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Antonio Sanchez: Conversations with the Music

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Music can range in its meanings and expression from the sacred song of the medicine man to the 2:00 AM syncopated notes in a smoky Village bar, but why do we do it? What use does it serve us? This is a first in a series of interviews with musicians about the nature of our relationship to music, particularly improvisational jazz.

Antonio Sanchez could be a poster child for what happens when you mix equal measures of extraordinary talent, deep training, exceptional discipline and focus the temperature of new-tempered steel in one human being. With skills bordering on those of a dancer, he's played drums with [guitarist] Pat Metheny's Pat Metheny Group and Trio for four years, in addition to other stints with [pianist] Danilo Perez, [saxophonist] Michael Brecker, [bassist] Charlie Haden, [singer] Claudia Acuna and [singer] Luciana Souza among others.

Quiet-spoken yet intense, Sanchez took time during the IAJE Convention in January 2006 in New York City for this interview with All About Jazz.

All About Jazz: Thank you for meeting with me. What year were you born?

Antonio Sanchez: 1971, in Mexico City.

AAJ: Can you tell me a little about your background? How long were you there?

AS: I was there until I was 21. I then moved out of Mexico. I did all of my schooling over there pretty much. When I was 17, I enrolled in the National Conservatory to study classical piano. I did that for four-and-a-half years and then I moved to Boston when I was 21 to go to Berklee [Berklee College of Music in Boston] for four-and-a-half years. I then went to the New England Conservatory for an extra year. And that's all my schooling.

AAJ: That's quite a bit, actually. What were your musical influences growing up? Was it a musical household?

AS: Yes, definitely, I mean, I think I am a drummer and a musician because of my mother, even though nobody played anything at home. My grandfather is a very famous actor in Mexico, Ignacio Lopez Tarso. He's been in a million soaps and especially theater and movies.

So it's an artistic family and I've been around rehearsals and opening nights and things like that so the lingo at least was familiar to me. And I kind of liked that life. But I think the biggest lesson I learned was from my grandfather even though it wasn't in a direct fashion, was that you could make a living doing what you liked doing, and make a very good living, actually. My grandfather, as far back as I can recall was very well off, which wasn't always the case. But he's so good that he broke through. So that was one of the biggest lessons for me, to have the courage to go for it. My mother was from the Woodstock generation, so she's a rocker, she loves rock...we'd always be listening to Creem and Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and you know, Led Zeppelin.

AAJ: I noticed your ringer....[Sanchez's ringtone is the opening bars of "Kashmir by Led Zeppelin].

AS: Exactly, exactly. I love Led Zeppelin. So I was a rocker at heart and for a very long time. And I used to be in the rock circuit in Mexico and had a bunch of different rock bands. I used to be a songwriter, stuff like that. Then I started getting frustrated with the way things were going in terms of if you don't really have a charismatic singer, you really can't do anything much with your band. So we really couldn't get a hold of a charismatic singer, so I started thinking that if I'm not going to make it with a rock band I probably should start thinking about how I can make it on my own as a musician.

Rock is not like you can play with a number of different bands, there's usually a band and they stick together. It's not like, OK, now we're going to change drummers because we had the same one for two albums, they don't work that way. So I thought, well, if I get really good by myself, maybe people will call me just to get my skills on their album or for their concert or whatever. That led to jazz, so here I am.

AAJ: I've always been curious about, and I think other people have been too, truly, you can turn your back on you playing, and it sounds like a minimum of two drummers.

AS: [laughs] Hopefully playing in sync with each other...

AAJ: Yes, definitely. You really do seem to have extraordinary motor control. Did you go out of your way to train for that?

AS: Well, I don't know. I was probably pretty good at sports and gymnastics. I was on Mexico's National Gymnastics Team for a little while.

AAJ: Not many people can have all four appendages doing something different at the same time...

AS: [laughs again]Well, on the other hand, I have seen drummers who were fat and don't seem to care or work out, and they do the most amazing things, so it's very personal, how you're built, what your capabilities are.

AAJ: Definitely, although there's probably some natural talent in there as well.

AS: Well, I think that definitely might help.

AAJ: Do you compose now at all?

AS: I write, but I'm very shy. I play with such great composers and musicians, my music doesn't sound as evolved as what I would like to play, so I'm really a shy writer. But I do write and I want to do an album this year, hopefully. At least record some of my music.

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