Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Sabicas

Flamenco Singer Manolo Caracol speaks – 1970 Interview by Paco Almazán – translated with comments by Brook Zern

Translator’s introduction: This blog’s many interviews with great flamenco artists of the past are important. They can also be surprisingly relevant, shedding new light on contemporary arguments and issues. They let serious English-speaking aficionados understand the thoughts and feelings of those who shaped the history of the art.

As an example: No singer in my lifetime has been greater than Manolo Caracol. None came from a more illustrious artistic lineage, or more completely embodied the entire known history of the art. None were as prodigious — winning a historic contest at about twelve years old. And I think no recording reveals the emotional power of flamenco song as well as Caracol’s double-LP “Una Historia de Cante Flamenco”, on which he is magnificently accompanied by the guitarist Melchor de Marchena.

This interview by Paco Almazán from Triunfo magazine of August 8, 1970, goes to the very heart of the art. It served as a response to an earlier interview in that publication where Antonio Mairena, the leading singer of that time, had challenged the greatness of the other Gypsy giant, Manolo Caracol. Caracol would die not long after this interview appeared.

The interview can be found in the blog of Andrés Raya Saro called Flamenco en mi Memoria, at this url: http://memoriaflamenca.blogspot.com/2017/01/las-entrevistas-de-paco-almazan-ii.html?spref=fb

(My attempted clarifications appear in brackets.)

Sr. Almazán writes: Manolo Caracol started by weighing in on the casas cantaores – [the few crucial families who were immensely important in the early development of the art.] He claims that in reality, his family is the one and only real deal when it comes to bloodlines or heritage:

Manolo Caracol: The house of the Ortegas [Manolo Caracol is the professional name for Manuel Ortega] is actually the only one we know of. In the rest, there were one or two singers, but not a whole branch of them. I know of no other, because the house of Alcalá [a town that produced notable singers] is not a single family. Los Torres [the family of Manuel Torre, who remains the supreme paradigm of male Gypsy artistry] have produced some artists, and so have the the Pavóns [the family of the La Niña de los Peines, the maximum female Gypsy singer, and her brother Tomás Pavón, one of the four or five most revered male singers]. Pastora, Tomás and Arturo – three siblings, and that’s it. My great grandfather, [the legendary singer] Curro Dulce, who was my father’s grandfather; and on my mother’s side, [the legendary singer] El Planeta who was the inventor of the [important early song] polo, and was the world’s first flamenco singer. Or who created the polo, because I believe that flamenco songs are not made. Furniture is made, clothing is made, but flamenco songs are created. El Planeta was older than El Fillo, and from there on, and the Ortegas emanate from them. El Fillo was an Ortega, and was the first “cantaor” [singer] who was “largo”— who had an extensive repertoire. A great cantaor, a grandiose cantaor – that was El Fillo, and he was from Triana. Before me there were several cantaores. Now, in the Twentieth Century the most famous – well, I think that was me, and for that reason I say that even children know me and me biography. But I’d like to talk about today’s problems.

Interviewer’s note by Paco Almazán: Remember Caracol’s beginnings, after being one of the winners of the 1922 Concurso de Cante Jondo of Granada – he says “when I won the prize” [a stunning achievement for a twelve-year-old boy]. He traveled to Madrid and triumphed on the terrace of the Calderón Theater, reaffirming that Madrid plaza’s importance.

Interviewer: But Manolo, everyone accuses you of just that. Of having taken the cante into theaters, degrading the purity of flamenco! Don’t think that everyone thought it was a good idea!

M.C. It’s not a good idea? Well, what’s good? If right now the inventor of penicillin, Doctor Fleming, hadn’t shared it with the world, the sick would not have been cured. If I don’t take flamenco song to the people who might like it, and understand it, or at least welcome it. You can sing with an orchestra, or with a bagpipe – with anything! Bagpipes, violins, flutes…the man who has real art, real personality, and is a creator in cante gitano… You have my zambras [his rendition of sentimental popular songs with a flamenco aire, which had enormous sales], and my cantes [flamenco songs, which had more limited sales], all with roots of pure flamenco song, not fixed in a cosa pasajera!…But if this business of pure song [cante puro] has become popular now, starting about ten years ago, when the flamencologists decided to speak of flamenco and the purity of flamenco! Es un cuento! It’s a story! [A fairy tale]. This business of the purity of flamenco is a story! Singing flamenco and speaking of whether it’s pure flamenco…and they chew on the idea, and they talk, and talk [a clear reference to Antonio Mairena]. That’s not flamenco singing! That’s a guy giving a sermon. Cante flamenco and cante puro – not even the singer knows what’s what. He’s a cantaor who has been born to sing above him. The rest are just copying. That’s why today there is no creation, when before there was creation.

