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Fronteras Extra: Antonio Sanchez On Improvisation, Inspiration

Bógar Adame
Antonio Sanchez

Drummer Antonio Sanchez wrote and performed the music for the 2014 Oscar-winning film “Birdman,” directed by Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Sanchez has played with jazz fusion greats Pat Metheny and Chick Corea. He said he thrives on the improvisatory nature of this style of jazz, but he gets that some people don’t “get” improvisation.

“A lot of people think you’re just getting together and let’s see what happens,” he said. “Sometimes it is like that, but you usually have a framework to begin with.”

Credit Norma Martinez / Texas Public Radio
Antonio Sanchez's drum kit, photographed on state at San Antonio's Charline McCombs Empire Theatre.

Sanchez said he learned a lot about improvisation from his fellow musicians at Berklee College of Music.

“Playing with people who were better than me — that kicked my butt in many, many, many different ways — was incredibly helpful,” he said.

Sanchez calls improvising with a group of people “addictive.”

“If you put four or five people together — improvising at the same time — that are really listening to each other and reacting to each other, something really amazing can be created on the spot,” he said. “You feel the energy as a musician. The audience usually feels that spark as well.”

Sanchez compared good improvisation with watching athletes at the top of their game.

“When you go and see Keith Jarrett or Chick Corea or Pat Metheny, it’s like going to see Michael Jordan,” he said.

Sanchez says life's experiences influence his music.

Credit Geneviève Ruocco / www.flickr.com/people/daisybasie/
Antonio Sanchez performing with the Joshua Redman Trio.

Sanchez was born in Mexico, and as a Mexican musician, he has often been asked why he doesn’t play more music from his native culture.

“What is Mexican jazz?” he said.

Sanchez said his influences came from the whole spectrum of music.

“What I try to do nowadays is let the influences go wild,” he said. “I don’t try to reign in anything, and I don’t try to overexpose anything.

“To me, jazz is music with no rules.”

He said he can be influenced by whatever he’s listening to on the radio, and social and political issues also work their way into his music.

“I can’t create something that’s completely impervious to what’s going on in our society, in our politics, because it’s too important,” he said. “... Life and all the stuff that’s around you comes out in some different way, filtered through your psyche and your soul.”

Sanchez talks about the long, difficult path to U.S. citizenship.

Sanchez is now a U.S. citizen. He said it was a long, difficult process. Student visas are typically good for four years, except for students from certain countries in Africa and Latin America.

“I graduated and got my first work visa — an artist visa — that lasts three years but I had to renew my visas every 6 months,” he said. “Then, finally when I got the green card in 2006, that was the first time in 10 years I didn’t have to worry about it.”

Sanchez said he ran out of pages on his passport because of all the times he had to renew his visas. But after 10 years, he applied for citizenship.

“It came in the nick of time, right before Trump became president,” he laughed. “The timing was superb.”

Norma Martinez can be reached by email at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter @NormDog1

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1