Hank Jones And Pat Metheny: Making Every Note Count

Hank Jones i i

Hank Jones at NPR's A Jazz Piano Christmas 2007. Margot I. Schulman hide caption

itoggle caption Margot I. Schulman
Hank Jones

Hank Jones at NPR's A Jazz Piano Christmas 2007.

Margot I. Schulman

Two items are floating around my head this week.

First, the late Hank Jones was invited to perform on NPR's A Jazz Piano Christmas at the Kennedy Center here in Washington, D.C. in 2006. And he turned us down.

Why he did so doesn't really matter; I'll just call it a scheduling conflict. What struck me was that he made the call himself. He wasn't working with a manager or agent at that time. He was handling his business affairs himself.

That fact was a reflection of the old school way of doing things in the jazz world. Our jazz elders come from an era where their reputations were only as good as their last gigs or recordings. There were no publicity machines back when Jones started working.

It reminded me of the time I had the opportunity to assist Tito Puente in a clinic for the Latin jazz band at Roosevelt High School for the Performing Arts in Fresno, Calif. He had just flown in from Oakland after playing Yoshi's. He completely captivated the students with his humor, his playing and his encouraging words about keeping "our music" alive.

As I was driving him to the airport for his return to Oakland that afternoon, he fell asleep from exhaustion. He just dozed off. Puente had been keeping that kind of schedule since he started out in 1949.

Hank Jones was cut from the same cloth: musicians whose playing had to be beyond good every appearance they made because it was their calling card for the next gig. By the way, Jones accepted our invitation in 2007 and thrilled everyone with his impeccable touch.

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Pat Metheny and orchestrion. Jimmy Katz hide caption

itoggle caption Jimmy Katz
Pat Metheny

Pat Metheny and orchestrion.

Jimmy Katz

Second: I saw Pat Metheny here in the D.C. area last night as he toured with his orchestrion, a collection of self-playing instruments. Listen to this great NPR story by Ashley Kahn for the details on how it works.

Spectacle is one thing; I went in a little skeptical that the music would hold my attention for a full 90-minute gig. But halfway through the four-song opening suite, I was reminded that no matter who — or what — he has on stage with him, Pat Metheny plays music as if at the end of the show he would be prevented from doing so for the rest of his life. He makes every note matter, and infuses each with so much emotion that it's very hard not to get swept up in the moment. Whether with trios, the Pat Metheny Group, solo or in supergroups with other A-list jazz players, he always looks like he's having as much fun playing as we are listening.

Metheny also played a tune from Bright Size Life, his 1975 album with drummer Bob Moses and bassist Jaco Pastorius. It was a reminder that he has been writing great music for his entire adult life, and there's no sign that he is going to stop anytime soon.

His tour with the orchestrion will likely be talked about for quite a while. I for one can't wait to see what he has up his sleeve next.

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