Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Guitar

Flamenco Guitarist Javier Molina – A 2006 appraisal by Brook Zern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Javier Molina rules!

February 28, 2017   No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D Duende
I Impresionante
E Especial
G Grande
O Original

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your attention.

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

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

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

http://www.agenda-atalaya.com/mi-abrazo-a-diego-del-gastor/

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

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

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

Abrazos a todos, as they say in Spain.

Brook Zern

February 16, 2017   No Comments

Flamenco Forms – The Rondeña – From José Manuel Gamboa’s book “Una Historia del Flamenco” – translated with comments by Brook Zern

The Rondeña: Flamenco Authority J.M. Gamboa’s take on the rondeña

The rondeña is a remarkable and haunting piece from the flamenco guitar repertoire, the only flamenco guitar piece without an associated song — though there is a sung rondeña that can be accompanied on guitar. Here’s a description of the rondeña from the excellent book “Una Historia del Flamenco” by José Manuel Gamboa:

“We know the rondeña of [the noted Spanish classical guitarist Julian] Arcas. We know that [the great classical guitarist] Francisco Tarrega, his disciple, interpreted works of the master, and that Miguel Borrull Sr. [a famed early flamenco guitarist] was an indirect student of Tarrega. It is only logical to suppose that it was Borrull who brought the rondeña to Madrid, home of the young Ramón Montoya [considered the father of the developed flamenco guitar, and often called the creator of the solo guitar version of the rondeña].

This was confirmed by [the important flamenco singer] Pepe de la Matrona who said, “The first person to play the rondeña was Borrull Sr. This refers to the guitar solo, with its distinctive altered tuning, that Montoya improved and and introduced to a wide audience, since Borrull’s flamenco activity was limited to the usual resources of the instrument, namely strumming [rasgueado] and plucking with the thumb [pulgar]. The rondeña used a lot of that. Moreover, in Borrull’s era no guitarist had decided to record concert pieces of this nature. That’s how Borrull’s rondeña passed into history through the hands of Ramón Montoya. In any case, we still don’t know who wrote down the scordatura applied to that concert version of the rondeña, since we don’t find it among the works published by the maestros cultos [the cultured masters of the classical instrument]. Was it a Borrull’s concept? What we do find, already in Arcas’s written works, is the concept. It’s reasonable to suppose that Tarrega and others had the word…not to mention Rafael Marín [another noted transcriber of early flamenco guitar pieces]. That talented individual writes – and publishes as early as 1902! – flamenco works of enormous complexity for the time, where all kinds of techniques are used, the full range of the guitar fingerboard is employed, and there aare even scordaturas, as the were called.

What is clear is that Ramón Montoya – and through him other great players like Niño Ricardo, Sabicas, Paco de Lucía, Manolo Sanlúcar and Victor Monge “Serranito” – are the inheritors of Julián Arcas and Francisco Tarrega, each adding to the collective wisdom found in the piece. And there you have it, in its significant sense.

If we have traido a colación the concert version of the rondeña – the sung version is one of the oldest known forms in the flamenco genre – the dates don’t correspond because the instrumental version has the characteristics of the version of the fandango sung in the Eastern regions of Spain which gave birth to the form called the tarantos. Let’s look at the relationship.

Ramón Montoya “sings” with his guitar – he plays a melody that, not long afterwards, the [legendary dancer] Carmen Amaya would sing in her productions and would record with the nephew of Ramon, [the great virtuoso] Sabicas [not actually a nephew of Ramón Montoya – that position was occupied by Carlos Montoya, who became the most famous flamenco concert guitarist]. Carmen recorded it with two verses, “Dame veneno” and “Abre, que soy el Moreno”. At the end, she bursts into her energetic footwork. Sabicas accompanies her in the key used for mineras. And it’s titled rondeñas. The comediógrafo [what’s that?] Alfredo Mañas, believing that this was just a labeling error and it should have been titled tarantos [a term that would subsequently be used for a rhythmic, danceable version of the free-rhythm tarantas], told Carmen as much. She answered tajante that there was absolutely no mistake, ant that this was indeed the rondeña, now and forever [de toda la vida – all her life].”

