Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Guitarist Paco del Gastor

1979 Guitar Review Column on Paco de Lucía – with 2014 comments

The following column appeared in Guitar Review #45, dated Spring, 1979.  Devoted primarily to the work of Paco de Lucía, then 32, it described him as “the most advanced and inventive guitarist in any idiom” – a quote that, to my delight, has been used for many of  his American concerts ever since, most recently for the 2012 Boston Opera House concert described elsewhere in this blog.  My second thoughts follow the column.

Flamencología
by Brook Zern

Among the available items of interest to flamenco aficionados:

Records

Paco de Lucía, whose unbelievable technique and unfettered imagination have revolutionized flamenco guitar, can be heard on records now being sold over here.  The artist, flamenco’s reigning virtuoso, may well be the most advanced and inventive guitarist in any idiom.  Many people, especially those who love the pre-existing tradition, have serious reservations or grave trepidations about de Lucía’s direction and artistic evolution.  They sense that flamenco guitar may lose the raw emotional power which made it so distinctive.  Still, they are likely to realize that de Lucía’s genius is genuine and consistent with his internal vision.  He is a legitimate phenomenon.  A selective discography:

LA FABULOSA GUITARRA DE PACO DE LUCÍA (Philips 58 43 198).  A stunning solo debut album released over ten years ago.  “Most of the Lucía trademarks are there: the dramatic musical ideas, the lush harmonies, the counterpoint and countertime, and the use of suspended tones and elays in the endings of falsetas.   One hears many of the melodies that will be developed in later recordings, but what is not yet obvious is the influence of jazz and Latin music that eventually becomes so dominant.  The overall effect is a traditional-sounding flamenco that is full of original and powerful ideas.” – Paco Sevilla, Jaleo, June, 1978

EL DUENDE FLAMENCO DE PACO DE LUCÍA (Philips 63 28 061).  Brilliant bulerías, fine tientos and rondeña, interesting soleares and siguiriyas; some other numbers made less effective by a saccharine orchestral accompaniment.

FUENTE Y CAUDAL (Philips 63 28 109) (also released in Britain and U.S.A. as Island ILPS 9354).  Uniformly fascinating, profoundly influential.  Entre Dos Aguas, based on the flamenco rumba, became the genre’s first crossover hit – it was a best-selling record in Spain and gave de Lucía the aura of a rock star.

PACO DE LUCÍA EN VIVO DESDE EL TEATRO REAL (Philips 91 31 001).  A live performance album, made in early 1975.  Excellent.

ALMORAIMA (Philips 63 28 199).  A radical album, which stretches the definition of flamenco to (or beyond) its limits.  It uses electric bass, oud, vocal choruses and other special effects.  The result is mixed at best, dubious and even silly at worst.  But while a lesser artist might be accused of “selling out”, de Lucía’s integrity is not in doubt.

Also available are several records in which Paco de Lucía accompanies the flamenco singer Camarón de la Isla, who is as revolutionary a force in the song as de Lucía is in flamenco guitar.  And jazz guitarist Al DiMeola does one interesting number (Mediterranean Sundance) with Paco de Lucía on his album ELEGANT GYPSY (Columbia PC 34461).

On his most recent recording, not yet seen on our shores, the artist enters the alien realm of classical music.  It’s called PACO DE LUCIA INTERPRETA A MANUEL DE FALLA  — and interpret he does.  De Falla borrowed many of his themes from the folk and flamenco traditions, and de Lucía borrows them right back.  The frequent use of odd supporting instrumentation may disturb some listeners, but others will welcome the vitality of these surprising renditions.  (It’s also nice to hear the rasgueado or strumming performed competently for a change,)  The album number is Philips 91 13 008 GT 146

In Spain today, Paco de Lucía’s influence is not just pervasive but downright inescapable.  Many of his followers are gifted and creative, but they are working in his shadow.  Among the few guitarists who have managed to make their own stylistic statements are Manolo Sanlúcar (whose Columbia recording, M 33365  is still available here) and Paco Cepero, who has a following of his own among young guitarists.

Meanwhile:  The playing of the late and ever-more-legendary Diego del Gastor, creator of a unique and fascination school of flamenco guitar, was inexplicably and fortuitously included on a record released the the National Geographic Society.  THE MUSIC OF SPAIN (LP 077704, $6.95) features two bands of Diego’s incomparable bulerías, compulsory listening for anyone who professes an interest in the art.  Order it from the National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C. 20036.

