Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — The Morón Phenomenon

An Important Collection of Private Flamenco Recordings Brought to Light at Last – How to Hear Them On SoundCloud

In the 1960′s and 70′s a few foreigners, mostly Americans, were so struck by the quality of flamenco in several towns near Seville that they resolved to save those magnificent sounds forever.

They succeeded beyond measure. Today, Spain owes most of its understanding of the music of that time and place to the crucial efforts of people including Chris Carnes, Moreen Carnes, Steve Kahn, Carol Whitney and a few others — some who choose to remain nameless and others to be named later. (I never had a good tape recorder in Spain, but I helped some of those people by buying tape and paying to ship their Uher recorders to Germany for repairs.)

This is very different from commercial or official recordings. This is flamenco “de uso” — as it was used in everyday life, sometimes with the hope that someone would hire the artists for actual money, but usually because the artists loved to make and share this music with their friends and fellow artists. In a world where “pure” is mocked by scholars as meaningless and “authentic” is applied to just about everything anyone wants to sell more of, well, as noted below, this is the real deal.

Yesterday, in response to a post on this blog about Diego del Gastor, I learned that another intrepid gringo had been adding to the historic effort. I remember the name, and here is information from his son-in-law, David Quinn, with explanations in brackets and more comments at the end. You can see his brief note as a reply to the post:

“My wife’s father, David K. Loughran, who died recently, hauled around a reel-to-reel tape machine to Flamenco parties in and around Morón de la Frontera, Spain in 1964 and 1965.

“The musicians he was recording are known as flamenco masters, “mythical figures” of flamenco. The town is the epicenter of Gypsy flamenco. These players were the real deal – actual Gypsies – the real source of this music.

“They include:
Diego del Gastor, La Fernanda de Utrera [one of the greatest singers in flamenco history], Manolito de la Maria [ditto], [the American] Chris Carnes, Fernandillo de Moron, Antonio Amaya Flores “El Mellizo” [the guitarist and older brother of Diego del Gastor] and others.

“There are 46 hours of recordings, made at house parties and in cafés,
some with just the musicians and recorder present, some at crowded fiestas. The quality varies, but considering the circumstances, I think it is remarkable.

“I know there are musicians reading this; if you know someone who might be interested in hearing these please share this post, and/or the link below.
We’re trying to gather as much information as we can, with the goal of a more accurate track list.

“At the very least, they make excellent fiesta music!

“They can be heard at https://soundcloud.com/quinfolk/sets/the-flamenco-tapes-recorded-by-david-k-loughran-1964-1965

“These notes on content are unedited and transcribed From the hand written notes on the reel boxes:

*Reels 1 through 4:
- Diego, solo, December 1964
- Diego, Fernando, Manolito, Jselero, at a juerga at Venta El Calero
- Diego, Fernando & Manolito at a juerga at Club Mercantil
- Diego, Mellizo & Manolito at Diego’s house, a juerga for Pepe Rios

*Reel 4 Side B through Reel 6 Side A
- First juerga in Morón after cante jondo contest in Cordoba, with Diego, Paco del Gastor [the brilliant nephew of Diego], Manolito, Fernando, and Enrique [son of the legendary Joaquin el de la Paula]
- Juan and Dieguito del Gastor [the two other nephews of Diego, both fine guitarists] in Chris’s room at the hospedaje
- Easter Sunday juerga at El Calero with Diego and Manolito
- Andres Cabrera, Vicenta
- Juerga at El Calero

*Reel 6 Side B through Reel 9 Side A
- Antonio Amaya Flores (El Mellizo) at home
- Saetas in Utrera (Hermandad de los gitanos – Semana Santa 1965)
- Saetas at la Campana, Seville, with Lebrijano [a superb singer], Manolo Mairena [an excellent singer, younger brother of the great Antonio Mairena].
- Short Juerga at Casa Pepe with Dieguito del Gastor [now called Dieguito or Diego de Morón], Joselero [Diego del Gastor's brother-in-law, a fine local singer], Fernando [Fernandillo de Morón, a good singer and festero], Bob Haynes [a fine American guitarist], Church [?], etc.
- La Sallago [an excellent singer who sounded terrific until her very recent death], Terremoto [one of the greatest singers in flamenco's history].
- Terremoto, La Paquera [a great Jerez singer]; bautizo [baptism] in lower barrio with Diego, Paco, Perrate[an excellent singer] & La Fernanda
- Juerga at Tailor’s (El Escribano) house with Paco (solo), Diego (solo) & Niño Rosa
- Diego, Manolito and Fernando at Bob Fletcher’s in Seville.