Paco Almazan’s note: How happy Caracol must have been after these statements! He goes on and on, and when Almazán asks him which artists he liked most or influenced him as a youngster, he gives us this gift:

M.C. There were different aspects. Who moved me the most, whose singing reached me most deeply – that was Manuel Torre. Who was most pleasing to listen to – that was Antonio Chacón. Tomás Pavón was pleasing, and also reached me. And another great artist, La Niña de los Peines [Pastora Pavón, sister of Tomás], the greatest cantaora [female singer] that was ever born. She was a singer who had everything, had altos and bajos [high and low registers]. And any singer who doesn’t have a good low register is worthless. There are many singers from that era who sing de cabeza [using headtones? In a studied way?], sing songs that never existed and that they couldn’t have known, and who call them cantes de Alcalá, or cantes del patatero [songs of the potato seller?] or of Juan Perico. [This again refers to Antonio Mairena, who probably invented certain styles of important song forms and attributed them to other, perhaps fictional, artists.] That’s worthless! It’s as if we dijeramos un aperitivo [served an aperitif?] to cante flamenco. Sing – sing and create – take command the way a great torero does, improvising. That’s real singing!

There are fewer real singers today. Today, as far as I know, among the younger singers I like Camarón [who would become a revolutionary and the most important singer of his generation], and among the veterans I like Pepe Marchena, a creator in his own style [the established master of a pleasing style of singing, with clear tone and a strong vibrato]. Juanito Valderrama [another pleasing singer, in the “cante bonito” or “pretty song” style] is an extraordinary artist [both Marchena and Valderrama, like Chacón before them, were non-Gypsy artists who represented a cultural counterbalance to the great Gypsy artists like Caracol; Caracol himself shows appreciation for both camps, when many others were partisans of one side or the other.] Valderrama doesn’t really reach me, but he’s a great artist and I like listening to him nonetheless. Those girls from Utrera [Fernanda and Bernarda de Utrera] are true cantaoras, and a lot of admired artists today are copying them. The places with the best singing are Triana, Jerez and Cádiz. In Alcalá what there are is bizcotelas. That’s what you’ll find in Alcalá, bizcotelas and dust for the alberos of bullrings. Among the guitarists, there’s Sabicas and this boy [este muchacho] Paco de Lucía, who plays very well, although not on the level of the maestro [Sabicas]. And Mario Escudero, who has come here from America. And among the Gypsy players [in addition to the Gypsy artists Sabicas and Escudero] we have Melchor de Marchena, Niño Ricardo, and that other guy, Habichuela [presumably the great accompanist Juan Habichuela]. Manolo de Huelva is retired now, but is a phenomenon, although he’s eighty. [Many people who saw this guitarist at work say no one was better, or as good.] And in dance, after Carmen Amaya, from this period I don’t know anyone among the dancers, neither in this era nor before [delante de] Carmen Amaya. I don’t know anyone.

Paco Almazán writes: The interview is long. Almost at the end, the newspaperman asks if flamenco loses something with the new verses that some younger singers are using.

M.C. Hombre, if the verses come from the sentiment of the song and the person who’s singing, and if they’re good… You can’t sing a martinete [a tragic deep song form] and tell about a little birdie singing in its nest. Now, anything that touches on pena [grief, misery], of love, of the blacksmith’s forge – all that is worthwhile.

Then the final question:

Paco Almazán:. Can you put the word “airplane” [modern, unpoetic, unexpected and possibly inappropriate to some] into a cante?

M.C. It’s all according to what’s being sung, and how. You can put it into a bulerías [a lighter form], “Ay! I went in an airplane, I went to Havana…” and there you have it. They can create precious new verses as good as the old ones, with more profundity and more poetry.

Comment by Andrés Raya: Remember that in its day, this interview, as well as the earlier one with Mairena, generated a lot of response among the flamenco aficionados of Madrid, giving rise to long arguments and heated discussions. Even beyond Madrid. In its Letters toe the Editor section, Triunfo published letters from many provinces. I’ve got copies of many, and may rescue them from the telerañas.

A press comment [about the Cordoba contest] confirms what Caracol says here. It’s from ABC of Madrid, dated August 9, 1922, and already the Caracol child is named “the king of cante jondo”.

Translator’s comment: Interesting indeed that Caracol singles out Camarón — who would become the ultimate rule breaker — as the most important young singer.

At the time of this interview, aficionados were choosing sides. Manolo Caracol had incredible emotive power, but he broke certain rules — as evidenced by his insistence that flamenco could be sung to bagpipes or anything else. (Today, that inclusive view dominates flamenco to the extent that a flamenco record featuring just a singer and an accompanying guitarist, once the norm, is almost unheard of.) He owned the genre called zambras [not to be confused with the zambras performed mostly in the caves of Granada, that are rhythmic Arabic-sounding songs and dances.]

