Composer Antonio Sánchez Hosts Birdman Screening at Empire Theater, Keeps Improvisation At Center 

  • Columbia Artists Music

“I’m not as crazy as him,” composer and jazz percussionist Antonio Sánchez said when asked if there are any similarities between him and the main character portrayed by actor Michael Keaton in the 2014 dark dramedy Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). In the film, Keaton’s manic character spends a lot of time pacing around deep inside a Broadway theater.

Now Sánchez, who composed the percussion-only score for filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Oscar-winning film, finds himself, like Keaton’s character, backstage in theaters across the country waiting to perform his extraordinary Birdman soundtrack live on stage. The film plays simultaneously for the audience as he drums.

“I’m going a little crazy, but not that much,” Sánchez says. “I do love the bowels of the theater though.”

Sánchez will get to explore the inside of San Antonio’s Empire Theatre when he makes a stop Friday, April 13, for his Birdman Live tour. The Current caught up with Sánchez to talk about the Birdman tour and his 2017 album Bad Hombre.

What has your experience been playing the score for Birdman live for audiences?
It’s such a different experience for me and for filmgoers and concertgoers because it’s like a combination of a concert and a movie. The energy is automatically different having somebody on stage performing live. It’s a trip to sit on my drums and play in front of a bunch of people just by myself backing this incredible movie.

You’ve performed this score countless times. Since the original score was always meant to be improvised, does each audience get a different version?
Every performance is unique. I always tell a story at the beginning of how I got involved with the film and how this all came to be. I also say that what I’m going to perform this night in particular is completely different than any other night because the spirit of what we wanted to achieve in the movie is improvisation — it was organic. I want to stay true to that spirit but I also want to stay true to the dramatic effect that we achieved in the movie. I have guidelines that I am very faithful to, but I improvise within those quite a bit.

As a composer, how do you tell a story using only percussion?
You can create a lot of tension without spelling out exactly what it is that you want to portray. If you have strings and a piano and an orchestra, it’s a lot easier to spoon feed you what [you think] it is that the scene is about. When it’s just drums and percussion, it’s a lot more subjective.

Why do you think your work on the score didn’t automatically lead to more work in Hollywood?
If you hear [the Birdman score], you’re not going to think, “Oh, this guy would be great to score my movie with a full orchestra.” I have done a couple of films. One was a British film called The Hippopotamus and another one was a Spanish film — a political documentary (Politics, Instructions Manual). There is talk of a couple more films. I want to do more, and I’ve been working hard trying to make people aware that I can do a lot more than just play drums.

Talk a bit about the album you released late last year, Bad Hombre.
It’s a very experimental project, but it’s been a lot of fun to do. It’s also a reflection of what’s going on right now in our country. I realize I have a lot of issues and anger and frustration with what’s happening, especially since I became an American citizen [in October 2016]. I was very proud to become an American citizen. Then, all this stuff started happening. It’s not this country’s proudest moment. It’s a little bit conflicting having become a citizen right at that moment, but I feel because I am an American citizen now, it is my duty to fight for what’s right.

How do you get political with percussion?
One of the songs on the album opens with a mariachi band and my grandfather telling tales about the Mexican Revolution with me playing drums in the background. I try to portray some of the aspects that I feel are relevant to what is going on and some of the rhetoric Trump has used towards Mexicans and Latinos and minorities. I have a tune called “The Crossing,” which is very dark. I immediately imagined a family trying to cross the border in the middle of the night. So it alludes to some of these feelings I have inside me since [Trump took office].

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