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Pat Metheny’s ‘Sirabhorn’: an interview with the dedicatee

Sirabhorn, one of the tunes on the new Pat Metheny album, Side Eye V1.IV, is dedicated to – and named after – a student of Metheny’s from his days at Berklee in the mid-1970s. The student, Thai musician Ti (Sirabhorn) Muntarbhorn also happens to be an active reader and good friend of LJN’s. She explains the background. Interview by Sebastian:

Ti (Sirabhorn) Muntarbhorn and Pat Metheny by the Charles River in 1975

LondonJazz News: How did you first get to know Pat Metheny?

Ti (Sirabhorn) Muntarbhorn: I arrived in Boston (aka ‘Beantown’) in the autumn of 1973 as one of Berklee’s early female jazz guitar students (possibly the first), with a sunburst Gibson ES-175 in hand. Pat arrived at Berklee from the University of Miami the following semester in January 1974, to teach, at the age of nineteen. I saw him perform for the first time with Gary Burton at Brandeis University, the autumn of 1974, playing a blond Gibson ES-175.

Berklee’s guitar department of the 70s was filled with talent, teachers and students alike. Al Di Meola, for instance, arrived at Berklee the same time as I did. It doesn’t take long for like minds to meet at the 1140 Boylston building, especially as the fifth floor housed the entire guitar department. There we would hover around the hallway before and after class, meeting other students (and teachers).  

I met Pat the autumn of 1974 through one of his students. After returning from a European tour with Gary Burton that December, Pat shared that he had just received the list of students placed in his ‘upper level’ Spring semester (1975) guitar ensemble and… I’m in it! As this could turn out to be rather awkward, he gave me opportunity to be removed from the ensemble i.e., one of Berklee’s most challenging guitar ensembles. Stuck it out, I did; awkward, it absolutely was!

LJN: And you’ve stayed in touch ever since?

TM: I developed a very close relationship with the Metheny family, visiting them often throughout the decades, beginning with the house in Lee’s Summit, MO (1975).  Pat’s folks taught me much about the American way as they were so open and accepting of me, the foreigner, in their lives. I learned much from the various visits to Missouri, especially from Pat’s mom, Lois (whom I call “Mrs. M.”). She showed me locations important to the Metheny family history from their first humble home beside the Missouri Pacific railroad tracks (I often noticed sounds of trains in Pat’s music) and places from song titles, for example Unity Village (aka Exercise #6).

I’m in touch with both Pat and Mike (Metheny), his trumpet player brother, to this day sharing almost a half a century of history. 

LJN: And Pat has continued to be a direction-giver for you, musically?

TM: Through his body of work, yes. With this opportunity, I would like to offer gratitude to Pat for the most intensive and lifelong knowledge of jazz I gained by being around him during the early years. For instance, I looked after his LP collection for some time listening to what he grew up listening to, taking inspiration from it. Bill Evans’ Live at the Village Vanguard and, later, Symbiosis come to mind, introducing me to the works of Claus Ogerman. In addition, I’m grateful for the jazz gigs we attended together; Art Farmer being the most memorable and, of course, Pat’s own local gigs and meeting his musician friends, one of whom became my precious pal during his short life: Jaco Pastorius (but that’s for another day…).

LJN: What led to the composition?​

TM: In the early days, Pat had difficulty naming tunes so he often had working titles such as “Exercise # ….” 

The original title of this composition, and it can be found in the (original) Real Book which two of our Berklee pals (no, not Steve Swallow!) created, was Waltz.

LJN: How / when did you discover he had named it after you? Did he tell you or ask you?

TM: Pat specifically asked whether he could use my first name, Sirabhorn. I recall that moment quite clearly.  

LJN: How does it feel to be a “muse”?

TM: I’m not sure whether I am suitable to be considered a “muse.” I see myself simply and humbly as a musician with concert production and other entertainment industry CV.  I’m currently researching/collecting archives of specific artists in addition to being a composer, and being composer Michael Gibbs’ ‘go to’ person for anything and everything.

LJN: And Pat has recorded “Sirabhorn” before…

TM: On his first album, Bright Size Life – the trio record with Jaco and ‘Moze,’ released by ECM as ECM1073 in 1975. This recording has been placed in the Archives of the Smithsonian in addition to the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry. [Link to announcement]

LJNAnd you must be aware of some other recordings?

TM: The one I’m aware of particularly is by the Jaco Pastorius Big Band on the album The Word is Out (2006), featuring Pat’s Berklee student, Mike Stern, playing the guitar solo. 

Also, our other much-loved Berklee buddy, Bill Frisell, played Sirabhorn for Pat, during a special event in 2017. 

The most delightful recent version is by a dear friend, Leo Amuedo (guitarist to Chris Botti/Ivan Lins and others). Gorgeous, simply gorgeous!   

LJN: Do you play the tune yourself?

TM: I chatted with a former roommate of Pat’s, Steve Cantor (who produced Lyle Mays’ solo albums), a little while ago about this. With our (hopefully) mature ears, we both came to the realisation that, for one, melodic lines to this composition are…so very beautiful.

I continue to appreciate the beauty of Sirabhorn to this day and enjoy being simply a ‘listener’ to performances by those who wish to share it with the world.

LINKS: Album Review of Side-Eye Trio NYC by Jon Turney

10 Pat Metheny Tracks I can’t do without – by Simon Lasky

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