*Reel 9 Side B through Reel 11 Side A
- Diego at Chimenea’s with Pohren
- Paco at Casa Pepe
- Paco – juerga at Pepe Chino’s house with Diego, Nino Rosa, Juan and his padre
- guitar solo by student

*Reel 11 side B through Reel 14 Side A
-Part of Fletcher’s fiesta with Diego, Manolito, Fernando
-Mellizo, solo at hospedaje
-From Pohren’s tapes of Paco, Diego, Juan Talegas, Manolito, Nina de los Peines
-Esteban de Sanlucar, La Perla, Miguel Valencia at Pohren’s club
-Chris and Fernando, and others
-Bautizo at Andre’s and Fernando’s with Diego, Perrate and La Fernanda
-Solo by Diego

*Reel 14 Side B through Reel 17 Side A
-Fiesta, Casa Villa Clara
-Antonio Cruz
-Iglesias and company

*Reel 17 Side B through Reel 19 Side A
-Unidentified

*Reel 19 Side B through Reel 22
-Selections from Don Pohren’s collection
-Selections from Don Pohren juergas – Antonio & Paco [Francisco] Mairena, Eduardo de la Malena
-Richardo Pachon [later the producer of Camaron’s historic recordings, Luis Maravilla [possibly the dancer Luisa Maravilla, Pohren's wife]
-Fiesta with Pohren
-Flamenco: Diego del Gastor, La Fernanda de Utrera, Manolito de la Maria, Chris Carnes, Fernandillo de Moron, Don Pohren, David K. Loughran

End of explanations and notations by the son-in-law of recordist David K. Loughran.

Okay. I am grateful to the late David K. Loughran for his selfless dedication, and to his son-in-law Dennis Quinn for allowing — better yet, insisting — that this material finds a deserving audience.

It is often said that Diego del Gastor was an unrecorded guitarist, and in fact he assiduously avoided efforts by Spain’s most prestigious record label — at the time their only other guitarist was a young man named Paco de Lucía — to entice him to record by building a high-tech studio near his home. (Diego just skipped town until they tore it down.)

On the human scale, Diego may have been the most recorded flamenco guitarist in history. I have many hundreds of hours of his playing, both alone and for the singers named above and dozens of others. (And I still don’t have most of the material in the largest stash, recorded by the late Chris Carnes and now residing at the University of Washington where it probably doesn’t get the tiniest fraction of the attention and audience it deserves.)

Not surprisingly, I already have a lot of the same material that Mr. Loughran recorded — clearly from tapes made by Chris and others. But a lot of the other material listed above was originally recorded by Mr. Loughran, and has enormous historical importance. I hope other addicts will join me in the effort to add more detail and information to the sparse notes seen above.

I haven’t listened to the material yet, and rarely use or trust sites that normal humans feel comfortable signing onto. I assume SoundCloud is a logical place to have archived this music, and that it will remain accessible there indefinitely.

Aproveche.

Brook Zern

March 24, 2015   2 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

Diego del Gastor – An Appreciation by Alberto García Ulecia – translated by Brook Zern

 Translator’s note:  This article was recently added to the website or Facebook page ARCHIVOS FLAMENCOMORON [note the run-together second word], which is amassing information, photos and reports about Morón de la Frontera, its history, its flamenco and its people.  Like many entries, this was added by the extraordinary dancer Pepe Torres [who signs on as Pepe Torres Bailaor Torres].  Here it is:

But… what was Diego del Gastor really like?

In his case, it is hard to separate the man from the artist.  He was, above all, profoundly human, and human contradictions were part of him: cordial and warm, yet shy and reserved; complicated yet elemental; intuitive and rational; introverted and sharing; traditional and progressive; funny and melancholy…all these diverse components that revealed his individuality still seemingly live in our air, in his enchanted hands, his mane of a hallucinatory whiteness, his voice of worn anguish, his vertiginous rage against pretense or egotism.

We still sense his warm presence, his sensitive friendship, his tender silence when thinking about a child or looking at flowers… his venerable air of an exiled archangel, with the forehead of a patriarch and the smile of a good child.

There was something of García Lorca in him, thin and tall, with that natural elegance of an impoverished or dethroned king that is sometimes found in men or women of his race.  He was as old as a mountain and as ingenuous as a little child, strong from the austerity of his life and delicate from the sensibility that lent the image of a lily – but an incorruptible, never-fading lily.  And today we feel that Andalusians like him are in good measure the image of Andalusia itself.

