An Open Thank You Letter to Pat Metheny


March 15, 2005

Pat Metheny
c/o Ted Kurland Associates
173 Brighton Avenue
Boston, MA USA 02134-2003

Dear Pat,

For some time now, I have felt this incredible obligation to offer you my most genuinely heartfelt “Thank You.” I hope that some day you get the chance to read it  — please let me know if you do.

Of course, I have offered many “Thank You’s” before for various things, and you have certainly been thanked before by thousands, if not millions. But what I am envisioning here is something quite different. The type of gratitude I am hoping to express to you now can only come from enjoying a lifetime worth of pleasure, delight, and personal fulfillment as a result of you and your music. However, my experience with your music transcends the pure pleasure of listening – my experience somehow is always simultaneously accompanied by the acute awareness of the fact that the core of my enjoyment is the result of your hard work and enormous personal sacrifices over the course of your professional life. In other words, I wish to thank you directly for the countless personal sacrifices and tireless effort you have chosen to make in order for me to have garnered such high-intensity pleasure through the years from listening to your music.

I cannot over-emphasize enough to you my awareness-of, sensitivity-to, and gratitude-for, the effort and sacrifices that have been required of you so that the music you create can ultimately make it to my ears (and fire whatever sequence of neurons is necessary to produce such sonic-pleasure, time and time again). I am vividly aware of the effort and personal sacrifices I have made personally in order to become a performer, composer, and business person myself – all of which does not even come close to registering on the Metheny-scale of sacrifice and achievement – so my sensitivity to this increases the intensity of my gratitude commensurately.

I have been surrounded by great improvisers all of my life. I also own (and frequently listen to) hundreds of recordings of the greatest improvisers ever. However, I can count on one hand the number of contemporary artists that consistently present a sort-of clearly-conveyed architecture to virtually each and every one of their improvised solos. You are indeed one of these great architects, Pat Metheny. The greatest musical compliment I can pay is: your composed material is so fresh and performed with such vitality that it often sounds improvised AND your improvised solos are so architecturally-well-conceived that one often cannot determine where the composed material leaves off and where the improvised solo picks up – presumably, because there actually is no clear answer. Simply put, it’s ALL music.

I also need to specifically thank you for your tireless work ethic and super-human stamina. I would love to go into each item in more detail, but more specifically am thanking you for:

Releasing some type of significant recording virtually every year

Releasing a Pat Metheny Group Recording (specifically) every 2-3 years

Performing 180-250 shows per year

Performing 3+ hour live PMG shows (and you specifically being the only musician that enjoys no break)

Almost always making yourself available to fans after shows (at a time that you are sure to be exhausted)

Continuing this pace for 30+ years

Sleeping sleep 3-5 hours per night

Since I am not a guitar player (or even a live performer much these days), my greatest admiration comes from the discipline which I can relate the most – your skills as a composer. Firstly, your knowledge of the music history and theory that leads up to our present day rivals that of most music academics. No doubt, this has resulted in a greater attention paid to melody and form (concepts that continue to stand the test of time) than that of most contemporary musicians. To those unfamiliar with the music of Pat Metheny, I like to refer to you as a “fearless” musician, where the verdict of your own mind is always king (a rare thing amongst often-insecure musicians). Thus, great skill, great knowledge, great effort, great passion, and great confidence all collide and produce incredible music time and time again. The music is almost always presented in a language that reconciles accessibility (that can appeal at some level to the average listener) with sophistication (that can appeal to freak-like deep analyzers of your work like me).

But to speak of you ONLY as a musician, discounts the non-career-related effort and sacrifices – I want to be sure to thank you for those as well. My thanks to Pat Metheny the person/human first requires this short reflection:

Back in 1995, I had just begun researching my doctoral dissertation, The Exotic Rhythms of Don Ellis. 1995 was significantly before the proliferation of the web, but, I was a subscriber to Compuserve. Compuserve had a search user function. As a complete shot in the dark, I searched for any user named “Pat Metheny,” found you on Compuserve, sent you an email, to which you replied right away. You agreed to a phone conversation about Don Ellis. Your phone interview with me made it into the conclusion of the dissertation (which actually didn’t get completed until 2002 – a few “business world” things threw a few delays at it). Nonetheless, I am very satisfied with how the document raises the awareness of the music of Don Ellis. I went so far as to build the DonEllisMusic.com website, where the dissertation is available via download for free. I hope to do something similar for you and your music at PatMethenyMusic.com (only with your permission/blessing, of course). It’s hard for me not to spot some amazing similarities on many levels between the work and music Don Ellis and that of Pat Metheny.

In 1999, I shook your hand at a show in Lisner Auditorium in DC years after speaking with you by phone. I introduced myself (not thinking you’d recognize me) and you immediately acknowledged “oh yeah, you’re the bassoon player, right?” I was blown away that you had remembered, but I began kidding with you that I was disappointed that there was no bassoon playing on the then-new recording (Imaginary Day). You chuckled and countered with “Well, if I ever need a bassoon player, you’ll be the first call I ma.…. the first EMAIL I’ll send!” I recorded every word on my little pocket dictation recorder that I held in front of you – so you can absolutely count on me holding you to your promise. :–)

The other aspects of my thanks to you Pat Metheny the person/human is for your positive energy and also your family-related sacrifices. I have seen you in person at least a dozens of times. Moreover, I have witnessed you on video innumerable times. Something that is always immediately recognizable in all sightings or viewings is your smile and the positive energy you evoke to the others around you. Also, you have become a husband and a father over the past 10 years (2014 EDIT: now couple decades). As a husband and father of two (2007 EDIT: three) myself, I also thank you for what is probably the most difficult task of forcing upon yourself the time away from your family for activities such as recording and touring (I also thank your family directly for their granting of people like myself so many rewards as a result of their sacrifice of your time away from them).

As a bandleader, you are the CEO of the Pat Metheny Group. Clearly, this role extends far beyond what takes place on stage. Being a now second-time CEO myself and a somewhat successful Internet entrepreneur, I can directly relate to the ancillary demands that are placed upon you with regards to the ongoing operation of the group. Any great bandleader (or CEO for that matter) is, first and foremost, a great recruiter. What a fine recruiting job you do with virtually every new PMG recording and tour. Any group leader that has demonstrated the ability to recruit, integrate, and retain such incredible talent over so many years deserves tremendous respect and recognition. For these skills and for this effort, I thank you again.

Believe it or not, I wish I had the forum for even greater detail than I’ve already presented here, but I am thanking you categorically as several different parts of your ethos: the player, the performer, the bandleader, the composer, the musician (in the purist sense of the world), the person/human, and the businessman. I aspire to match your level of achievements in my own life. I constantly use Pat Metheny’s music, life, and art as an example of constant greatness to my business partners and to my kids, so it is the standard I strive to match every day. It’s tough keepin’ up!

Please also let me concede my awareness that the relationship between you and your music is an extremely personal one. In other words, I completely acknowledge that the music you create is not for my benefit per se (or anyone else’s for that matter, other than your own). Your music is between you and “it” – I am just so thankful that the music you, I, and “it” all wish to hear the most is apparently exactly the same.

I can only hope that you continue to produce music for another 50 years — hey, it’s possible 🙂 — so that I can continue this relationship I have with your music over the course of the same long-term time period.

Once again, and for one final time:

Thank you, Pat Metheny – for everything.

Best Regards,

Sean P. Fenlon

p.s. You should swing by my house on your next trip to DC – I have some absolutely fabulous unreleased Don Ellis recordings and bassoon recordings to play for you. 🙂