Carlos Lomas, an American guitarist whose progressive and original approach unites several musical styles in an interesting flamenco fusion, can be heard on SMC ProArte SMC 1141.  On the same label, a forthcoming record features the extraordinary guitarist Guillermo Ríos.  This talented artist manages to use his superb technique to further the expressive power of his music, and the resulting impact makes his flamenco exceptionally intense and moving.

An extremely important anthology of flamenco singing remains available by mail.  Titled HISTORY OF CANTE FLAMENCO and reviewed in this column in GR #38, it presents the greatest singers and accompanists of our time.   It’s catalog number is Murray Hill S-43601, and the five-record set costs $9.99 plus $1.60 handling charge.  It was released in Spain on Vergara as the ARCHIVO DEL FLAMENCO.

Methods and Music

Chuck Keyser, whose comprehensive and excellent flamenco method was described here in GR #37, has produced four collections of guitar falsetas or variations.  They are carefully noted in tablature, along with attributions and comments, and accompanied by audio cassettes that show how they should be played.  Collections, costing $25 apiece, cover alegrías, bulerías, soleares and siguiriyas. The bulerías material, incidentally, is largely in the style of Diego del Gastor.

End of 1979 article from Guitar Review

Note from March, 2014:

When I wrote the above, I had loved the fabulous flamenco of Paco de Lucía for a full decade.  I had learned my first Paco gems from Agustín Ríos, one of the four wildly talented nephews of Diego del Gastor, while he was staying with me and my wife Kristin in New York City.   They joined my existing repertoire – the best riffs stolen from Niño Ricardo (Paco’s initial inspiration), Sabicas, Mario Escudero, Pepe Martínez and a dozen other noted artists.

By 1979  I had laboriously decoded and learned most of the cuts on all of Paco’s guitar records, and scores of  the great falsetas that illuminated his collaborations with Camarón.  I still love and play that music – it is all thrilling and glorious flamenco, fresh as a daisy yet close to the bone.

(No, I never had the hypertalent or the hubris to play it in actual performance or even in public – I just played it for the sheer pleasure of running Paco’s genius through my own mind and fingers.  And on rare occasions, after weeks of extra effort and a six-hour day of pressing my luck, I could play almost as fast as Paco – only for a half a minute, of course, and minus the musicality and the sensitivity and the vision and the creativity and the five other elements that separated Paco not just from me, but from all but a few breathtakingly adept and creative sub-geniuses of his new genre of flamenco.)

I am not proud, but not ashamed, to say that afterwards, Paco continued his incredible journey into musical landscapes that he simply willed into existence – and I could no longer manage to badly imitate or understand his music.

I loved flamenco guitar as it was – the guitar I’d heard my father play night after night while trying to sleep since I was four or five.  It was so unique – so Spanish, so un-American.  It didn’t care that there was a glorious world of Western music, firmly rooted in centuries of harmony.  Instead, it had melody – just sheer self-guided melody, not melody that arose from a nimbus of implied harmony.  And it had its own rhythm – not just march-time 4/4 or waltz-time 3/4, but amalgamated rhythms that alternated the two to create a whole world of twelve-beat measures with five accented notes.

Paco de Lucía might have liked the flamenco guitar as it was, but he also felt it was a deficient and defective instrument and art form.  First, because it lacked harmony.  And second, because it was so insular, so intensely and locally Andalusian, devoid of any sense of the vast world of music that lay beyond all borders.   He was determined to free flamenco from the grip of traditionalists or purists, and his  magnificent recordings with Carmarón had exactly that effect.

Paco would voice his disappointment with guitarists he had always admired – notably Sabicas, the great virtuoso he dethroned – for their failure of nerve: for just trying to tweak, or to perfect, the guitar tradition as created by the great Ramón Montoya.  Paco felt the musical concept of flamenco instrumentation had to be rebuilt, starting from scratch, unfettered by blind obeisance to the past.

By 1980, he had started to master the key concepts of other musical styles, including rock but above all, jazz.