Diego withstood in Morón the difficult years of the 40’s, and then entered the 50’s and 60’s.  He never went abroad or joined the flamenco shows and spectacles, he didn’t make any recordings, thanks to his spiritual wealth, his exoticism, his bohemian romanticism and even his foolishness…He survived in Morón through flamenco fiestas among friends and some well-to-do gentlemen, living only through his guitar.

With the slights and snubs and bitterness that he often bore in those decades, especially for a artist like him after those hard tests, Diego retained his elegance of spirit, his peculiar integrity, his dislike of egotism and strictly materialist values.  He seemed to be a disconcerting mixture of pride and humility…

Some said he was crazy, and in some way it was true – according to the standards of the thoughtless or the bourgeois.

Later in his life, times changed and the circumstances of his life improved, to the point that he was welcomed into relatively expansive circles within and beyond Morón, without being corrupted.  He made trips to Ronda and to El Gastor, his places of origin.  It was a time of recognition and prizes, reported by the newspapers and other media.  This state of affairs contributed on the one hand to increased general prestige for flamenco in more or less intellectual circles, and on the other hand to the arrival of a flow of foreigners from many nations, attracted by flamenco song and by the artistic and personal magnetism of the man from El Gastor.  They went to live in Morón and to study guitar with Diego – classes that were usually as unpredictable and fascinating as the maestro himself.    In this sense, it can be said that before Diego attained nationwide renown in Spain he had already earned an international reputation.  Those exotic students of Diego proliferated, but that doesn’t mean he created a true school of guitar playing among those disciples.  The only school that such a personal artist could leave was the imprint he gave to the excellent local guitarist Manolo Morilla, and that represented by his nephews Paco, Juan, Agustín, and the son of Joselero de Morón, Dieguito.

Each have their own artistic approach and sensibility, carrying in their hands and their blood bits of the musical styles and even the duende of the master himself.

Even the unknowing listener will realize that their guitars sound different from all others.

Nonetheless, his creative vein was developed in melodic variations in the styles of soleá, siguiriyas and bulerías, sometimes borrowed by other players…

And nonetheless, beyond the depth, flavor and Gypsy purity of his playing, perhaps the most outstanding aspect of his art was the most non-transferrable: the singular “aire” that permeated all of his playing.  The chilling duende that deepens, capable of crushing the chests of the listeners with moving beauty, and then suddenly relaxing its grip.

When the trance generated by his guitar suddenly appeared, all fell silent and some who were drawn into the realm of this Gypsy were paralyzed, petrified, their faces frozen into a strange expression of sweet, embracing mysticism.

It was as if they had been bewitched by the light of an ancient moon that left in their features an almost pantheistic heritage of who-knows-what vanished race or civilization, an extract of tears from past woes running down their cheeks,

Diego del Gastor resembled no one.

And those who heard him will never forget.

Today, years after his death, the memory of his presence and the magic of his music still light our way and ennoble us, inspiring us, wounding us; it does to our hearts what the wind does to the flowers.

Alberto García Ulecia.

End of translation, made from a problematic handmade Spanish transcription (corrections welcome) seen at:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/1440972206139022/1452363348333241/?notif_t=group_activity

 

March 18, 2014   No Comments

Fernando Quiñones on Diego del Gastor (again) – translated by Brook Zern

Thanks to Froilan for submitting a scanned text from an unnamed book written by the noted Cadiz writer Fernando Quiñones.  (Note that Quiñones was widely noted and well regarded as an author, in addition to his well-respected work as a pioneer flamencologist.)

The text dealt with our favorite bugaboo, Diego del Gastor.  Froilan says the scanner made some silly errors.  Worse yet, I have trouble with the wide and subtle vocabulary and have sometimes resorted to guesses or approximations — so my shoddy translation should be even more suspect than usual and corrections will be welcome:

Chapter 49 – Diego del Gastor

“In ’66, trailed by a truck loaded with Catalan technicians, José Manuel Caballero [Bonald] went from the South of Spain on up, recording the memorable “Archivo del Cante Flamenco”, finding things from the most out-of-the-way places.  I accompanied him on two of those field trips.

In Morón de la Frontera, where the plains recall the equestrian shades of the [local] poet Fernando Villalón who combined aspects of bullfighter and bull-breeder (as poet Rafael Albertí portrays him), we arrived at the appointed time.  The first task was to recoup our strength in a bar, with a dish of noodles and a tapa of spinanch with beans…

Our man appeared by the second cup.  The guitarist Diego del Gastor, the pure exponent of a toque (style) that is both personal and classic at the same time, and who afterwards would leave a school rich with falsetas that were as serendipitous in invention as they were undocumented on recordings.

