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Music and the Creative Spirit

The Creative Genius of Pat Metheny

By Published: November 20, 2008
PM: They are similar tasks that happen at wildly different temperatures. The heat of the moment causes a result that differs from the coolness of time to consider. However they feed each other and seem to bask in the relief that one offers another. The performance aspect, whether as an improviser or when playing the written parts of the music is so largely affected by the audience and the general environment of it all that you can't separate that from the equation either. All in all, the whole idea is to tell a story—to form a narrative and to try to offer something to others that you yourself have found to be true or meaningful or even just that you think it sounds good. The skills that come with learning about improvising greatly enhance the composition process for me, and the inverse is also the case.

LP: It appears that time, space, and intensity are significant elements that make up your compositional form and are always considered within your own personal vocabulary within the group compositions. Can you explain how these aspects are developed?

PM: I have often talked about how I thought the geography of where I grew up affected me aesthetically. There was a lot of space out there—you could really see things far away, and see things from a distance in perspective with each other. But I left the Midwest when I was 18 and have lived in fairly intense urban settings ever since. But that reserve of quiet is always there for me—that first 18 years in Lee's Summit, Mo. really added up to a base for me that I feel that everything else came out of. I think as I have learned more about music and how it works over the years, I naturally gravitated at different periods towards different ways of deploying things. There have been periods where I have very intentionally played lots and lots of notes, and others where it has been quite sparse and full of space. I like to be able to invent a way of playing or writing that seems to be appropriate and resonant (for me) in each setting; something that seems to reflect where I am at that particular moment.

LP: Can you discuss your personal relationship with time?

PM: Well, time...that is big one, maybe the main one. To me, the way each musician ultimately sounds is about how they perceive time and how well they are able to listen and live within the time. And I mean that on the most micro level and the most macro level. To play great swing time with a rhythm section is still a rare quality that within jazz is only achieved by the very best players. But then, if that feeling of time is not informed by the spirit of the larger sense of time (the things that make 2005 different from 1958), the feeling of it is noticeably less compelling somehow. To me, when I think of someone like Roy Haynes
Roy Haynes
Roy Haynes
—his "time" is his own. He owns it, every nanosecond of it. And he can offer it in connection with a personal history that gives it weight, or he can offer as a human being that is equally conversant and interested in the things that make THIS moment in time unique. That would be the model for me; to be able to render the sound of time in a way that reminds everyone just how precious—and vital—it all is.

LP: Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
has said that "The right notes can fertilize the sound of a composition that it can make the sound grow; much like adding lemon to fish or vegetables that bring out the flavor. That it's your sweat." You work a lot with density while adding various colors and textures to your group compositions. Can you describe that process or what you are attempting to do within the context of the music?

PM: Another great quote. I think that we all become musicians because we love music. For me, I try to follow that love in a very devoted and serious way. The stuff I really love becomes potential for me. Why do I love THAT? What is that I love about THAT? Those questions, as a fan, mean one thing—but the thing that separates musicians from being fans is that I feel that we all naturally want to play the things we love. Involved in that learning process is, in fact, an enormous amount of sweat. That sweat represents YOU—your spirit, your soul; all the things that make you unique. The mix of a musician with a sound that they love, that they are pursuing and aspiring to is a recipe for a certain kind of intensity. When this intensity gets applied to a spontaneous act such as improvisation, in the right hands, with the right material and the right kindred spirits, the result can be basically the highest level of human achievement manifest (i.e. the Coltrane quartet, the Miles quintet of the 60's). The goal for me would be to try to manifest into sound the things that I love, the things that I have found to be worthwhile and valuable through a lifetime of pursuit of this stuff.

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