End of section. Thanks to José Manuel Gamboa for this insight, for his book, and for the hours we have spent in conversation at El Colmao in Jerez.

At a recent New York conference dedicated to the many forms of the fandango — the rondeña is one such form, as are the granainas, the malagueñas, the tarantas, the mineras and several other song and guitar styles — I attended one session which presented a very early version of the rondeña as it was played before 1850 by the Granada guitarist Francisco Murciano and transcribed by the noted Russian composer Glinka. It was fascinating, and to my surprise it sounded a lot like one of the fandango forms as played on guitar decades later.

A lot of today’s experts insist there was no such thing as flamenco — not guitar, not dance and not flamenco song — until after 1850 when flamenco burst upon the scene in some Andalusian cities and also in Madrid.

I can’t understand why, if the guitar music of the flamenco form called the rondeña existed before 1850, today’s authorities insist flamenco didn’t exist until after 1850.

(I believe in the comical theory that flamenco had a gestation period, and that some of the songs that were until recently attributed in large measure to the Gypsies of Spain were being developed and performed below the radar for decades. This is called the “hermetic period”, and is ridiculed in decent company. (Maybe it’s because the “proof” is that there are no records and thus no proof that there was such a period. On the other hand, if there were such proof, it wouldn’t have been a hermetic period, right?)
Brook Zern

January 28, 2017   No Comments

Flamenco Guitarist Mario Escudero Speaks – 1984 Interview with Francisco Vallecillo – Translated with comments by Brook Zern

“Mario Escudero – With the Bienal as Backdrop” by Francisco de la Brecha [Francisco Vallecillo] — originally published in Sevilla Flamenca No.8 [1984?]

“I want flamenco fans to know who I am, starting with Andalusia”

Mario Escudero was born in Alicante in 1928. As a child he was taken to Madrid where he spent most of his youth. He was presented in public for the first time in France by Maurice Chevalier at the age of nine. Then dancer Vicente Escudero presented him in the Teatro Espanol in 1944 together with Ramón Montoya in a program of traditional flamenco that included singer Jacinto Almadén. For a long time, he studied with Ramón Montoya and Niño Ricardo. His career started out in intimate juergas and on the “Opera Flamenca” stages, traveling throughout Spain with artists such as Tomás Pavón, La Niña de los Peines, José Cepero, Antonio Mairena, Juanito Mojama, El Sevillano, Canalejas, Pepe de la Matrona, Pericón de Cádiz and an endless list of other major singers of the era. He has also recorded duo guitar arrangements with Sabicas.

Before he was 25, he had traveled widely as first guitarist with Vicente Escudero, Carmen Amaya and Rosario and Antonio. After his trip to the U.S. with Vicente Escudero, he found a lot of interest in the flamenco guitar in that country and decided to emancipate himself from flamenco troupes and try to establish the flamenco guitar as a solo instrument in concert halls.

In 1956 he began his career as a concert player after long musical study in New York, Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Los Angeles, continuing the studies he had begun with Daniel Fortea in Madrid. When he gave his first concert in Carnegie Hall it was a complete success. Since that auspicious beginning he has recorded more than 30 LPs and played in many Hollywood movies including “Cafe Cantante” with Imperio Argentina, “Brindis a Manolete” and “Jalisco Canta en Sevilla” with Jorge Negrete and Carmen Sevilla. He continues to give concerts around the world, and has just enojoyed another success in New York’s Town Hall.