He was well on in years, white-haired, svelte and erect in his black suit, with the bearing of a true gentleman, a quick glint in his eye, a simple and elegantly thoughtful air bespeaking a discreet sensitivity.  Somehow, thanks to something within this Gypsy, we were — improbably enough — reminded of someone as distant from him as anyone could be:  Sir Bertrand Russell, who is also described in the pages of this work.

Among the serious artists sought out for the Archivo recordings, there were many whose bearing and manner fit the popular image of simple, rough-edged and sometimes dissolute folks: La Piriñaca in Jerez, Santiago Donday in Cadiz, [Manuel] El de Angustias in Utrera or, in Alcala de Guadaira, the ineffable Manolito del de María.  But this Diego del Gastor — well, he was something else again.

In this humble social setting, he seemed to shine with a different light.  This man from el Gastor (a tiny town in the mountains behind Cadiz, from which he was taken while still young to Morón de la Frontera) — was he not a gentleman in every sense of the word, possessing a concentrated education and deep knowlege?

My techological illiteracy meant I didn’t know if it were possible to make an important recording outside of a studio in the 1960′s.  What I did know was that very few if any had been made in an alcove off a small bedroom, with the recording engineers on the bed and the cables attached to naked light bulb outlets.

There was no choice but to arrange ourselves against these thin walls — all of us including the director, the artists, assistants, some friends and relatives, the technicians and — inexcusably or inexplicably — a Yankee from the unwanted Morón Air Base with his wife and his friend or paramour in a situation radiating the tension of such triangles.  And so there we were, the whole bunch, in a scene straight out of the Marx Brothers “A Night at the Opera”.

Yet oddly enough, given the level of chaos, the recordings would turn out well, thanks to the great Diego del Gastor and the much less great [“macho menus grande“, (sic) presumably “mucho menos grande“] singer Joselero, the brother-in-law of the maestro and, like him, a Gypsy.

Our initial impression of the music and the character of Diego del Gastor only grew stronger throughout the night — perhaps the only night (and please excuse this unfortunate and egotistical aside) in which I myself sang, after the real task had been completed but while the atmosphere and the wine still pervaded that tight little place.

In truth, one couldn’t really remember what happened, except the look of surprise on the faces, the mottled aspect of Joselero, the taste of the cante, and the intensely concentrated pleasure of Diego del Gastor, who lost his circumspect air at one point and joined me, cheek to jowl, for a few funky bulerias in their own special rhythm.

And that’s the way it was — “resbalaitas” [life's little slips and blunders??]…”

End of translation.

Note that Fernando Quiñones described this same magic night when he wrote an obituary for Diego del Gastor in Blanco y Negro in July of 1973, which appears elsewhere in this blog.  We learn that Quiñones also profiles Bertrand Russell in the same book, which helps explain why the image of the philosopher from Cambridge sprang to his mind when he saw Diego, the philosopher from Life Itself.

Brook Zern

February 11, 2014   No Comments

Harmony? What’s That? Thoughts on the Melodic Essence of Flamenco Guitar

A correspondent who actually understands music theory wrote:

“The thing is, guitarists naturally tend to view flamenco as a set of chordal relationships — because what they mostly play is chords, and most of us who walked in off the street learned chords before we knew much of anything about scales or melodic lines.  I think it may be a mistake to project this orientation onto the history of flamenco, whose antecedents were likely just horizontal vocal melodies — not chord progressions.  My own suspicion is that flamenco has indeed changed in modern times.  That is, melodies are now being invented to go with chord progressions that do make modern musical sense.  (Fandangos are another example of this.)  But I suspect it started the other way around: melodic lines were the given, and early guitarists just fiddled and fudged until what they played didn’t sound too bad with the vocal line.”

End of note.

Thanks.  It did start the other way around, I bet — and while we may think we’re hot stuff, inventing hot new chordal inversions and voicings and chord-based melodies by the score, we are all off bass.  This is, or was, a horizontal-melodic music and not a vertical-harmonic music.

(And that’s one reason why I particularly treasure some old falsetas, notably Diego del Gastor’s; because they epitomize this non-harmonized way of conceiving of flamenco: very restricted range, and no obvious point in the falseta where the underlying accompaniment chord would change — in fact, they can’t be accompanied by a second guitar playing chords, because often they simply don’t imply any chord at all.   Cast not these falsetas before would-be jazz fusionists… unless you want to remind them that they’re barking up the wrong tree when they come sniffing around real flamenco.)

