Al Di Meola, America's Best Guitarist
Al Di Meola
There is no doubt in my mind concerning the question, who is the greatest living American guitarist? It's Al Di Meola, all day long, and every day of the week. No, Al Di Meola is NOT my favorite guitarist, American, or otherwise. I do not make the statement that Al Di Meola is the greatest American guitarist lightly, nor do I make that statement out of being a fan of his. I'm not a huge Al Di Meola fan, but I do have several recordings of his, and I do enjoy listening to them. None of those are nearly my favorite records, compact disks, or anything like that.
So why is it, you may wonder, that I consider him the greatest guitarist that ever came from the United States of America, Canada, or even Mexico? Very simple, Al Di Meola can play things that very few other artists are capable of playing. His technical ability is astounding, and goes far, far beyond merely the ability to "shred," i.e., that fad of playing a million notes per second. In addition to his near untouchable technical prowess, Al Di Meola, like any great artists of any artistic endeavor, has created his own, instantly recognizable artistic features, and in this case, of course, it's his sound.
Eric Clapton is one person who, it doesn't matter how many people, and there are probably millions, who try to emulate Clapton; when I hear Eric Clapton playing guitar on the radio, I instantly know that it's, in fact, Eric Clapton. I do not need to hear Clapton sing at all to recognize his music, and I do not have to have ever heard the song being played. I just KNOW Eric Clapton when I hear his music. Al Di Meola is just like that, but completely different. He sounds nothing like Eric Clapton, or any other guitarist that ever lived.
Let Me Tell You A Secret About Music
It's always so surprising to me that as a young redneck into rock and roll, I actually thought for a minute or two what so many under-educated folk actually believe; that Jimi Hendrx was really the greatest guitarist that ever lived. Nothing could be further from the truth. I do realize that what makes music great, or what great music is is primarily a matter of opinion, but there are definitely degrees and levels of quality and originality in music. People like Jimi Hendrix, James Patrick 'Jimmy' Page, and Jeff Beck were, or are certainly wonderful musicians and guitarists; but if one were to factor in originality, technical ability, and not popularity into their subjective ideals concerning musicianship; then those guys could never, and will never match up to someone like Al Di Meola.
When thinking about business, everyone knows location is a key factor in a given business' success. Timing is also very important in business; and perhaps, nowadays, with the advent of the net, location is not so important. Well, in music, timing is everything, and I'm not talking about the time in which a record debuts, I'm talking about the notes being played.
The primary factor determining what makes you feel a song, or a beat within a song is the location withing the song's dynamics of the notes being played by whichever type of musician is performing on any given record. Notes can be played within the beat, or time signature of a song, and they can also be played against the beat, or time signature of a given piece of music. When notes are played against the beat of a song, they seem to be special, or more notable to your ears, whether you've realized this consciously, or not. This phenomenon, and technique of playing notes against a beat, or even slightly out of time, is called syncopation.
There is no possible way that I could explain timing and syncopation as well as Al can. If you watch the video below, then maybe you'll see some of what I'm talking about.
Al Di Meola and The Nuances of Timing
Jazz, and Fusion
When you're Al Di Meola, you get talked about a lot, and in most any magazine concerning guitars, acoustic or electric. Al can play either as well as anyone, and there really are some very significant differences in technique concerning playing acoustic and electric guitar. Mr. Di Meola, and his powerful technique master all.
As the story goes, Al, growing up in New Jersey, had joined some rock and roll band as a teen, but was kicked out of the band, as he sounded nothing like Peter Green, or Jeff Beck, or anyone else who was then famous. Can you imagine that? What a poor eye for talent that band had. I'm willing to bet the farm that that little group never left the ground, never recorded anything that anyone wanted to hear twice, and forever curses their immaturity.
A thing which bothers me is when someone says something which seems to suggest being a musician isn't really work. Facts are, to be a professional musician you are required to spend every bit as much time and energy developing your craft as any professional or Olympic athlete. You have to dedicate your life to music in the same way a pro baseball player or football player has to dedicate his life to the sport.
