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Detroit love brings Pat Metheny to Jazz Fest
Pat Metheny has been an Artist in Residence at music festivals around the world. That happens when you have a Grammy Award-winning career of more than 40 years standing.
But his upcoming stint with the Detroit Jazz Festival -- his first Artist in Residence role in the U.S. -- has special meaning beyond the music for the guitarist, composer and bandleader.
Metheny, 61, grew up in Lee's Summit, Mo., where his dad ran "the smallest Dodge dealership in the country." So there was "a natural connection to Detroit," and his father would make an annual trip to the Motor City to buy executive cars at discount prices. "Apparently I was conceived during one of those trips," Metheny says with a laugh during an early summer visit to town, "so I've kind of been heading to Detroit from day one."
More importantly, Metheny's father started bringing him on those trips from the time he was eight years old.
"It was the first place I'd been to away from home, outside of Kansas City, maybe," Metheny recalls. "Detroit, to me, was the world. It was like, 'Wow, this is Detroit...'
"And by the second trip, I was aware of Motown and Stevie Wonder and the Supremes and all of that. And when I was 12 I had started getting involved in this (jazz) music, so Detroit, that was Kenny Burrell. That was Ron Carter, Barry Harris, Paul Chambers. THAT was Detroit. So I had that awareness of the place even then."
And with that perspective, Metheny has approached his Artist in Residence responsibilities with a resolve to honor that music legacy that's influenced him so greatly.
"I would say now that I've traveled all over the place, Detroit is one of those places where you know you're in Detroit when you're here," he explains. "It's got a very distinctive vibe. It always has. Through all the years, the millions of gigs I've played here, there is no question when you're in Detroit. There this thing that makes it Detroit. It's very powerful. So for me that's a notable thing, and that makes (the Artist in Residence) even more special."
Metheny -- who's appeared on scores of albums since 1976, has won 20 Grammy Awards and has taught at the University of Miami and the Berklee College of Music in Boston -- will be playing four special performances during the festival, which takes place over Labor Day Weekend in downtown Detroit. On Friday, Sept. 4, he'll help open the festival with his Pat Metheny Trio and special guest Kenny Garrett. He'll join frequent collaborator Gary Burton's quartet on Saturday, Sept. 5 and play in an acoustic duo with Ron Carter on Sept. 6
And on the evening of Sept. 7, Metheny will lead an all-star collective, including the Detroit Jazz Festival Big Band and String Orchestra, in the North American premiere of "Hommage," his multimedia tribute to German bassist Eberhard Weber that debuted during January.
"I'm really doing a wide range of things," Metheny notes, "and of course every situation has its unique challenges and opportunities. Honestly, playing a duet concert with anybody, let alone Ron Carter, is one of the most daunting tasks there is. And getting on a bandstand with Kenny Garrett is like going and playing baseball with Derek Jeter; it's pretty much the state of the art there.
"And playing with Gary remains the standard for everything. Whenever I need to remind myself of how good 'good' really is, I listen to Gary. I was so lucky to be around him at a very formative period, and the connection he and I have had as musicians all these years is one of the major, central connections I have in my life."
The "Hommage" to Weber, of course, will be special for both Metheny and for the festival. The now 75-year-old bassist played on Metheny's second album, "Watercolors," in 1977. "In addition to his singular voice as a bass player and his amazing compositional thing, he's a great guy, just one of those people in my life I've really admired," Metheny explains. He was approached to write a tribute piece three years ago by Weber's manager, after the German government announced it was going to give the bassist a special arts award in January of 2015, and Metheny came up with an idea to mix mash together video footage and audio of Weber playing with live instrumentation.
Like a homework assignment with a long lead-time, however, Metheny let things wait until the last minute, finally hunkering down on New Year's Day and spending an intensive 10 days creating what would become "Hommage," which will also be released as an album in conjunction with the jazz festival.
"I always like it when I'm in a situation where I'm not quite sure how to do something -- and this was a classic example of that," Metheny says with another laugh. "I hadn't written a big band chart since I was in junior high. But I decided to have Gary Burton come and be the other soloist and it turned out Danny Gottlieb, who was my drummer back then, was available and it all worked out fine, and the piece was a real sensation when we put it on.
"And Eberhard said he liked it, which meant the world to me."
"Hommage" and the jazz festival -- as well as "The Unity Sessions," a DVD with his 2013-14 Unity Band -- are Metheny's current focus, and after that he says the future is hazy. And he's not complaining about that.
"I haven't gotten to a point where I could just stop for a little bit since maybe 1994," Metheny notes. "So I'm looking forward to a point in the next couple of months where I can really not know exactly what I'm going to do next. It's been more than 20 years since that was the case. I think I might like it."
36th Annual Detroit Jazz Festival
Sept. 4-7 between Hart Plaza and Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit.
Admission is free.
Visit www.detroitjazzfest.com for full schedules and other information.
With four days and four stages, plus late-night jam sessions, the 36th Annual Detroit Jazz Festival offers a musical cornucopia that than be hard to get one's head -- or ears -- around. Lots of choices, in other words. In addition to Artist in Residence Pat Metheny's four performances, here are a half-dozen others to put on the must-see list...
The Detroit House Trio of Robert Hurst, Gayelynn McKinney and Michael Malis will host the Marcus Belgrave Celebration Jam Session, paying tribute to the late trumpet great and festival regular, in a late-night jam session starting at 11 p.m. Friday, Sept. 4 in the Mackinac Ballroom at the Marriott hotel in the GM Renaissance Center.
"For Lady Day," celebrating Billie Holiday's 100th birthday with Ursula Walker, Joan Belgrave, Jeannine CourseMiller and the Wayne State University Big Jazz Band, 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5, on the JP Morgan Chase Main Stage.
The world premiere of Danilo Perez's commissioned "Detroit World Suite," 5 p.m. Sept. 6 on the Carhartt Amphitheater Stage.
Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, conducted by Carla Bley and featuring bassist Steve Swallow, 6:45 p.m. Sept. 6 on the JP Morgan Main Stage.
Living Colour drummer Will Calhoun and his Quartet with Greg Osby, 2:45 p.m. Sept. 7 on the Wayne State University Pyramid Stage. -- Gary Graff
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