That’s a brief biography of Mario Escudero, with whom we spent some time listening to his opinions, refreshing some old memories and exploring his profound artistic sensibility. This last item is not difficult, for Mario is an open person, expressive and sincere, even brave in his judgments although he seems rather shy. In our extensive chat one April morning we touched upon some topics that might interest the readers of Sevilla Flamenca in relation to the personality of this maestro of the flamenco guitar…

Q: Mario, we’d like to follow the course of your professional life through the key people you’ve accompanied in your long and brilliant career. We remember meeting you many years ago in Madrid, when you were a kid who had already earned fame as a revolutionary player, in the area of the Plaza Santa Ana and Plaza del Angel, near that legendary flamenco “university” that was called Villa Rosa, around Calle Principe, Echegaray, and Victoria. One afternoon you introduced us to an unforgettable master of Gypsy dance, Francisco Ruiz, whose artistic name was Paco Laberinto. You were accompanying the [flamenco and popular singer] El Principe Gitano, who aspired to be a bullfighter, no less. Going back to that era, let’s talk about Vicente Escudero. Don’t you think his fame was greater than was warranted by the reality of his dancing, in which there were some marked deficiencies?

A: The passage of time and my good memories of Vicente prevent me from openly pursuing the thread you’ve started here. Yes, in fact, perhaps you’re not far from the truth here. But he had a distinctive line and a very personal style, and he was enthralled by the dance and by gypsies. Vicente Escudero was the first to dance siguiriyas. I started out calling him “Señor Escudero” and he vehemently corrected me. “No, I’m not Señor Escudero to you — I’m Tío Vicente [Uncle Vicente]”, and that’s what I ended up calling him.

Q: Your opinion of Carmen?

A: What can I tell you about Carmen Amaya that hasn’t already been said? She was the greatest living genius of dance, the eternal and inextinguishable flame; she represented the glory of pure inspiration, because she never danced anything the same way twice. Her successes were enormous and knew no frontiers. She danced for Toscanini and for Franklin Roosevelt.”

Q: You played with Ramón Montoya and Niño Ricardo. To what extent were these men the roots of flamenco playing? And can you compare them?

A: Ramón was a great innovator of the flamenco guitar; Ricardo, who followed this same line, came later. With Ramón one must also talk of Jerez guitarist Javier Molina, another innovator. And with Ricardo, one must think along the different lines, but always innovative, of Manolo el de Huelva. The very personal style – and so clearly Andalusian, if one can say that – of Ricardo was extremely important. That was also true of the man from Huelva. But Ramón and Javier were the real pioneers in the innovation and perfection of flamenco guitar playing. All of them brought a great deal to the huge process of seeking new forms and to the evolution of the guitar: the evolution of playing toward what I call the three A’s: Aggressive, Accelerated, Arrogant.

Q: You’ve accompanied such exalted singers as Pastora Pavón “La Niña de los Peines”, her brother Tomás Pavón, Antonio Mairena, Juanito Mojama. Who had the most meaning to you when you get right down to it?

A: All of them. To make a comparison between these colossi would be sheer vanity on my part. There is no way to select a favorite. But the deepest and most indelible memories I have are of Tía Pastora [Pavón]: sweet and not cloying…a thousand years could pass, and there will never appear another singer like her.”

Q: What about your compadre, “El Nino de las Habicas” [the Kid of the Beans, Sabicas, who loved his "habas" as a child], Agustín Castellón — do you think he has influenced your playing?”

: A: Of course! He had a great influence on me, and in fact the guitar in general owes this genius from Navarre a wealth of contributions and new ideas.”

Q: Do you think there’s room in Spain for the concert flamenco guitar, for this spruced-up style whose rise you have contributed to?

A: I have no doubt that there is. This concert guitar, whatever clothes it may wear, today represents a kind of music that is unique in the world, and people are enthusiastic in their admiration of flamenco guitar. Why shouldn’t concert guitar have a place in Spain? One thing is certain: Outside Spain it’s valued more highly than in, and followed by multitudes of fans. But it’s gaining ground here, gaining strength, and with good reason, because it’s a genuinely Spanish art, just as Spanish as the instrument upon which it is played.

Q: You were in New York in February, and in April you’ll go back to play concerts in many states of the union. Are you thinking of establishing yourself definitively in Seville?