It was his dream, and it went over very well.  In fact, as the above article foreshadowed, other guitarists almost unanimously followed his musical direction.   That often meant abandoning the distinctive styles they had originally learned and enriched, and working only within the new aesthetic that Paco de Lucía had forged on his own.

Today, flamenco guitarists with talent and clout round up other musicians, and model their performances on jazz groups.  They work as part of an ensemble.  There is, in a sense, no such thing as a flamenco guitar concert, at least as a solo flamenco guitar concert.

They are proud to say they are, one and all, disciples of Paco de Lucía.  And flamenco guitar, once a garden where many flowers bloomed, has become a monoculture – a world where excellence is measured by how well one follows the basic path carved by one man: the greatest genius the art has ever seen.  Paco de Lucía.

And this week, in the wake of his sudden absence, their most frequent response is to call themselves orphans.

For the first time in the history of the instrument, no one is in charge.

Brook Zern
brookzern@gmail.com

P.S.  The two outstanding American guitarists mentioned in the article, Carlos Lomas and Guillermo Ríos, remain excellent players and teachers.

Chuck Keyser’s flamenco falseta collections and his massive method are available at no cost on his website:  http://www.flamencochuck.com/

BZ

March 3, 2014   No Comments

Paco de Lucía – The One Thousand Trick Pony – 1998 Post by Brook Zern

Date:  Tue, Nov 17, 1998 11:06 AM EDT
From:  Brook Zern
Subj:  Paco de Lucia — the one thousand trick pony

I always get a kick out of Richard’s hard-core hewing to retroflamenco, and his refusal to be seduced by the latest in the art.  Still, one can question his recent claim that “All things being equal PDL has only picado to separate him from many other guitarists.”

Would that it were so.  Would that guitar dabblers like me, or guitar wizards like the noted younger players in Spain, simply had to heat up the old picado to enter Paco de Lucía’s lonely league of one.

In fact, while his picado was always the thing that was easiest to marvel about, it never really stood apart from the rest of his technical repertoire.  And, amazingly, this uniform technical superiority didn’t overshadow his stunning compositional powers.

Paco de Lucía was, from the time he was about twenty, all of a piece:  The all-around master of the flamenco guitar.  Thirty years later, he still is.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t quibble, or complain when Paco takes a decades-long sabbatical to seek fulfillment as a jazz-fusion ensemble player; or even prefer another guitarist, as I do.

After all, there are other valid approaches to flamenco guitar, and like Richard I have a soft spot for those who don’t depend on prestidigitation to make their musical points.

But if we’re going to take potshots at Paco de Lucía, whose place in the pantheon of the art we love is eternally secure, we should at least make our reservations credible.

Brook Zern

February 12, 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

Paco de Lucía on Diego del Gastor in 2002 (and a few comments)

In 2002, Paco de Lucía contributed his appraisal of Diego del Gastor to a book about the guitar in Morón.  At the time, I translated his comments (and added mine) in a post to a discussion group:

The Pohren Effect

Diego del Gastor would have passed unnoticed into history; only among a few flamencos in the Morón area would his memory would have remained.  True, his playing had the quality of “gracia” (grace, appropriate style, charm, appeal).  But in reality the person who gave resonance to Diego’s name and who gave him “categoría” (importance) was Donn Pohren.  In effect, he invented a personage who had a lot of personality and charisma, and who played with “gracia”.  Diego was promoted in the United States as a sort of guru, as was fitting for that era.  It was the 1960′s, there was a hippie movement in the U.S., and those people were attracted to this guru and came to Moron.

Pohren rented them rooms, and extracted money from them.  He even wrote a book and created a myth.  There were many people in Spain who had never heard of Diego del Gastor.  He was a local figure, but he was not an important guitarist when I was a kid.  There was Niño Ricardo, there was Melchor de Marchena, there was Mario Escudero and Sabicas, but Diego was not given any importance here, nor did he influence guitarists who were starting out.  I arrived in the U.S. and all day I kept hearing everyone talk and talk about Diego.  It was Pohren who invented the legend.

(signed)

Francisco Sanchez Gomez
“Paco de Lucia”

End of comments by Paco de Lucia.

I would like to add a few comments of my own.  First, this appraisal is exactly what I expected based on reports I had heard about Paco’s opinion of Diego del Gastor.  I posted several years ago that, based on reports I’d heard, Paco de Lucia had very low regard for Diego.

