In this great interview by Rick Beato (around 01:13h) Pat Metheny says that in 1980 something happened - "we all know what it was" - and young musicians suddenly started to play for their parents and not so much for their friends anymore. Since I'm not super deep into Jazz history I actually don't know what that event was.

My guess would be the expressed criticism of at that time recent developments in Jazz (Rock/Pop influences etc) by Wynton Marsalis perceived by many as a kind of 'jazz police'. But that's just a shot in the dark after a little bit of research.

I actually hope that this kind of music history question fits in here. If not, feel free to tell me.

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    Reading you post, my thoughts also went first to Wynton, who was a highly divisive figure at the time and whose father was himself a jazz musician ("play[ing] for their parents").
    – Aaron
    Jan 11 at 19:21
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    I didn't know that his father was also a Jazz musician - I think that's enough evidence for me :) Jan 11 at 19:26
  • My first thought seeing the question was //Mister Roger's Neighborhood//, a show which would have introduced a lot of young children to jazz in the 1970s, and resulted in their desire to play that kind of music once they stated playing musical instruments. I find the level of musical sophistication on that show to be really mind blowing, especially compared with a lot of children's entertainment today.
    – supercat
    Jan 13 at 18:04

1 Answer 1


It's a reasonable thought that Metheny was referring to Wynton Marsalis. Marsalis was highly controversial — "polarizing" might be a better word — in the early 1980s. In particular, Marsalis advocated for earlier styles of jazz rather than the more progressive leanings of Metheny and others.

In 1980, while studying at Julliard for a career in classical music, Wynton began gigging with Art Blakey. This led him to shift directions and focus his career on jazz. However, he brought something of a classical aesthetic and practice to the art. His bands often read charts off of stands, wore suits, and played music, or music based on, styles of jazz prominent before around 1965 when more experimental styles came to the fore.

Wynton was particularly outspoken about electronic and rock-influenced jazz. That's probably a big part of what irks Metheny, since he was and is very much at the forefront of those movements. He and others, like Miles Davis most notably, were critical of Marsalis for taking jazz backwards, while Marsalis criticized them for betraying jazz and moving into other forms of music.

Further, Marsalis's father, Ellis, was a jazz pianist who played primarily earlier styles of jazz. It's easy to interpret Metheny as taking a swipe at Wynton for "playing for his parents" in both the literal sense of trying to please his father and also in the sense of playing for an older generation audience that preferred more traditional jazz music.

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    That is certainly the case based on what he says, especially when he elaborates and says (paraphrasing) “let’s put suits and ties on and play some new original music that was built on the shoulders of people who were in fact playing for their friends”. The implication is in 1980 they were recycling music that at one time was fresh and innovative. Jan 11 at 20:26
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    Kenny G "happened". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1980s_in_jazz "In the 1980s in jazz, the jazz community shrank dramatically and split. A mainly older audience retained an interest in traditional and straight-ahead jazz styles. Wynton Marsalis strove to create music within what he believed was the tradition, creating extensions of small and large forms initially pioneered by such artists as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. In the early 1980s, a commercial form of jazz fusion called pop fusion or "smooth jazz" became successful and garnered significant radio airplay."
    – Mazura
    Jan 13 at 1:30
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    @Mazura That's a great reminder that more than Wynton was going on. Both the return to straight-ahead jazz and the rise of smooth jazz moved away from the free jazz of the 60s and fusion of the 70s. Another major change that came soon afterward was the significant entry of jazz into music schools and the standardization of jazz education.
    – Aaron
    Jan 13 at 1:40
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    Having lived through the music eras from the 1960s... I have to say that Pat Metheny's music, regardless of whether people liked it, was not "jazz". It was "smoothed-out jazz", maybe. Like some of the earlier "west-coast jazz", or... ahem... "French jazz"... that made noisier and/or elevator muzak... in my opinion. I know that there are other viewpoints. :) Jan 14 at 23:11

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