Café with Antonio Sanchez: on Birdman, new Albums, and the Jazz Alley


Mexican drummer Antonio Sanchez is one of the fastest growing stars in Jazz music today. If you’re not familiar with his name and music, take note!

Mexican drummer Antonio Sanchez with Michael Keaton
Doing the score for the movie “Birdman” (here with star Michael Keaton) has given a boost to Antonio Sanchez’s already ascending career in jazz.

The soundtrack for the movie “Birdman” was composed and performed by Antonio. I sat down to have a “virtual coffee” with one of the most sought-after musicians in jazz today. As he told me during our “virtual coffee” conversation, doing a movie soundtrack using only drums for the most part, was an interesting challenge. But the results, and the movie’s Oscar for Best Picture, were gratifying for all the work that went into making such a score.

In this piece of our conversation, Antonio explains the impact “Birdman” has had in his career.

..and here’s a short YouTube video clip I found of Antonio Sanchez (on his website) of an intro to a live performance of the Birdman soundtrack, with Michael Keaton’s introduction.

Antonio Sanchez – Learning from the Best; Danilo Perez, Pat Metheny, & Chick Corea

Drums were Antonio Sanchez love since age 5. His mom loved rock music, so he would practice over her records. But Antonio wanted to learn a 2nd instrument, and picked up piano, an instrument that attracted him. It has turned out to be very useful in his career as a drummer.

LMC: How has your piano backgroud influenced your music?

AS: Studying piano informed a lot of how I approach music, how I compose music. For example, this last album I did called the “Meridian Suite” is a 5-movement composition that I don’t think I could have developed if I had not studied classical piano. Knowing music, knowing harmony, helps you on how you hear music. If you don’t know about harmony, or how to orchestrate in your drums, it’s hard for everybody else to feel comfortable when you’re playing behind them.

After completing studies in Berklee, Antonio ended up working with the accomplished Panamanian jazz pianist Danilo Perez. But that wasn’t just by luck. With his visa running out, Antonio went back to Berklee to be able to stay in the United States, and targeted classes Danilo Perez was teaching.

Antonio Sanchez Mexian jazz drummer
“The Meridian Suite” gave Antonio Sanchez the opportunity to showcase his musical influences.

With a clear objective in mind, Antonio masterminded a way to get to play in Danilo Prez’s band. Antonio explains, “I would study Danilo’s music, and then go to class and ask him questions about it pretending I didn’t know it that well. Danilo would explain it to me, and then I would show him what I ‘learned’. He started to notice that I could pick up his music quite easily. Then, he started to occasionally call me to fill in for his drummer when he couldn’t make it to one of his gigs. The subs became more frequent and then one day he gave me this 6-month itinerary of gigs. I was officially in.”

As Antonio says, this was his introduction to the “big leagues” of playing jazz professionally.

LMC: What was the most important thing you learned in the time you played with Danilo Perez?

AS: The level of focus I was able to develop. Be completely focused for 2 hours or however long the concert would last, and really be in the moment and listening closely to everything that is going on around you and reacting accordingly in a musical way.

The gigs with Danilo Perez, which started in 1997, opened other doors for Antonio. Legendary jazz guitarist Pat Metheny saw him play and eventually invited him to join his group. This was another life-changing experience for Antonio, as he explains in this audio clip of our conversation.


“Migrations” and Two New Albums in 2015

By 2007 Antonio Sanchez was ready to take a chance at making his own recording. “Migrations” was his first recording, which had many special guests, including Pat Metheny and Chick Corea.

LMC: How did you land Chick Corea in your first recording?

AS: Before I was into Pat I was into Chick since I was in Mexico, because Chick has been around longer as he’s a few years older than Pat. I ran into him in a festival and decided to just go to him and just tell him that I would love to play with him before I die if a chance ever came up. Chick said “oh sure, I’ll keep that in mind”.
Then a few years later Chick called me to do a project of 5 different CDs with 5 different trios. The record was called “Dr. Joe”, that was a tribute to Joe Henderson. Unfortunately it only came out in Japan, but the whole record is in YouTube. I then played with Chick this music in extended tours through several parts of the world.
So when I was planning my first album, I asked Chick as well as Pat if they could participate, not only as performers but also if they could write something, and they both agreed. It was a great honor not only having them, but also get them to compose a song for my record.

Fast forward from 2007 to 2015, and you now find that Antonio Sanchez released two new recordings; “Three Times Three” and “The Meridian Suite”.

LMC: “Three Times Three” is a recorded with three different trios playing three songs each. Did you get the concept from Chick Corea’s “Dr. Joe” concept?

AS: Well, not really. The record label suggested I do an “All-Star” album. But to me, All-Star albums are hit or miss. You can have a great album but also you can run into many issues with musicians not used to playing together, and the music suffers. So instead, I proposed an album where I would play with musicians that I’ve always wanted to play with, or that I had played with before, but wanted to play some more. I composed two songs for each trio, and then we did a standard. I have Joe Lovano in one of the trios, who I consider one of the most beautiful tenor sax sounds in jazz.

Antonio Sanchez with jazz guitarist Pat Metheny
Christian McBride, Pat Metheny, and Antonio Sanchez.

The concept for “The Meridian Suite” was more organic and based on work Antonio Sanchez had done before with Pat Metheny, on the album “The Way Up”. Antonio explained that “touring with Pat for 6 months playing this one continuous tune, made me realize the doors that a concept like this can open musically. It’s also such an event as a player and also as a listener when you experience something of this magnitude”.

The way Antonio described it was as a metaphor, where a regular album is a series of short stories, and “The Meridian Suite” is a novel. The novel format provides him the time to develop the characters more deeply than what you can express in a 4 to 10 minute song. Musically, this was a different challenge for Antonio as a writer, and he is still experimenting on how to play it at live events.

…which brings us to his shows at the Jazz Alley.

Jazz Alley Shows and Meridian Live

“We’ve only played The Meridian Suite a couple of times, so I’m still experimenting what to do with it on a live show”, explained Antonio. “I still have a couple of presentations before going to Seattle, so we’ll have a better idea of what to do with this material by the time we get to the Jazz Alley”.

Here’s a final audio clip of Antonio explaining what he will be playing with his band “Migrations” at the Jazz Alley in Seattle on June 30th and July 1st.

So, as Antonio said earlier, even if you just know him as “the Birdman guy”, Antonio Sanchez is now part of the “pop culture” and will continue to make his mark with his enormous talent that has been recognized throughout his career by the best in the jazz world.

For tickets information, go to the Jazz Alley website HERE.

You might also like

Leave a Comment or Reply