Stellar guitarist Al Di Meola comes back for a four-date Israeli tour

Di Meola has been playing his guitar, across a broad range of styles and genres, for close to five decades now.

 AL DI MEOLA has been playing his guitar across a broad range of styles and genres. (photo credit: Alexander Mertsch)
AL DI MEOLA has been playing his guitar across a broad range of styles and genres.
(photo credit: Alexander Mertsch)

Al Di Meola has been there and done that, and, as audiences up and down the country will soon get to see and hear, he is still doing it.

Di Meola has been playing his guitar, across a broad range of styles and genres, for close to five decades now. He has mixed it with top jazz cats, stellar Latin music artists and others of all kinds of ethnic ilks

But the evergreen 67-year-old American musician is probably best known for his Spanish-oriented material and, most prominently, for his landmark interface with fellow instrumentalists John McLaughlin and Paco De Lucia. The trio’s 1980 release, Friday Night in San Francisco, became a landmark recording and was an enormous hit across the globe. “It sold 7 million records,” Di Meola exclaims with undisguised – and full deserved – pride. Back in the day, the album well and truly knocked everyone off their socks. No instrumental guitar recording until then, or since, had racked up such impressive sales figures. 

In the intervening four-plus decades there have been all sorts of rumors about a follow-up release in the pipeline. Now it is no longer an industry secret, with Saturday Night in San Francisco, naturally recorded at the same West Coast venue on the morrow, due out on July 1. The man is well and truly psyched. “I’ve never felt a buzz like this about anything,” he says. “I can’t wait.” No doubt it will be worth hanging on for a few more weeks to hear what the threesome got up to the next day.

As Di Meola and I are in the same age bracket I wasn’t looking for any prizes for guessing that he, too, grew up with the sounds of the Fab Four in his young ears. 

Al Di Meola 248.88 (credit: Courtesy)Al Di Meola 248.88 (credit: Courtesy)

“Not a day goes by without me hearing about or listening to The Beatles,” he says. “The Beatles are always part of our lives.”

The youngster got into the Liverpudlian band’s music with a little help from a sibling. 

“As a nine-year-old kid, when my sister came home with the first Beatles record, that transformed me. I loved it. And then, shortly afterwards, they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show [in February 1964].” The broadcast was watched by a then-record 73 million viewers. “It was just explosive!” Di Meola’s die was cast. “A lot of kids in my generation started playing music because of The Beatles.”

Years later he had a rendezvous with one of his idols. 

“I got to meet [legendary Beatles producer] George Martin and we chatted,” Di Meola happily recalls. “I got to sit backstage with him and I talked to him about what The Beatles meant to me. That was great.”

Di Meola has also expressed his admiration for his childhood idols in the best way he knows. 

“I recorded my first tribute album to them 12 years ago,” he notes. That was All Your Life, which eventually came out in 2013. In so doing he realized a lifelong dream by getting the cuts down at the very place where The Beatles made their own records. “I recorded at Abbey Road Studios. That was magic. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. That was one of the best experiences of my career.”

The Di Meola discography – there are more than 40 titles in there – also features a Fab Four reprise, Across The Universe, which came out in 2020.

Despite his unfettered esteem for the English group, Di Meola got his first big break in a very different area of music-making, with jazz great Chick Corea. That was in 1974, when he was still a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston. It was yet another dream come true.

“I was 19, a student, and [Corea’s jazz fusion group] Return to Forever – aka RTF – was my favorite band at the time,” he recalls. “Who thought I would ever get a shot with Chick Corea. And, of course, Chick had been in Miles Davis’s band.”

Mind you, he did get more than a little help from a resourceful friend in landing the RTF sideman slot. A friend, who was an amateur recording technician, got a Di Meola performance in Boston down on tape, hot-footed it over to New York and managed to track down Corea and get the tape to him. He then pestered the great keyboardist until he got him to give the recording a listen or two. That did the trick.

“I was in Boston, going to school, and I get a call from Chick Corea.” It was, initially, too good to believe. “I said to him, ‘get out of here,’” Di Meola laughs. “I thought someone was playing a trick on me but he said my friend had pushed this tape on him, and he’d listened to it. He said they had been knocked out by my playing. He said they’d love me to come to New York and join the band. I was having an out of body experience. It was surreal.”

Once convinced, the youngster shifted into top gear.

“I packed my things in 10 minutes flat and went home to New Jersey to get my things together.” 

He wasn’t the only one who needed some convincing that it was really happening.

“I go home and I tell my parents I’m going to play at Carnegie Hall with Chick Corea, and I can hear my dad saying: ‘Why aren’t you at school? You’re not playing any Carnegie Hall!’”

But play there he did, and his parents got the VIP treatment, with a limo ride and the best seats in the house. That was a definite naches moment for all the Di Meolas.

There have been plenty more for the guitarist since, and there are more in store, for all of us, when he pops over here next week to play the ICC in Jerusalem (June 16), the Haifa Auditorium (June 17), Kav Rakia at Ariel Sharon Park (June 18) and the Performing Arts Center in Beersheba (June 20). 

He is coming over here with a couple of percussionists, so we should expect plenty of layered rhythms, with Di Meola’s longtime pal Israeli guitarist-vocalist David Broza due to guest.

For tickets and more information: Jerusalem – *6226 and bimot.co.il. Haifa – *9830 and castilia.co.il, Kav Rakia – *9964 and timisrael.co.il, Beersheba - *8449 and ticket4u.co.il