The opposing view was embodied by Antonio Mairena, who obeyed (and invented) rules — to the extent that if he created a new approach to a known style, he might attribute it to some shadowy name from history to give it validity. Mairena rarely projected the emotional power of Caracol — he was almost scholarly in his renditions, giving what critics sometimes called “a magisterial lesson” in flamenco singing, rather than jumping in headfirst and just letting it all hang out. (In private, though, he could be pretty damn convincing.)

I tend to believe that early flamenco song had a gestation period, a “hermetic” stage when generations of Gypsy families forged the beginnings of the deep-song forms (tonás/martinetes, siguiriyas and soleares, which deal with Gypsy concerns from a Gypsy perspective) outside of public view due to the intense persecution of Gypsies in that era.

Caracol, who ought to know a lot better than I do, says that his great-grandfathers [Curro Dulce, El Planeta] were not just the first known flamenco singers but the first flamenco singers, period: they invented the whole genre. (It’s hard to defend the idea of this “hidden period”, especially since the “proof” is that it by its very nature it would be completely undocumented anywhere. (I’m not so sure that these alleged hidden sessions would have been reported in the Seville Gazette when they were essentially illegal and dangerous.)

For that matter, Caracol, like most authorities today, views the idea of “pure flamenco” as absurd or meaningless, while I kind of like the notion. I never liked the gifted singers like Pepe Marchena and Juanito Valderrama who specialized in the cante bonito or “pretty song”, now back in vogue, while Caracol always admired them.

Oh, well. It’s still a privilege to hear from the man best qualified to talk about flamenco history, and that’s why these interviews are so valuable.

BZ

January 27, 2017   1 Comment

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

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

Spain’s national news agency on Paco de Lucia’s relationship to New York City

On February 26, 2014, soon after the grievous loss of Paco de Lucía, Spain’s official news agency EFE published an article that ran in La Información and many other Spanish-language publications.  It focused on Paco’s connection to New York City.  I was contacted as a source of information.  Here’s my translation of the piece:

New York, a key city in the transformation of Paco de Lucía

New York, Feb 26 (EFE) – The city of New York, with its chrysalis of cultures and the enormous effervescence of the sixties and seventies, was a key factor in the musical evolution of Paco de Lucía from traditional flamenco to the fusion that revolutionized the art.

From his early years, de Lucía repeatedly visited the city starting in the first half of the sixties, and found himself in the confluence of great Spanish guitar masters, as well as the richness of sounds from that era that influenced his evolution, which also became the evolution of flamenco itself.

The late guitarist arrived in the city of skyscrapers at the age of 16 or 17, with a group of musicians and dancers brought by José Greco, a New York dancer of Italian descent who became a flamenco artist and one of the protagonists of flamenco life in the city since the 1940’s.

Greco had appeared in that decade with some great figures like Carmen Amaya, Pilar López and La Argentinita, and for many years brought musicians and promising groups to accompany him in his appearances, among them the dancer El Farruco,

In his second trip to New York with Greco, Paco de Lucía remained extremely promising and he was presented to Agustín Castellón “Sabicas”, a Gypsy guitarist from Pamplona who lived in New York and was considered the world’s greatest flamenco guitarist, according to Brook Zern, the music critic, flamenco expert and former flamenco editor of Guitar Review.

“After Paco played for him, Sabicas realized that he had seen the future,” recalls Zern, and Sabicas told him that he could not keep on playing the way he did, imitating masters like Niño Ricardo.  Instead, he had to find his own path.  “Create your own flamenco”, Sabicas insisted, according to the critic.

In addition to Sabicas, other Spanish guitar masters like Carlos Montoya and Mario Escudero had settled in New York in the 1940’s and 50’s as flamenco guitar soloists, a form of interpretation that had not found acceptance but in New York was becoming increasingly successful.

“In the U.S. we were ready for it – not for the singers, but for the guitarists, much more than in Spain,” recalls Zern.

Paco de Lucía discovered that format, but he also took advantage of his trips to New York to absorb all the musical styles that were permeating the city, from jazz and bossa nova to rock and salsa.

New York was “a bubbling melange of cultural ideas”, where Paco “soaked up  the cultural mix” that is the city.  “He realized, to the dismay of the purists, that the future was in fusion,” Zern adds.

In his New York experience, Paco de Lucia “discovered that flamenco’s musical vision was too narrow,” and, for example, lamented that he could not appear accompanied by a flutist or a bassist, in the manner of a jazz ensemble – a vision that would later become reality, Zern says.