Case in point:  The most advanced flamenco guitarist I hung out with at New York’s American Institute of Guitar once asked me to check out a new flamenco piece he was working out.  He played a chord, and then another chord, and then another that didn’t seem to be in the same key, and this went on for a while.  He asked if I liked the way he had modulated between shifting tonal centers.  I didn’t understand the meaning of that.  I was just amazed that he had blocked out an entire flamenco piece as a chordal creation. He explained that the melodies were the easy part, just connecting chords or leading from one tonal center to another.

But I shouldn’t have been surprised.  When I first heard him playing the hell out of Paco de Lucía’s brilliant soleá titled “Cuando Canta el Gallo”, I had asked him how he had learned its relatively advanced chordal intricacies.  He said, “I’m a jazz guitarist.  Next to jazz, everything else is just baby talk.”

I told him it sure was a terrific soleá.  He said “What is a soleá?”  He had approached it strictly as music — he didn’t count it in twelves, or care if it was in the Phrygian mode.  He just heard the whole thing as it was.  I was dumbfounded.  We made a deal: I would tell him the backstory or history of the music he was playing, if he would just show me how the hell to play it.

Today, of course, his approach to guitar is dominant while my traditional take is sub-dominant and minor at best.   When I went whimpering to him about Paco’s stunning later soleá, “Gloria a Niño Ricardo”, he took pity on me and showed how its tonal core or center changed several times in just the first few compases.

It’ll never last.  Hold on to your old falsetas, boys; melodic flamenco will rise again.

BZ

January 20, 2014   2 Comments

Flamenco Strategies – Rebranding Opportunities for Mass Market Penetration

A loyal correspondent concludes his joint proposal for issuing flamenco CD’s of our privately-recorded tapes of flamenco in Morón de la Frontera as follows:

“When a company like Sony acquires us, we will preserve our right to decide what material will be issued.”

Thank you, loyal correspondent.  Actually, I am confident that my erstwhile employer, Time Warner Music, will top any bid from rival Sony Records to buy out our start-up internet subsidiary, AuthenticDiego.com.

I say this after very positive preliminary talks with Warner’s West Coast Under Assistant Promotion Man, who did so much for the Rolling Stones.

He’s working on the late-night half-hour infomercials as we speak.  There’s just one thing.  He offered a terrific suggestion — we dub in the new-age guitar stylings of his nephew, who sounds just like a cross between Ottmar Liebert and Jesse Cook, in place of Diego del Gastor’s playing, which he says sounds slightly repetitive after a few minutes. (Actually, I believe his exact words were “boring, boring, boring.  Boring.”).

Oh, and in place of Fernanda de Utrera and Juan Talega, we’ll use vocals by Celine Dion and either Barry Manilow or Garth Brooks — I’m holding out for Garth, because of his earthier sound.  Beyond that, he promised absolutely no other changes, except for some orchestration.  (But don’t worry; I vetoed flutes, saying a flute would sound too ridiculous to anyone who knew anything at all about flamenco, and he agreed.)

Also, in the interest of political correctness, he suggested that the tentative title, Morón’s Greatest Hits, be changed to Person of Below Average Intelligence’s Greatest Hits.

I know you’re as excited as I am by all of this.  Don’t you have a cousin who does IPO’s…

Brook Zern, CEO, COO, CMO, JNTR, Morón Enterprises LLC

January 19, 2014   1 Comment

Who, Us? A New Diegnosis of Guiri Gastor Guitar Lovers

I’ve been seeking a recent post which, perhaps accidentally, coined a marvelous word.

As is often the case, the note questioned the judgment, or sanity, of those who hate to see anything short of hagiography — adoring attempted mythologizing — about guitarist Diego del Gastor.

Anyway, instead of using the descriptive standard word “sycophants” I think it used the even more descriptive but non-standard term “psycophants” — or maybe even the dead-on perfect “psychophants”.

(Well, it made my day.  And I’m one of ‘em, too.)

Brook Zern

January 18, 2014   No Comments

Singer José Valencia and Dancer Pepe Torres at the 2014 Nimes Flamenco Festival – deflamenco.com report by Estela Zatania – translated by Brook Zern

Flamenco’s Geographic and Human “Interior”

Thursday’s flamenco schedule at the Nimes Festival began with a noontime conference by our friend José Manuel Gamboa about France’s contribution to flamenco, a history of French fascination with the art in the Nineteenth Century when it was rejected within Spain.  As Gamboa explained, and as is verified every year in Nimes, those early links have never been broken.

