Hidden from small

Pat Metheny and the American Beat, Part I: Jazz Guitar as Classical Muse

March 21, 2017

Jazz and classical music aren’t exactly strangers. Ravel, Stravinsky, Copland, and Bernstein among many others were inspired by jazz. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was commissioned for a “jazz meets the classics” concert. Stravinsky wrote his Ebony Concerto for Woody Herman (it was later recorded by Benny Goodman).

Christopher Deviney. Photo by Jessica Griffin

So it seems natural that The Philadelphia Orchestra will feature Imaginary Day, Duo Concerto for Vibraphone and Marimba, arranged and orchestrated by Principal Percussion Christopher Deviney, in world-premiere performances March 30-April 1. It’s a classical piece based on the music of renowned jazz guitarist Pat Metheny.

Deviney is thrilled by the chance to hear his beloved Orchestra mates showcase Metheny’s music. “It’s really joyous listening. I’ve gone through these tunes thousands of times now, and I never get tired of them!”

And yet: “I know there are plenty of people who will go see Pat Metheny who probably would not set foot in the Kimmel Center to hear an orchestra. I also know there are a lot of people who come to Philadelphia Orchestra concerts who aren’t familiar with Pat’s music. I see this piece as a way to bridge that gap, and introduce those two audiences to different aspects of the way they listen to music. I think they have more in common with each other than they think. That’s really what started this whole project.”

Deviney says he first encountered Metheny’s music as a high school student.

“For me, no matter what style or mood the music was in, it was always enjoyable, with a very lyrical and melodic approach to jazz improvisation. The three particular tunes I’ve used in the Duo Concerto come from Pat’s Grammy-winning Imaginary Day album. They struck me as very orchestral.”

That inspired the idea of arranging the tunes for orchestra. About 10 years ago, Deviney went to see Metheny play, in hopes of getting his blessing. “I told him what I wanted to do with the three tunes. He thought about it for about three seconds, and then said ‘yeah, those will work very well!’ and gave the OK for me to pursue the idea.”

Chris went to work on his arrangements for orchestra, transcribing the solos note for note. “This is so much bigger than anything I’ve done before. I thought ‘I don’t have the resume to be on this program!’”

As it turns out, another very important musician disagreed.

Next: The long road from inspiration to performance.

(The Philadelphia Orchestra performs Imaginary Day, Duo Concerto for Vibraphone, Marimba, and Orchestra, based on the music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays on March 30, 31, and April 1. The program also includes Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony and Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs for Solo Clarinet and Jazz Ensemble. Bramwell Tovey conducts. For tickets and more information, please click here.)