Today, a flamenco guitarist can be like the leader of a jazz group.

For example, in 1970 or 1971 – Zern isn’t sure of the precise year – Paco de Lucía appeared in New York’s Spanish Institute, and in the audience was Andy Warhol (accompanied by his courtiers from The Factory), who at the end met with the young flamenco genius – an encounter that evidently left no photographic record since the pictures Zern took did not come out.

The result of this cocktail was that Paco de Lucía “reinvented flamenco in several distinct phases or periods, until he had almost created a new art”, says the critic.  To such a point that Sabicas once told him that when he had given his advice to Paco, he had never dreamed that the young man would take flamenco so far, Zern recalls.

Paco de Lucía expressed this evolution in his famous collaboration of 1980 with two non-flamenco guitarists, the Englishman John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola, from New Jersey.

If the late guitarist fed off of New York musically, the city returned the favor in the form of affection and applause and filled concert venues like the legendary Carnegie Hall, as well as critical raves for his performances.

“The New York public adored him,” and even followed him to restaurants after his shows just to watch him eat, says Zern, for whom the loss of Paco de Lucía was “utterly devastating,” especially since he was “at the pinnacle of his career, despite the fact that he was no longer young.”

(Agencia EFE)

End of article.  One example of the original story is seen at: http://noticias.lainformacion.com/arte-cultura-y-espectaculos/musica/nueva-york-una-ciudad-clave-en-la-transformacion-de-paco-de-lucia_WxsG0XhkGfnuw2dUwVX6S6/

 

December 29, 2014   No Comments

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

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

Flamencología
by Brook Zern

Among the available items of interest to flamenco aficionados:

Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Methods and Music

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

End of 1979 article from Guitar Review

Note from March, 2014:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brook Zern
brookzern@gmail.com

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

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

BZ

March 3, 2014   No Comments

A New World to Conquer: How The Flamenco Guitar Took Manhattan and America – by Brook Zern

A New World to Conquer:
How The Flamenco Guitar Took Manhattan and America

Note:  This was written for inclusion in the elegant catalog that accompanied the Lincoln Center Library Exhibit “100 Years of Flamenco in New York”

Flamenco music, a product of Spain’s southern region of Andalusia, has a mixed pedigree at best.  It started with some distinctive songs that packed an emotional wallop – songs that first drew public and press attention in the mid-Nineteenth Century but may have been brewing long before that.

Inevitably, the music reflected the mélange of peoples and cultures that had defined the area – Celts, Vandals, Phoenicians, Romans, Jews, the Moors who occupied the region from 711 until 1492, and the Gypsies who had wandered from India to the western end of the then-known world.

Inevitably, too, Spain’s glorious folk and formal dance traditions meant that a new style of movement would arise, appropriate to the specific rhythms and emotional mysteries of these song forms.

And Spain’s emblematic instrument, the guitar, was on hand to provide the rhythmic underpinning and melodic support to hold it all together.

Flamenco was ready for its close-up.  By the 1870’s, it had coalesced into a distinctive style of singing, dancing and guitar accompaniment that would be immediately recognizable today.  By the early 1900’s, flamenco consisted of more than fifty forms, each defined by a specific rhythm, key and melodic structure – and each with its own emotional landscape.

But flamenco wasn’t finished creating itself.  A few Spanish visionaries shared an impossible dream – a dream of appearing alone in a spotlight in a concert hall, and distilling each flamenco form into nothing more or less than a blaze of music emerging from a single guitar.

One was from Madrid in the center of Spain, one from Alicante on the Eastern coast, and one from Pamplona.  All were beginning professional journeys that would lead them to Eighth Avenue and 55th Street in Manhattan, give or take a block or two.

Why was this strange self-exile an intrinsic element in the creation of the concert flamenco guitar?  Because Spain wasn’t interested.  In Spain, everyone knew that the guitarist was simply a supporting player, hired to enable the nation’s star flamenco singers and dancers to shine.

A flamenco guitarist in the spotlight?  On a concert stage?  Absurd.  Where were the real artists?  It was as if – well, in American terms, it was as if a blues musician had decided his instrument was so fine, so complete, so evocative  that he didn’t need to sing at all, but instead would give two-hour concerts of incessant guitar.  All by itself.

As for flamenco guitar solos, well, Spaniards knew you’d have to be crazy to voluntarily sit through twenty of them.  Or – is this so different? – you’d have to be an American.

Americans loved flamenco dance, all right.  That art, or its Spanish-dance predecessors including classical and bolero-style dancing, had been packing us in since before the Civil War, and by the 1940’s New York City was infested with the troupes and troopers who would become legends – the incomparable Barcelona-born Carmen Amaya, Pilar Lopez and La Argentinita from guess-where, the young Brooklyn-born José Greco, and dozens of other lesser lights.