As for my estimation of Paco de Lucia, it’s on record.

At Paco’s last New York City concert, I was delighted to see that the only quote used in the advertising was from Guitar Review magazine:  “Perhaps the most advanced guitarist in any idiom”.  I wrote that some 25 years ago, and my opinion has never changed.

Also, Paco is correct in saying that Diego del Gastor was not at all well-known in Spain, and was not viewed as an important guitarist — especially compared to the great names Paco mentions.  Indeed, despite his notable collaboration with a few great singers including La Fernanda de Utrera, Juan Talega and Manolito de La Maria, Diego might well have passed essentially unnoticed into flamenco history if it were not for Donn Pohren’s role in extending his fame to those outside of Spain.

As to the question of which guitarist, Diego del Gastor or Paco de Lucía, could play a truer, more flamenco and therefore better version of the soleá, or a more  moving version of the siguiriya, this occasional critic has absolutely no hesitation in naming the former.  And if this same reluctant critic were forced to quit trying to imitate either the inimitable  bulerías of Diego del Gastor or all those impossible and magnificent bulerías by the greatest flamenco guitarist of all time, Paco de Lucia…  well — bye-bye to all that, because Diego del Gastor was better por bulerías than even the fabulous Paco de Lucia on those great records with Camarón.

Artistic qualities aside, it was not necessary for Donn Pohren to “invent” a person with “charisma”, “personality” and “gracia”.  Diego del Gastor had these qualities in abundance, and anyone who spent serious time in his presence would have had to be deaf, blind and especially dumb to not perceive them.  Yes, it was the sixties, and yes, strange things were happening.  But implying that Diego del Gastor’s perceived brilliance was a sort of substance-induced mass hallucination just won’t wash, at least for this particular drug-free observer.

While I don’t really know Paco de Lucía, I have huge admiration for him as a person.  From reading countless interviews, I feel that he is an extraordinarily honest and admirably outspoken individual — and one who, despite appearances, never compromises his artistic vision for money or fame.

I also think that as flamenco’s spiritual leader, he is entitled to take the art in any direction he sees fit, despite the fact that I have grave reservations about this direction and have foolishly and fecklessly said this to him on at least one occasion.

Paco is also entitled to be dead wrong in his appraisal of flamenco artists with whom he had no contact.  In the case of Diego del Gastor, I feel he is exercising this privilege to the fullest.

End of post from 2002.

Thoughts from 2014:  In Boston in 2012, at the Opera House, the huge poster in front showed the once almost-beautiful and now grizzled and care-worn face of Paco de Lucía — once again beneath my (unattributed) Guitar Review quote of, let’s see, about 37 years ago, calling him “the most advanced guitarist in any idiom”.  I take real pride in that — and if he isn’t always the hottest, he’s still the best exponent of the amazing style of flamenco he has created.  (My blog post on that concert is in here somewhere — seek “Boston Opera House” and it might pop up.)

I also take pleasure in the fact that — to my surprise — the legend or myth or misguided respect for the name of Diego del Gastor has not diminished in Spain in the 41 years since his death.  No, you don’t hear his music played very often, nor the music of others from the era, for that matter — but you do see his name continue to be invoked with great respect in enumerations of notable guitarists from the pre-Paco era.  In fact, with the fading of memories about many once-well-known guitarists of that distant day — Pepe Martínez, Andrés Batista — Diego’s name somehow keeps appearing as part of an ever-shorter litany.

Of course, Paco de Lucîa has been the most important person in flamenco for decades and will always be recognized as the Chief Justice, or the Pope as he’s often called.  But when it comes to sociological and marketing analysis of Pohren’s baseless and cynical puffery-for-profit and the way it fooled us naive gringos, Paco is not infallible.

I don’t blame him for his resentment of Americans who, when he arrived here, assumed he shared their taste in guitar.  We were hero-worshipping someone he hadn’t heard, and had barely heard of, and whose approach to the instrument was the exact opposite of Paco’s: very limited harmony, very limited repertoire, and — compared to Paco and earlier virtuosos — very limited technique.  It was inevitable that Paco would have no use for that approach, and would conclude that we were nuts.

