I first became aware of Al Di Meola as a teen. I'd spent hours trying to learn riffs from '70s rockers, and thought I'd heard everything the guitar could do. And then, a late December evening, I turned on the TV, scrolled through our 3 channels, found nothing, and switched to the local PBS station before giving up....only to see 3 men holding guitars on stage. What I witnessed (the concert that would become "Friday Night in San Fransisco" - see video below) was earth-shattering and mind-blowing and took me a long time to get my head around. I'd never seen anyone do what they did. Never heard anyone make those glorious sounds. The influence changed my life.
Al Di Meola has been having this effect on listeners for decades.
From his early Grammy winning work with Return to Forever (alongside legends Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White) to his electric-based solo albums, to his explosion into acoustic music, to his collaborations with everyone from flamenco god Paco DeLucia to classical legend Liona Boyd, to "jazz princess" Aziza Mustafa Zadeh to progressive rock keyboard master Derek Sherinian to his "Rite of Strings" with bassist Stanley Clarke and fusion violinist Jean Luc Ponty to so many more, Di Meola has been a trail-blazing musician and guitarist for 40 years.
With 2 new albums out (a live 2017 collection "Morocco Fantasia" and 2018 studio work "Opus"), Al Di Meola hasn't even begun to slow down.
Find him on-line HERE!
I had a chance to speak with Mr. Di Meola recently. Check it out!
1) What are your current projects? In between touring currently Europe , Russia , the U.S. in June and then South America in July I am recording a Piazzolla vol 2 collection of his work rearranged. Also will begin a Beatles vol 2 and a Soundtrack tribute record.
2) How does this (do these) differ from your past work?
My last 2 record releases were of my original compositions as of now I’m focused on some work of earlier influential writers that I could re arrange in my way.
3) Do you have one project that you are most proud of as a guitarist?
“All Your Life” tribute to the Beatles, Elegant Gypsy, Cielo e Terra, Infinite Desire, and the new one “Opus “!
4) Can you give our readers a run-down of your basic gear (live and/or studio), and do you have a favorite piece of gear?
On electric I switch between a guitar Paul Smith made himself designed for me and one of several chunky Les Pauls all combined through a sophisticated pedal board routed through a custom Fuchs amplifier.
For Acoustic I play mostly the Conde Hermanos signature Al Di model and a 1982 Cypress top Conde
I recently had made for me a Sharpach cutaway Acoustic !
5) Who would you cite as early influences, and who are you favorite new players?
My guitar teacher introduced me to the world of the old school jazz players like Barney Kessal and Howard Roberts and Tal Farlow but given all that influence it was a time in the 60’s where guys like Hendrix , Clapton, Clarence White, Jerry Garcia, etc etc were exploding and the music as pure incredible music greatly influenced like the Beatles , Stones , and the Byrds, The Who, Zepplin.
It was music that was new and exciting then as it remains today!
6) Can you give a few tips to aspiring players?
Listen and copy your influences and always focus on keeping good time! That is number one!
7) You are well-known among guitar players for your stellar technique. But you are equally well-known for your musicality and the highest level of emotional depth in your playing (not to mention your compositions, which we'll get to shortly). How do you balance those factors in performance and practice?
I literally tell myself it’s time to turn into this other person inside! So I basically mentally prepare for it.
8) Compositionally, your harmonic structures and melodic lines are not only gorgeous, but complex. But unlike many guitarists, your rhythmic approach seems off the charts in its sophistication. Can you speak briefly to that focus on rhythmic elements?
The Rhythm factor in my music is first and foremost. I’m a percussionist minded person first and really feel it’s the rhythm that pulls listeners in first before the melody.
The basis of all my compositions is based on a syncopated arpeggiated pattern through a specific harmony usually with an overlaid counterpoint also rhythmically syncopated differently as either a melodic pattern or another harmonic support arpeggio
9) Your career has seen you as band leader, solo artist, and sideman, and you seem to have spent as much time in studios across the globe as on concert stages. Do you have a favorite role on stage or studio?
It’s both essential and satisfying in different ways
I have a studio in the house so it’s great to wake up and roll into the studio!
The road is where you grow and get better as a musician ! For sure! All musicians craft their work on the road I believe! Then the audience acceptance and the depth at which they connect to what they hear is another reason why we do it
10) From Berklee straight to Return to Forever where you recorded 3 critically & commercially successful albums (including the Grammy winning "No Mystery") to 4 stunning solo albums (including the gold album "Elegant Gypsy") before your collaboration on one of the best live albums in history (1981's "Friday Night in San Francisco") on to 20 more live and studio albums, over a half dozen other collaborative albums (like to ground-breaking & chart-topping albums "Rite of Strings" and "Guitar Trio") to guest appearances with legends as diverse as Stanley Jordan and Liona Boyd and Paul Simon...and this really only touches on some highlights. I could go on and on. All this in mind, what do you see as the Al DiMeola legacy?
It’s now become where I can say without hesitation that I’ve amassed a pretty substantial body of work! I am proud of it and I feel it’s being acknowledged during these times rather well!