Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Guitar – Observations and Comments

Flamenco Guitarist Javier Molina – A 2006 appraisal by Brook Zern

JAVIER MOLINA (1868-1956) – A 2006 Appraisal by Brook Zern

Javier Molina, jerezano y tocaor, died half a century ago. If Jerez is the vital center of flamenco guitar, at least until the advent of Paco de Lucia’s very different approach, then Javier Molina is the man who essentially created this fabulous style.

And this anniversary did not go unobserved. At the Jerez campus of the University of Cadiz, a conference marked the occasion with panelists who included guitarists Manuel Morao and Manolo Sanlúcar, as well as Balao, a long-ago student of Javier Molina who currently teaches in Jerez.

The towering figure of Javier remains an almost palpable presence in Jerez. Yet there is something enigmatic about his enormous legacy.

Why, for example, are we left with just four brief recorded examples of his singular art? And why does an outsider find it so hard to pin down exactly what he created, and exactly how he changed the sound and feel of the flamenco guitar?

Four cuts. That’s fewer than we have from Manolo de Huelva, another singular genius – but one who was obsessed with secrecy, and evidently succeeded of robbing posterity of his art. Four cuts – two siguiriyas, two soleares – all with Manuel Torre, by many measures the greatest flamenco singer who ever lived – all recorded in 1931, when he was 63. And then nothing, during the 25 years before the guitarist’s death.

It seems almost ironic, then, that his life itself is so thoroughly documented. In fact, he may be the first flamenco guitarist to have written his own autobiography.

In 1964, I bought a copy of “Javier Molina: Jerezano y Tocaor – Memorias Autografas de su Vida Artistica”, by Augusto Butler, a noted man of letters of that era who often used the pseudonym “Maximo Andaluz” to underline his devotion to that region and its culture.

While Butler provides the fine prologue and detailed notes, the work itself was written by Javier and describes his life and art until about 1941, when he retired from the active flamenco life It’s a remarkable collection of keen observations and reminiscences that illuminates the entire early and middle phases of flamenco’s history.

Javier started playing professionally at the age of eight – his few lessons were probably from Paco el Barbero who had learned from the legendary Maestro Patiño – and he was still quite young when he went to work in the early cafes cantantes with singers including Juan Breva, El Marrurro, Enrique Ortega, El Canario and other key figures of that epoch. He soon became friends with a young shoemaker named Antonio Chacón – Manuel Torre’s most avid fan, who would also become his most credible challenger for the unofficial title of Spain’s greatest flamenco singer.

The rest is history. Javier and Chacón became one of the greatest pairings in all of flamenco, working in Seville where Javier would remain for some twenty years,

Don Pohren, in his brilliant “Lives and Legends of Flamenco”, cites the “unending number of creations from his fertile mind”. He notes that Ramón Montoya, often considered the main progenitor of flamenco guitar, was both the main rival and a devoted admirer of Javier Molina, and that the jerezano had a strong influence on Ramon’s musical development. Pohren also states that Javier was “less flashy and far more earthily flamenco than Ramon”

Javier’s accompaniment is absolutely superb, as those few cuts with Torre prove. It’s interesting to note that he was also a notable soloist. But it seems that his funky/earthy side wasn’t the one he flaunted in his solo work. In a revealing and cranky note, Augusto Butler says that Javier “had a real weakness for his ‘solos’. When the moment was propitious, and even when it really wasn’t, we’d hear him interpreting – magnificently, it’s true – his arrangements of operettas and zarzuelas that were then in vogue. If only his preferences as a soloist ran toward the old styles that he must have heard a hundred times, the art of Maestro Patiño, or [Julian] Arcas, or Pepe Lucena or Habichuela, to name a few of his immediate antecedents, it would have been most reasonable; but to squander his time and creative capacity on such ingenuous nothings…”

Another early treatment of Javier’s importance is found in Juan de la Plata’s monumental 1961 work, “Flamencos de Jerez”, in which he says that Javier Molina and Paco Lucena were the first flamencos to use all their fingers, and not just the thumb, in their playing. (While it may well have seemed that way, the claim is probably somewhat overstated.) He confirms that Ramón Montoya, described as the only artist worthy of comparison with Javier, “often said that he was formed as a player by working at the jerezano’s side”.

The earliest description of Javier and his work is found in Fernando el de Triana’s seminal “Arte y Artistas Flamencas”, which says that his mastery was so extraordinary that he was called El Brujo de la Guitarra, the Wizard of the Guitar, adding that “Javier Molina is the guitarist who most carefully conserved the accompaniment of the most difficult old songs.”

Humberto J. Wilkes, in “Niño Ricardo: Rostro de un Maestro”, writes of Javier and his infuence on Ricardo. “Javier Molina played with a fluidity and beauty as well as a very personal sound. He had good taste in choosing falsetas for accompaniment. He was the first guitarist Ricardo really ran up against, and Ricardo learned a lot from their work together at the Café de Novedades. Ricardo admired him so much that he wanted to make a recording called “Three Epochs of Flamenco guitar” in which he, Javier and Manolo de Huelva would each contribute a section. The idea came to naught, because Manolo refused to participate and Javier was too ill. What a shame – and yet, Niño Ricardo always carried Javier and his era in memory, and this served as the inspiration for many of his falsetas and his accompaniment”.

At the conference on Javier, Manolo Sanlúcar spoke reverently of Javier as one of his earliest and most influential teachers, while Balao recalled aspects of the man’s personality. But it seemed clear that the crucial link to Javier’s toque was, and is, Manuel Morao, who studied with him and was marinated and molded in his influence, to the extent that it would be hard to separate the contributions of the two. At the same time, it seemed that Sanlúcar and others wanted to make it clear that the signature Bulerías of Jerez, with their unmistakable pulse and power, owes more to the genius of Manuel Morao than to Javier. (In fact, this not really surprising, considering that the Bulerías form itself may not have been fully formed and stabilized until Javier was well past middle age.)

Like some other students of flamenco guitar, I still hope to learn more about how Javier really sounded and how his influence is expressed today, and to collect his surviving music.

A decade ago in New York, I was able to ask Manuel Parilla to show me some of Javier’s essential contributions, which included superb falsetas that were new to me as well as others that recalled Ricardo and, especially in the Alegrías, Sabicas. (These appear on the 1999 Parilla CD “Nostalgia” as “Recordando a Javier”.)

It was the conclusion of Juan de la Plata’s section on Javier Molina that offered the best hope for experiencing the art of this man. “His portentous and colossal toque, full of subtle flamenco essence, has been recorded for posterity in the Instituto de Musicología de Barcelona.”

In Jerez recently, I had the opportunity to ask Juan de la Plata about this excellent book (“A youthful indiscretion,” he called it with a smile) and those old recordings. He said it was possible that the Institute in Barcelona might still have them somewhere, though it could have changed its name. I said I hoped someone would try to unearth this aural treasure – a hope I repeated at the university seminar. Nobody volunteered. (Barcelona, anyone?)

Today, the Jerez school of guitar endures. And that is perhaps the greatest testament to the strength Javier Molina’s legacy. While other key areas have rushed to embrace the profound changes pioneered by the fabulous Paco de Lucía – notably the stress on a rich new pallet of harmonies, chords, shifting tonal centers and jazz-influenced scales and intervals – the guitar you hear in Jerez is still likely to be direct, powerful and recognizable, referring as much to its illustrious past as to its promising future.

Javier Molina rules!

February 28, 2017   No Comments

Flamenco Guitarist Diego del Gastor – A loving, over-the-top 2008 appraisal by Luís Soler Guevara – translated by Brook Zern

This is a translation of a talk given by Luís Soler Guevara in 2008 to mark the centenary of the birth of Diego del Gastor. Señor Soler is a highly respected flamenco expert whom I knew in Málaga. He clearly loved Diego, as did many others who spent time with him in his home town of Morón de la Frontera. Soler wears his heart on his sleeve here, and one might wonder if his adoration has clouded his judgement or his normally sound critical faculties. (Fortunately, I never lost my objectivity in this matter, although for years I assumed the Flamenco Society of San Diego was a religious organization. Still, I have always maintained strict objectivity regarding Diegod.)

It’s nice to see Sr. Soler’s recognition of my dear friends Steve Kahn and Estela Zatania, and queridos amigos Bill Davidson and the late Don Pohren, who was the first and finest of the American flamencologists. Apologies for some likely mistranslations:

Mi Abrazo a Diego del Gastor — My Embrace ot Diego del Gastor

Flamenco aficionados, those of us who dedicate ourselves to investigating, studying, writing – in other words, to inventing a history of the art – fall short with respect to the guitar. We can reflect upon aspects of the guitarist, or sketch his profile as a person, and possibly situate the guitarist’s position in the history of the art, abandoning ourselves to his capacity to generate deep emotions. It’s this latter aspect that is reflected in the title of this article: My embrace for Diego del Gastor.

Diego has evoked so many perceptions among writers, poets and aficionados the I find it very deifficult to say anything new about him; and since I’m not a musician, the task is even more daunting. Still, the evocative aura of this great guitarist is so extraordinarily rich that these times come to consecrate his expressive capacity, even for those who may not know music but feel touched by his magic.

So let these words serve as a prologue to the marvelous sound that Diego, more than anyone else, institutionalized as the toque de Morón – the Morón guitar style. For that reason, I’ll try to say something about a man who, beyond Andalucía, sowed a unique approach to making the guitar make music.

His name was as singular as his playing. Before him, I know of no other guitarist with his name. It’s as if the history of flamenco reserved it especially for him. It’s enough to say those five letters for everyone to know who we’re talking about; even when a guitarist plays his signature variations or falsetas we can’t help noticing who his name, escapes like a sussuro: A whisper that, beyond admiration, conveys adoration of his music.

Diego didn’t seek interviews, but he didn’t avoid them either, in one, done for Spanish National Television, he said that his baptism lasted for five days. Five letters that on that occasion were given to him as a name. Five letters, like the five continents to which his magical sounds eventually expanded. Five letters that can define and describe his artistic personality.

D Duende
I Impresionante
E Especial
G Grande
O Original

Diego had lots of duende, his playing was impressive, his personage was special and his art was grand and original.

Diego was not a virtuos of the guitar; nonetheless he had many virtues. Among them, the one that stands out to me is the virtue of making us fall in love. In love with his profound and majestic toque festero – the lighter styles that were the pulse of so many fiestas or flamenco jam sessions. Diego’s guitar exists in the realm of the sacred.

His art, though born in this world, belongs to the sacred. He created his music as oysters create their own beautiful works: some irritating agent, though barely noticed, slowly, without any hurry, but inexorably. His dream, a living legend from an earlier time that refuses to die with the dawn of a new millennium, remains vital, and stands out in the desert of phantasms that arise in the flamenco galaxy of opportunism and glitz.

For Diego, flamenco was never just a spectacle or a commodity; when this happens, it is actually devalued. For Diego, flamenco is a culture steeped in centuries. It is a way of thinking and feeling while confronting life. A way of expressing one’s totality of life experiences and of communicating them to others through a lyrical art.

I’d like to pursue this intimate concept of flamenco whose greatest power is the most authentic expression of lives and traditions through music. I’d like to keep hauling this cart full of diverse passions that awaken and feed this Andalusian culture. I want to continue embracing Diego del Gastor – his wizardry and his imperishable enchantment. His unique way of feeling flamenco. I want to follow this flag, although I don’t like the abanderados.

I don’t want to become distracted by criticizing the consumerism that devours so many musics that flow from the heart of human beings. Still, I’ll say, paraphrasing a poem by Georges Brassens: “People don’t like it when someone has his own faith.” That’s an issue I don’t want to get into right now, one that generates attitudes and actions with respect to how one also understands flamenco.

Diego is more essence (fondo) than form. I love that essence and the ethic of things, more than their forms and aesthetics. But I can’t ignore the latter. Perhaps for this reason, those words, although situated on the border of passion, do not imply the abandonment of the merely rational.

While other Diego de Gastors may keep arising in this Andalusian landscape, my heart will keep navigating toward the paths that seek the road leading to the majestic in the art of flamenco. His providential figure, more than a song to life, was a song to love, a challenge to the impossible, a challenge to what we call art, and despite the fact that my soul is aflame, I will continue to embrace that sound.

Diego del Gastor was also Diego of Arriate, Diego de Ronda, Diego de Moron, de Utrera – Diego of a thousand different flamenco geographies, because he came from all of them. All those places where in a night of profound emotions we would discover his musical talent and his deeply personal way of caressing the guitar.