I’m sorry that we gringos probably gave him an even more negative impression of our guitar guru than he would’ve had otherwise, if he’d had any at all.  And again, he is the final arbiter in flamenco and certainly in flamenco guitar.  What he says, goes.

We can’t make a plea for clemency, but some of us just can’t resist a final appeal.

January 11, 2014   1 Comment

Flamenco Guitarist Paco del Gastor speaks – 1987 Interview by Juan Toro – Translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note: In Sevilla Flamenca number 50 from 1987 years ago, there’s an interview with the guitarist Paco del Gastor by Juan Toro Baez. I consider Paco del Gastor one of the greatest living guitarists, both in creativity and technical prowess.  Paco is the most prodigiously gifted nephew of Diego del Gastor, the singularly emotive and expressive master from Morón de la Frontera who drew many of us foreign guitar aficionados to that town in the 1960′s and 1970′s.

Juan Toro begins:

Just a few years ago, not many aficionados knew the name of Paco del Gastor; despite his extensive career, only those who were most orthodox and enamored of the Morón guitar style recognized and appreciated the ability and substance (enjundia) to be found in the hands of this Gypsy, born in Morón a little more than forty years ago.

His artistic life is rich in experience, with continuous travels throughout the world and permanent memories of the emotive power of his grand passion, the guitar.  Paco speaks with amazement (embelesado) of the fiestas in Moron with his uncle, Diego del Gastor, with Fernanda, Antonio Mairena, Juan Talega, El Perrate, with his uncle Joselero and with all, absolutely all of the sacred monsters of flamenco, some of whom have unfortunately left us to become part of the recent history of our art.

The close and long-lasting link he made with his compadre “Bambino” [not a serious flamenco singer, but a noted "rumbero" who specialized in light songs and rumbas] was comfortable; but he has decided to take another career step, as a soloist and above all as an assiduous accompanist at flamenco festivales [in towns throughout Andalusia].  And as he himself says, he entered this phase “cutting an ear” by winning the first prize for bulerias in Jerez, and with the good taste he left in everyone’s mouth after qualifying as a finalist in the Bienal de Sevilla dedicated to the guitar [and won by Manolo Franco].

We asked how he began:

– Well, I was ten when I saw my uncle Diego sitting in a chair and playing, and I decided to entertain myself for a while by listening; the next day, I spent two hours there; and the third day, he taught me the first few notes.”

Int:  Was it Diego who took you into the magic of the guitar world?

– No, this was something that came from another world; I saw the guitar, and I liked it.  Of course, my uncle helped me in everything, and put me on the road that every beginner must travel; but I insist that no one inculcated this aficion into me.

Int:  When did you realize that the guitar would become your life?

– I was thirteen, and that’s also when I earned my first money.  It was at a fiesta, and someone named Curro Travilla who was the padrino of my cousin Andorrano gave me thirty duros (150 pesetas).  I’ll never forget that.  Afterwards, my uncle Diego presented me in the Feria de Sevilla at La Marina.  I worked there with [the famous singer] Porrina de Badajoz.  In 1961, I started working at the Venta Real de Antequera where Lebrijano, Amina and Bambino first appeared.  Sernita de Jerez was there, and [the great Gypsy guitarist] Melchor de Marchena and so many others, and that was where I began to earn regular money.

Int:  Did you go to Madrid after that?

– No, I went on a tour with [the popular-song singer] Juanita Reina, playing for a duo called Los Paquiros; they’d sing things like Preso Numero Nueve [sung by Joan Baez on one of her early albums], La Violetera, etc.  That lasted eight months, and then I went to Malaga before going to Madrid a year before going into the army (la mili).  That was good because in Madrid was Pepe Moto [the remarkably original guitarist Jose Motos], Ricardo Mondrego [who did an early album of duos with the young Paco de Lucía], Rafael Nogales, Paco de Lucia who was learning, Manolo Sanlucar who was also learning, and many in the same shape.  At the same time, there was real money to be earned, and I had the luck of working with [the excellent singers] La Paquera and Fosforito, who took me out of the regular cuadro lineup to work in important appearances (attraciones).

Int:  Was that when you began your close friendship (gran amistad) with Paco de Lucia?

