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Antonio Sanchez: Conversations with the Music

By Published: June 15, 2006
AAJ: That's one thing I had noticed about your playing is that it was the closest thing in drumming I had heard yet that approached changes in pitch, it possesses a melodic line.

AS: Well, that's another thing, when I'm playing with Pat, since he's a very lyrical player, melody after melody after melody, so that playing with them, when it's my turn to play a solo, I'd just have all these melodies in my head and it would force me to play very melodically. It would make me shape ideas and especially, I'm very into big development. That's something that I like the most, soloing, improvising, storytelling. Pat is great at that. So I strive to be that way also when I'm playing; just myself or with someone else.

AAJ: What is the meaning of music? Why do we do what we do? Why is this important to us?

AS: Just to lift your spirit, that is the sole purpose of music, I think. Music can completely change the way you feel in a second. For me, anyway—and to be involved in the making of music, that makes it even stronger. I can probably say that the only time that I am not thinking about anything else is when I'm playing—I get into a zone that, for example, if something really bad just happened, you know, like an hour ago? I start playing and I get so immersed in it, I just forget about it. When I'm done playing, maybe I'll remember it, but I'm just there, in that space, and I love that.

AAJ: This is a recurring theme because it's common to a lot of different endeavors. This one is tough—can you describe "The Zone for me? Can you elaborate on that?

AS: To me, it varies a lot, there's not just one zone. It depends on the night, it depends on many factors. For me to be able to get into the zone that I want to get to—everything's flowing, my body is flowing, my hearing is flowing, the equipment is flowing, the sound is flowing, the audience is flowing, it's just magical. And if you want to be honest, usually all of these things don't happen all at the same time. Something goes wrong, there's a train wreck and you've got to recover from it.

There are times I don't feel in sync with myself, like when I try and go for something, just my body doesn't want to go there in the way that I'm hearing it. So then there are all these obstacles that you're fighting all the time while you're playing, how well you can fight them varies a lot depending on how much you can concentrate and get in that zone. But to get to that zone is incredibly hard.

AAJ: From my experience, it is a mindset that you cannot desire, you have to get to a completely desire-less place.

AS: Exactly. Kind of like meditating, you have to kind of empty yourself, and then let yourself get filled up with whatever's going on. I remember, especially playing with Danilo, I was younger and very eager to show that I could play. So a lot of times, I would force things to happen on the bandstand and something would just not click. And then slowly I started relaxing, trying to let the music guide where we had to go. That's exactly when the best moments were. You're like an empty vessel and you're just letting yourself be guided by the higher power in that moment, that is music.

AAJ: Yes. Do you meditate?

AS: No. But I know a bunch of people that do. I've tried it, I just don't think that I...

AAJ: Well, from what you're describing, I think you do, but it's within the music.

AS: Well, yeah, probably. I think anybody needs a release of some sort in their lives. A lot of people are very wound up and haven't found what that release is, and I think musicians are very lucky because they get to release all their own negative things that they might have into something very noble. You may not think of it that way, but I love doing this thing that is very intangible, but it just makes you feel better for some reason.

AAJ: OK, let's pick an optimal night, you're in The Zone, and so is everyone else. What is happening?

AS: It's just a synergy of energy. It's everyone's energy coming together somehow. I think that's when the best music happens, and you can never tell when that's going to happen. You might feel great when you get out on the bandstand and all of a sudden, "Oh my God, this feels so weird . On some other night you're tired, you don't feel like playing and all of a sudden, boom, everything starts flowing effortlessly. And I think that's the never-ending search. Searching for something that you have felt and you're always striving for it but it doesn't always come.

But that's really good, because that's what makes you very humble. I can play my ass off—I'm going to show them that night—and the music definitely teaches you a lesson. When you go into it feeling that way, it's either not very musical or you can't make it happen because you're forcing yourself.

AAJ: The door locks somehow...

AS: Exactly. You have to separate yourself from your ego, you know, just let it flow.

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