Diego, despite the fact that he rarely left his home – when he did, Utrera and the countryside were his preferred pilgrimages – generated afición in hundreds of people who, even if they were born abroad, decided to live their lives enveloped in this culture. In this – more than a task, a devotional sense of a sensibility that was so impressive – I believe he was unsurpassed. For him, it was all just natural. He was a teacher of many who never asked to be his students. Those who would be inculcated and impregnated with the simple maxim: There is no better university than life itself. And in this, Diego had the real doctorate.

Diego has been a great ambassador, especially in the U.S.: Surprisingly, he was almost as well known in California as in Andalucía. People of note in worlds as diverse as Bergamín, García Ulecia, Don Pohren, Steve Kahn, Roger Klein, William Davidson, Estela Zatania, etc., discovered the warmth of a man whose spell would captivate them forever.

It all happened without Diego traveling to the other stages of the world that are so crucial to the reputation and projection of so many other artists. For this reason, the singularity and the figure of Diego del Gastor in the flamenco world can not only be found in his artistic qualities, but also in his role as the ambassador of a unique and very intimate concept of flamenco.

His gigs, almost always marked by restricted appearances and hundreds of encounters in the flamenco world of Morón, were shared with the likes of artists like Juan Talega, Manolito de la Maria, Perrate, Joselero, Fernandillo, Curro Mairena, Bernarda de Utrera, Enrique Mendez and just a few others, but above all his muse, Fernanda de Utrera.

The Morón-born historian Juan J. García López offers us this information: “In Japan, his style is pedagogically systematized in conservatories; in New York, there exists a school of guitar that studies his musical forms and artistic modes. That school carries his name: The School of Diego del Gastor.”

Yes, Diego created a school, albeit limited in terms of repertoire, but very distinctive and intensely real and current. His falsetas and variations, somehow terrifying as well as tremendously demanding, constructed and expressed with an enchantment that is deeply profound, have not passed unnoticed for many, including some who may not acknowledge their source. Those who have questioned not the flamenco essence of his art but his framework and technical prowess.

Moreover, what gives value to an artist’s work, regardless of what he creates, is how he does it. Diego, as well as having enormous talent, had an intuition and a special heart that generated music. He captured the essences of old popular and folk songs and choruses, even from classical pieces, where he incorporated those fragments into his repertoire, giving them a rare flamenco aspect. He did his his way – that is, differently from anyone else.

Perhaps his trademarks created a certain envy in other artists, those who fall of their own weight while Diego never chased a professional career or competed with the famous guitarists of his time. He only tried to express himself within his singular sensibility, and at that he succeeded.

We hear his impressive sting in the flamenco form called the soleares, in his interrupted silences in the realm of the siguiriyas, in his musical resolutions based on the malagueñas that Ramón Montoya recorded in 1910 while accompanying the singer Niño de la Isla. And in the arrangements and combinations that he enployed to give a flamenco flair to one of the most beautiful of all classical pieces, Beethoven’s Fur Elise.

Diego put his soul into everything he played. Without soul, art cannot be sublime. Art is a mixture of the expressive qualities of the artist and the domination and knowledge of technique. For that reason, when some aficionados wish to diminish the importance of the Morón style of guitar, they focus o its technical deficiencies, defending the well executed, placing value almost exclusively on technical perfection, and forgetting the essential quality of the elements of flamenco substance that the artist must generate to create truth.

Diego was very delicate. He had, and felt, a profound respect for flamenco. He liked silence and quietude, not the applause of the public or the voices of those whose shouted encouragements were simply showing off, and revealed no understanding of the art’s rhythmic essence; his performances were preceded with enormous elegance, and his mastery of the crucial quality of saber estar – of “knowing how to be” – were almost religious.

For him, that was the rule of conduct to follow when exercising the ritual of flamenco song and guitar. If a fly bothered him, it wasn’t because he was fussy, though in some measure he was, but because of his high regard for the art.

Diego loved the flamenco song so much that at times, he buscaba arropes in the family tradition to interpret some styles of soleares. Among them were those sung by his father, and those that he, along with his brother, the singer Joselero, called “flamenco songs (cantes) of the Sierra de Grazalema”.

Some will know that Grazalema is a town in the province of Cadiz whose mountains surround Arriate, Ronda and El Gastor, where Diego was born, baptized and spent his early years.

He showed those songs to Joselero, and later they entered the repertoire of the great artist Juan Peña el Lebrijano. Diego, aside from being a guitarist, was thus a transmitter of songs.

We can’t be sure, but it seems that those old variants of the soleares, possibly originating in that area, were incorporated into the soleares of Anilla de Ronda, a singer and guitarist, who was related to Diego. Anilla, also surnamed Amaya, and a Gypsy as was Diego, was widely admired as a singer of soleares.

One possible interpretation of all this leads us to say that the songs brought to light by Diego dated back almost a century and a half, and the family tradition brings it to us today.

This is one revelation among hundreds, among thousands of sounds, that leads me to say with some justification that the evolution of time has conserved and polished through the years the manifest grandeur of this musical culture of southern Spain, unprecedented in the history of civilization. Diego Flores Amaya is one more link in a chain whose reach offers us a perspective of centuries.

Photo caption – Diego, with Curro Vera and neighbors from the Barrio de Santa Maria in Morón

Having said this, it seems proper to note that Diego was a great aficionado of flamenco song, a quality that is not often seen among the new figures that have arisen in flamenco guitar, where technique dominates their approach, but where the heart, that motor of deep emotions, remains firmly in second place.

To this last thread, let me offer some reflections that underline the contrast between the guitar of Diego del Gastor and the new conception of flamenco shared by most of the great flamenco guitarists, whose prestige I won’t question, much less criticize.

To illustrate, I will describe some qualities that apply to guitar playing. First, the tendency to accelerate the rhythm. Then the sheer velocity in the production of notes. Today there are excellent guitarists who, in a common phrase, eat up the guitar – but who may not digest or assimilate it. They can play ten notes per second, but are incapable of generating a silence that captivates the soul.

Silences are not the negation of music, but the most exquisite of its contrasts. Music is the organization of elements which expresses the combination of sounds and silences, Silences are the space which fills our sense of reflection. Without those silences there are fewer moments for reflection and that therefore one cannot fully relish the sublime moments in guitar playing. Diego took the distance with respect to that conception or current of understanding the marvelous world of music.

Diego felt the necessity of transmitting his art. For that he had to interpret and above all digest what he wished in order to call forth the rest, In every artist’s mind there is something deeply present: the communication of his world, his work and his art.

To digest and absorb is also to meditate very carefully upon something in order to understand it. No one would drink boiling coffee because, aside from burning you, it would not have real flavor. In other words, the act of drinking coffee requires spaces for reflection in order to appreciate what you’re doing. When we speak of harmonic sounds, and although the human ear, as a receiver of sound, is scientifically prepared to instantaneously connect to its production, its storehouse of associations and its understanding demand a temporal space to enjoy the process.

Taking that theory to extremes: If a guitarist could produce all his sounds at once, we would achieve the complete negation of harmony and of music itself. We could only perceive one single noise.

When the rhythm accelerates, the silences become shorter. Almost imperceptible, one might say. And the less silence, the less sosiego and the fewer reflections. I think it’s fair to say that allowing oneself to be captivated by the notes of a flamenco guitar requires a great calmness. Without that predisposition it’s impossible to perceive all its distinctive aroma.

Let’s take as an example a sung soleares. The interpretation of the sound does not rise at the peak, but at the conclusion, in the transit toward the end, when the song is reaching its close. Raising the voice is relatively easy. What’s really difficult is maintaining its descending scale, the sostenido (sharp). In those spaces, in those silences, we find the best flavors, the best moments. The guitar also seeks this catharsis. Sustaining a note is much harder than elevating it. And I believe that here we find the world of Diego.

Another current today is the construction of very extended falsetas (guitar variations) together with the singing action: the tendency toward concertism. In this situation the accompanying guitar per se should not take over the mission of the principal subject in a flamenco oration – that is, of the singer – but should instead complement the work of the singer. That’s done by offering dialogues, and indicating paths so the song can be manifested in its fullest dimension.

Photo caption: Steve Kahn and Diego del Gastor in Morón, 1967. Photo by Chris Carnes

The act of singing, or of playing in the guitarist’s case, is necessarily the product of the register of the artist. This register stores a treasury of dialogues that the singer as much as the guitarist transform in establishing through the principal aspect, the song. I say the song, not the singer.

Remember what Fernanda de Utrera said in an interview: “Diego and I were the pair that most perfectly complemented one another (se ha compenetrado] in flamenco. Each of us in love with the art of the other. I was the strings of his guitar, and he was the urgent lament (queja) of my voice.” And she concluded: “No one knew how to draw out what I carry within myself like Diego del Gastor.”

Francisco Ayala also offered a lucid analysis of the figure of Diego, affirming: “The playing of Diego del Gastor contains more soul, more duende, than the playing of any other flamenco guitarist today. Diego doesn’t adhere to the modern trend for speed and for personal showing off (lucimiento), admittedly necessary for those who must compete in today’s commercial atmosphere of flamenco. On the contrary, he tenaciously retains the simplicity of times gone by, before the flamenco guitar was turned into a virtuoso instrument, when it was still fundamentally a genuine and primitive medium for expressing the depth of flamenco.”

In some way, he exaggerates the great aficionado/artist of Morón. Diego is just that way, neither competing nor feeling like a competitor. He just expresses way of being, a form of feeling, of living, a way of making flamenco; his way, neither better nor worse than another way, but different. And that difference, fundamentally, is located in the soul that he puts into everything he plays.

Perhaps this phrase could increase the level of confusion in some not very initiated aficionados, since they may think that every artist puts his soul into whatever he does. That may be true, as certain as the fact that every athlete wants to win, but it’s just as certain that only one person can actually succeed. Allow me this metaphor: This is Diego. From him we see from the beginning the great virtue of falling in love with his art.

Diego’s playing is like a river,: mysterious and enigmatic, such that we will never be able to verify how its waters flow to so many seas and so many oceans.

Also allow me the following reflection: There are some who approach a flower just to see its colors. Others, however, may also appreciate its smell. There are those who approach the sea to look at it and only see its surface. Then there are others who also want to know its depths. Diego is like the flower that only reveals its true profile and its true aroma when we get to the bottom.

At the root of this consideration I ask this question: Why should we stop with the appearances of things, in their forms; why not penetrate right to the essence? Diego’s guitar is like that deep and warm sea whose flavors and pleasures can only be paladear and felt by submerging oneself in its waters, by abandoning oneself to its notes.

My embrace of Diego del Gastor must necessarily take note of these aspects. Now, from the perspecitive of years gone by, though it’s difficult not to submerge oneself in this well where time gives rise to a nostalgia that idealizes those yesterdays, I feel that my heart remembers – perhaps aided by the many celebrations that are marking the centenary of his birth – with more urgency than ever. Diego left us thirty-five years ago. For me, more than an enormous void, he left a world of magias that I have been discovering, slowly, the same way that oysters perform their beautiful work.

My embrace of Diego del Gastor is just one more. One more embrace among the many shared with hundreds of aficionados, whose sensibilities recognize the singular fact of an artist born asido the belly of a guitar, who knew how to use its six strings to evoke emotions that were as fascinating as they were insolitas unexpected.

My embrace of Diego del Gastor is not a farewell but an encounter. A long-lasting encounter with an artist whose greatest treasure was captivating me. Captivating me forever with that extraordinarily rich music extracted from the people, from the essence of centuries past.

My embrace of Diego del Gastor also signifies my most sincere recognition of this Andalusian culture that you have given me. My embrace of Diego is my embrace of an art that sows passions, that spills emotions, and that is the envy of the whole world.

Thank you for your attention.

Conference for the Pablo Olavide University in Carmona, July 3, 2008 by Luís Soler Guevara

Translator’s note: The many flamenco people who never bought Diego’s act will no doubt find this laughable. Well, maybe it’s a bit overwrought, but I think it sheds light on the character and the genuinely mysterious art of Diego del Gastor. It has been my imagined privilege to carry his music in my fingers for more than half a century, and as I struggle to do it justice and recapture his unique air (aire) and his unmistakeable creations, I sometimes think of a line from a flamenco song, probably a malagueña: “Perlas a millares” which must mean “pearls by the thousands.”

