Antonio Sanchez performs live for 'Birdman' screening at Annenberg (Philadelphia Inquirer)

November 17, 2016

By Shaun Brady


Antonio Sanchez performs live for 'Birdman' screening at Annenberg

Long before Antonio Snchez composed the sound track for Alejandro Gonzlez Irritus Oscar-winning film Birdman, Irritu provided the sound track for Snchezs life. The young drummer spent countless hours during his teenage years listening to the future filmmaker spin records on Mexico City radio station WFM-FM.

Unknowingly, I was a big fan, Snchez recalled last week from his home in Queens. I loved the music they played, but I wasnt too aware of who was doing it until Alejandro and [Irritus sound editor] Martn Hernndez started doing a nightly show called Magic Nights, where they played a little more sophisticated music.

It was on that program that Snchez first heard the Pat Metheny Group, helping to set him on the path that eventually led him to become the guitarists drummer of choice for the last 15 years.

The two will next play together in the area Jan. 21, when Snchez will anchor a new Metheny-led quartet with bassist Linda Oh and pianist Gwilym Simcock at the Keswick Theatre.

The connection came full circle when Irritu met Snchez backstage at a Metheny gig in 2005, sparking a friendship that culminated when Irritu had the offbeat idea to score his audacious new film, Birdman, about a washed-up actor (played by Michael Keaton) making a desperate comeback bid on Broadway, with a solo drum-kit sound track. Snchezs boundless imagination made him the ideal candidate, even though hed never even considered composing for movies before.

As a drummer, the last thing I was thinking about was film scoring, Snchez said. When Alejandro called me, I was elated and terrified at the same time. I really had no idea how to pull this off, but I had complete trust in his judgment. Just knowing that he was going to be the captain of the ship, I knew it was going to be fun. And it was.

It was also highly acclaimed, earning Snchez best original score nominations at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs, though the Academy Awards (which ultimately handed Birdman statues for 2015s best picture, best director, best original screenplay, and best cinematography), disqualified Sanchezs score on a frustrating technicality regarding the balance of his drums and preexisting classical music.

If they would have just let me go into the field and play and I lost, thats fine, Snchez said. What I dont get is these weird, archaic rules that they apply when they want, but dont enforce them when they dont. But its not something that I lost too much sleep over. Its not like Ive been pining my whole life to get an Oscar, and all the publicity that came out because of the elimination probably helped more than a nomination would have.

That might be true, as the innovative score has taken on a life of its own since the films release. Snchez will perform live with the film at the Annenberg Center on Saturday, though dont expect to hear the same music that accompanied Birdman on screen. The spirit of what we did in the original movie was a lot about improvisation, about playing in an organic way and a visceral style, and I want to keep that spirit alive. So I improvise probably 90 percent of what Im playing. Im very careful that Im serving the movie and that I try to achieve the dramatic effect that we did originally, but its completely different from what Ive done before and what Im going to do in future performances.

Though the experience of improvising live to a fixed image is vastly different from playing with other musicians, Snchez likens his Birdman concerts to touring with a working band. Its kind of like working with the same people every night, but they're on screen and doing their own thing, he said. But Birdman is one of those movies that has a lot of levels, so every time I see it, I focus on something different and discover something different. Like a good record that has a lot of depth, you have to listen to it a bunch in order to really appreciate whats going on.

Antonio Snchez: "Birdman Live," 8 p.m. Saturday, Zellerbach Theatre, Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut St. Tickets: $25. Information: 215-898-3900,