A: I sure am! What happens is that sometimes man proposes, and circumstance disposes. I have many obligations that must be met. But my decision to reside in Seville is definitive. I want flamenco fans to know who I am, starting with Andalusia. I’d like to do some teaching here,and I wish to live, be and work in Spain, because one’s homeland, that homing instinct, it’s very strong…

Q: Our mutual friend, Brook Zern, said in The New York Times of February 3rd that you are not only a guitar virtuoso, but also one of the players who has most significantly extended the style and range of flamenco music, and who had great influence on the most popular of Spain’s younger guitarists, Paco de Lucía, who included your composition “Impetu” on his first album. What do you think of the fabulous Paco de Lucía?

A: For me, he is a remarkably complete artist, with enormous personality and individuality, who follows the path laid out by Niño Ricardo better than anyone else and who has discovered a way to create an inimitable and unmatched personal style or “aire”; fabulous: imitated by many, equaled by no one.

Sincere thanks to Brook Zern for the transcription and translation of this interview”

Translator’s note. Thanks to Francisco Vallecillo for interviewing my friend Mario after he had gone to live in Sevilla.

I loved Mario — you had to get on line, because so many others did, too. Around this time, I ran into him on my way to my hotel on Calle Sierpes, and he insisted I instead stay at his apartment in the Heliopolis section of the city. (We spent many hours wandering the streets, unsuccessfully looking for the jewelry shop where he had left his diamond ring to be cleaned.)

Years later, in the nineties, he was often at the American Institute of Guitar on 56th Street in New York, where I spent my inexcusably extended lunch hours while allegedly working at Time Incorporated. His compañero Sabicas often joined him there. It was pure joy to share his time, his opinions and his memories.

Not long ago, after I had published yet another article waving the flag for the idea that Spain’s Gypsies are now being shortchanged by contemporary scholars (some of whom call me a racist for stressing the importance of the gitano contribution to flamenco) I received a note from Anita Ramos, Mario’s wife.

She wrote: “Brook — As Sabicas and Mario Escudero both said of you ‘Brook es un payo muy gitano.’ (“Brook is a very Gypsy non-Gypsy.” I don’t know if that contradicted or supported my thesis, but I consider it a very high compliment indeed.

(Vallecillo, incidentally, is still villified for his stance on the issue decades after his demise. He was not only a gitanista, but a devout mairenista — a follower of the great Gypsy singer Antonio Mairena, who insisted that there was something called “razón incorporea” or incorporeal reason — an inherited quintessence of something-or-other that gave them the ability to transcend normal expressive barriers in their flamenco artistry. The term seems idiotic, and the whole notion is beyond problematic — it’s hard enough being suspected of gitanista leanings without seeking a pseudoscientific justification for the failing.)

BZ

January 22, 2017   No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brook Zern
Flamencoexperience.com
brookzern@gmail.com

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

http://www.deflamenco.com/revista/resenas-actuaciones/rafael-riqueni-parque-de-maria-luisa-1.html

http://www.revistalaflamenca.com/rafael-riqueni-parque-de-maria-luisa-teatro-de-la-maestranza/

And a revealing pre-concert interview appears at:

http://sevilla.abc.es/sevilla/sevi-rafael-riqueni-cuando-dejo-pasar-fatigas-hora-feliz-201511180735_noticia.html

November 22, 2015   6 Comments

Yet Another Major Collection of Flamenco – Nearly All From Don Pohren’s Finca Espartero

Frontstory: If the 46 hours of great homespun sixties flamenco mentioned yesterday in this blog (at http://soundcloud.com/quinfolk/sets/the-flamenco-tapes-recorded-by-david-k-loughran-1964-1965) isn’t enough for you, here’s a website with another 46 hours worth:

www.flamencogitano.com

No kidding. The casts of the two collections are very similar. The Loughran material may partly predate this batch from the Finca Espartero, Don Pohren’s flamenco dude ranch where anyone could get immersed in heavy-duty music without spending years learning the ropes and paying dues. This Finca material seems to pick up where the ’64-’65 Loughran material leaves off, starting in 1966 and evidently continuing to beyond 1973. Guitarists on each collection include Diego del Gastor and and some of his gifted nephews; shared singers may include the Utrera sisters plus Perrate de Utrera, Joselero, Juan Talega, Curro Mairena, Ansonini, Manolito de la María…

Backstory: A few years ago, I found this flamencogitano.com website and later met and thanked the aficionado who made it. But I’d had the material for several years before that.

