Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Guitarist Manolo Morilla

Article About Manolo Morilla, Guitarist of Morón de la Frontera, 1924-2013 – translated by Brook Zern

The following article by Luis Javier appears in his blog called Morón de la Frontera: Historia, Flamenco, Deportes.  It celebrates the life of the guitarist Manolo Morilla, a guitarist and guitar teacher from Morón.  I’ve added a brief commentary at the end.  The original is at: http://morondelafrhistoriaflamencodeportes.blogspot.com/

The original includes at the end a link to an excellent appraisal and  interview that the flamenco expert Estela Zatania (who lived for many years in Morón and knew Morilla well), conducted with him in 2001.  It’s at this URL:

http://www.comunicaflamenco.com/revista/entrevistas/entrevista-a-manuel-morilla-por-estela-zatania-1.html

Here’s a translation of Luis Javier’s piece:

The Guitar Weeps: Manolo Morilla Has Died

After several weeks of Spring, this morning the clouds again covered the sun.  It seemed that the weather had joined in this day of mourning in Morón, grey and sad, the guitar seeming to weep from above.  And for good reason, because maestro Manolo Morilla was no longer with us.

It was a long-ago March 12 of 1924 , in a casa de vecinos shared by many families, when Manuel Morilla Verdugo, son of Manolo and Carmen, entered this world.   The child grew up in the narrow streets of the town, with dreams of playing professional soccer.  His father played a little guitar, but Manolo also heard the music of Pepe Amaya, the older brother of Diego del Gastor, who practiced in a studio by the Cuesta Portillo, while he played his games.  Finally he was struck by “the inclination”, and Seville’s Betis soccer team lost a great player, but the guitar gained a great maestro.

Manolo learned first from his friend Barolo López.  Later he would get to know the great Pepe Naranjo, inheritor of the styles of the mythical Niño Álvarez and Pepe Mesa, who became his teacher.  Almost seventy years after that encounter, in a series of conversations with Manuel in his house in the Barrio de la Guita – fortunately recorded on video – the octogenarian guitarist recalled point by point how thing went on that first meeting with Pepe Naranjo, and also those first classes, with the melodic falsetas (variations).  Fortunately, the chain of the Morón school of guitar had acquired a new and indispensable link.

Manolo remembers that Naranjo came to appreciate his playing  so much that he proposed that Manolo should buy one of his guitars, a Santos Hernandez that Naranjo had acquired in Jerez from the great Javier Molina himself.  The price was high for that era, but Manolo decided to buy it, paying off the debt month by month at the Banesto bank, often with great effort.  Afterwards, Pepe Naranjo regretted the decision to sell and tried to buy back the guitar, but Manolo managed to resist and kept the guitar as the true treasure that it was.

There were years of sharing evenings with Cristóbal Jiménez – another privileged disciple of Naranjo – and also Manolo el Gitano, El Jilguero, el Niño Rosa… and Diego del Gastor, with whom he always maintained a great friendship.  It was an epoch during which he forged his own style of playing, with an air and feel that exhaled the essence of Morón and spread it to the four winds.  And aside from his style or air, there were his well-known variations, known among many aficionados as “morillerías”.

Going back to the text we’ve cited, we see that Manolo never wanted to be a professional guitarist.  The guitarist Bernabé de Morón, for example, suggested on some occasions that Manolo join some of his troupes that were touring Spain, but that wasn’t the life Manolo wanted.  His work and his family, combined with his love of Morón, meant that his art was confined to private gatherings and a few appearances in local festivals.  In these intimate situations, he accompanied the greatest figures in flamenco song:  Tomás Pavón, Antonio Mairena, Aurelio de Cadiz, Perrate de Utrera. Fernanda and Bernarda de Utrera, Joselero, Miguel Vargas, José Menese, El Lebrijano… and also the town’s aficionados whom he accompanied in private reunions — fiestas or juergas –  in the house of Paco el Daleao, or in Los Llorones, or in those Flamenco Masses that were performed in different parts of Andalucía.  Here we recall artists from Morón who also sang to his accompaniment:  Enrique Méndez, Fernandillo, Paco Moreno, Crujera, Pepe Palomo, “El Jilguero” – and some still with us, including El Niño Rosa, Juan Manuel Guerra and Paco Camacho…

It was Manolo’s magisterio on the guitar that distinguished him.  Dozens of young people studied with him.  And it wasn’t just local youngsters who came  the Barrio de la Guita, but students from around the planet: Germany, Japan, Australia, the U.S. – even professionals took classes with him to perfect their playing, among them Agustín Ríos and the singer Calixto Sánchez.  And there is his school of playing, his greatest legacy, which includes professionals like his son Juan, Tito Muñóz, Dani de Morón and Juan Torres. As well as others who have carried on his style as aficionados in other Andalusian towns, including the late Diego Joaquinito and Juan Luís López, Manolo Coronado, Alfonso Clavijo and Paco “El Leri”, all bearing witness to his work as a teacher.  TEACHING, a blessed word that should be engraved in gold letters on any epitaph recalling Manolo Morilla.

And now we can expect that the homages will begin – posthumously.  Fortunately, though, Manolo enjoyed some in his lifetime, such as the recognition given to him at the Municipal Pools in June of 1978,  brilliantly announced by Alberto García Ulecia.  And in 1998 his art was celebrated by his students, and by the Las Aguilas Neighborhood Association of San Francisco.  And in 2008 the Flamenco Cultural Forum presented him with its first Insignia de Oro – the last great recognition he received, with a large number of Morón’s aficionados present.

In conclusion, we believe that homages should be given to the living, though perhaps now he will at last have a Gazpacho festival dedicated to him, or he will be given the Gold Insignia, perhaps with a black ribbon, to soothe the consciences of certain people, those who denied him such honors in life.  We shall soon see…

If this great professor of guitar is to be given a tribute, there are other ways to do it, such as releasing the documentary film shot in 2008, or publishing the private recordings of his playing, both alone and with other artists, such as his duets with Diego del Gastor, or his accompanying of the great singer Antonio Mairena in those memorable moments so intensely lived in the club Los Llorones.  There is plenty to include in such a legacy.

Today, April 28th, a portion of Manolo Morilla’s ashes were thown to the four winds from atop the Castle of Morón, in the shadow of which Manolo spent so much of his life since childhood.  Today the earth received the remains of one of its most outstanding sons, who know has his place in our history.  Hasta siempre, Manolo – here’s to you, forever.

End of article.  I regret  that I, like many others who spent serious time in Morón, never sought out or even met Manolo Morilla.  I was virtually unaware of his existence, or I might have tried to learn something from him that could have shed additional light on Pepe Naranjo, Pepe Mesa and other early artists who contributed to the town’s glorious tradition.   At the same time, I certainly don’t regret an instant of the time I spent instead with Diego del Gastor, and with his four gifted nephews (including Agustín Ríos, who evidently studied for a time with Manolo Morilla).

The important guitarist Dani de Morón is evidently indebted to Manolo Morilla as an early teacher; this would explain why his approach doesn’t seem to owe much to Diego del Gastor.  The article also mentions the old-time playert Bernabé de Morón, whose work and solo LP seem to have no connection to the town’s unique guitar heritage.

May 1, 2013   No Comments