At night in the theater, it was the turn of the best of Morón de la Frontera and Lebrija, two indispensable elements in the flamenco axis centered on Seville, each town with its special and unmistakable perspective.  If the Morón scene was dominated by the relaxed aire of Diego del Gastor’s “cuerda pelá” or stripped-down guitar, Lebrija was propelled by the intensity and urgency of the flamenco of Jerez and Cádiz.  That’s the source of the musical personality of singer José Valencia.  A still-young yet mature singer, who is striving to open a professional path as headline in the art after decades singing as part of the finest dance companies, unwavering in his defense of classic flamenco song.  No ditties, no bouncy pop.  (Ni temitas ni temitas.)

The winner of the Giraldillo al Cante prize at Seville’s last flamenco Bienal as well as on two earlier wins for cante accompaniment of dancers and as the Revelation prize for new talent, he was accompanied by the Malaga guitarist Juan Requena, who received the Giraldillos prize for Song Accompaniment.  With his first recording now two years old, and another in preparation, and with the admiration of his colleagues as well as aficionados, Manuel Valencia is now at his finest professional phase.

His appearance onstage was met with clamorous applause. And soon that big, round and flamenco voice filled the air with cantiñas with the distinctive flavor of Lebrija.  In the soleá, he started well, but suddenly something went wrong with his throat that resisted an easy resolution.   With great musical expertise, Valencia sought out less brilliant tones and less demanding song styles, saving the situation thanks to his knowledge and professionalism.  The free-rhythm malagueñas leading into the rhythmic or abandolao version went well.  In the siguiriyas, the instability of his  throat gave an added touch of warmth to José’s normally Pavarottian singing.  He then decided to take a real chance [cortar por lo sano] with a marathon round of bulerías, out front and alone before the possible danger, with no other accompaniment than the discreet handclaps of Juan Diego Valencia and Manuel Valencia, and the muted knocking of Requena on his guitar.  The singer loosened his necktie and spoke into the mike: “I don’t want to defraud you.  I’m going to die right here!”  He then launched into a series of classic bulerías with great taste and gusto, and some semi-danced touches; even his vocal chords obeyed, and with those bulerías all the rest would have been too much.  Animated, José Valencia rounded off this difficult recital with a martinete in the style of Antonio Mairena.

After a rest, we returned to our seats to receive a outburst of Moronism though the art of Pepe Torres and his group.

Morón de la Frontera has produced a surprising number of dancers, of whom the maximum present-day example is Pepe Torres.  His work is held in high esteem by aficionados because despite his youth, he conserves the art of the older generation, not as a museum-bound relic but by giving new life and validity to the approaches of El Farruco, Rafael el Negro, Pepe Ríos, Paco Valdepeñas, Antonio el Marsellés and even el Gineto de Cádiz, all reflected in his dance.

Pepe, polyfaceted as he is, added the beautiful touch of opening with his rendition of siguiriyas on guitar, an homage to his granduncle Diego del Gastor.  He then danced to the tonás and the siguiriyas, with an interlude for a vocal and guitar rendition of the tarantas.

His danced alegrías is one of the high points of the recital, done to the song of Luís Moneo, Moi de Morón, Guillermo Manzano and David el Galli, and the immense guitars of Paco Iglesias and Antonio Moya.

A solo rendition of the sung tientos tangos, and afterwards the soleá, the form most closely identified with the Morón locale, and a long and tasty finale por bulerías.  Pepe then called José Valencia and his group, and it all ended up in a classical fin de fiesta to the delight of the audience.

End of article by Estela Zatania in deflamenco.com  The original is seen at:

http://www.deflamenco.com/revista/resenas-actuaciones/jose-valencia-pepe-torres-festival-flamenco-de-nimes-2014-1.html#.UtoV1OD0DoB

January 17, 2014   1 Comment

He Coulda Been a Contender — How Flamenco Guitarist Diego del Gastor Literally Fled From High-Profile Fame in 1939 (And Again, About Three Decades Later).