Last week in New York, it was my real privilege to reminisce about Diego with one of the few people who actually did capture his essence, the great aficionado and noted photographer Steve Kahn, who created an important show of photographs by himself and others capturing the essence of those years we squandered at the figurative feet of this giant. The original article appears, with photos of Diego, Steve and others, at this url:


P.S. I like the notion, mentioned above and widely believed in Spain, that in New York there was/is a school devoted to the preservation of the upkeep and preservation of the guitar style of Diego del Gastor. Of course, there never was such a thing. But for decades I was playing his stuff for any willing or unwilling listeners, usually alone but joined for one recent decade by Steve and then by Ian Banks, another fine interpreter of the style, who is still presenting this living tradition at cafés and other venues in the Big Apple.

Come to think of it, I guess maybe it could be called a school. A bit understaffed, admittedly, but yeah, why not?

To see this man at work, go to YouTube, add “flamenco”, “rito”, “Diego del Gastor” and “English”. Yep, that was the first of the 100 programs in this great Rito y Geografia de Flamenco documentary series that I liberated starting in 1972 (I bought it on 16 mm film), and it made my year; fifteen exhausting years later I finally got the rest. And by the way, when it was time to choose the introductory theme music for every damn episode, from a dozen worthy guitarists who are now legndary, who do you think the team of experts chose to give maximum flamenco-ness to the proceedings. You guessed it.

Abrazos a todos, as they say in Spain.

Brook Zern

February 16, 2017   No Comments

Bad Taste in Flamenco Guitar

Correspondent R.W. asks for  examples of bad taste in flamenco guitar, and cites one so egregious that “It would be like playing “Lady Of Spain” as part of a soleares. (Thank God Carlos Montoya never thought of this!)”

I can think of something even tackier, R.W.  How about some tasteless musical vandal playing the entire chorus and verse of “In a Little Spanish Town (‘Twas on a Night Like This)”, in bulerias.

(It took Diego del Gastor two days to teach me how he did this.)

Brook Zern

December 26, 2016   No Comments

The Comeback Kid at 53 — Flamenco Guitarist Rafael Riqueni Retakes Seville by Storm. Article in ABC de Sevilla of November 21, 2015 by Alberto García Reyes.

The November 21st ABC de Sevilla carried this knockout story by Alberto García Reyes. (The amazing personal context and this translator’s comments appear as a coda):

Headline: Rafael Riqueni — Kiss the Hands. The genius from Triana ascends to the throne of the flamenco guitar with a concert in Seville that will loom large in the history of the genre.

Body copy: I’m going to the park to pick roses – blue ones, white ones, ones with no color at all – to put into the hands of Rafael Riqueni. The new god of the guitar. On Saturday in the Teatro de la Maestranza he claimed the throne. He wrote the best chapter of flamenco guitar playing so far in this century. At a moment when the guitar was lost, without direction, Rafael returned to take the empty seat and show the new direction of the art.

What Riqueni has done marks a turning point – a before and after. I do not exaggerate. He has lifted Andalucia’s classic music to its pinnacle with “Parque de María Luisa”, a work that is probably the finest ever composed and dedicated to Seville. What’s more, it marks Riqueni’s finest moment of musical mastery in his career. With his hands flying like the pigeons in the Plaza of America. There we heard that tremolo, seeking petals and lifting up a historic olé. Unanimous. From the Estanque de los Lotos – the lottery stand where Riqueni hid as a child – to the major-key tangos of Monte Gururgú, it was clear that the creations of this Triana artist marked a revolution.

In terms of harmony, this genius “ha armado una diablura” [pulled off a prank? Did something unexpected?]. But nothing is gratuitous. Everything aims to tell a story. It’s a sound track. The bulerías from his youthful days as a “rockero”. The trinos [trills]. The whisper of water in the Fountain of the Frogs. The jota with a muñeira and chotis [formal non-flamenco musical forms] for the Plaza de España. And his santo y seña [password, countersign] when he ended that Madrid-themed piece, saying “But hey, I’m from Seville, right?” Rafael Riqueni is the pride of our region. An unprecedented creator who submerges all his avant-garde sensibility within the tradition.

Three solo pieces. The taranta. The rondeña done for his friend Benamargo. And to top it off, the soleá. I swear on my conscience the I have never, ever seen the soleá played like this. And so, when he ended his derroche [outpouring] with the tangos atarantados, and with the fandangos of his old maestro de fatigas (master/teacher in suffering), Niño Miguel [a great guitarist who was plagued by mental illness until his death], and with his bulerías for Lole and [the late] Manuel, I went to the park to pick those roses, enough to cover him completely in blossoms. Because Riqueni is not a guitarist. He is the guitar itself. Please – if you see him in the street, kiss his hands.

End of article. The original is found at http://sevilla.abc.es/cultura/sevi-rafael-riqueni-besamanos-201511220022_noticia.html

Translator’s note: Whoa. Whew. Even allowing for the usual localist chauvinism, this is a bold claim.

The open and aching question of who, if anyone, could ever truly assume guitar supremacy in the wake of the incomparable Paco de Lucía has been in the wind for decades and has only intensified since his lamented abrupt disappearance. The rightful heirs seemed to be the now-elders: Tomatito, Vicente Amigo and Gerardo Núñez. After that, there was a parade of younger phenomena – kids who made the formerly utterly impossible seem not just plausible but routine, even inevitable.

As for Rafael Riqueni who may have been a contender a few decades ago – well, it was known that he’d had personal difficulties but was coming back strong and might once again become a figura.

Then, last July 12th, this headline appeared in this same paper:

“The Guitarist Rafael Riqueni Goes to Prison to Serve a 14-Month Sentence”

And the same reporter, Alberto García Reyes, wrote that Riqueni was jailed for a “crime of aggression” committed in 2010, a period when the artist was in the crisis stage of his illness, bipolar disorder. The article said that he was compelled to serve the sentence because the charge was not a first offense, adding that he had in fact been treated successfully for the last two years, though he had confronted many difficult situations during his long career. Nonetheless, it was noted, he was currently “in his artistic splendor” and had won an honorary prize at the Seville Biennal for his career as one of the most important guitarists in flamenco history. He had planned to record a new disc, “Parque de María Luisa”, and also play a farruca for the brilliant dancer Farruquito.

Well, it’s one thing to get out of prison, but quite another to suddenly take over the vacant throne of the forever-unapproachable Paco de Lucía. But it’s nice to see Rafael Riqueni’s life story go from heartbreaking to heartwarming. And who knows? Maybe this event was as momentous as the reporter insists.

Brook Zern

P.S. Additional reviews, all extremely enthusiastic, appear at:



And a revealing pre-concert interview appears at:


November 22, 2015   6 Comments

The Episodes of Rito y Geografia that can’t be seen on the internet — and a plan to remedy that situation

It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it.

Many of the 100 half-hour programs from the great Rito y Geografía del Flamenco documentary series (broadcast on RadioTelevison Española’s Second Channel for Andalusia between October of 1971 and October of 1973) were missing from the three commercial editions that were issued years later, and many of them can’t be seen on YouTube. Specifically, I have found __ of the programs on YouTube. __ can be seen with English translations, all from the last and best commercial edition that came in booklet form with a four-program DVD in each booklet, and with improved picture and sound. Another __ programs are seen in Spanish-only versions, some probably from that same edition, others from earlier commercial editions. I have listed those 78 programs with their links to YouTube at:


That leaves __ programs currently unseeable. I have some of them, and hope to make them available on YouTube. Some of my copies are okay, while others are pretty bad. I hope someone has better copies and will put them up. If not, I’ll try to figure out the launch process myself.

Below is a list I made from a primitive computer printout that RadioTelevision Española sent me when I was negotiating to buy the first videocassette copy of the series in 1987.


I never received program 100 (RITO Y GEOGRAFIA DEL CANTE Y EL FLAMENCO) — possibly a one-hour wrap-up for the series. I also never received program 76 (MANUEL RODRIGUEZ – PIES DE PLOMO)

I’ve been told that program 41 (SABICAS) never ran and possibly was never made. That leaves perhaps just one or two programs that I can’t quite pin down.

Here’s that original list:


