Berklee Today

Pat Metheny Completes First of Three Week-long Residencies as a Herb Alpert Visiting Professor

Together again: Vibist Gary Burton (left) guitarist Pat Metheny, and a student rhythm section performed on December 6 in the BPC.
Photo by Mark Small

Grammy-winning jazz guitarist Pat Metheny spent the first week of December 2002 in Boston as Berklee's third Herb Alpert Visiting Professor. As a gift to the college through the Herb Alpert Foundation, trumpeter and A&M Records founder Alpert endowed the visiting professorship to enable distinguished artists such as Metheny to come to the college and work with Berklee students for a week at a time.

Metheny's schedule was jam-packed with clinics, rehearsals, performances, and meetings with students and faculty members. Metheny's two clinics presented at the Berklee Performance Center - one on guitar, the other on improvisation - drew huge crowds of students and touched on a wide range of topics. Metheny shared numerous anecdotes drawn from his career and fielded questions from the audience.

During the guitar clinic, Metheny detailed the genesis of his signature guitar tone. He said that sending the guitar signal to three speakers (one dry and two processed with digital delays) was done in an effort to produce a wider and less directional guitar sound. He related that he was surprised to learn by watching a television broadcast he taped in Poland for which he played without his own setup, that the true Metheny sound comes more from him than the equipment.

Metheny told the crowd that his career has three major components: composing, recording, and touring. Speaking of his catalog of more than 200 works, he told his listeners, "Writing new material these days is a painful process for me. The topsoil has been well tilled, so I have to get past the impulse to rewrite something I've already done. Eventually I dig deep enough to find new ground. This is not something I can do on the road. I need grazing time."

Responding to a student's question about his feelings on performing, Metheny replied, "I want to offer my best to everyone listening, including the music fan inside of me. We work hard to rehearse the music, plan the sets, and make everything the best it can be at that moment. After that, I become like a fan listening to the guy playing."

Shared wisdom: Metheny in one of two clinics he gave on guitar and improvisation
Photo byJustin Knight

During the week, Metheny rehearsed and played with students and faculty. A very special duo guitar concert with Professor Mick Goodrick drew an enthusiastic standing-room-only crowd to the David Friend Recital Hall. Goodrick and Metheny, who were members of Gary Burton's quintet in the 1970s, had not been onstage together for over two decades. Their set of jazz standards and free improvisation revealed the depth of the musical communication that they developed years ago.

Metheny devoted several hours to rehearsing music with vibist Gary Burton and students Mark Kelley (bass) and Kendrick Scott (drums) for the concert that was the culmination of the Metheny residency. Additionally, Metheny coached the Berklee Music of Pat Metheny Ensemble as its members groomed his pieces for the concert. The ensemble's director, Assistant Professor Winston Macow, observed after the rehearsal, "Pat stressed the importance of the song forms, dynamics, and little nuances in the pieces that really make them come alive. He was honest and constructive in his criticism and really helped the students. He stayed around afterward to talk further with them. It's so great when an artist of his stature will spend that kind of time."

The concert on Friday, December 6, filled the Performance Center to capacity. Opening the show was a top-notch student group, the Romain Pilon Quartet. Pilon, a guitarist from Grenoble, France, led his group through a set of original pieces and jazz standards. Following the quartet, the Berklee Music of Pat Metheny Ensemble played two selections on which Metheny had coached them and then yielded the stage to a trio featuring Metheny, Kelley, and Scott.

The trio opened with an Ornette Coleman blues tune titled "Turnaround," and followed with John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" played with a Latin feel. Metheny nodded his approval to the young rhythm section as they stretched out on the tunes. Before bringing Burton onstage, Metheny introduced him as "The King of the Vibes" and "one of my major heroes in life." "You may know him around here as an administrator," Metheny said, "but to me he is the administrator of the good notes."

The quartet then played Metheny's "Sirabhorn," an introspective tune from the Gary Burton group's repertoire in the 1970s. From there they went into an energetic send-up of Metheny's "What Do You Want?" Next, after an extended solo guitar intro, the group joined Metheny on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "O Grande Amor." Metheny's "Question and Answer" closed out the set. Responding to the loud standing ovation, the group returned to play Burton's composition "Walter L." The rhythm section then left and Metheny and Burton finished the concert with Gershwin's "Summertime" with Burton playing the melody and Metheny vigorously strumming his acoustic baritone guitar.

Asked about his return to the college after leaving the faculty over a quarter century ago, Metheny responded, "Among the students and teachers there is a general positive spirit that I feel around here. The seriousness of the students is tangible to me. They have a deep curiosity about music. I saw that in in the kinds of questions they were asking and in the way they listened to my responses." He also had high praise for the artistry of bassist Mark Kelley and drummer Kendrick Scott in the concert. "They are far beyond what I would call student-level musicians," Metheny said. They are great players." After playing only a few notes together, I could see working with them was going to be a lot of fun."

Reflecting on the week, Metheny said, "Since I spend so much of my time traveling around and have such an incredibly active life, coming here and reconnecting with people that were very important to me musically - Gary Burton and Mick Goodrick - was special. In both cases, it has been a long time since I've had the chance to play or hang out with them. That was a real highlight for me."

Metheny will return to the college for another week in 2003, and one in 2004, to complete his appointment as a Herb Alpert Visiting Professor.