Al Di Meola coming to Variety Playhouse

Interview: Jazz exposure in the U.S. has hit new bottom

Last week, jazz guitarist Al Di Meola said the demise of contemporary jazz radio stations had left him with a notion to make his current concert tour his last in this country. A few days later, “final U.S. tour” was added to his Web site.

Di Meola will perform with his acoustic band, World Sinfonia, at 8 p.m. Thursday at Variety Playhouse.

Today, Di Meola is known for his passionate musical style. He is also noted for playing electric guitar with Chick Corea’s jazz fusion group, Return to Forever, early in his career. Later, Argentine tango composer and bandoneón player Astor Piazzolla would greatly influence the guitarist, a composer himself.

Di Meola, 55, who splits time living in Bergen County, N.J., and Miami, talked with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about his love for his music.

Q: How did your heart land on playing the guitar?

A: It was the drums first. It’s probably what carries my rhythmic influence over to my guitar playing. I happened on the guitar [because] my older sister had friends that played the guitar. I’m a far better percussionist than a guitar player.

Q: Describe your style of rhythm when you play?

A: You have to connect to your center. We all have a heartbeat. If you have that natural, built-in clock that you are connecting to, then all the syncopations that you play have so much more meaning. I spent my years in school tapping on desks and practicing my foot with my hand work for the sole reason that I wanted to get good with rhythm, and to transfer it over to my way of playing.

Q: How have you managed your exposure with the decline of jazz radio stations?

A: I’ve been talking about the decline for 20 years. You think it can’t get worse and then it does. We’re mostly touring in Europe. That’s where our biggest audience is.

Q: How were you influenced by Astor Piazzolla and Chick Corea?

A: [Piazzolla] had this dream to hear me play my rendition of a piece he wrote called “Tango Suite.” When we finally did it after he passed, I knew I was connecting to a much more heartfelt and deeper level than that fusion [music] we were playing in the past.

[With Corea,] the rhythmic ability and sense of time that we were talking about earlier; he has it. His articulation factor is phenomenal. I was only with him two years when I was 19, but it was a powerful two years.

Concert preview

Al Di Meola and World Sinfonia

8 p.m. Thursday. $27.50, advance; $30, day of show. Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Ave., Atlanta. 404-524-7354, www.variety-playhouse.com .

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