1. LAS TONAS (711023) (30:50) 23 OCT 71 PP03857
2. ROMANCES, TANGOS Y TIENTOS (711030) (33:30) 30 OCT 71 PP03858
3. SEGUIRIYAS 1 PARTE (711106) (32:55) 6 NOV 71 PP03859
4. SEGUIRIYAS 2 PARTE (711113) (28:40) 13 NOV 71 PP03860
5. CADIZ Y LOS PUERTOS (711120) (32:40) 20 NOV 71 PP03861
6. SOLEARES 1 PARTE (711127) (31:55) 27 NOV 71 PPO3862
7. SOLEARES 2 PARTE (711204) (30:55) 4 DEC 71 PP03863
8. EL FANDANGO (711211) (26:15) 11 DEC 71 PP03864
9. DE RONDA A MALAGA (711218) (28:50) 18 DEC 71 PP03865
10. NAVIDAD FLAMENCA (711225) 25 DEC 71 PP03866
11. MALAGUENAS (720101) 1 JAN 72 PP03867
12. DE GRANADA A LA UNION (720108) 8 JAN 72 PP03868
13. CANTES PROCEDENTES DEL FOLKLORE (720122) (26:20) 15 JAN 72 PP03869
14. FIESTA GITANA (720129) (33:15) 29 JAN 72 PP03870
15. LAS TONAS [2] (720205) (31:15) 5 FEB 72 PPO3871
16. LA LLAVE DE ORO DEL CANTE (720212) 12 FEB 72 PP03872
17. TRIANA (720219) (29:25) 19 FEB 72 PP03873
18. EL BARRIO DE SANTIAGO (720226) (25:50) 26 FEB 72 PP03874
19. LA FAMILIA PININI (720304) (31:15) 4 MAR 72 PP03875
20. LA FAMILIA DE LOS PERRATE (720311) (22:45) 11 MAR 72 PP03876
21. LA CASA DE LOS MAIRENA (720312) (31:50) 18 MAR 72 PP03877
22. MANUEL TORRE Y ANTONIO CHACON (720325) (30:10) 25 MAR 72 PP03878
23. LA SAETA (720401) (27:10) 1 APR 72 PP03879
24. LA CA[N]TAORA (720410) (26:05) 10* APR 72 PP03880
25. LA GUITARRA (720317) (27:05) 17 MAR [APR] 72 PP03881
26. VIEJOS CANTAORES (720424) (24:20) 24 APR 72 PP03832*
28. DEL CAFE CANTANTE AL TABLAO (720508) (25:50) 8 MAY 72 PP03834
29. CANTE GITANO CON INTERPRETES GITANOS (720515) (28:30) 15 MAY 72 PP03835
30. LA GUITARRA FLAMENCA (2-PARTE) (720522) (27:35) 22 MAY 72 PP03836
31. FESTIVAL DEL CANTE (720529) (28:00) 29 MAY 72 PP03837
32. EVOLUCION DEL CANTE (720605) (28:30) 5 JUN 72 PP03838
33. FANDANGO DE HUELVA (720612) (25:00) 12 JUN 72 PP03839
34. MALAGA Y LEVANTE (720619) (27:35) 19 JUN 72 PP03840
35. FALLA Y FLAMENCO (720626) (26:05) 26 JUN 72 PP03841
36. LA SERRANIA (720703) (29:15) 3 JUL 72 PP03842
37. FANDANGOS NATURALES (720710) 10 JUL 72 PP03843
38. POR SOLEA (26:00) (720717) 17 JUL 72 PP03844
39. POR SEGUIRIYAS (27:55) (720724) 24 JUL 22 PP03845
40. FIESTA GITANA – BULERIAS (720807) (29:05) 7* AUG 72 PP03846
41. SABICAS (790814) [720814] (26:20) 14 AUG 79 [72] PP03847
42. MARIA VARGAS (720821) (26:00) 21 AUG 72 PP03848
43. FIESTA GITANA – TANGOS (720831) (22:06) 31* AUG 72 PP03849
44. JUAN PENA EL LEBRIJANO (720911) (31:00) 11 SEP 72 PP03850
45. AGUJETAS (720918) (34:25) 18 SEP 72 PP03851
46. JOSE MENESES (720925) (31:30) 25 SEP 72 PP03852
47. LA PERLA DE CADIZ (721002) (33:05) 2 OCT 72 PP03853
48. FERNANDO TERREMOTO (721009) (32:45) 9 OCT 72 PP03854
49. LUIS CABALLERO (721016) (26:00) 16 OCT 72 PP03855
50. DIEGO DEL GASTOR (721023) (31:45) 25 OCT 72 PP03855
51. CRISTOBALINA SUAREZ (721106) (30:40) 6 NOV 72* PP03807*
52. FOSFORITO (721113) (26:30) 13 NOV 72 PP03808
53. MANOLO CARACOL (1-PARTE) (721120) 20 NOV 72 PP03809
54. MANOLO CARACOL (2-PARTE) (721127) 27 NOV 72 PP03810
55. CHOCOLATE (721204) (29:10) 4 DEC 72 PP03811
56. BENI DE CADIZ (721211) (26:00) 11 DEC 72 PP03812
57. OLIVER DE TRIANA (721218) (30:10) 18 DEC 72 PP03813
58. AMOS RODRIGUEZ (721225) (26:30) 25 DEC 72 PP03814
59. PERRATE DE UTRERA (730101) (30:40) 1 JAN 73 PP03815
60. PEDRO LAVADO (730108) (26:55) 8 JAN 73 PP03816
61. PLATERO DE ALCALA (730115) (28:20) 15 JAN 73 PP03817
62. EL BORRICO (730122) (32:30) 22 JAN 73 PP03818
63. MELCHOR DE MARCHENA (730129) (29:40) 29 JAN 73 PP03819
64. FERNANDA DE UTRERA (730205) (34:30) 5 FEB 73 PP03820
65. BERNARDA DE UTRERA (730212) (30:45) 12 FEB 73 PP03821
66. ANTONIO DE CANILLAS (730219) (28:20) 19 FEB 73 PP03822
67. ENRIQUE MORENTE (730305) (28:00) 5 MAR 73* PP03823
68. JOSELERO DE MORON (730312) (30:20) 12 MAR 73 PP03824
69. MANUEL SOTO SORDERA (730319) (25:00) 19 MAR 73 PP03825
70. RAFAEL ROMERO (730326) (29:30) 26 MAR 73 PP03826
71. DIEGO CLAVEL (730402) (28:20) 2 APR 73 PP03827
72. ENCARNACION DE SALLAGO (730409) 9 APR 73 PP03828
73. LA SAETA (730416) (29:35) 16 APR 73 PP03829
74. CAMARON DE LA ISLA (730423) 23 APR 73 PP03830
75. EL PALI (730430) (30:20) 30 APR 73 PP03831
76. MANUEL RODRIGUEZ – PIES DE PLOMO (730507) (30:35) 7 MAY 73 PP03782*
77. LA PAQUERA DE JEREZ (730514) (30:55) 14 MAY 73 PP03783
78. PACO DE LUCIA (730521) (32:15) 21 MAY 74 PP03784
79. PERICON DE CADIZ (730528) (28:55) 28 MAY 74 PP03785
80. TIA UNICA [ANICA] LA PIRINACA (730604) (31:15) 11 JUN 73 PP03786
81. PANSEQUITO (730611) (30:30) 11 JUN 73 PPO3787
82. PEPE EL DE LA MATRONA (730618) (31:45) 18 JUN 73 PP03788
83. LA PERRATA (730625) (29:45) 25 JUN 73 PP03789
84. ANTONIO MAIRENA (730702) (38:10) 2 JUL 73 PP03790
85. MARIA LA MARRORRA [MARRURRA] (730716) (30:45) 16 JUL 73* PP03791
86. PEPE MARTINEZ (730723) (32:55) 23 JUL 73 PP03792
87. PEPE MARCHENA (730730) (32:50) 30 JUL 73 PP03793
88. LOS TORRE (730806) (26:05) 6 AUG 73 PP03794
89. CANTOS [CANTES] PRIMITIVOS SIN GUITARRA (730813) (30:10) 13 AUG 73 PP03795
90. DE SAN LUCAR A LA LINEA (730820) (25:00) 20 AUG 73 PP03796
91. CANTES FLAMENCOS IMPORTADOS (730827) (27:40) 27 AUG 73 PP03797
92. EXTREMADURA Y PORTUGAL (730903) (29:15) 3 SEP 73 PP03798
93. LOS CABALES (730910) (30:55) 10 SEP 73 PP03799
94. DE DESPENAPERROS HASTA ARRIBA (730917) (27:15) 17 SEP 73 PP03800
95. LORCA Y EL FLAMENCO (730924) (26:40) 24 SEP 73 PP03801
96. DIFUSION DEL FLAMENCO (731001) (30:35) 1 OCT 73 PP03802
97. EL VINO Y EL FLAMENCO (731008) (35:15) 8 OCT 73 PP03803
98. LOS FLAMENCOLOGOS (731015) (28:35) 15 OCT 73 PP03804
99. NINOS CANTAORES (731022) (28:30) 22 OCT 73 PP03805

March 26, 2015   No Comments

Flamenco Guitarist Diego del Gastor – a 2005 article by Carlos Lencero in La Flamenca magazine – translated with comments by Brook Zern

La Flamenca is a Spanish magazine that’s been around for more than a decade and often has good information. (La Flamenca doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender – there’s at least as much info about flamencos – flamenco men – as about flamencas, or flamenco women.)

Issue number five, from 2005, had an article by Carlos Lencero, part of a series on “Flamenco Antiguo” titled: “Diego del Gastor, 1908-1973.” Here’s a translation:

In the bullfight world, when someone says “Curro”, that says it all. Everyone knows that there’s only one: Curro Romero. And in the world of the flamenco guitar, when someone says “Diego”, nothing more needs to be said. There’s only one: Diego del Gastor.

I’m writing this while looking at his National Identity Card, number 25.256.516. Don Diego Amaya Flores. Born in Ronda, province of Malaga, March 15th, 1908. Son of Juan and Bárbara. Profession: guitarist. Domiciled in Morón de la Frontera, province of Seville. Calle Posito. Issued in Moron de la Frontera. (no date given). Signed (in stylish handwriting(: Diego Amaya.

There are some mistakes in the document. Diego wasn’t born in Ronda, but in an inn in Arriate. He usually said that his mother began giving birth “in a caravan, under the stars”. The mistakes in the document are due to the fact that Diego’s birth was entered in the registry of Ronda, and in that city, at 120 Calle de Sevilla, he was baptized. That celebration lasted five days.

His father Juan was a trader of livestock [tratante de ganados] and lived in the town of El Gastor. Diego was there until he was nine or ten. The family then moved to Morón where Diego spent his whole life and awaited his death. With elegance. Always with elegance. As the true flamencos live and die. There was always great afición, and good guitar playing, in Morón. Diego surpassed all of them and entered the tremendous realm of myth. Without wishing to. Simply.

A great guitarist, a genius of the instrument, hearing Diego’s name arise in conversation, said, “Oh, yeah – the guy with white hair who makes a lot of mistakes.” But this time it was the genius who was mistaken. He had not understood anything of the man, and he made a mistake.

Much later, after giving his first concert in Seville for ten years, that genius – Paco de Lucia – was in the little town of Umbrete with a group of friends, in the Aljarafe of Seville province. Dieguito de Morón was spending a few days there, and I was with him. I remember Rafael Riqueni there, and Tomatito, and Raimundo Amador – a high-voltage flamenco gathering. A guitar was in a corner of the room.

Paco, the maestro, picked it up and played a little. It seemed no one else dared to follow him – but then Dieguito de Morón picked up the guitar. “I was very afraid, very ashamed,” he told me later. But he played. And at a certain point, Paco liked a falseta and asked Dieguito to repeat it. Then the maestro of Algeciras asked for the guitar and tried to repeat what Dieguito had done. After three or four attempts, Paco returned the guitar and said, “Eso está mu complicao pa mi”. [“That’s very complicated for me”]. I was there, and Dieguito was the preferred nephew of “the guy with the white hair who made a lot of mistakes.” And the falseta that Paco couldn’t put together was by Diego del Gastor. Just an anecdote.

That night Paco electrified the audience at Seville’s Lope de Vega. A monumental concert. A work of genius. I think he’ll remember that concert and that gift of a night he gave us. In his last number, the high string of the guitar broke., and Paco se levantó con genio y con cabreo. The audience, with a long and loud ovation, was saying: “Paco, don’t worry about it. It’s nothing. You can play with just five strings. These are the “cositas buenas” – the good things about Sevilla [and also the title of Paco’s last studio album].

Diego was a guitarist “pa cantar” – for singing, accompanying songs. One of the best accompanists in the art of flamenco. And of course, beyond doubt, the most personal, the one with the most “propio sello”, the most unique “personal stamp” of all.

Of all the great players who honor and give grandeur to the flamenco guitar, I dream of seeing them in a room with singers like Fernanda de Utrera, Perrate, Manolito de la María, Juan Talegas and el Tío Chozas, for example. A big puchero, wine flowing freely, and two days and nights of fiesta. And just one guitar for all of them: Diego’s. As I look at his photo on the Identity Card, I ask myself: Who would put himself in this room with a guitar and stand up to the tirón and the song of those sacred monsters? And I tell myself, right out loud: No one else.

Diego never played for a typical flamenco group in a night club, or gave long formal recitals. But for accompanying singers he was in a class by himself. A real claqueta [rhythm machine, metronome, click-track]. Singers who weren’t up to it, whose timing was shaky and not properly squared away, fled from him like bulls from a picador’s lance. In the bulerías, soleares and siguriyas he partía la pana. The great singer Juan Talega said it was Diego’s love of the song that enabled him to play with such sweet affection, giving the singer space while also setting parameters [obligandole]. The aficionados called his approach “cuerda pelá” – stripped down, peeled down, essential, unfancy, powerful. And the musical idea he had in his head that day – well, he approached it in many different ways, with different essences and distinct variants, during the entire session, He played the bass strings with powerful thumb downstrokes and also with alzapúa, the thumb striking single strings or partial chords upwards and downwards, like an organic pick]. It was enough to drive listeners crazy, some so moved that they tore at their shirts. Fernanda, in frenzied admiration, called out, “Diego – ni Beethoven ni sus muertos!” [very roughly speaking, “You can take Beethoven and his whole damn family…”]

Without a guitar in his hands, he was always a gentleman of the old school. Refined. With an aesthetic sense that almost no one else had in flamenco.

They say that when he died it was noon of the same day that at 3 in the morning he had been playing in the Barrio de Santa María because a neighbor had asked him, ”Diego of my soul, play a little for me.” It was July 7, 1973. Alfonso Fernández Malo wrote a magnificent obituary. The local radio station broadcast his funeral.

Today, more than ever, there is just one style of flamenco guitar that is unique, distinct and different from all the rest. And it has a very simple name. It’s called Diego.

End of article. The original is found at:


Translator’s comments: A pretty good piece, but don’t trust my opinion – I’m one of Diego’s many foreign idolators, though I try to pretend to be rational and even objective about this.

The fact is, you won’t hear much of his style in Andalucía these days, though it pops up now and then, and a handful of players put it right out there with reasonable success. (Come to think of it, you won’t hear much of anyone else’s style either, if it preceded Paco’s personal tsunami.) The other fact is, Paco de Lucía never expressed real admiration for Diego’s playing, though when pressed and when Diego was deceased, he mumbled (okay, he wrote for a book about Diego) something sort of nice about the “few notes” Diego rendered.

(Hey, things got off on the wrong foot. I think that when Paco first got to our West Coast, he was met with a small but vocal group of Dieguistas who wanted him to love and understand the older man’s stripped-down or minimalist musical aesthetic – despite the fact it was virtually the opposite of his own.)

I believe the story about Paco de Lucía a) making a disparaging comment about Diego’s abilities and b) being unable to readily pick up a guitar falseta that presumably incorporated Diego’s singular and contrary approach.

A crucial part of Paco’s mission in life was to bring harmony – Western harmony – into flamenco guitar. He regarded the lack of harmony as a defect, and regarded great players who didn’t try to transform the art as cowardly or inept.

(No, I’m not kidding – he felt that geniuses like Sabicas and his own original hero Niño Ricardo had failed to recognize their duty to fix this broken or deficient tradition, to move it beyond the original vision of Ramón Montoya from a hundred years earlier. For me, the amazing attribute of flamenco music was that it used melody rather than harmony to weave its spell. For Paco de Lucía, that attribute was a handicap. Events proved him right, though not to everyone.

And yes, some of Diego’s nominally simplistic stuff was, or is, fiendishly difficult to get the hang of.)

When I showed up in ’63, already knowing a lot of his material thanks to the kindness of the brilliant American guitarist David Serva and some tapes I’d painfully deciphered, Diego seemed sort of rattled. I guess he wasn’t accustomed to kids who waltzed in and thought they already knew the drill. And I guess I was sort of showing off, though I probably would’ve called it an homage.