When this stuff was recorded I was often in Morón, sometimes living at town’s no-star hotel and sometimes staying at the Finca. I had tried to record some of those sessions with my new-fangled portable Norelco cassette recorder, a high-tech but lo-fi wonder of the era. Fortunately, a dedicated expert with a good open-reel machine did that invaluable work properly. About four decades later, I learned that someone else had obtained those recordings and was selling them as CD’s. I was thrilled to buy the 51 CD’s for five hundred bucks — hey, a bargain at twice the price, though not an ideal situation.

(In 1972 I wrote about the Finca for the New York Times, trying to capture the aura of the era — it’s here at http://www.flamencoexperience.com/blog/?p=463 )

I know there are serious issues surrounding the ownership and distribution of other people’s music in general, and privately-made flamenco recordings in particular. There are too many stories involving distrust, suspicion and anger. But a half-century is a long time to try and suppress great music; a lot of people who would have loved to hear this stuff have died over that period.

It never rains but it pours. Now anyone can listen to this extraordinary music for four days and nights, or even longer if one has to sleep. (And you might have to sleep — it’s an understatement to say that this music is repetitive. While Paco de Lucía often took many years to create enough guitar material for a new LP or work out a new record with Camarón, these recordings involve the same folks doing the same traditional stuff on good nights and bad nights and occasional great nights. Predictably, the sound quality varies from barely mediocre to surprisingly good.)

Note to the visually inclined: As a complement to this audio material from that amazing epoch, go to YouTube and see the scads of half-hour films in the great Rito y Geografía del Flamenco TV series of the early seventies. (I bought the first 16-millimeter film copies of a few programs in 1973, at five hundred bucks a pop, before the network vetoed further transactions. After fifteen years of begging and scheming I was allowed to pay a lot for the transfer of all the programs from film to videotape. I gave the first set to Columbia University, grabbed the second set for myself, and declined the commercial rights. My stash includes some programs that were never marketed in any of the three Spanish editions: not the poorly done Alga Editores cassette version, not the better TVE cassette version, not even the marvelous CD edition in beautiful hardcover booklets with English subtitles, enhanced video and sound and terrific commentary from the guiding light of the project, José María Velázquez-Gaztelu. I suppose my unseen programs should be put up on YouTube if it doesn’t antagonize any human beings or lawyers…)

Brook Zern

March 25, 2015   1 Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of article. The original is found at:

http://www.revistalaflamenca.com/inicio/link-verticales/flamenco-antiguo/flamenco-antiguo-diego-del-gastor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brook Zern

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

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

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

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

Brook Zern

March 11, 2015   2 Comments

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

I posted this to a discussion group in 2001:

Experts, who needs ‘em? I do.

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

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

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

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

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

Brook Zern

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

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

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

Brook Zern

February 9, 2015   1 Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pohren continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CD 1:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Siguiriyas falseta  0:37
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

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

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

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

Soleá  3:53
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

La Caña  3:22
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Soleá  3:58
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

CD 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CD 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CD 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CD 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CD 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DVD

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

Bulerías
Argentinita, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

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

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

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

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

Siguiriyas
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, con palmas y pitos

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

Here’s the Pasarela url with buying info:

http://tiendadiscograficapasarela.com/shop/article_CMF5-501/MANOLO-DE-HUELVA-ACOMPAÑA.html?pse=apq

Brook Zern

January 5, 2015   5 Comments