– Yes, that’s when we started to become friends, in that time of learning, but our close friendship began later, when we were working together.  We made a trip to other countries in ’69, ’70 and ’71, with a production (espectáculo) called “Flamenco Puro”, going to Germany, Switzerland, Holland, England, etc., etc.

Int:  Did you learn a lot from each other?

– A great deal, because Paco is one who’s enamored of the toque corto (playing that uses relatively few notes, and is not oriented toward technical virtuosity), toque puro (pure toque); and I love the toque largo (more elaborate playing).  [Note:  Paco del Gastor is saying here that each Paco loved the very different approach of the other.]

Int:  Do you think Paco de Lucía assimilated something from the school of Moron?

– Of course; all the modern players have learned from the toque of Morón; if not, how would they know how to play por bulerias?  What happened was that Paco adapted it to his own faculties; ademas como tocaba Diego de puro no se puede tocar (to play with the same purity that Diego had, is impossible for anyone else).  Technique is very important today, but if the playing is pure then that technique couples (se coordina) with the underlying purity.  That’s what a lot of us are doing — Paco de Lucía as well, of course.  We have to remember that apart from his sheer velocity and his own things, when Paco de Lucia stops (para = slows down to seek emotion) he is a “bicho“.  Many times I’ve listened and listened carefully to Paco, and I’ve gotten drunk with him often, and he’s said “Now I’m going to play a little in the way you like it (pa que te guste), and it has really gotten to me (me ha llegado, sabes?)

Int:  You also had the good fortune to spend some time with Niño Ricardo.  Tell us something of that relationship.

– Ricardo liked me (me queria), loved me, almost like a father.  He was enamored with the playing of Diego, and vice versa, and I was the “mailman” between them.  At that time I lived in the house of my cousin Pepe Ríos, and frequented Seville’s Calle Feria, where I knew Pastora (Pavón, La Niña de los Peines, the greatest flamenco cantaora), (the excellent concert guitarist and accompanist Pepe) Martínez, (the famous singer and husband of Pastora Pavón) Pepe Pinto, (the great singer Manuel) Vallejo and others.

Int:  Tell us about the time with Bambino.

– Well, I’ve spent nearly all my professional life with Bambino, leaving at points to go with Mariquilla, or to Japan, or to America with Lola [Flores?], etc., but I always returned and spent a year or more with him.  When I met him he was already well known in Madrid, number one in his specialty (lo suyo).  I adapted to his singing very well and I was comfortable, and the pay was very good which is important to me as a man, an artist and the father of a family.  But sometimes I saw myself stopped, stifled (estancando), only playing bulerias and rumbas, and I need to play the more serious forms like the soleá, the siguiriyas, the toques de Levante (tarantas, etc.); my own things.  Then I toured with Fernanda, whose cante is the purest in Spain; six days in France with her, and I decided to become an accompanist in recitals and festivales.  I entered the Concurso de Jerez and won the prize for bulerías, then I entered the Giraldillo del Toque in Seville’s Biennal, and things have gone well.  But coming back to Bambino, I have to say that I’ve spent my best moments with him and that I have marvelous memories of those years, but people change, and life takes strange turns, and things can’t ever be like they were before.

Int:  What do you remember of those fiestas in Morón with your uncle Diego and the others?

– That was a whole life that we lived here in Morón.  Back then there was art on every street corner in town.  There were four thousand foreigners and forty thousand locals, and everyone wanted to make music (darle gusto al oido).  There were noctambulos (moving nights) of flamenco — it’s all gone now.  In that era, beside having Diego del Gastor, there were a bunch of folks who were true experts in flamenco knowledge:  I remember Vicente, Enrique Mendez, Bernabe Coronado, Andres Cabrera, the Pastores, my father, and many others.  They knew which cantes were by Cagancho, which by Tomas el Nitri, which by Rosario la del Colorao, and the cantes libres (free-rhythm songs) from everywhere, and the cantes of Triana, because they had lived them; now you have to go to the festivales to hear them at all.

Int:  “Do you think that the aficion in Moron has been lost?

– In Morón folks know a lot about flamenco, and are demanding.  It’s a pueblo with a great tradition and style (un pueblo dueño y señor de un sello); for me, it’s the best afición in the world, but it’s no longer seen in the streets like before.  Back then, we’d say “Who’s around today — well, Fernanda and Juan Talegas or whoever, everyone ready to dance and sing”.  That doesn’t exist today.