On the other hand, Americans hated serious flamenco singing.  That may seem like an overstatement, but even today, with our professed love of diversity and tens of thousands of hours of reggae and salsa on the air every year, you will not find serious flamenco singing on American radio, anywhere, ever.  And since flamenco song is far too assertive to generate indifference, the remaining response is outright distaste.

(One of the few U.S. records of flamenco singing, from the early LP days of stereo and sound effects, was titled “Music to Speed the Parting Guest”, and it did exactly that.)

Enter the pioneers of the concert flamenco guitar.  The most successful figure was a Gypsy from Madrid who had already made a name for himself accompanying many of the greatest dancers of his time.  His name was Carlos Montoya, and his uncle thought his playing was inferior.  This might not normally be a problem, but in this case it should have been catastrophic.

His uncle was named Ramón Montoya, and he held the patent on flamenco guitar.  Starting around the turn of the Twentieth Century, Ramón Montoya had solidified the still amorphous sound of the instrument into dozens of distinctive guitar forms.  He had raised the previously lax technical standards of flamenco into the realm of genuine virtuosity, and had also introduced new mechanisms borrowed from the classical guitar, notably arpeggios and tremolos.

Ramón was revered as an accompanist, and was sought out by the greatest divo in the the history of flamenco, Don Antonio Chacón – that “Don” was an unprecedented honorific in an art form, flamenco, that was usually associated with low-lifes, alcoholics and worse.

Ramón was the towering progenitor of this art form, and in 1936 he made the first flamenco guitar album – not in Madrid, but in Paris.  There was simply no audience for this in Spain, and he returned to the role of backup man.

Carlos Montoya, born in 1903, had a broader ambition.  In Spain, he accompanied many leading dancers and singers.  Then, in an unusual career move for a Gypsy, he joined the army – knowing this would entitle him to passport when he got out.   Soon he was touring the world with great dancers including La Argentina, La Argentinita, Pilar López, La Malena, La Macarrona, Vicente Escudero, Antonio de Bilbao, Faíco and Carmen Amaya – it is reasonably certain that no other guitarist has ever appeared with such an illustrious array of dance figuras.

He finally settled in New York with his Scottish-American wife Sally, who had a love of flamenco and a gift for promotion.  He began building a concert career, and his success was phenomenal.  He radiated charisma, connecting with new audiences who simply assumed that a flamenco guitar concert was the most natural thing in the world.

Montoya’s solo career coincided with the advent of the long-play record; in 1950, he made the world’s first flamenco LP for Folkways records in New York, and by the end of the century he had made at least fifty more for many labels.  The records were so ubiquitous that nearly every young American who became obsessed with flamenco guitar would say it was a Carlos Montoya record that ignited the passion.  The concerts and recordings were a potent combination, mutually reinforcing Montoya’s astounding public impact.  At the peak of his fame, he filled entire stadiums – an achievement never equaled by other soloists.

Carlos Montoya was the world’s most successful flamenco concert artist.  In 1973, at the Spanish Institute, I had the honor of introducing him on his 25th year as a soloist as he was presented with Spain’s Order of Civil Merit.   In 1983, he celebrated his 80th birthday with a Carnegie Hall concert that marked the culmination of his career.

But you can’t have everything, and in the flamenco business there is no necessary correlation between public adulation and insider admiration.   For initiates, Carlos’s playing was sometimes interesting but often imprecise and efectista – straining for effect at the expense of substance.

In fact, these people knew the greatest flamenco virtuoso of the era was also living in New York.

It had been a long, strange trip.  He was born in the Spanish city least likely to generate a flamenco artist, and indeed there is no sign it ever produced another.  Pamplona is the beating heart of the Basque country, where secessionism runs strong and Spanish can feel like a foreign language.

But in 1912, when Agustín Castellón was five, someone gave him a guitar.  Since no one played flamenco in Pamplona, he started listening to records and copying the guitarists.

He acquired his nickname from his childhood love of beans – habas, diminutively called habicas.  He was playing onstage at eight years old, and accompanying important singers in his teens.  In his early twenties he was Sabicas, which is to say he was the most adept flamenco guitarist in the world.

With his beloved brother Diego, he left Spain in 1936 to tour South America and Mexico as part of the company of the fabulous Carmen Amaya – two geniuses at the pinnacle of their art, squandering sheer magic wherever they went.

By the mid-fifties, Sabicas had settled in New York City and begun laying the foundation for a solo career.  It was his Town Hall concert of May 22, 1959 that amazed the audience and stunned the critics, who stated that for the first time, we were in the presence of a true flamenco guitar virtuoso.