As a general rule, rock music and country music are often very simple forms of music. Some groups or bands, or even solo artists employee greater degrees of complexity than others. Jazz music, however, is typically one of the more complex forms of music there is. Fusion, if possible, is even more complicated, as it is Jazz mixed with practically any or all other forms of music found across the world. Al Di Meola has made his name as a jazz fusion artist, and he's incorporated many a genre from across the globe into his highly complex playing; but none more than he has the many forms of Latin music.
As a prototypical Caucasian, it's sort of demeaning; but the truth of the stereotype is real. Latin and African rhythms are often much more complicated than those common and waltz time signature tunes. Al Di Meola, like another fine artists, Paul Simon, isn't the least bit afraid of attempting to work within such musical formats. It's no stretch at all to say that either of those two have mastered them, as much as can be the case for anyone
Paul Simon, no slouch of a guitarist himself, featuring Al Di Meola on one of his solo records; specifically, the song "Allergies," from the 1983 album called Hearts and Bones .
The Super Trio, from Friday Night In San Francisco
The Super Trio
Perhaps the greatest single guitar album ever produced, Friday Night In San Francisco , by the Super trio of Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, and Paco De Lucia, is a beautiful, and exceedingly complex live piece that furthers the efforts, and expands on the album by those same three that was called, simply, Super Trio .
This is complex music, created by absolute masters of a very difficult instrument, an instrument that requires a lifetime of commitment in order to play. It's easy to see that with the Super Trio, you have not only the single greatest guitarist to have ever come out of the Americas, in Al Di Meola, but you also have the single greatest guitarist that ever was produced by the United Kingdom, in John McLaughlin. Paco De Lucia, it has been said, is the most advanced guitarist in the entire world, and maybe that is true, and if it is true, then it's beyond question that he is Spain's greatest guitar gift to the world, and also, the highest living and breathing expression of Spain's wonderful, and complex form of traditional music, Flamenco. It's also no small wonder that the trio, in the kick off song of the live album, perform an Al Di Meola composition known as Mediterranean Sun Dance
Al Di Meola
Al Di Meola is apparently ageless
Al Di Meola was born on July 22, 1954; but the man has absolutely failed to age a day since the mid 1980s. It's phenomenal, really, and I only wish that I understood it. I'm completely serious here, look at him! Look at his videos, and look at the freaking dates on them. Hehas apparently failed to age.. I don't get it, but my conclusions are playing the guitar between six to ten hours every single day, and learning complex Latin rhythms must simply put, be the fabled fountain of youth. Al Di Meola, besides being one of the world's greatest musicians, seems to be a timeless physical specimen.
Everyone has heard the old axiom concerning a sound mind within a sound body, well, we also know that keeping the old brain fresh, learning new things, etc, helps to preserve the abilities of the mind as an individual ages. Al certainly keeps his music evolving, but the man tours constantly, so jet lag, and airplane food can't be too bad for you. Perhaps the exhilaration that comes from performing well, and live, has never lost it's effects upon Al. Maybe he's just the happiest man in the world? I have not a clue, but I do know that he is the single greatest guitarist to have ever come out of the Americas, and I hope that this little presentation here has opened some eyes and ears for those of you who had not heard of the greatness that is Al Di Meola.
I've only scratched the surface here, but you should know that music is for all of us to enjoy, and me not being able to perform on the level of, or anywhere near that of someone like Al Di Meola should not in the least discourage anyone of any age from picking up a guitar, or any musical instrument. Musicianship is perhaps the most rewarding art that one can dedicate some of their limited time here on Earth to. I simply can not encourage anyone enough to turn off the damn television, radio, and all of the crap that mass media wants to program your mind with; and to find some honest, art form of real value, and lose yourself in thoughts and imagination that you'd never known of before. Peace out.
© 2010 Wesman Todd Shaw