“So the aficion there is not what it was; and how’s the guitar — are there new people coming up?

– The guitar in Morón is at a good point, with eight or ten kids doing good things (dando brio) within the style, because they pick up the school of Paco de Lucía or Manolo Sanlúcar or whoever, and adapt it to the particular stamp of Morón, to the school of Diego, and it comes out well.

Int:  And the guitar in general today?

–  It’s at a phenomenal stage, although in the festivales you hear too often the same basic sound (“soniquete“); there are things I can’t conceive of.  I already said that technique is very important, and I’m one of those who says “technique, technique, technique” because without it there can be no art; but you have to let yourself go a little.  You can have four thousand kilos of technique but then you have to assimilate it, fit it to the toque you want to play.  You can’t pick up four thousand bricks and throw them down all at once to make a wall; you have to place them one by one.  The same with technique.  You can’t always show off that “tiquitiquitiqui“…  You have to pararse, to halt, slow yourself down, in order to play flamenco, to play Gypsy, with Andaluz flavor.

I was in a fiesta recently with Enrique de Melchor and the time he moved me most was when he did two things by his father (the great and funky Gypsy giant Melchor de Marchena).  We’d had a few drinks and I said “Do some things by your father — I mean, you’re Enrique de Melchor, not Enrique de… and I named another guitarist [presumably Paco de Lucia].  And he did those things, and I hugged him and said “Olé, tu!“  I don’t want to take anything at all from the other approach that he had been using, because it’s something he has to do — but as I said before, at times you have to stop yourself a little.

Int:  And the cante, how’s it doing?

– Fine, I think, but there are many singers who just want to create.  They have forgetten how Manuel Torre sang, and Tomas Pavón and Juanito Mojama and Antonio Mairena.

Int:  Speaking of creators, you’ve know [Juan Peña El] Lebrijano since childhood — how was he back then?

– I met Juan when we were twelve, at a baptism my uncle Diego did for a daughter of El Perrate.  I remember it lasted four days.  Then Lebrijano sang and also played the guitar.  He did some cuples (songs) por bulerias, and danced.  He was just terrific (Era un gitano pa comerselo = you could eat him up), he was showing up at all the baptisms and weddings, and he’s always been a good artist.

Lately, he’s done some good work, making three or four recordings that are real concert works.  Sometimes he sings better, sometimes not so well, like all the monsters; but Juan has talent.

Int:  And Camarón?

– For me, Camarón is something special, in a class by himself (punto y aparte).  He knows a lot, he leares everything and does it in his own way.  He is really out of the ordinary (fuera de serie) — a monster [monstruo — a great compliment].

Int:  Antonio Mairena?

– For me, he is the Pope.  He is the one who’s sung better than anyone in the world.  There is no one like him, and we are missing him now.

Int:  Juan Talega?

– An apostle, puro, puro, puro.  He will go down in history for his purity.

Int:  You’ve played for a lot of dancers.  Who do you regard most highly in dance?

– Farruco is in a superclass, there’s nothing we can add about him.  I also like the señorío (command) of Guito; and the way Mario Maya does things; and some things by Antonio Gades.  Now, if you want to just take a few drinks, and be comfortable, and keep going and going, then I’d stick with Ansonini, and Paco Valdepeñas, and Miguel Funi, and my cousin Andorrano [all great and little-known masters of an informal style of dance, sometimes called the pueblo style].

Int:  At the Giraldillo del Toque contest, I remember that we all thought you would win, and when they announced that the winner was Manuel Franco Barón I remember seeing your response; disconsolate and maybe a bit defeated (abatido).  Did you expect another outcome?

– The Giraldillo came up on me pretty fast, but I still think I put in a very nice pair of banderillas [a stylish adornment in bullfighting].  But an hour before the decision my brother Juan told me “You’re going to win, because everyone told me the verdict is in.”  Then other people who seemed to know told me the same thing.  So I got the idea that I was going to win — which I hadn’t assumed in my three months of preparation.  Anyway, it happened as it did.  [In fact, it seems Paco stood up just before the actual winner’s name was spoken.  The misinformation, if it was deliberate, is often cited as an act of guasa, a particularly nasty kind of practical joke].  Manolo was another finalist and had the chance, and won.