Anyway, I sat down and played some of his bulerías for him. He said nothing. The first falseta he showed me was just two measures long (well actually, it started on beat 12 of a measure, went through the next full measure, and ended on beat eight of the following measure, which then had to be filled out to reach beat 12, a rare but not unheard-of structure). But somehow it was also upside down and backward – I spent the whole hour trying to get it right with very sad results. I suspect he chose that riff to put me in my place – nothing else he gave me would ever be quite that baffling.

Only later did I realize that that was the real lesson: Simple is not the same as easy.

The second real lesson was that after you learned his allegedly simple stuff, it didn’t sound right. Not just that it didn’t sound like him – I can live without that magical transference a few of my friends manage – but that it didn’t sound right.

On a good midnight, if I make it through the more difficult machinations of other fine players’ busier, flashier, fancier music, it might sound okay. But at four a.m., I’m likely still trying to get the right sound out of those relatively few notes that Diego worked his witchcraft or wizardry upon.

What else? Well, a lot of singers hated to be accompanied by Diego. Maybe it was because, as the article says, they were not singing quite right. But maybe it was because he was “assertive”, as I like to call it; or “overbearing” as they might have said.

The normal rule is that the singer rules, and the guitarist simply supports him. There’s just one star.

Diego didn’t always seem to understand this, which meant that he could “overbear” some singers and make them miserable. Of course, there were other singers who seemed to love the gloves-off challenge of saying something, getting a strong answer from the guitar, saying something stronger.

It ain’t normal, but I’ve seen it work. (I’ve seen Diego accompany all the great singers mentioned in the article, plus dozens of others. If they were weak or nervous, he usually tried to imitate a normal, self-effacing guitarist. If they were strong artists, all hell could break loose.)

For what it’s worth, Paco de Lucía initially supported his fellow genius Camarón as if the kid somehow needed help (that was billed on the record jackets as “Camarón de la Isla con Paco de Lucía”).

On their even more fabulous later LP’s Paco instead matched him blow for blow, two young geniuses egging each other on or duking it out with an “Oh, yeah? Well, can you top this?” attitude. Those are the legendary recordings that were billed as “Camarón de la Isla Con La Colaboración Especial de Paco de Lucía” and they really rock.

Always unobtrusively support the singer in his struggle — that’s proper accompaniment. No quarter asked, no quarter given: that’s also proper accompaniment, if the situation is right.

And while we were all bedizened by Paco’s fabulosa guitarra, he later said that in those earlier years, he “ran” — he played faster than was appropriate, just because he could. In fact there is an Andalusian aesthetic, most evident in bullfighting, that values slowness over fastness: In fact, that was the true glory of the aforementioned Curro Romero at his annual three good actuations: He could freeze time in its tracks.

I can’t describe it — but here’s how one writer did just that while portraying one of Curro Romero’s very few predecessor-magicians some eighty years ago in Fiesta, a/k/a Death in the Afternoon:

“Cagancho is a Gypsy, subject to fits of cowardice, altogether without integrity, who violates all the rules, written and unwritten, for the conduct of a matador.”

Hemingway then goes in for the kill, saying Cagancho “can do things which all bullfighters do in a way they have never been done before and sometimes, standing absolutely still and with his feet still, planted as though he were a tree, with all the elegance and grace that Gypsies have and of which all other elegance and grace is just an imitation, moves the cape spread full as the pulling jib of a yacht so slowly that the art of bullfighting, which is only kept from being one of the major arts because it is impermanent, in the arrogant slowness of his veronicas becomes, for the seeming moments that they endure, permanent.”

Okay, Curro Romero wasn’t a Gypsy like Cagancho — but they shared a certain something — they could become enduendado, or duendified, from the word “duende” that can be loosely translated as “ghost” — they became ghostified, perhaps, taken over or becoming possessed by something or someone else. The effect is unforgettable, to put it mildly.

Come to think of it, a lot of fine guitarists are forgotten. Somehow, the ghost of Diego del Gastor refuses to die.

Brook Zern

P.S. The writer describes an evening when Diego kept coming back to the same falseta again and again, as if searching for its essence. Yes. I remember a long night and morning when he was accompanying Fernanda de Utrera. For hours and hours, she sang the relatively few forms of soleá that she owned. For hours and hours, Diego accompanied her with just a few falsetas, most often with a falseta I’d never heard before. There could be no better recipe for boredom. It was one of the most exciting and gripping sessions I’ve ever witnessed.

Fernanda, incidentally, wasn’t always in artistic love with Diego. She sometimes said that her favorite moment was being accompanied by the great Juan Maya “Marote” — a great accompanist who never wanted to play solos. That studio recording is really terrific. As I recall, Marote is capoed up to the sixth or seventh fret, giving an almost alarming edge to his playing (he plays using the chord shapes of E natural, while the normal approach would be to capo to two or three and use the chord shapes of A natural; the sound would not be so intense.)

Fernanda said more than once that “I left my voice in Morón” — a probable complaint about the cost of all those endless (and poorly paid) sessions to her vocal chords; her voice essentially wore out before she herself did. It was a limited instrument, and in fact it was the drama of her struggle with that limitation that gave her such glorious power. The culmination is that poignant moment when she delivers her swan song por soleá in Carlos Saura’s brilliant film “flamenco”, faltering at the end and looking confusedly, if that’s a word, at the witnesses.

Her sister didn’t mince words. In 1984 I asked her what she thought of Diego del Gastor, eleven years dead, and she spat on the floor. Okay, on the dirt at the Seville fair grounds, but you get the idea. Her appearances on the Rito y Geografía films show a tense sort of standoff with Diego — and I gotta admit, maybe a guitarist should back off a bit when push is coming to shove with a very fine singer…

Brook Zern

March 11, 2015   2 Comments

Hits and Misses – Flamenco Guitar Hairshake Technique Tips and a Near Miss – by Brook Zern

I posted this to a discussion group in 2001:

Experts, who needs ‘em? I do.

Point 1:  I wasn’t crazy about Paco de Lucia’s version of the Concierto de Aranjuez, but I loved his De Falla album.  That one clearly violated the original score (I think), so it ain’t kosher but it worked for me.

About the Aranjuez video, Richard said “Paco does do the head back, eyes closed, hair shake, so that’s a plus:-)”

Yes.  I’ve been working on that head back, eyes closed, hair shake for a long time.  Just when I got the head back, eyes closed part, I found that I had lost too much hair for a convincing shake.  I blame the intensifying downward curve of my career on this.  (My Tomatito Toupee ® just doesn’t have the same vibrant responsiveness to shaking.)

Point 2:  Did Miles Davis copyright the saeta on Sketches of Spain?  As I recall, the trumpet does an impressively exact rendition of one of the favorite vocal lines for the saeta — the “arrow of song” sung to the massive passing floats with images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary during Holy Week processions.

There weren’t many recordings of saetas at the time — one of the most memorable was on a strange Folkways record titled “Flamenco” — white cover, sketch of a singer in the throes of singing.  A mixed bag of singers, field recorded but mostly forgettable.  The notes said the saeta was sung by a girl, twelve or fourteen.  It sounded terrific, and I wonder if Miles copped it from that disc.

Brook Zern

Okay, a year or two ago I was talking to José Manuel Gamboa, a neat guy who knows all and tells all about flamenco, during an increasingly hazy all-night flamenco session at the Colmao in Jerez.  I mentioned that discographic tidbit in passing, as if it mattered to anyone else on the planet.

His eyes lit up.  ”Jeez, where were you when I needed you?  I’ve been researching a book about flamenco in America, and I spent months trying to track down the source of that trumpet solo.  I finally found it last week.”

It was an honor to have almost been of service to him.

Brook Zern

February 9, 2015   1 Comment

A truly historic 6-CD recording plus DVD finally reveals the art of the guitar genius Manolo de Huelva (plus film of dancers La Argentinita and Pilar López)

Manolo de Huelva may have been the greatest flamenco guitarist of all time.

Okay, okay — we all know that title belongs to Paco de Lucía for perfecting the pre-existing virtuoso tradition around 1970 with stunning imagination and unprecedented technique, and then reconceiving the guitar concert with a jazzier ensemble sound for a broader audience. And the runner-up would be Ramón Montoya, the giant who around 1900 turned an inchoate mixture of styles and ideas into a coherent art form worthy of the name. And third place would go to Sabicas, for being the greatest flamenco virtuoso for a half-century before Paco dethroned him.  And if none of those perfectionists were the best exponents of raw power and funky punch — by one measure the central challenge of great flamenco guitar — the title would default to Melchor de Marchena, the preferred accompanist for the greatest singers in flamenco’s recorded history, or to Juan Habichuela who around 1970 took over Melchor’s role as the best backup man.  Or to the endlessly inventive Niño Ricardo, the main influence on Paco de Lucía and most other flamenco players in Spain.

Manolo de Huelva?  Well, he was determined to become the most revered flamenco player in Spain — and that’s what he did.  Between 1920 and 1975, if you mentioned his name in Spain, you would get no response.  Unless you happened to be talking to the artists at the absolute pinnacle of the tradition, the people who knew more than anyone else.  They had heard him, and that was all it took.  They spoke of him with awe, and of his playing as a thing apart and above.

Others just didn’t know, and that was how Manolo de Huelva wanted it.  He was determined to conceal his art from others, particularly other guitarists, and he did this with stunning success.  Only on rare occasions did he give other players a glimpse of his majestic accompaniment and musical creativity.

In 1963, after an astounding night of flamenco in the legendary Zambra (or was it the Villa Rosa?) in Madrid, I was generously invited to go see Manolo accompany some of that venue’s great singers, including Pepe de la Matrona.  As I was getting into one of the taxis, a guy asked to look at my hands.  He noticed my right-hand nails were longer than my left, and said I wasn’t allowed to join the group.  I started to argue, and said — not in jest — that I’d bite the long nails off.  He looked at my left hand fingertips, saw the tell-tale calluses that only come from serious practicing, and told me to scram.  He said that Manolo often inspected strangers’ hands, and might refuse to play at all if he suspected a guitarist was in or outside the roadside Venta Manzanilla where he reigned supreme.  I was just a kid, and couldn’t have retained thirty seconds of his music if he’d wanted me to, but I was still frozen out.

Ever since, I have been dreaming and scheming, hoping to hear Manolo playing at his best — as did my friend Don Pohren, the leading foreign authority on flamenco, who realized that he would never hear anyone better.  (Don also shared my admiration for the guitarist Diego del Gastor, who unlike Manolo refused to make any commercial recordings but generously allowed us devotees to make hundreds of hours of tape recordings of his solos and accompaniment.)

Manolo made a batch of 78′s before 1950, accompanying some noted singers, but it was clear that he was concealing his real art.  In the mid-seventies, I went to the Seville home of Virginia de Zayas, an American woman whose Spanish husband, Marius, had recorded the Ramón Montoya’s historic Paris sessions around 1937.  Manolo lived in her house, and she agreed to write about the man and his art for Guitar Review, the elegant New York publication of which I was the Flamenco Editor.  (You can find those three long articles in this blog by searching for “Zayas”.)  She also told me that she would arrange for me to meet Manolo the next time I was in Spain, and possibly be allowed to transcribe some of his variations or falsetas — in any event, Manolo died before that could happen.  (A double LP was later issued by de Zayas, one with Ramón’s old material and the other with some confusing snippets of Manolo de Huelva’s playing that failed to do justice to his art.)

This blog also contains a Guitar Review interview with Andrés Segovia, who — contrary to prevailing opinion — had enormous respect for what he called “true flamenco”, citing the art’s greatest female singer, La Niña de los Peines, and its greatest male singer (okay, male Gypsy singer), Manuel Torre, and heaping high praise on just one guitarist — yes, Manolo de Huelva.

Years ago, I gave up hope of ever hearing the man at his best, or learning his crucial music beyond the few fragments that were allegedly from his hand.

