The four-time Grammy winner comes to Seattle.

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Did you see this year’s Oscar-winning film “Birdman”?

If so, you probably noticed that the score was almost entirely percussion.

All those anxiety-producing clicks and free-jazz pyrotechnics were created by one of the most brilliant drummers in jazz, four-time Grammy-winner Antonio Sanchez, who brings his quintet to Jazz Alley two nights starting Tuesday (June 30).

Concert preview

Antonio Sanchez Migration

7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, June 30 and July 1, at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, 2033 Sixth Ave., Seattle; $28.50 (206-441-9729 or

Mostly familiar to Pat Metheny fans, for whom he has played 15 years, Sanchez said in a phone interview from New York that “Birdman” director Alejandro González Iñárritu was specifically looking for a drum score.

“Because the film was a dark comedy, he had the idea that comedy and percussion were similar — because in comedy, timing is everything,” said Sanchez, who speaks in complete sentences as carefully constructed as his music.

Sanchez already knew of Iñárritu before working on the film, because the 44-year-old drummer had grown up in Mexico City, where the director was once a popular DJ who “played the hippest music in Mexico City.”

Back in those days, Sanchez was an aspiring rock drummer studying classical piano at Mexico’s National Conservatory. But after one of his teachers recommended him for Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nations Orchestra, rock and classical took a back seat to jazz. In 1993, Sanchez headed north to the Berklee College of Music in Boston and later earned a master’s degree from the New England Conservatory.

While an obscure Motion Picture Academy rule (15 II-E) made Sanchez’s score ineligible for an Oscar (because it also contained classical music), it was nominated for a Golden Globe and snagged a slew of critical awards.

But Sanchez’s current focus is his expansive, 100-minute plus, “The Meridian Suite,” which his Migration band recently issued on CD and will perform in its entirety each night at the Alley.


Unfolding in five movements, the work started life as a thick, dissonant two-chord figure that came to Sanchez three years ago in a situation that also inspired its title.

“I was in Meridian, Mississippi, on tour with Pat Metheny,” he recalled. “I programmed [the theme] into my computer and named the file ‘Meridian.’ Two years later, I wanted to write more for my band and I remembered there was this thing that I liked, so I went into my computer and found I still liked it.”

With its layered polymeters, jazz-rock episodes and urban intensity, “Meridian” arises very much from Sanchez’s voice and experience but also shows the influence of Metheny in its deft management of long form. (Sanchez played on the guitarist’s masterpiece, “The Way Up”).

Of course, the players in Migration — the brilliant, gritty-toned Vancouver, B.C.-bred Seamus Blake (tenor saxophone); Thana Alexa (vocals, often wordless); John Escreet (piano, Fender Rhodes) and Matt Brewer (acoustic and electric bass) — make all the difference. It will be well worth a trek to the Alley to hear them play this piece.