He Coulda Been a Contender — How Diego del Gastor Literally Fled From High-Profile Flamenco Fame in 1939 (And Again, About Three Decades Later).
A bunch of us guitar-slinging gringos retain our 1960′s obsession with Diego del Gastor.  I sometimes take heat from friends for saying that he wasn’t well known among the flamencos of that era, largely because he rarely left his home town of Morón de la Frontera.  Before that, when he was a young man during the so-called “opera flamenca” phase of the art, most guitarists gained fame by joining the traveling troupes who comprised these events.
Diego didn’t — but he came pretty darn close.  I had always heard that he was asked, or even contracted, by the very fine and famous singer Manuel Vallejo, to accompany him on such a tour.  My fanatic friends took this to be proof that Diego was famous.  I wasn’t even sure it was true until a flamenco expert told me over lunch at the 2010 First International Flamenco Congress that he had seen a poster announcing the first appearance of this artistic duo.
Well, I’ve finally found a pic of that poster, from February 9th, 1939, at a wonderful website of flamenco documents at www.papelesflamencos.com run by David Pérez Marinero.  The poster is at this page:
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-HM_duX_gfFM/Up4uGyQijbI/AAAAAAAAJz4/EEsgoWoGlIM/s00/vallejo+en+zamora+1939.jpg
These traveling variety shows were always a mixed bag, but usually featured a bunch of headlining flamenco singers with outstanding famous guitar accompanists, along with vaudeville-type acts like jugglers or pop singers or whatever.  The two events in these two posters each include the great Manuel Vallejo, called “The Ace of Aces”.  The first evening he’s accompanied by the finest and most famous guitarist of the era (and in fact the first half of the Twentieth Century, Ramón Montoya (better known in America as the uncle of the world’s most famous solo player, Carlos Montoya, who settled in New York.)
And the next night — there it is in black and yellowing white — Vallejo is accompanied by a relative unknown: Diego Amaya, who is described the same as Ramón Montoya, as “The Wizard of the Flamenco Guitar.”
I’m all but certain that the event didn’t happen — Vallejo probably sang, but Diego didn’t show up onstage.  I think he didn’t like the idea of taking his marching orders from Vallejo, and quit.  (That seems odd, since guitarists were supposed to fade into the woodwork rather than make distinctive musical statements during songs.  But Diego often had trouble with that rule, and may have quit or been fired for insubordination.)
It’s also possible that Diego got cold feet about being in a spotlight — after all, this is a man who was offered a recording contract by the prestigious Philips label (think Paco de Lucía) but vanished for three weeks rather than enter the recording studio that the company had built for him near his home.
So in ’39 he was known enough to somehow be offered a major gig, but he backed out — not the way to become a well-known “figura” in that epoch.
Random comments:  The theater, evidently in Zamora, proudly announces that its heating system has been repaired — a good winter incentive to buy a ticket.
One featured film on the bill is titled “The Liberation of Barcelona: the conquest of the Catalan capital by Franco’s troops.”  That had to be seen as an ugly humiliation by the many brave citizens who made their heroic last stand against the Fascist invaders there,
That’s probably a sort of newsreel — the main film on  the first night is a Fox “superproduction” called “The Rhythm of Love”.  The next night it’s RKO’s “Sublime Love” with Irene Dunn and Richard Dix.  And on that evening, 20 Artists 20 are promised, few if any are noted flamencos — one is “Paquita Baby, the Spanish Shirley Temple”,
Now we know.

A bunch of us guitar-slinging gringos retain our quaint 1960′s obsession with Diego del Gastor.

I sometimes take heat from even-more-loyalist friends for insisting that Diego wasn’t really well known among most flamencos of that era, largely because he rarely left his home town of Morón de la Frontera.  (One of my Seville teachers, the internationally famous virtuoso Pepe Martinez, said, “Oh, he’s some primitive who lives in the mountains”; most other noted Seville guitarists didn’t seem to recognize Diego’s name.)

But long before that, when Diego was a young man during the so-called “opera flamenca” phase of the art, most guitarists who sought fame joined the traveling troupes that comprised these strange shows..

Diego never did — but he came pretty darn close.  I had always heard that he was asked, or even contracted, by the fine and famous singer Manuel Vallejo, to accompany him on such a tour.  My fanatic pals took this as proof that Diego was therefore already famous.  I thought it might have been just one of those things.

I wasn’t even sure the story was true until a real flamenco expert at the 2010 First International Flamenco Congress in Seville told me he’d once seen an old poster announcing the appearance of this dynamic duo.

Well, I’ve finally found a pic of the poster for that event, from February 9th, 1939, at a wonderful website of flamenco documents at www.papelesflamencos.com run by David Pérez Marinero.  The poster is at this page:

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-HM_duX_gfFM/Up4uGyQijbI/AAAAAAAAJz4/EEsgoWoGlIM/s00/vallejo+en+zamora+1939.jpg

These traveling variety shows were always a mixed bag, but usually featured a bunch of headlining flamenco singers with outstanding guitar accompanists, along with vaudeville-type acts like jugglers or pop singers or whatever.  The two events in these two posters shown here each include the great Vallejo, called “The Ace of Aces”.  On the first evening he’s accompanied by the finest and most famous guitarist of the era (and in fact the first half of the Twentieth Century), the magnificent Ramón Montoya (better known in America as the uncle of the world’s most famous solo player, Carlos Montoya, who settled in New York.)

