Antonio Sanchez fondly recalls an inadvertent compliment he received years ago. Scheduled to accompany the legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden at New York’s Village Vanguard nightclub, Sanchez was warned beforehand that Haden harbored a particular distaste for loud drummers. Sanchez took heed.
“I started out playing with brushes, then little by little I started playing more with sticks,” Sanchez says. “After a couple of nights, (Haden) asked, ‘Can you please play louder?’ That was one of nicest compliments I ever got.
Sanchez’s anecdote speaks volumes about him and his musicianship. Most drummers can play explosively, but precious few can play quietly and maintain emotional intensity. But Sanchez takes the art of jazz drumming to glorious new heights, playing not only the skins and cymbals, but also incorporating cowbells, wood blocks, plastic Jam Blocks and more. “Sanchez can play combustible figures in an array of styles,” Downbeat Magazine wrote in 2002, “but what is most impressive is his ability to burn gracefully at low volume.”
Sanchez makes no secret of his adoration for percussion. “With a lot of instruments, you’re stuck with a (limited number of tones), but the drums have so many textures and sounds,” Sanchez said. “I really like to exploit that when I play a kit. That has become my voice over the years—to have that sound, whether I’m playing Latin, or jazz, or funk.”
Sanchez’s mastery of dynamics has made him one of the most in-demand drummers in contemporary jazz. A member of both the Pat Metheny Group and the Pat Metheny Trio, Sanchez has also performed and recorded with Toots Thielemans, Gary Burton, Michael Brecker and more. Sanchez regularly collaborates with some of the most prominent names in modern jazz, including Joshua Redman, Paquito D’Rivera, Dianne Reeves, John Patitucci and Marcus Roberts, to name a distinguished few.
Sanchez’s extraordinary sensitivity is evident on his 2007 debut studio album “Migration.” Featuring compositions and guest appearances by Pat Metheny and Chick Corea, the album impressed critics with its absorbing songs and performances. Sanchez’s latest album, “Live in New York at Jazz Standard,” is a two-disc set that finds the drummer revisiting many of the tunes off “Migration.”
“I’m really happy with the results,” Sanchez says of the CD set. “When you do a studio CD with jazz musicians, it’s like a sample of what you can do live. Performing live is when you really stretch and improvise. Some of the songs from my studio record were maybe 6-7 minutes. On the live album, those same songs are 18-20 minutes. We’re really stretching and trying to reach the heights within the tunes.”