He went from triumph to triumph, and his records were a revelation.  In 1959, his first LP, Flamenco Puro, provided marching orders for hopeful players in America and gradually filtered into Spain to reset the bar for every player who aspired to true virtuosity.

(I had started studying flamenco guitar in 1959, continuing a family tradition started by my Pennsylvania Dutch father in the mid-1940’s.  I learned from him and then from his teacher, Fidel Zabal, a fine Spanish player and a good friend of Sabicas whose material he showed to my father and to me.  Two years later, I was studying guitar in Spain with a noted professional – hoping to find “real” flamenco material – when he asked what I already knew.

“Nothing special,” I said apologetically.  “Just stuff from Sabicas.”

His jaw dropped.  “What!?  You know the music of Niño Sabicas!?  My god, how we have missed him.  Don’t move!”

He picked up his phone.  A half-hour later, I was surrounded by a half-dozen professional players, laboriously but correctly showing them Sabicas’s great falsetas (melodic variations) – which they immediately and joyously re-rendered in a way I could only envy and never equal.)

Sabicas ruled the realm of solo flamenco guitar for several decades, virtually unchallenged.  But he soon had worthy company – a younger compañero and escudero (the Spanish word means squire or shield-bearer, and refers to a knight’s right-hand man) appropriately named Mario Escudero.

Mario was inevitably overshadowed by his idol, but he was a genius in his own right, as demonstrated by his many fine recordings including breathtaking historic duets with the maestro.  His approach to guitar had a more classical sensibility, reflecting his prowess in that area.  For years, his presence and his personality graced the New York guitar scene.

Sabicas, meanwhile, continued his illustrious concert career, and sometimes played in the intimate Chateau Madrid in midtown.  His guitar had an unequalled clarity and sonority, his seemingly effortless technique set new standards, and his mastery of flamenco’s fiendishly difficult metric/rhythmic system called compás was absolute.  He created hundreds of superb falsetas, treasured and traded by lesser guitarists everywhere.

He also kept his hand in as an accompanist, making records with singers including Domingo Alvarado, Enrique Montoya and Dolores Vargas.  He never learned English – his guitar did the communicating.

But no one reigns forever.  And on a Manhattan evening in 1965 some local artists and aficionados took an eighteen-year-old phenomenon to meet the maestro.  The new kid on the block had been called Paco de Algeciras before he wisely switched that home-town moniker for his mother’s name and became Paco de Lucía.

The famous New York-based dancer José Greco, who had the wisdom to work surrounded by superb artists (including El Farruco, widely considered the finest male flamenco dancer of the last half-century), had brought Paco to town, as he had a few years before.

Sabicas listened to him play.  Like nearly every other Spanish guitarist of the era, Paco was hugely influenced by the brilliant and endlessly inventive Niño Ricardo.  Sabicas, possibly with a tinge of jealousy, told Paco to stop copying Ricardo and to find a different response to the challenge.

Paco took that advice to heart, and a few years later he had casually transcended all previous technical limitations, and was devising a new concept of how the instrument should sound.  In fact, he was even criticizing his venerable elders, including Sabicas himself, for their failure of nerve in merely polishing instead of reconceiving the flamenco guitar.

Paco would soon return to the Big Apple, billed as “the Paganini of the guitar”. A few months ago I wrote a blog entry for my website describing that event:

In 1970 or 1971, Paco de Lucia played in the small auditorium of the Spanish Institute in New York.  Afterwards, Sabicas went backstage to talk to Paco, alone.  Maybe I was reading into it, but I felt I was witnessing the passing of the torch — though that didn’t mean that Sabicas actually liked what Paco was doing, music-wise.

But the true media star of that predominantly brunette evening was the towheaded Andy Warhol, accompanied by some Velvet Undergrounders and other denizens from the Factory.  Warhol stood in the back, dressed in black, with that expressionless lizard look of his, but you could tell he was impressed by Paco’s playing, or his persona.  (The young Paco could seem almost eerily beautiful, I thought.  I took pictures of them both, but they didn’t come out.)

I had been shilling for the concert on Columbia University’s radio station, WKCR, playing cuts from Paco’s “Fabulosa Guitarra” and “Fantasia Flamenca” LP’s, but nobody seemed to notice.  I was impressed that Warhol had the zeitgeistiness to somehow glom onto to this newest world-class musical genius.

