Today In Jazz

Happy Birthday Pat Metheny!

August 12

Guitarist Pat Metheny is born in 1954 in Lees Summit, MO. Metheny has taken his place among the elite jazz guitarists of the post-1970 period, and has had a far-reaching influence on most guitarists of his and subsequent generations. He was playing professionally at age 15, and got his first prestigious job with with vibraphonist Gary Burton’s trio from 1974 to 1977. Even at that young age, Metheny demonstrated his signature style, which blended the loose and flexible articulation of horn players with an advanced rhythmic and harmonic sensibility—a way of playing and improvising that was modern in conception but grounded deeply in the jazz tradition of approaching the melody, swinging and playing the blues. In 1978, he formed his trio with keyboardist Lyle Mays, bassist Mark Egan and drummer Dan Gottlieb, and quickly became one of the ECM label’s top performers. Metheny has spent the subsequent years honing his reputation as a restlessly creative artist, playing and recording with saxophonists Sonny Rollins and the late Ornette Coleman, and pianist Brad Mehldau, among a host of others. Watch an unplugged Metheny pick his way through the tune, “And I Love Her,” by Lennon-McCartney, two of Metheny’s inspirations, here:

Singer Earl Coleman is born in Port Huron, MI, in 1925. One doesn’t normally associate the mercurial instrumental brilliance of beboppers Charlie Parker or Fats Navarro with a crooning baritone balladeer straight out of the Jazz Age. But Earl Coleman is proof positive that they could not only co-exist but also compliment each other. Parker fans may have shrugged shoulders when they first heard the saxophonist blowing behind Coleman’s 1947 recordings of the torch songs “Dark Shadows” and “This Is Always,” but Coleman wasn’t some hanger-on foisted on Bird by managers or record execs. Coleman already had worked for the very progressive pianist/bandleaders Earl Hines (where Coleman most likely first met Coleman) and Jay McShann (in whose band Parker also had played)–and Coleman would go on to work with not only Navarro, but fluglehornist Art Farmer, saxophonists Gigi Gryce, Don Byas and Sonny Rollins. Coleman had a deep, yet warm, baritone, somewhat reminiscent of Billy Eckstine (whose influence on many singers of his generation was enormous), but with a hint of vulnerability. Coleman recorded somewhat regularly until 1956 (he year he recorded with both Rollins and Farmer); after that, until the end of his life in 1995, his recorded output was spotty. In 1960 he recorded as a leader and performed with composer/arranger/bandleader Gerald Wilson. In 1962 he joined expatriate saxophonist Don Byas in Paris; and in the mid-1960s he played with pianist Billy Taylor and saxophonist Frank Foster and then with pianist Elmo Hope. After a rather prolonged dry spell, Coleman experienced a career revival in the 1970s, due to his talent and circumstances: After all, he was one of the few survivors of the drug-ravaged first-generation beboppers. He recorded twice for the Xanadu label, in 1977 and 1979, and one for Stash, in 1984. Listen first to Parker’s “Yardbird Suite,” by Earl Coleman & His All-Stars. Coleman is backed by, among others, trumpeter Fats Navarro, alto saxophonist Don Lanphere and drummer Max Roach, in 1947, here:

We’ll jump ahead to Coleman’s 1977 album A Song for You, on which he performs “The Very Thought of You,” backed by pianist Hank Jones, bassist George Duvivier, drummer Leroy Williams and tenor saxophonist Al Cohn, here:

Earl Coleman never received the accolades he deserved.