It’s recording like Kin that give one hope for the direction of Modern Jazz. This is a true working band, trading solos, moving between instruments and teaming up in service of the music rather than ego.

I had the chance to have a Q and A session with Pat by email, and am happy to share the give and take below. Special thanks to John Michaels for assistance with the questions. Click here to enjoy the track “We Go On’ while you are reading the interview.

From a writing standpoint how does having a saxophonist like Chris Potter enable you to take this band in different directions?

It is impossible for me to say how much I admire Chris and I am so happy that he has joined me for these projects. Yes, he is a great saxophone player, but I would put him in that small group of people who sort of transcend the instrument. There is a certain force or spirit at work there that he has access to - that is what I am really writing for and that is what has been really inspiring for me in this period.

I caught the last edition of the Unity Group in Detroit Labor Day 2012 and I must say you all seemed to be having a really great time on stage together. What is it about this group of musicians that gets you - pardon the expression - jazzed?

I have had a lot of great bands over the years, but this is one of the most well balanced groups of personalities - musically and otherwise - to date. We can have conversations that kind of continue onto the bandstand and switch over to a musical syntax and back. Plus, everyone just sounds good together. It has been a blast.

In your playing and writing how do you balance respect for the Jazz tradition, while at the same time keeping an ear toward the future?

I really try to represent in music the things I love in it as a listener. My goal is to be really honest and committed in trying to offer the things that I have found to be true and meaningful in life - in sound. There is a kind of authenticity that is important to me too - to really try to tell a story that is coming from a personal point of view. 

Throughout your career you've always incorporated new technology into your projects. Are there currently any tech items that have been piquing your interest to date?

There has been a revolution in terms of what music technology can be - this has to be the best time in history to be a musician in terms of tools. That said, a good idea is a good idea. Whether it shows up in this guise or that guise, and whether it is super modern technology or a kazoo is pretty much beside the point - if you have a really great idea, it will work hi-tech and super lo-tech.

Given all the new technology at your finger tips, you have never hesitated to add interesting instruments to your groups for sound and texture like Gregoire Maret's harmonica and now Giulio Carmassi. What leads you to these decisions?

As much as I am involved in music as an improviser, writing music has become almost as much of thing for me. And being a bandleader fits into everything in a big way in just about everything I do. I am always on the lookout for people who seem to have something to say who might offer something unique. 

Jim Hall was a big influence on you and of course on Jazz in general. What three things come to mind when you look back on your experiences with him as a colleague and friend.

Yes, Jim was huge for me, first as a hero, then as a friend and also as an important collaborator along the way - and I will really miss him. His touch on the instrument and the deep musicality he brought to everything he played had a big impact on me and all of us. But beyond that, he was just a great person. I think everyone loved Jim. He was one of the few musicians that just about everyone agreed on, regardless of which branch of the tree they were coming from.

You've been in the public eye since you were just a teenager. Can you recall a recording that you heard back then, or even earlier that made you say to yourself - yes, this is what I want to do with my life?

Miles Davis - Four and More.

What music might we be surprised to find on your iPod?

At this point, I have the feeling no one would be surprised!