Earlier today, I got an email from my friend Estela Zatania, author and critic for deflamenco.com, relaying news from the noted French authority Pierre LeFranc that the important Spanish label Pasarela had published a massive 6-CD set-plus-DVD titled “Manolo de Huelva acompaña…”

And the singers he backs are formidable.  The great surprise is a batch of stuff by Aurelio de Cádiz, whose first recordings with Ramón Montoya date back to the twenties or thereabouts.  (I inherited some of those 78′s from my father, who also taught me my first flamenco licks.)   These “new” songs are a priceless addition to Aurelio’s sparsely-documented art — he always promised to make a worthy anthology but never did.  (A translation of a long interview of Aurelio appears in this blog — search for the author’s name Climent.) Other singers include Luís Caballero, an elegant singer who worked as a bellhop in the Hotel Alfonso XIII, which recently reclaimed its stature as the city’s best.  La Pompi, an important early singer and sister of the great Niño Gloria, is heard, as is the still-admired but otherwise unrecorded Rafael Pareja; finally, there’s the very significant Pepe de la Matrona with his immense knowledge — an early inspiration for Enrique Morente who as a very young artist appeared along with Pepe at La Zambra.

As for the DVD, it finally brings to light a film I’d seen long, long ago at the Museum of Modern Art and have been trying to find ever since. It shows Manolo de Huelva — or rather, it shows glimpses of his hands as he remains in shadow — as he accompanies the legendary dancers La Argentinita and Pilar López. (I actually saw it once again, at the Andalusian Center for Flamenco Documentation — then the CAF, now the CADF — around the corner from my apartment in Jerez. I even managed to sneakily record the soundtrack on my iTunes player (I had a separate mike for it). But now here it is, glorious picture and all — a true treasure for dance historians and all lovers of flamenco dance.

Decades ago, after hearing a theorbo or vihuela concert by de Zayas’s son Rodrigo, I approached him to plead and whimper that he had a duty to reveal Manolo’s music — something I had also done to Pepe Romero, the flamenco and classical guitarist whose family was evidently close to Manolo, also to no apparent avail.

Or so I thought.  Today the often fractious flamenco community is forever indebted (I presume) to Rodrigo de Zayas and that eminent family, which must be the source of those recordings that span a period from about 1940 to the mid-seventies.

Before I list the contents, let me add more backup to the claims about this man. And if a rave from Spain’s greatest classical guitarist isn’t enough, how about a rave from her greatest poet?

In his wonderful 1964 book “Lives and Legends of Flamenco” Don Pohren quoted Federico García Lorca’s appraisal of Manolo in “Obras Completas”:

“The guitar, in the cante jondo, must limit itself to keeping the rhythm and following the singer; the guitar is a base for the voice, and must be strictly subjected to the will of the singer.

“But as the personality of the guitarist is often as strong as that of the cantaor, the guitarist must also sing, and thus falsetas are born (the commentaries of the strings), when sincere of extraordinary beauty, but in many cases false, foolish and full of pretentious prettiness when expressed by one of those virtuosos…

“The falseta is now traditional, and some guitarists, like the magnificent Niño de Huelva, let themselves be swept along by the voice of their surging blood, but without for a moment leaving the pure line or, although they are maximum virtuosos, displaying their virtuosity.”

Thanks, Federico. As for Pohren’s personal opinion — and he had heard Manolo in top form — here’s his opening salvo:

“How does one begin to talk of the wondrous Manolo de Huelva? Perhaps by stating that he has quietly, semi-secretly, reigned as flamenco’s supreme guitarist for half a century? Or by stating that in the eyes of many knowledgeable aficionados and artists he has been the outstanding flamenco guitarist of all times? Truthfully, a separate volume, accompanied by tapes or records demonstrating Manolo’s evolution as a guitarist, which could only be played by Manolo himself, would be perhaps the only way to begin giving Manolo his due. This, I fear, cannot be accomplished; Manolo himself has seen to this by his elaborate, unbending covertness, his lifelong refusal to play anything that he considered to be of true value in the presence of any type of machine, often including the human.”

Pohren continues:

“Manolo especially dislikes playing when other guitarists are present. How many professional guitarists have actually heard Manolo cut loose? Very, very few, but those who have consider the occasion as having been sacred. Andrés Segovia has, and has called Manolo the greatest living flamenco guitarist. Segovia became so inspired, in fact, that he devoted a major part of a thesis to Manolo de Huelva. Melchor de Marchena has, and proclaims Manolo the greatest guitarist he has ever heard, This covers some ground, including Ramón Montoya, Javier Molina, today’s virtuosos and Melchor himself. Many singers and aficionados have, and they unanimously agree that in the accompaniment of the cante, and in the transmission of pure flamenco expression, Manolo is far off by himself.

“Just what makes Manolo’s playing so exceptional? To start with, he has the best thumb and left hand in the business. He is flamenco’s most original a prolific creator. He has a vast knowledge of flamenco in general and the cante in particular, which causes his toque to be unceasingly knowledgeable and flamenco. He is blessed with the same genius and duende that separated Manuel Torre from the pack; as was the case with Torre, when Manolo de Huelva becomes inspired he drives aficionados to near-frenzy, striking the deepest human chords with overwhelmingly direct force.

“As is so rarely the case, Manolo’s playing, when he is truly fired up, is truly spontaneous; he plays from the heart, not the head. His toque is full of surprises, of the unexpected. His manipulations of the compás are fabulous, his lightning starts and stops at once profound and delightful. His is a guitarist (this is important) impossible to anticipate – his genius flows so spontaneously that often not even Manolo knows what is coming next…

“By the time he reached his twenties, his toque was mentioned with awe in the flamenco world. He had everything: a naturally flawless compás that was equaled by no one, a driving, extremely flamenco way of playing, great duende, and the sixth sense that permitted him to anticipate the singers, without which an accompanist is lost. Cantaores began calling Manolo first, before Javier or Ramón or any of the others. Soon Manolo was known as the top man…

“Sabicas once invited him to join in a record of guitar duets. Manolo felt highly insulted, firstly because Sabicas should consider himself in the same class, and secondly that he should be propositioned to play such nonsense as guitar duets, On the other hand, upon asking Manolo whom he liked best of the modern guitar virtuosos, he instantly replied that Sabicas has the best compás in the business (next to his own). This is as far as he would commit himself.

“Technically, Manolo relies on his blindingly fast and accurate thumb and left hand for most of the astounding effects he achieves. His entire right-hand technique is subordinate to his thumb: that is to say, his right hand is held in such a a posture as to give he thumb complete freedom of movement. When he wishes, his picado is unexcelled and his arpeggios are sound, though he uses them sparingly. Little is known of his tremolo, as he holds this flowery technique in great contempt.

“The Gypsies like to believe that flamenco surges exclusively through their veins. It is impossible to explain that environment is what counts (were it not, someone would long ago have begun selling pints of Gypsy blood to payo [non-Gypsy] aspirants.)…Generally speaking, Manolo is above being included in the eternal rivalry. Knowledgeable Gypsies and non-Gypsies alike hold him supreme.”

End of Pohren’s appraisal. And now, without further ado, here’s what you’ll find in this new revelation. And no, I haven’t heard it yet — but I’ve ordered it. I know it may be just another perversely elaborate tease, where this strange man again conceals his true art.

But I prefer to believe that we will hear the real Manolo de Huelva — finally, and at long, long. last.

Note from a few days later: But wait!! I suspected there might be some glitches or problems with this project, but assumed it would be with Manolo’s customary refusal to reveal his best playing. Instead, the first problems are with the attributions of songs to singers. According to the expert Antonio Barberán, there are only a few songs by the great Aurelio (though some are very important). Some stuff attributed to him is by Manuel Centeno, another noted singer, while he may not do any of the many saetas or sevillanas attributed to him. (It had surprised me that Aurelio would record these songs — the sevillanas seems too trivial, and the religious saetas just don’t seem to be his thing.) So ignore those glitches — I’ll fix the notes when the experts have had their say. Here are those problematic attributions, most correct but many just plain wrong:

Note from a few weeks later: But wait!!! I have received my copy and changed the entries below to reflect my notions of who is singing — followed by the original attributions in brackets and quotation marks. Fire fights have broken out on some insider websites such as Puente Genil con el Flamenco, but the dust is settling.

Here is the latest version — a few more attributions might be revised in the future. And again: minor glitches aside, this is a wonderful contribution to the world’s treasury of flamenco, made possible thanks to Sr. de Zayas and the de Zayas family.

CD 1:

Siguiriyas “Mi ropa tengo en venta”
Luisa Ramos Antúnez “La Pompi” con Manolo de Huelva  4:29

Bulerias “Cuando me daba” (truncada) 0:47
Luisa Ramos Antúnez “La Pompi” con Manolo de Huelva  4:29

Bulerías “Cuando me daba” (entera) 3:45
Luisa Ramos Antúnez “La Pompi” con Manolo de Huelva  3:45

Bulerías “A mi me duele”
Luisa Ramos Antúnez “La Pompi” con Manolo de Huelva  1:52

Bulerías “A mi me sigue”
La Gitanilla con Manolo de Huelva  2:01

Bulerías “Que cosita mas rara”
La Gitanilla con Manolo de Huelva  2:55

Manolo de Huelva, guitarra; La Gitanilla, palmas  1:29

Siguiriyas falseta  0:37
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Malagueñas “Que te quise y que te quiero”  2:12
Manuel Centeno con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Que te pueda perdonar”  2:42
Manuel Centeno con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “A que tanto me consientes”  4:53
Manuel Centeno con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá  3:53
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

La Caña  3:22
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Soleá  3:58
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

CD 2

Malagueñas “Más bien te agradecería” 7”14 [empieza con afinación de guitarra]
Luís Caballero con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “A veces me ponía”  2:56
Luís Caballero con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Allí fueron mis quebrantos”  3:28
Luís Caballero con Manolo de Huelva

Tarantas “Viva Madrid que es la corte”  6:36
Luís Caballero con Manolo de Huelva

Alegrías “A mí que me importa”  5:32
Luís Caballero [?] con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Hay pérdidas que son ganancias” 7:40
Luís Caballero [?] con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “Morena tienes la cara”  8:13
Luís Caballero [?] con Manolo de Huelva

CD 3

Alegrías “Ya te llaman la buena moza”  4:29
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Fandangos “Llévame pronto su puerta”  3:56
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “En el patrocinio”  1:56
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Fandangos “La que me lavó el pañuelo”  1:41
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “Con paso firme”  1:41
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Fandangos “Al cielo que es mi morada” (a duo)
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “Silencio, pueblo cristiano”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Fandangos “Ay, sereno!”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “Dios te salve, María”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Bien sabe Dios que lo hiciera”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “No vale tanto martirio”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Ni que a la puerta te asomes”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “Pare mío esclareció”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Y a visitarte he venío”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Bulerías “A mí no me hables”
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “La torrente”
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Solea “A Dios le pido clemencia
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Tangos “De cal y canto y arena”
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Solea “Las campanas del olvío”
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Tangos “Yo te tengo que querer”
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Sevillanas “Seré por verte”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Sevillanas “Es tanto lo que te quiero”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Sevillanas “Mi moreno me engañó”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Tanguillos “Yo tengo una bicicleta”
Aurelio de Cádiz [?] con Manolo de Huelva

CD 4

Bulerías “Al campo me voy a vivir”  3:52
Felipe de Triana con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “Que no me mande cartas”  9:18
Felipe de Triana con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Que tenga mi cuerpo”  5:43
Felipe de Triana con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “Contemplarme a mi mare, que no llore más”  8:12
Felipe de Triana con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá con Polo “Eres el Diablo”  5:36
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Cuando yo esperaba” 3:17
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Porque faltó el cimiento”  3:22
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Que te salvó la vida”  4:05
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá con Polo “Eres el Diablo”  6:18
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “Como hiciste tú conmigo”  1:39
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

CD 5

Solea “En feria de Ronda”  12:06
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Que bonita era”  4:55
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Redoblaron”  2:48
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “Ventanas a la calle”  8:21
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Tangos “Estabas cuando te vi”  6:58
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Peteneras “Compañera de mi alma”  9:52
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “A la Virgen de Regla”  6:45
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

CD 6

Soleá “La Babilonia” 1:32
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá Petenera  1:29
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá Apolá  2:16
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Polo Natural  2:22
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “Le dijo el tiempo el querer”  1:54
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “A una montaña”  1:32
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “Una rosa que fue mía”  1:34
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

El Polo de Tobalo  2:30
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Solea “No todavía” 1:20
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “Los pájaros son clarines”  1:32
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “Toquen a rebato las campanas del olvío”  1:53
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “Con mirarte solamente, comprenderás que te quiero”  2:14
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

La Caña  4:14
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Siguiriyas “Mi ropa tengo en venta 2:42
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Macho de la Serrana 3:20
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Bulerías “Cante corto de Jerez” 2:32
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Siguiriyas “Mi ropa tengo en venta 2:42
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Macho de la Serrana 3:20
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Bulerías “Cante corto de Jerez” 2:32
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña


Sevillanas – introducción
Argentinita y Pilar López, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Argentinita, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Argentinita y Pilar López, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Tangos de Cadiz “Dos Tangos de Cadiz”
Argentinita, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

“Canción” [?] “Hermanito de mi corazón” o “Tango del escribano”
“Cádiz, tacita de plata, es un verdadero encanto”
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra [?]

