Antonio Sanchez Q&A: ‘Birdman’ composer
Antonio Sanchez is a Grammy-winning jazz musician, but "Birdman" is his first-ever film score, and it's quite a unique score at that: it consists entirely of drums. "[Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu] was looking for something more spontaneous, improvised, jazzy if you will," said Sanchez in our recent video chat. "He said, 'You're a jazz musician, I want you to do what you do.'"
Sanchez had already known Inarritu for years when the director asked him to score the film. He used to listen to Inarritu when the future filmmaker was a radio deejay, and they met years later after a show where Sanchez had played with the Pat Metheny Group. "I was actually a little annoyed because I wanted to go to my dressing room because I was all sweaty and stuff, and this guy would not stop talking to me," he remembers of their first encounter, but then he realized, "Oh my God, you're Alejandro!"
Composing a drum score felt natural for Sanchez, who considers it an especially versatile instrument: "Drums have a very wide range, I think, of expressiveness, because it can be as soft as any instrument or it can completely bury any other instrument. In the studio, on stage, the drums have a lot of power. So to convey that kind of anarchy of the mind and anxiousness, it wasn't hard … you can make it sound really like if a kitchen was falling down the stairs, basically, and at times that's what seems to be happening in [main character] Riggan's mind."
If a feature film scored entirely with drums is unusual, even more so is the fact that Sanchez's work on "Birdman" coincides with another Oscar-hopeful this season that's all about jazz drumming: "Whiplash." "Jazz musicians in general, we get so little of the pie that the fact that there's two films the same year that heavily feature drums is just unheard of," said Sanchez of the coincidence. "It's like a perfect storm. I don't know if it's ever going to happen again."
He doesn't know yet whether he will continue to compose film scores, but he's open to the possibility. "If there's another director that feels like I could do a good job with their film, I would love to do it of course," he said. It's possible he'll soon find himself in demand judging from his early awards buzz – and he's a winner already this season. "I was in L.A. recently for the HMMAs, the Hollywood Music in Media Awards … and I was against Hans Zimmer ['Interstellar'] and other guys that are very well established in the industry, and I happened to win … It was pretty wild."