Jazz fusion giant at the head of Return to Forever during the 1970s; member of the most spectacular guitar trio of all time with John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucía; much admired subject of the music press - Al Di Meola's resume is near flawless. Since the 1990s, this six-string guitar virtuoso has worked on an eclectic range of projects, displaying a relentless curiosity for harmonic and rhythmic experimentation.
Di Meola was born in Jersey City, New Jersey. At age five, he installed himself behind a drum set, moved on to the guitar two years later and joined the school orchestra shortly after. As a teenager, Di Meola enjoyed listening to country music - particularly the guitarist Doc Watson - before he attended a concert by Larry Coryell and discovered jazz.
In the early 1970s, Di Meola briefly enrolled at Berklee College of Music in Boston. His studies were interrupted by a series of performances with the quintet of pianist Barry Miles. In 1974, Chick Corea, who had heard of Di Meola, invited him to join the legendary jazz fusion group Return to Forever, which had lost its guitarist. He stayed with the band for nearly three years, during which RTF reached the pinnacle of its popularity. Di Meola then decided to launch a solo career, releasing three albums in as many years.
In 1980, he formed a renowned trio with guitarists Paco de Lucía and John McLaughlin. Their album, Friday Night in San Francisco, was recorded that same year and sold some two million copies around the world.
A newfound maturity
In the mid-1980s, Di Meola continued to record steadily and rack up accolades. Less focused on technical prowess, he began to concentrate more on his senses while playing. The artist also started to explore music genres that were less familiar to him and to experiment with, among other instruments, the acoustic guitar and the Synclavier.
In 1988, Di Meola made his first visit to the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal and quickly became a regular, returning for three consecutive years. In 1989, he appeared alongside one of his childhood idols, Larry Coryell, and performed with his mentor, Chick Corea, the following year.
In 1992, the venerable guitarist offered three concerts in one: as solo artist and as bandleader of World Sinfonia and the newly formed Al Di Meola Project. The former offered an acoustic set featuring bandoneon player Dino Saluzzi, and the latter delivered a jazz fusion-filled evening that proved Di Meola was still an influential figure of the genre.
Three years later, he formed a super trio with violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and bassist Stanley Clarke. The three musicians, who each revolutionized their respective instruments, gave a series of acoustic concerts, including a stop at the Festival.
In the early 2000s, Di Meola's travels lead him to discover new cultures, resulting in his World Sinfonia project, which featured Spanish, Argentine and Middle Eastern musical elements.
In 2003, Al Di Meola returned to the Festival for the seventh time, arriving with his latest opus, Flesh on Flesh, tucked under an arm. The following year, the guitarist once again joined the giants of string Jean-Luc Ponty on violin and Stanley Clarke on bass. Clearly, the trio's alchemy had remained intact.
Four years later, Di Meola appeared at the Festival alongside his comrades Corea, Clarke and White as part of the exceptional reunion tour of Return to Forever, the group with which he first gained recognition some 35 years earlier.
In 2009, the guitarist celebrated the Festival's 30th anniversary with Word Sinfonia 09, a world music acoustic set that unfolded in the intimate Théâtre Jean-Duceppe. He returned to the Festival in 2012, and in 2015 as part of his Elegant Gypsy tour.