Alegrías – alternando ralentí sincronizado
Argentinita, baile. Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, con palmas y pitos

La Caña “A mí me pueden mandar”
Argentinita, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Here’s the Pasarela url with buying info:


Brook Zern

January 5, 2015   5 Comments

Flamenco Singer El Chato de la Isla on Guitarist Diego del Gastor – Translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s Note:  Here’s one of my old posts to an extinct discussion group:  

Date:  Thurs, Apr 2, 1998 12:05 PM EDT
Subj:  Diego evaluated by Chato de la Isla – translating Rafael Moreno

There’s a welcome post from Rafael Moreno, who adds some high-octane fuel to the “Was Diego Any Good?” conflagration with a quote from a book by Salvador Aleu Zuazo about a noted singer titled “El Chato de la Isla, Entre la Vida y el Cante“.  Chato, born in 1926 and noted for his originality within traditional bounds, has made numerous recordings, with accompaniment by the likes of Paco de Lucía and Manolo Sanlucar.  He says:

“And I don’t want to forget a guitarist who made a tremendous impression on me from the first time I heard him:  Diego del Gastor.  He never accompanied me in public, but when I was in Madrid we ended up together in the Venta el Poli on the road to Barcelona, working together for several fiestas (reuniones).

This man was pure glory, pure heaven, in his playing.   What timing, what compás, what a sweet sound.  This was what’s truly called ‘accompaniment for singing’.

I believe that with a guitarist like Diego, it was impossible not to sing well, because the cante came out by itself.  Anyway, things being what they are, it was a long time before we were together again and he accompanied me.  But now it wasn’t the same, because he had lost some of his facility (facultades).  Yet even then, it was like heaven to listen to his toques.  It was as if an angel were playing the guitar.”

Thanks, Rafael.  Whaddya know — yet another singer with an ear for guitar music.  I’d love to know the years of that first and that second encounter.  There are no recordings of the young Diego… 

Brook Zern.


May 6, 2014   1 Comment

Paco de Lucía Speaks – 1994 El País Interview by Sol Alameda – translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:  Ordinary artists give ordinary interviews.  In the case of Paco de Lucía, an interview could become a deep dive into the soul and psyche of towering and revolutionary figure.  Read this astonishing document and, even with the losses inherent in translation, you will know more about Paco de Lucía than all but a few of his countrymen.  (There are many other Paco interviews in this blog, each one a revelation.)

At the end is the accompanying “sidebar” that attempted to situate Paco in the art he revolutionized.  Here’s the story:

Civilized Duende

[Recent Introduction]:  He can’t read music, but that’s okay.  He’s the world’s best flamenco guitarist.  An unquestioned myth.  A legitimate inheritor of two cultures, the paya [non-Gypsy] and the Gypsy, he knows how to extract the best essences of each without betraying either.  His latest recording, Live in America, from his shows in the US, is an new homage to the eternal duende of an ancestral art of which the genius of Paco de Lucía has taken out of the ghetto.

In his living room, in the new Madrid development of Mirasierra, there’s a big chair facing a TV set with a cover on the back.  That’s where Paco de Lucía sits when he returns exhausted from a three-month tour.  In that position he spends hours and hours staring at the television. It’s when, finally, he asks himself, “Why am I watching this garbage?” that he’s back in shape.  Then the laziness disappears and is replaced by a man who can work tirelessly.  In this duality, going from one extreme to the other, from savage to civilized, embracing his responsibility to his music or fleeing from it, lives Paco de Lucía (Francisco Sánchez. Algeciras, Cádiz, 1947), the world’s best flamenco guitarist.

Q:  “You admit to being the most neurotic person in the world.  That simplifies things – at least you know it.”

A:  Well, the consumption of art is dangerous.  A successful musician is obliged to make a record each year, and one just doesn’t have that capacity.  Especially if he’s also the composer of the works.  It’s different for a singer who wants to make a new record; they send him forty composers with many more songs to choose from, and then an arranger to make the arrangements.  But for the creator, each record is a birth, and the demand doesn’t allow enough time to feel and to live enough to renew himself and make a new work.  Yes, I’m neurotic, like everyone who spends many hours alone.  Composing is neurotic, and appearing live onstage, extroverted and communicative, is a cure for that.  But those who only live by composing, well, it’s scary to talk to them.  They look at you with the face of a crazy man.

Q:  You, in your exalted position, must be pretty sure about what you’re doing – or maybe not?

A:  That knowledge opens things up, but sometimes it’s preferable not to have any such awareness, and just to count on emotion, to be a savage.  A savage is much braver and more intrepid than an intellectual, more daring, and so there is the possibility of finding madness.

Q:  And when you work, is it more savage or more intellectual?

A:  I’ve lived my whole life abusing, you could say, my savage aspect, using it.  Using sensibility and intuition, but there comes a moment when you miss the thought process, the ratiocination.  Academic knowledge, for example: having gone to school to learn harmony and music theory.  There you get a batch of resources that, using only intuition, can make things pretty heavy and boring.  Because it makes you always be sensible, hyper-rational, to be able to do something, to compose.  And if you have formal knowledge, well, it’s easier.

Q:  Have you always regretted greater preparation, or is that just recently?

A:  It’s always been that way, but even more so with the passage of time; because with age you have less energy, less stimulus, less desire to close yourself up somewhere for eight hours to discover a melody.  In those moments you miss being able to manipulate the music, without having to work hard to find things that have already been discovered.

Q:  Are you still unable to read music?

A:  When I’ve had to learn the music of de Falla or Albéniz, or Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, I thought of working with another musician, but I wasn’t comfortable with that.  I soon saw that I had a printed method about reading music  and thought that maybe I could decipher written music.  And I did it, though it took forever to drag up a phrase or a chord.

Q:  Haven’t you ever decided to learn to read music once and for all?

A:  I’ve started many times, but my life is very irregular.  When I’m freed up for months, with all the time in the world, I want to get organized, to master this discipline.  But I’m soon off on tour again, and the craziness resumes.  My good intentions are shipwrecked.  Then I muster good intentions again, and that’s how my life goes.

Q:  Maybe at bottom you want to continue with your own particular way of getting what you want.

A:  Yes.  But it’s also indolence, laziness.  More than vague, I am incredulous, I don’t much believe in things and I’m afraid of being pretentions, of knowing a great deal.  I tell myself, “And what more is there?!?”  I’ve always lived this way, and so far it hasn’t done me any harm.

Q:  You were disciplined as a child, studying guitar for hours without regret.

A:  Yes, when I was starting out, from the age of 8 to maybe 12 or 15.  I was born into a family with economic problems.  My father was badly treated, having to find money for food each day, and as a little kid I had the idea that I must learn quickly to help out at home.

Q:  Is that the only real effort you’ve made?

A:  Yes, but I wasn’t sorry about it.  My father asked me, “How much time have you studied?” and when I said 10 or 12 hours I could see his happiness, and that was my reward.  And in fact, by the age of 12 I was earning money.

Q:  Was that when you went to the U.S., bringing your frying pans?

A:  I bought them over there, but travelled with them.  For me, going to the U.S. was as exciting as going to the moon.  I made $100 a week, and if I’d had to buy meals in restaurants I wouldn’t have had any money left.  And so my brother and I went from hotel to hotel with our post and frying pans.  And all the hotels threw us out because the smell inundated the whole building and the walls were covered with stewed tomato stains.  But all the members of the troupe cooked in our rooms.  I was very happy then.  Instead of going to school, I was traveling and making money at the age of 12.  At that age nobody suffers; one suffers when one starts growing old.

Q:  Did you read books at that time?

A:  Yes. From the time I was 17 I read a lot.  Now I don’t read at all, I’m so full of things that when I return home I just sit down and try to get my thoughts in order.  It seems to me that reading is like trying to live someone else’s life, and what I want to do is mull over my own concerns.

Q:  When you started reading, what kind of books were they?

A:  Books on philosophy, until I realized I was becoming very serious.  I come from a place where there’s a real sense of humor, and I soon saw that I’d been flying; when they told me something absurd, which today I’d find quite charming, I’d say, “But that’s not logical.”  I tried to reason everything out, and I began to become boring.  So I left the philosophy behind; this business of seeking truth is a vain pretention. The clearer you try to make things, the more complex they become.

Q:  Have you arrived at a definition of flamenco?

A:  That…Beside being a very rich music, with emotion, it is a philosophy, a way of life, a scale of values, something different.

Q:  Are you in agreement with those rules?

A:  There are things in flamenco that serve a purpose; respect for the elders, for example, strikes me as very positive; today’s society casts old people into elephant graveyards.  In our culture, in that culture, the old person is the patriarch until the end.  There are other norms that one lives by quite naturally, without realizing it.

Q:  Do you live according to those laws more than the laws of the [non-Gypsies]?

A:  With a mixture of both.

Q:  Does that create conflicts?

A:  At certain times and in certain situations I haven’t known which road to follow – that of the coherent logic of an evolving society, or that of a traditional society, marked by incoherence but very attractive and poetic.  What I’ve done is to extract the positive aspects from each culture and try to apply them.

Q:  Did a moment arrive when the flamenco culture seemed to be suffocating, and you wanted to get away from it?

A:  Yes, I left; definitely, I left.  I lived the flamenco life and world intensely, and then I decided to place myself in the world of the payos because it seemed to have interesting things.  That’s when I want to play with other musicians, American and English; I needed fresh air, I’d been living in a vicious circle; the same topics, the same values, the same gracias [attractive, charming aspects].  And the new flamenco people emerged, and they were like their fathers and their grandfathers, everyone equal.  I began to feel suffocated, and I left to seek another type of music.

Q:  It was an evolution, you never broke with that other world.

A:  I never claimed it was a revolution, but an evolution.  That’s what gave me the identity I have, and that identity is what gives you force or power as an artist.

Q:  When you went to the U.S. and began to play with John McLaughlin and Larry Coryell, how did you feel?

A:  Like a primitive.  For the flamenco people I was an evolved being; for the Americans I was a savage.  This was disconcerting, unnerving.  I knew that I didn’t know how to improvise, and they did.  I told them, “I’m going crazy.  How do you do that?”  And they laughed like mad, as if to say, don’t sweat it, don’t worry.  And they didn’t tell me anything.  I guess they saw something in me that I couldn’t see, and they thought it was beautiful to see me suffering onstage.  But for me the effort to avoid ridicule was just terrible.  I went out trembling, fearful, with terrible pain in my shoulders.  It was pure improvisation, in the jazz style, and I had never played that way.  I was at the point of throwing in the towel and going back home.  But something told me to get something positive out of this.  And that’s what happened.  I found a different way of playing.  I discovered the attractiveness of improvisation – something every musician should do, including classical musicians.

Q:  And now, is it easier to improvise?

A:  Now, at least my head doesn’t hurt.  If you suddenly happen to have one of those magical days onstage and you pull out an improvisation that even you can’t believe, and at the same time you have absolute certainty that you won’t lose the harmony and that you are in possession of the truth, that day will stay with you forever.  Now you’re always waiting for it to come again.  And it does, but only now and then.  Although when you’ve discovered it,  you’ll never stop seeking it.

Q:  At that moment, indolence didn’t drag you down.

A:  No.  I had an English manager and we got the idea of making a trio with three different guitarists: one classical, one jazz, and me.  But the classical player didn’t want to do it, because he couldn’t improvise, and so we sought out Larry Coryell.  And we went out onstage.  When I see it clearly, I threw myself into it without thinking twice.  It was tough to decide, but there was no one to stop me.  It’s my way of life: launch into nothing or the abyss, and let’s see if it flies.  And until today, I’m still airborne.  You have to take risks in life, but if you’re afraid of looking ridiculous it will stop you.  You only learn by making mistakes.

Q:  Your immersion in jazz – was that a risk?

A:  Jazz people are tolerant.  The ones who are sealed off and intolerant are the classical people.  If you aren’t classical and if you weren’t born into that environment, they automatically reject you.  I doesn’t matter how you play – they don’t stop to listen; they reject you right off the bat.