(In the film “I Shot Andy Warhol”, about the woman who did exactly that and almost killed him, there is some flamenco guitar music played by Paco Juanas, a veteran New York player.  At a Spanish restaurant many years later, Paco Juanas let me sit in with him for a rendition of Paco de Lucia’s amazing alegrias in E minor when Sabicas walked in.  I quickly switched to one of Sabicas’s finest falsetas, entrusted to me by Fidel Zabal in 1960, but it was too late.  For the first time, the man we always called maestro seemed disappointed in my taste in flamenco guitar music.)

Not long after that blog post, I received a lovely note from Paco de Lucia’s son, Francisco Sánchez Varela.  He said that Paco had in fact been given a picture of himself with Andy Warhol, and that he treasured it and was very upset to have lost it, and that he hoped I might have another such photo.  I really wish those pictures had come out.

Indeed, Paco’s new vision quickly prevailed, nearly eradicating the wide and wonderful array of pre-existing approaches to the instrument.  Soon his endless search for new answers led him to explore other musical styles – most notably, jazz.

And with that small step, or giant leap, the days of the solo flamenco guitar were numbered.  For Paco so loved the idea of jazz ensembles that he hired some talented sidemen – horn players, percussionists, bassists, saxophonists, electric guitarists and anyone else who fit his musical mood of the the moment.

Today an ambitious first-rank flamenco guitarist in New York or anywhere else will not go onto a stage alone – or won’t remain alone after the first number or two.  Instead, he will be fronting a sextet or septet, subsuming his personal genius and the sound of his guitar into a musical mélange that, for better or worse, is the new context of instrumental flamenco.

I once spoke to Sabicas about this evolving turn of events.  He clearly considered it an unintended consequence of his long-ago intervention, expressing continued admiration for Paco’s genius but reservations about this new aesthetic.

Yet there was an almost palpable paternal pride in his words.  He picked up a guitar and showed how some of Paco’s key innovations were firmly based on his own prior revelations.

Sabicas knew that his advice on that fateful New York night had forever determined the future of his chosen art.

Brook Zern

February 3, 2014   2 Comments

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

Translator’s note:  I’m credited with transcribing and translating this interview that Francisco Vallecillo conducted with Mario Escudero in Seville in 1984, so it must have happened.

Vallecillo published “Flamenco” magazine in the early seventies, out Spain’s North African colony of Ceuta where it seems he’d been ordered or urged or strongly suggested to live because of his dangerous anti-Fascist sentiments.  He was very supportive of my early efforts to learn about and pontificate about flamenco, and ran some of my articles.  He was the key person in starting the CAF — now the CADF or Centro Andaluz para la Documentación de Flamenco, the main archive for the art, in Jerez.

And Mario was Mario — our own beloved and accessible generous genius who made us all feel special and happy; if only we’d been able to do the same for him…

Historic interview: 
“Mario Escudero – With the Bienal as Backdrop”

by Francisco de la Brecha [Francisco Vallecillo's nom de plume], 
originally published in Sevilla Flamenca No.8 [1984?] — evidently rerun in 1992

“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 Español 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…

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 Ruíz, 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?

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 Tio Vicente [Uncle Vicente]”, and that’s what I ended up calling him.

Your opinion of Carmen?

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.”

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

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.

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?

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.”

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?”

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.”

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

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.

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?

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…

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?

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.

End of interview by Francisco Vallecillo.

Translator’s note:  You’re welcome, Paco.  Thanks. And thank you, Mario, for everything you gave to your admirers and your art.

January 28, 2014   2 Comments

“Rito y Geografía de la Guitarra Flamenca” Series – Program notes by Norberto Torres

The flamenco guitar expert Norberto Torres Cortés wrote the following detailed comments describing the six programs in the”Rito y Geografia de la Guitarra Flamenca”.  That was the guitar-focused series that was intended to complement the great “Rito y Geografia del Cante Flamenco” series, using much of the guitar-centered stuff from that show and also  lots of other material from Spanish Television’s archives.  It enumerates the pieces and then offers savvy critiques.  A useful resource for serious seekers of great guitar in what  is now called the old style.  It’s based on the Alga Editores version of VCR cassettes, which was badly done; it was supplanted by the better-made Television Española cassettes.  Now I hope it’s available on TVE DVD’s.

(No, it isn’t a fun read.  It isn’t really a read at all.  But I include lots of specialized and dry material like this in my Flamenco Experience blog because it becomes searchable-outable; that makes it far more useful for researchers and dedicated aficionados than if it were left in one of those old inert, non-interactive, carbon-based soft-drive devices — what were they called? — oh, yeah: books.)

And as always:  Chances are that the performances cited here have all migrated to YouTube — enter the name of the artist and the flamenco form, and there he’ll be, for your viewing pleasure.

This translation isn’t mine — I found it somewhere on the web, already translated [into English, I presume] by the outstanding French expert Pierre Lefranc.

