Antonio Sanchez - migrating to his own projects
As Antonio Sanchez listened to one of his favourite radio programmes as a teenager one night in Mexico City he wasn’t to know that the presenter and the music that made him sit up and pay attention would both enter his life in significant ways.
The DJ was Alejandro González Iñárritu and the track he was playing was from the latest album by one of his favourite bands, the Pat Metheny Group, one of the jazz world’s most successful outfits over the past thirty-five years.
Sanchez is just about to celebrate his fifteenth anniversary as Metheny’s drummer of choice, having initially joined the world touring Pat Metheny Group and been retained through the guitarist’s projects including his trio with bassist Christian McBride and the Unity Band and Unity Group, and last year he enjoyed success as a film soundtrack composer on the first film he ever worked on, Birdman, whose director was Alejandro González Iñárritu.
“I met Alejandro backstage at a Pat Metheny Group concert in Los Angeles in 2005,” says Sanchez, who is one of Edinburgh Jazz Festival’s opening weekend guests. “He’s a big Pat Metheny fan and it was funny that he was the guy who introduced me to Pat’s music because meeting him through Pat brought things full circle in a way. He’s a very articulate and creative guy and we hit it off immediately but I never thought for a minute that I’d get a chance to work with him. Then out of the blue he called because he wanted to base the score for Birdman round a drum kit. It was a great experience because mostly what I had to do was play the drums and improvise.”
This has been Sanchez’s calling since he first came into contact with a set of drums in a friend of his family’s living room when he was five years old. The owner of this kit couldn’t help but notice the young Antonio’s attraction to it, so he gave a brief demonstration. Sanchez was hooked. The family friend became his teacher and the first steps were taken towards a career that has seen Sanchez work with pianist Chick Corea, saxophonist Michael Brecker and vibes master Gary Burton, as well as Metheny.
There’s more than drums in Sanchez’s repertoire. He also has a degree in classical piano and although the piano has been very much his second love, it has played a more than useful part in his development as musician in terms of the way he listens to music, how he hears harmony, and how he composes and arranges music. One of his piano teachers, the Panamanian Danilo Perez, who is a long-time member of saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s quartet, also recommended Sanchez for his first important drumming engagement, with the Dizzy Gillespie United Nations Orchestra, and having hired Sanchez for his own group, was responsible for Pat Metheny hearing and hiring him too.
“The Dizzy Gillespie orchestra was an amazing experience,” he says. “Dizzy himself had died by the time I joined and it was being led by one of his saxophonists, Paquito D'Rivera, but touring in a great band like that and playing the same repertoire that Dizzy had played was really special, an education.”
Working with Metheny over such a long period has been an education also, he says, and although the guitarist has a reputation for being out on the road at every opportunity, recent years have seen the musicians in his bands given more time to concentrate on their own projects.
“Pat likes to keep busy,” says Sanchez with some understatement in his voice. “Last year we toured for eight months solid with his Unity Group but this year he’s working from home, finishing off recordings and other things, so I’ve been able to take my own band, Migration, out on tour. It’s on long hauls like we one we’re on just now – we played the first concerts in March and we’ll be touring through to December – that I realise just how much I’ve learned from watching Pat. How to develop a project, how to present the music onstage and how he conducts himself offstage – working with him has been invaluable.”
Migration will remain Sanchez’s priority long-term. He’s had a few approaches regarding soundtrack work after his Birdman score earned nominations a Golden Globe Award and a BAFTA among others but he prefers to compose music on his own terms.
“I like to work without rules,” he says. “That’s why I’m so excited about the current edition of Migration. The players involved aren’t strictly jazz people. They play all sorts of music and are completely open and versatile. They’re happy to mix electronic music with acoustic music, to play rock, fusion, straightahead jazz, free jazz. It’s like a Ferrari that you can drive at three hundred miles an hour and go anywhere you want with, and as soon as we stop, I can’t wait to get back in the driver’s seat.”
From The Herald, July 15, 2015.