Q:  Is flamenco still disdained, disrespected?

A:  All my life.  Even as a kid I’ve had an inferiority complex fed by the classical people.  And that’s not just a feeling, something invented.  They made me feel it.  I thought I had come up with a way to play the Concierto de Aranjuez: from a flamenco perspective, and playing it the way I felt it.  Almost all the classical guitarists liked it.  But one day I saw in ABC an interview with the classical player Narciso Yepes who made me feel like a child molester.  He said horrible things:  How could I play in this shameful way?  He didn’t give reasons why he didn’t like it.  And what happened when I was little – I felt that same bad feeling.

Q:  You are indisputably a major artist; no one denies that; it must make you feel secure.

A:  Don’t believe that.  I know what I am.  Everything they give me beyond that is extra; what they may take away, I’ll lose.  I try to be a good professional, I’m on the raod, I try to arrive at a place where I like something I’m doing.

Q:  To be a sort of Pope, as you are for so many people – how does that sit with you?

A:  Sometimes I’ve done things I regret, and yet there are people who follow that path.  Knowing that there are people who look to lme gives me a responsibility.  But on the other hand, if I’ve had success in life it has been for that – for having  respected my tradition and my culture as I pass through here, that pleases me.

Q:  Are you sometimes afraid that good flamenco will disappear?

A:  No.  You could cut out the Gypsies’ tongues, but they would keep singing even then.

Q:  You are not a Gypsy.

A:  No, but I grew up with them, I know them well.  These people have deep roots in their culture.  I think flamenco is Andalusian, but the Gypsy, when he arrived in our country 500 years ago, integrated himself into flamenco and gave it his personality, his way of expressing the music; he evolved it, he perfected it.  The Gypsy always looks for an excuse for having a fiesta, a party, a jam session: it could be a wedding, a baptism, a birthday – any reason is good enough to spend three days singing.

Q:  In that culture, what do you like besides the music?

A:  Well, I like a lot of the Gypsy things.  Their capacity for happiness, there way of looking at life, every day, without  pretender to enrich themselves.

Q:  And their inability [incapacidad] to evolve?

A:  They are afraid of evolution… [rest of sentence omitted, a typographical glitch].  But there are young Gypsies who are more open.  They’ve been afraid of losing their past.  But a race must protect its culture, its customs; it must e careful not to become contaminated.

Q:  It’s curious that it is you, a non-Gypsy, who has evolved flamenco.

A:  Maybe I have less sense of tradition.  I’ve lived with them, but at the same time, I have the head of a non-Gypsy, without that force of tradition, of immobility.  It was easier for me; I have more of a sense of freedom.  Although I’ve lived with them, and wasn’t really aware that I was not a Gypsy until I’d reached a certain age.

Q:  To know you weren’t Gypsy – did that make you do things in another way?

A;  I began to look at the culture of other people, of other musicians.  I was basically a flamenco, I’ll always be a flamenco and I always want to be one; but I discovered that there was other music.  My father told me that anything that wasn’t flamenco was stupid [tonterías], it wasn’t music.  He had marginalized himself to such an extent that hew was ashamed to listen to a jazz player or a classical musician.  They said you were a flake, if they didn’t just think you were crazy.  But I discovered that there was also music beyond flamenco.  I was 20 years old at the time.

Q:  You functioned as a creole, someone who belongs to two cultures and who finally brings forth something new.

A:  I was born in flamenco territory; my father is a guitarist, my brother, my house was full of flamenco, of fiestas.  Maybe what happened is that I was born in a time of change.  The Gypsies were no longer closed off, living apart – and that was also true of the Andalusians, and of Spaniards in general.

Q:  You lived for a long time among Gypsies, but you didn’t marry a woman of that raza [literally: race; also ethnicity].

A:  The Gypsy women are very pretty. I’ve always respected their culture, in which marrying a payo isn’t looked on very well.  You don’t normally ligar [hook up] with a Gypsy woman, you marry her.  To hook up to get into bed [ligar para acostarse] is ugly.  I never tried anything with a Gypsy woman.

Q:  Is love an inspiration for your music?

A:  Yes, especially when I was an adolescent.  It was an incredible stimulus.  I fell in love with my wife [Casilda Varela] and never fell in love again.  You see a woman across a room and you like her, and all that, but…

Q:  Do you make a decision, or does it just happen?

A:  A bit of both.  Unconsciously, you make a decision; you have a family and some kids.  How are you going to play at love then?  The most you can hope for is echar una canita al aire.

Q:  Your wife is an aristocrat [daughter of a Fascist general, who may have been an aristocrat even before Franco’s victory.]  How was the adjustment process between two people from such different worlds?

A:  There are always different value scales, but she is intelligent.  She isn’t what they taught her to be, and I’m not what my education made me.  We try to be coherent.  [They separated not long after this interview, and Paco started a new family.]

Q:  Have you gotten over the depression caused by the death of Camarón?

A:  The pain will remain with me.  He was the most important singer in the history of flamenco.  I take consolation in knowing that he left some recordings that are a cátedra [a seat of higher learning].  From the moment I discovered him [desde que lo descubrí], I realized that he was ahead of the best.  To be precise, I knew it the second day I saw him.  We were at a fiesta, all night long and the next morning and until four or five in the afternoon.  That day I knew that Camarón was the best artist ever born into flamenco.  It was an inspiration for me.  I was making a living giving concerts, but I always had to come back and make another recording with him.  Now I’m bereft, without that record that we made together every year and a half or every two years, and that gave me such pleasure.  We finished our last recording [Potro de Rabia y Miel] two months before he died.  He was physically in bad shape, but we didn’t know what was wrong.  The next week, when he couldn’t go on, he went to Barcelona and discovered the disease [lung cancer].   I could see he looked bad, but he lived so fully, I thought it was a consecuencia de lo mal que se estaba tratando [a result of the bad way he was treating himself – an apparent reference to Camarón’s drug abuse].

Q:  Did you discuss this with him?

A:  For years it was an everyday subject of conversation.  He always me daba la razón [said I was right]  and said “I’m not going to do it any more.”  I insisted, although I knew it didn’t do any good.  He respected me a lot and always lo hacía detrás mío [did it behind my back,] so I wouldn’t see; it made him a bit ashamed.

Q:  Why do you think he chose to live like that?

A:  Exactly, it was a lesson.  And I justified everything he did because he was such a great artist; someone who’s not an artist can’t understand this.  At times you get apathetic, you don’t want to do anything, and soon you have to stimulate yourself to get a special sensibility.  I think that was his motive, and that in some way it dignified the matter.  I want to say that I justify what Camarón did because he did it for a noble reason – it wasn’t pure vice.  He did it to close himself up within himself, to hear music and to sing.  He has been a victim of his own sensibilidad [sensibility/sensitivity], or of his profession.  He was humilde [humble/simple], he never spoke ill of anyone, he had afición [passion for his art], he lived for his art alone.  And for me, that justifies a lot of things.

Q:  And you, what are you afraid of?

A:  Of old age, of being 80 and needing someone to wipe my ass; of something happening to my kids; of my wife dying.  And also, I’m afraid of people’s lack of sensibility.

Q:  What do you mean by that?

A:  People only thing of their own comfort.  I think a man should be just, fair, honest, and I believe in equal opportunity, so people can live better all the time.  But on the other hand, as I see it, having nothing is a stimulus to action; if you don’t have money, you fight harder.  I remember that when I was playing to help my father, I had more fuerza – more force, more power – than I do now.  What gives sense to a life is to have to go out every day to hunt for food.  That justifies a human being, and makes each day different.  Civilized life makes a man become weak and live discontented and depressed.

Q:  Are you telling us your own experience?

A:  Exactly.  It’s not necessary to be poor to do something valid in art.  I think man must progress, but perhaps civilization no es todo lo buena que creemos [isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be].

Q:  From your Gypsy part, do you have some superstitions?

A:  I have no superstitions, except one – a flamenco form that makes me afraid even to speak its name: the peteneras.  I’ve had bad experiences with it.  For example, I was in Chile, in a doctor’s house listing to a flamenco record and my brother Pepe [the noted singer] said, “Turn it off, turn it off!”  And as it began, the earth began to shake:  It was an earthquake.  And another instance: the dancer who had come with me had never danced the peteneras, and didn’t ever want to.  But one day they insisted on it, and although he fought the idea, the pressure was so strong that he had to dance it.  And just then the phone rang: his father had died.  There are many cases like these, many people have had things like this happen.  I told you the name only because you have to write this; otherwise, I never say the word, because just the word makes me afraid.  But that’s the case with all the flamencos.  All of them respect this,  I believe it all began about sixty years ago, when a dancer called Maripaz died while dancing that dance.

End of interview

Here’s the accompanying sidebar:

The Contemporary Tradition
by Nacho Sáenz de Tejada

The flamenco guitar is an art of emotion.  From its origin in the world of black sounds and fundamentals, with the base strings as the basis of playing, to the extraordinary moment it is living today with such prodigious technique and unbridled imagination, it has traveled a long road, paved with shivers and chills.

From past players whose style still seems near and familiar – Sabicas, Niño Ricardo, Diego el del Gastor, Perico el del Lunar, Melchor de Marchena, the Habichuelas – to the excellent artists of today – Gerardo Núñez, Rafaael Riqueni, Vicente Amigo, Raimundo Amador, Tomatito, Agustín Carbonell… — the evolution of flamenco guitar runs through one name:  Paco de Lucía.

The man from Algeciras has not only popularized the flamenco guitar, situating it “Between Two Seas” [Entre Dos Aguas — the title of Paco del Lucía’s breakthrough hit instrumental], linking it to new realms.

His musical intuition has been so rich that we can call it a revolution.  He destroyed the closed schematics of different forms without losing sight of its jondura or depth, situating the guitar at a crossroads with a thousand possibilities and revolutionized its harmonic possibilities.  With his innate ability and his great sense of rhythm and timing, he transformed the elemental technique into a fine and precise array of picados, arpeggios, rasgueados and tremolos, revolutionizing the way it was played.

With his restless spirit, he brought in classical music (de Falla, Joaquin Rodrigo…_) and in fusing it with jazz (Johm McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, Al DiMeola…) he revolutionizes the borders that had confined flamenco.  With his inspiration, he didn’t really revolutionize anything:  He maintained the ancestral duende that links the purest tradition with a contemporary aliento.

End of sidebar.

Translator’s note:  This is the first Paco interview I’ve done since he died on March 25th.  It feels very different.  But somehow it seems that his words and his specific observations and attitudes are more important than ever.  The poignancy is palpable.

When I was writing an obituary for Paco de Lucía the day after his death, I fell back on the Spanish phrase “propio sello”.  It refers to the fact that a great artist will always have his or her “own stamp”, a way of imprinting their work with their own unique personal sensibility.

It then occurred to me that Paco de Lucía should have exactly that – literally.  I contacted my Jerez-based friend, the flamenco critic and author Estela Zatania, we drafted a proposal, and lo and behold, it was promptly approved.  On April 23rd, 2014, Spain will issue a postage stamp honoring flamenco’s greatest musician.  (Who says it takes forever to get anything done at the post office.) 

Further ruminations:  I play flamenco guitar a lot, and have for more than fifty years.  I’ve hardly ever played in public, since most people get bored pretty quick.  I’d like to think it’s the music’s fault, but maybe I contribute to the overall effect.  I don’t exactly play for fun, since it is so difficult and frustrating; but somehow it is rewarding beyond measure. I know lots of music by the great past guitarists mentioned in the sidebar, and I’ve studied with most of them.  I also play a lot of Paco de Lucía’s early music, from his first half-dozen albums. 

(Yes, it’s even harder to play than those other artists’ stuff, but it’s the pinnacle of flamenco guitar as a solo instrument, before Paco subsumed the guitar into a group situation by surrounding himself with other musicians as in his beloved jazz tradition.  At that point, I could no longer really understand, much less try to mimic, his genius.) 

For me, It’s always an honor to run Paco’s early ideas and compositional genius through my vastly lesser mind and fingers – I hope even a feeble imitation is still the sincerest form of flattery.

I always hope to find something that he and I had in common.  For obvious reasons, there ain’t much.  But it was interesting to see that Paco, a rational man virtually free of superstitions, has one.  And like him, I never play the accursed flamenco style called the peteneras, at least not since 1960 when I learned that it was too dangerous to mess with.  I don’t even listen to it. 

Hey, you can’t be too careful.

Brook Zern  brookzern@gmail.com

April 11, 2014   4 Comments