Int:  Usually such contests present young and promising artists.  Why did you enter the Jerez contest when there was a real risk that you wouldn’t win the first prize for bulerías?

– Two reasons.  First, I’d left Bambino; and to get onto the list of (the influential manager) Pulpon, I had to “cut an ear” [triumph, in bullfighting], make a mark, and that was a good opportunity.  Second, that particular contest was dedicated to the memory of Diego, and it would have been wrong and ugly for none of his nephews to present ourselves and let Diego’s school be heard.  Fortunately I won, and it was a step forward that gave me a shot at the Giraldillo where I think I left a good impression.

Int:  Are you satisfied in your professional status?

– Yes, but there is a lot I want to do.  Pretty soon I’ll be releasing a recording [the Nimbus CD] with a 15-minute bulerias; it seems like a lot of time, but with three different aires I think it’s justified.  The bulerías that you find in Morón now has the same sounds as before but I’ve got some marvelous things up my sleeve (tengo guardadas cosas muy divinas), strong and very flamenco, that I feel I have to record for my friends and for the afición in general.

Look, at the last Rocío I played bulerías for my cousin Andorrano for a quarter of an hour, and he went crazy, and told me he’d never heard anything like it, and where did I get these things.  And believe me, Andorrano knows the guitar.  I played the things I want to record, and he just wanted me to play it again and again, but I said “No more for you”.

Int:  Is the buleríaa the form (“palo” — a relatively recent term) that you most like to work in?

– It depends on the moment.  I love playing the soleá, but I guess I am most comfortable and have the most fun (soy mas a gusto) in the bulería.

Int:  The cante of Morón has never had the same prestige as the guitar, though there have been good songers.  Why is this?

– I think it’s mostly because my uncle Diego was so exceptional, he was a bicho, a monster (both are highly complimentary terms), who appealed to the aficion with his playing.  He placed the guitar of Morón at a very high level, and that tended to overshadow the cante, though we’ve had notable singers like Tenazas and Silverio [Franconetti] and el Fillo who had roots in Morón, and more recently there is my uncle Joselero and my cousin Andorrano.

Int:  A recent recording featured folks from Morón, but you and Andorrano weren’t included; why?

– I think it was a misunderstanding (mala interpretacion).  They asked me, like the others, and I accepted, but there was a radio broadcast about it that omitted any mention of me, my brother Juan, or Andorrano, and I took it as a slight, but it was all cleared up later, and it’s okay all around.

Int:  What do you think of the work of the Peña [flamenco association] de Morón?

– In general, I think that Peñas are at a low ebb, with exceptions like that of Ceuta and Oviedo, named for Enrique Morente, where I recently appeared accompanying Chano Lobato and María La Burra.  The one in Morón was once the best in all Spain, but something has happened.  Maybe it’s a lack of time, or money, because there’s still plenty of afición.

Int:  Your cousin Diego de Morón [previously called Dieguito] told me that it’s hard to find guitarists whose hands are equally adept — the right and left hands equally strong; he said you were about the only one who had no problems on that score.

– Well, my cousin has always loved my playing; when Diego died I became his idol.  I do think my hands are well placed, well developed.  It comes from hard study.  For instance, if there’s a picado that you just can’t get, you have to spend days and weeks playing it backwards; then, when you do it right, you’ll do it your own way but with greater ease and facility.  If you run backward, it makes it easy to run forward with the speed of an arrow, and the guitar is the same.

Int:  Paco, anything you’d like to add in closing?

– Just to ask that we continue to fight to see that purity is not lost.  If it is necessary to mechanize — to make mechanical — the song and the guitar in order to sell it, well go ahead; but then we should all get together in a corner, and if you have something really special and moving (un pellizco) in siguiriya, well, share it with me, and if I have something in soleá, I’ll give it to you, and so on.  The purity of this art must not be lost.  The purity is the art, and from art emerges more art; but if you lose the purity, you lose everything.  And if we don’t get together now and then, to work to preserve it, that would be very bad indeed.  That’s all, just to send out that S.O.S., and to thank Sevilla Flamenca for this chance to speak out.”

End of interview with Paco del Gastor by Juan Toro Baez in Sevilla Flamenca number 50 of 1987.

Brook Zern

October 24, 2011   3 Comments