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Pat Metheny – Fusion Guitarists & Genre Purity

Pat Metheny
Image via Wikipedia

In a recent comment on another post, Do I Like Jazz & Big Band?, bluetwango (Our Man in Colorado) offered the following regarding guitarist Pat Metheny:

A funny & unexpected pop cult reference to Metheny was heard tonight on NPR’s “Fresh Aire.” Check it out at npr.com/programs. It was a clip from a comedy by producer Mike Judge, the interviewee. A pair of overeager music store salesmen were pitching a Gibson guitar to a fetching and flirtatious young beauty.

“It’s just like Metheny plays,” said one. “He’s the greatest fusion guitar player.”

“I… don’t know who you’re talking about. But it’s a beautiful guitar. Do you have it in another color?”
Both guys rush to the back room to fetch the instrument, while she picks up the first guitar and walks out the door.

That’s the first joke, the one most folks get. But a true Pat-head knows he stopped playing the Gibson ES-175 ten years ago, and that he hates being called a fusion guitar player. “My stuff was a reaction against that,” he writes. His music is built from melodies, not riffs. Compared with McLaughlin, Coryell and DiMeola, Pat slowed the music down to my speed of listening. And he takes most of his inspiration and style from horn players, not guitarists.

But if he’s not a fusion guitarist, he’s certainly created a wide assortment of fusion music, leaping continents to seek new musical material. Brazilian grooves mix with Asian instruments, classical orchestras with synth guitars, all seasoned with steely broad-strummed textures from country music.

So he’s an anti-fusion guitarist creating fusion music. That’s like the other paradox he’s often posed: All the members of his band must be familiar and expert in bebop, although they’ll hardly ever come right out and play it.

I am breaking this out into a new post because it brings up the whole debate about genre purity. Kevin Kneistedt had a good discussion going recently over on his “Groove Notes” page on the issue of Jazz purity. Check out  Where Is the Fine Line In Jazz? and stay to read more of Kevin’s stuff. His post came out of a complaint he received from a listener to his regular live-stream broadcast on Jazz24Live. Kevin had played Steely Dan’s Aja, and the listener complained bitterly that the track was Rock, not Jazz and did not belong on the show.

I, along with a few others, responded about the general idiocy of labeling styles and genres, especially when it leads, as it typically does, to a kind of huffiness about who “belongs” and who doesn’t.

For the sake of research, here is the “offending track” in live performance:

While the Pat Metheny incident is, instead, a question of self-labeling (or, more precisely label-denial) I think it grows out of the same tendency, when it comes to musicians, for us to seek pigeonholes. You correctly point out that one of the notable things that Pat has done, over the years, is to tap into, blend, yea fuse many disparate styles into his music. And yet, he doesn’t want to have anything to do with the word fusion. His marked avoidance emphasizes the power he accords the label.

So where does the tendency for genre labeling come from?

Does this come from the marketing side of the business?

Is it inherent in fan-dom?

Are musicians, themselves, prone to sort out into categories, like religious denominations?

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Jazz Online – Listen While You Work

There are a number of excellent online, or web-radio, sources of good Jazz. What better way to work, blog, email or whatever, than to have some good jazz bangin’ in your ear? get yourself a nice set of sound isolating earplugs or, even better, headphones and let the cool notes flow over you.

I have all but quit carrying around CDs of my favorite compilations, and shoving them in-and-out of the DVD drive. Why bother, when you can find all the best waiting for you in streaming broadcasts over the web? Some broadcasts feature excellent dj input, with solid background and commentary to supplement the music. Others are solid music, one track after another. It seems that you can have your internet radio any way you want it.

Everyone who reads thejazzmonger already knows I am a big fan of Kevin Kneistedt’s Groove Notes blog. His page is always worth reading and ought to be in your bookmarks. Kevin also hosts a live streaming broadcast on Jazz24. I recommend it.

Of course, the queen of all jazz broadcasters, the incomparable Marian McPartland, has been holding forth on NPR for many years. You can find her excellent show, with a collection of podcasts at Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz. This incredible talent knows everybody who has ever been in the music business, every song that has ever been recorded. Her insights, stories, and love of music make every moment a delight. Down through the years, McPartland has hosted the both famous and the obscure of jazz with equal joy. And she can hit the keys and play a duet of any song, on a moment’s notice. Startling. the show is fun, and educational and not to be missed.

Pizzarelli Hackensack 05

Jazz performer John Pizzarelli

I have written, in the past, about John Pizzarelli. I am a fan, particularly of his work keeping the Great American Songbook alive and active. I saw John and his wife, the talented Jessica Molaskey, perform live earlier this year (see original post) and was thoroughly entertained. John and Jessica produce Radio DeLuxe from their “deluxe living room.” They host guest and friends from the music business, chat, reminisce and play excellent music, introduced with the performer’s special insight.

Southern California‘s KTWV-FM radio aka 94.7 The Wave broadcasts Smooth Jazz over one of the cleanest, clearest signals on the web. you can crank this up to drown out a noisy Starbuck’s and get nothing but crystal clear notes.

My newest favorite is AccuJazz.com. This incredible site features 45 channels (at my last count. Forty-five! And they have them organized all kinds of great ways. You can go for genre (Cool, BeBop, Modern Mainstream, Fusion, Old School, New School, Latin, Avant-Garde, New Stream, you get the idea). They have channels that bracket eras (pre-1940, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s). You can go for featured instrument (trumpet, sax, guitar, piano, organ, bass, trombone, drum, vocal).  They even have a set of channels organized around regional specialties (Chicago, New Orleans, Europe, New York, Modern West Coast). Are you getting the idea that this site is a terrific resource? This is not juts an entertainment site, it is marvellously educational. Check it out and enjoy. Tell them thejazzmonger sent you!

This is far from a comprehensive sample of all the streaming jazz available on the net. These are just my current favorites. Check the most popular jazz links on Delicious.com and find your own.

To make it easy, here is a list of all the links buried within this post:

Jazz24 Live

Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz

John Pizzarelli’s Radio DeLuxe

94.7 The Wave FM

AccuJazz.com

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