Local jazz fixture Henry Robinett prepares to play the music of Pat Metheny with the Capital Jazz Project
The music of visionary jazz-fusion guitarist and composer Pat Metheny continues to offer something that reminds the listener that jazz speaks to all of us. But are we listening? Metheny has tackled the intricate layers in the music world, especially regarding jazz and its history.
“It is jazz’s very nature to change, to develop and adapt to the circumstances of its environment,” Metheny told a gathering of the International Association of Jazz Educators in New York in January 2001. “The evidence of this lies in the incredible diversity of music and musicians that have evolved and lived and flourished under the wide umbrella of the word ‘jazz’ itself from the very beginning.”
Later in the same keynote address, Metheny also said, “There is an important and consistent element in the jazz tradition of young people coming along and molding—reinventing—the nature of the form itself to fit their times and their circumstances, as only they could possibly know how to do.”
Sacramento native Henry Robinett reaffirms that attitude, which any serious musician or listener faces. Things are never as simple as a purist would have you believe. Robinett, a guitarist who grew up in the electrifying and chaotic period of the 1960s and 1970s, also has reconciled those elements of the jazz tradition.
“I admire that Metheny decided that he was going to do it his way,” Robinett said about the focal point of the next Capital Jazz Project concert recently. Modestly, he added, “I don’t want anyone to get confused by thinking that I am at Metheny’s level.”
Robinett tuned in to Metheny early on, around 1976. “I saw Pat before he ever had a record out,” Robinett recalled. “He was playing with Gary Burton, and his sound was so unique. People were looking for a modern voice on jazz guitar, and Metheny’s first album, Bright Size Life, erupted on the scene. That was truly exciting!”
What Metheny brings to the table is a deep sense of history, music vocabulary and discipline; at the same time, he can lay that aside to learn new approaches. His life experiences and his trademark playing style make him one of the most essential and prominent voices in music and jazz. He also remains active in the education community. At 18, he was the youngest instructor ever at the University of Miami. At 19, he became the youngest educator ever at the Berklee College of Music, where he received an honorary doctorate in 1996.
Reflecting on Metheny’s influence, Robinett claims that he never fell for the myth that people need to return to some kind of safe space where memorable tradition resides, in order for the music to be considered “real” jazz. “I think, particularly with jazz musicians and artists, it’s about allowing yourself to grow,” Robinett said. “You can’t stick safely beside something because it’s successful and an easy way out. You have to write new music.”
Metheny has sustained a 25-year association with bassist Lyle Mays. They are a writing team that, in ways, rivals the partnerships of John Lennon and Paul McCartney or Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Some of Metheny’s most significant and personal discs have been his trio recordings, even though he is best known for his work with the Pat Metheny Group. The guitarist has performed with such diverse artists as Ornette Coleman, David Bowie, Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker and Bruce Hornsby.
Capital Jazz Project will present Metheny’s music in concert and will add special guests Aaron Garner on keyboards, Scott Barnhill on saxophone and Joe Craven on percussion. On November 12, Capital Jazz Project also will link up with the Cosumnes River College Jazz Ensemble, which will open a special concert with three Pat Metheny tunes that were especially arranged for a 17-piece big band by Bob Curnow, former arranger for the Stan Kenton Orchestra.
Metheny himself will make a stop at the Mondavi Center in Davis on November 13.