Dr. Al Di Meola, USAMAGIC SONG 2021
Al Di Meola is one of the world’s most acclaimed and accomplished guitarists and jazz musicians. His ongoing fascination with complex rhythmic syncopation, provocative lyrical melodies, and sophisticated harmonies has been at the heart of his music throughout a celebrated career spanning almost five decades. Al is a four-time winner of the “Best Jazz Guitarist” award from the reader poll of Guitar Player magazine, and has won countless other awards for his legendary performances and recordings. He received the pinnacle of these awards - the coveted Miles Davis Award - in 2015, for helping jazz to grow as a genre while maintaining an ever-increasing audience for his work..
Al has created and recorded 25 albums as a band leader, while also collaborating on dozens of other albums with the world’s greatest musicians. Some of his signature collaborations include:
● The legendary fusion supergroup Return to Forever (with keyboardist Chick Corea, bassist Stanley Clarke, and drummer Lenny White);
● The celebrated acoustic Guitar Trio featuring fellow virtuosos John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia; and
● The Rite of Strings trio with bassist Clarke and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty.
While his dazzling technique on both acoustic and electric guitars has afforded him regal status among the hordes of fretboard fanatics who regularly flock to his concerts, the depth of Al’s writing - along with the soulfulness and the inherent lyricism of his guitaristic expression - has won him legions of fans worldwide and expanded the audience for his music well beyond the guitar aficionados for whom he is a living legend.
Even his origin story has become a classic. In 1972, Al enrolled at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and by the second semester there he began playing in a fusion quartet led by keyboardist Barry Miles. In 1974, a gig tape of that band was passed on to Chick Corea by a friend of Al's, and seemingly out of the blue, the 19-year-old guitarist was tapped to join Corea’s fusion supergroup Return to Forever as a replacement for guitarist Bill Connors. After three landmark recordings with Return to Forever -- 1974's “Where Have I Known You Before,” 1975's “No Mystery” (which won Al and the band a Grammy Award) and 1976's “Romantic Warrior” -- the group disbanded, and Al took the opportunity to launch his career as a solo artist.
His 1976 debut as a leader, “Land of the Midnight Sun,” was a blazing showcase of his signature chops and Latin-tinged compositions. His band featured a stellar cast of prominent jazz musicians, including drummers Steve Gadd and Lenny White, bassists Anthony Jackson and Jaco Pastorius, keyboardists Jan Hammer, Barry Miles and Chick Corea, and percussionist Mingo Lewis. Over the next several years, Al recorded six more albums with Columbia Records – “Elegant Gypsy,” “Casino,” “Splendido Hotel,” “Electric Rendezvous,” “Tour De Force” and “Scenario” – and established himself as an influential force in contemporary music.
1980 marked the triumph of the acoustic Guitar Trio - Al Di Meola, Paco De Lucia, and John McLaughlin. Their debut recording on Columbia Records - “Friday Night in San Francisco” - became a landmark recording that surpassed the four million mark in album sales. The three virtuosos in the trio toured together from 1980 through 1983, releasing the studio album “Passion, Grace & Fire” in 1982. In 1995, they reunited for a third recording, “Guitar Trio,” followed by another triumphant world tour. In between, Al recorded and released a string of critically acclaimed solo recordings, including the breakthrough “Kiss My Axe,” which was named Best Jazz Guitar LP by Guitar Player magazine and connected a whole new generation of music fans to Al’s unique style of music.
During this period, Al won numerous awards that recognized the towering influence of his work. In 1981, Al was inducted into Guitar Player’s Gallery of Greats after five consecutive wins as Best Jazz Guitarist in the magazine’s annual Readers Poll - not to mention having repeatedly won the magazine’s awards for Best Album and Best Acoustic Guitarist, for a record total of eleven wins. In 1982, Al, along with John McLaughlin and Paco DeLucia, received the Thomas A. Edison award in Holland for their magnificent, innovative recording of “Friday Night in San Francisco.” That same year, Al was inducted into Guitar Player magazine’s Gallery of Greats, and he also received an award for Outstanding Merit from the City of Atlanta. At this point in time, there was no question - Al Di Meola was a tour de force as a guitar player, composer, and band leader, and he was making his mark on the music industry by attracting legions of new fans to jazz music.
In early 1996, Al formed a new trio with violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and former Return to Forever bandmate Stanley Clarke called “The Rite of Strings.” Their self-titled debut album was released in 1995. In the years that followed, Al recorded with artists at the top of the music industry across every genre, from opera superstar Luciano Pavarotti to pop star Paul Simon, classical guitarist Manuel Barrueco, and Italian pop star Pino Daniele. He worked on an ever-increasing list of prominent projects and recorded with top talent such as Phil Collins, Carlos Santana, Steve Winwood, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Milton Naciemento, Egberto Gismonti, Stevie Wonder, Les Paul, Jimmy Page, Steve Vai, Frank Zappa, and Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba.
Fittingly, in July 2018, Al received the Honorary Doctorate Degree of Music from his former alma mater Berklee School of Music - bringing his career full circle from when a friend sent that gig tape to Chick Corea back in 1974.
The heart of Al Di Meola’s nearly 50-year acclaimed career in music continues to beat vibrantly in his latest Ear Music release in March 2020. “Across the Universe” brings Al’s virtuosic arrangements and creative interpretations to 14 classic Beatles songs, transforming these well-known tunes with lightning-speed electric guitar orchestrations and lavish acoustic arrangements that will bring the audience’s love for these tunes - and for Al’s music - to a whole new level.