And the next night — there it is in black and yellowing white — Vallejo is billed as being accompanied by a relative unknown: Diego Amaya, who is described the same as Ramón Montoya, as “El Mago de la Guitarra”, or “The Wizard of the Flamenco Guitar.”  (“Magician” or “Wise Man” are alternatives/)

I’m all but certain that this event didn’t happen — Vallejo probably sang that night, but Diego didn’t show up onstage.  I suspect  he didn’t like the idea of taking his marching orders from the imperious Vallejo, and quit.  (That may seem odd, since guitarists were supposed to fade into the woodwork rather than make distinctive musical statements during songs.  But Diego often had trouble with that rule, and may have quit or been fired for insubordination.)

It’s also possible that Diego got cold feet about being in a spotlight — after all, this is a man who in the late sixties was offered a recording contract by the prestigious Philips label (their only other soloist was Paco de Lucía) but Diego simply vanished for three weeks, until the recording studio that the company had constructed near his house was knocked down and carted off.

So in ’39 he was known enough to somehow be offered a major gig, but he backed out — not the way to become a well-known “figura” in that epoch.

There is, of course, a third possibility:  Vallejo heard Diego’s accompaniment and fired him.  Why?  Perhaps because Diego’s playing was always the polar opposite of Ramón Montoya’s.  Montoya’s was sweet and lush, and best suited for lighter flamenco styles like the Latin-American “cantes de ida y vuelta” or “round-trip songs” that often came from Spain as nice melodies and were shipped back with a languid, tropical sway.  They were huge in the era of opera flamenca.  Ramón’s style was also perfect for the ornamented, free-rhythm highly evolved forms of fandango like the tarantas, mineras, granainas and cartageneras.

Diego in his mature years hardly even dealt with these two song groups.  I’d bet that over ninety percent of the endless hours of private tapes of his accompaniment and solo work is in just three of flamenco’s fifty or sixty forms — namely, the soleá, bulerías and siguiriyas: the hardest of flamenco’s hard-core styles.

I mean, one of these guitar giants kind of evokes the balladeer John Denver and the other kind of evokes the bluesman Robert Johnson.  Could Vallejo really go onstage backed by one and then the other on two consecutive nights?  That would be pretty daunting for everyone.

Random comments:  The theater, evidently in Zamora, proudly announces that its heating system has been repaired — a good winter incentive to buy a ticket.

Unusually, films are featured on each night, which is why there were “only” twenty live performers.  One film on the bill is titled “The Liberation of Barcelona: the conquest of the Catalan capital by Franco’s troops.”  That had to be seen as a nasty humiliation by the many brave fighters who made their heroic last stand against the Fascist invaders there,

That’s probably an extended newsreel — the main film on  the first night is a Fox “superproduction” called “The Rhythm of Love”.  The next night it’s RKO’s “Sublime Love” with Irene Dunn and Richard Dix.  And on that evening, 20 Artists 20 are promised, but few if any are noted flamencos — one is “Paquita Baby, the Spanish Shirley Temple”, presumably singing “En El Buen Barco Chupa Chup”.

(I suspect that the researcher Sr. Pérez Marinero may not realize that the guitarist with the generic-sounding name Diego Amaya was in fact Diego Amaya Flores, better known as Diego del Gastor.  But maybe he doesn’t care, either.  Not everyone loved him like we did, but he was billed as a Wizard and sure enough, decades later we fell under his spell.)

Brook Zern

December 16, 2013   10 Comments

Pablo Picasso: Morón de la Frontera’s Most Famous Non-native Grandson

Pablo Picasso:  Morón de la Frontera’s Most Famous Non-native Grandson

If you had been hanging around the Andalusian town of Morón de la Frontera in 1800, you might have run into a recent arrival named José Ruíz Fuentes, a musician and tintorero (cleaner and dyer) and his wife  María Josefa Almoguera González; and their four children.

And if you’d been hanging around Paris a century later, you might have run into a promising young artist who probably had an old photograph of one of those children, Diego Ruíz Almoguera, perhaps in a frame that said “Grandpa”.

That artist would’ve been Pablo Ruíz Picasso.

I found this info in an online blog devoted to Morón:  http://morondelafrhistoriaflamencodeportes.blogspot.com/search/label/Picasso%20y%20Morón

I reluctantly concede that a non-native grandson like Pablo Picasso trumps even the town’s most glorious non-native son, the flamenco guitarist Diego Flores Amaya who was born in the town of Arriate in the province of Málaga, moved to the the pueblo of El Gastor in that same province, and then as a young man moved to Morón while retaining his professional name, Diego del Gastor.

November 3, 2013   No Comments