RITO Y GEOGRAFIA DE LA GUITARRA FLAMENCA – A COLLECTION OF VIDEOS ON FLAMENCO GUITAR

by Norberto Torres Cortés

The year 2000 opens with an event for years undreamed of by guitar players, aficionados, and music lovers in general: the release in the form of videos of most of the archives of Spanish Television (Televisión Española) concerning flamenco guitar.

They range from the year 1964 with Niño Ricardo, Ricardo Modrego, and a then 16-year old Paco de Lucía, to Tomatito at his most gypsy in the 1979 record La Leyenda del Tiempo.  In between they include Serranito, Manolo Sanlúcar, Enrique de Melchor, Pepe Habichuela, Diego Carrasco, Paco Cepero, Andrés Batista, Pedro Bacán, Paco de Lucía and Camarón in 1972, together with those classically-oriented: Melchor de Marchena, Diego del Gastor, Manuel Morao, Pedro Peña, Felix de Utrera, Manolo el Sevillano, and… Sabicas “live” in one of the last concerts he gave. Thus a total of 16 years of flamenco guitar are made available visually.

The period 1964-1979 was an extraordinary one for flamenco, owing to the coexistence of tradition and a rising new generation, then innovative, now classical, which was establishing the foundations of today’s toque (style of playing). If we add to this the interviews and commentaries made in those days, mainly by José María Velázquez and Fernando Quiñones, we can evaluate the undreamed of magnitude of what is being offered to us by Alga Editores.

Although, unavoidably, most of the images are in black and white, and the sound is of a less high quality than it would be today, one can submit that this is an added merit: it brings us in contact with the authenticity of a period in which the detestable “play-back” was not yet a standard technique.

VÍDEO N° 1.

NIÑO RICARDO, PACO DE LUCÍA:  “Poema de la Guitarra”, from the program FLAMENCO, Antología de Cante y Baile Andaluces — includes “Sevilla es mi tierra” (Soleá) by Manuel Serrapi Sánchez ‘Niño Ricardo’ (Sevilla, 1904-72); guajira flamenca by Paco de Lucía and Ricardo Modrego; and views of Paco de Lucía practicing in a barber’s shop.

PACO DE LUCÍA: from the series Rito y Geografía del Cante — includes an interview of Francisco Sánchez Gómez ‘Paco de Lucía’ (born Algeciras, 1947), and shows him playing Tarantas, Bulerías, and accompanying his brother Pepe de Lucía; Camarón playing Bulerías; Paco practicing; Ramón de Algeciras and Paco de Lucía fine-tuning a Bulerías falseta (variation), playing Soleares, and Rumbas with Carlos Rebato as a second guitar.

PEPE MARTÍNEZ: interview of José Martínez León ‘Pepe Martínez’ (Sevilla, 1923-84), who is then seen playing a Granaína, interpreting the choros “Xodó da Bahiana” by the Brasilian composer Dilermando Reis, giving guitar classes, and playing a Colombianas, a Zapateado, and a Guajiras in D major with the sixth string in D.

Comments:

A moving recording of Niño Ricardo in Soleáres, and the earliest images of Paco de Lucía, at sixteen, already preparing his future records with Ricardo Mondrego, with a stunning Guajira in which one can already find one of the variations of his famous “Guajira de Lucía”.  Also, from the Flamenco program of Spanish Television, images shot in 1964 under the guidance of Antonio Sánchez Pecino, the father of Paco de Lucía.  It may be owing to this that Paco is particularly prominent in the series (we even see him dressed up as a barber in a barber’s shop, practicing Tarantos), and we believe that his guitar can also be heard in the video’s opening, in nothing less than Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D flat (BMW 565).

The program dedicated to Paco de Lucía comes from the series Rito y Geografía del Cante, shot between 1971 and 1973, and it can be dated 1972.  We hear him in Taranta variations found in his records Fantasía (1969), La Fabulosa Guitarra de Paco de Lucía (1967), a forerunner of Fuente y Caudal (1973), and other pieces then still unpublished; he also plays Bulería variations from ”El Tempul”, “Plazuela”, and “Punta del Faro”, and accompanies Pepe de Lucía in the grip of duende (flamenco exaltation); we see him at home in his pajamas, in a practice session with Camarón, working alone on the Taranta and accompanying Pepe de Lucía “Fuente y Caudal”, and fine-tuning with his brothers Pepe de Lucía and Ramón a Bulería variation found in one of the early records of Camarón.

The series continues with the Soleares “Cuando canta el gallo” and the Zapateado from the record El Duende de Paco de Lucía, and it ends with a Rumba halfway between the “Rumba Improvisada” from the 1971 record Recital and “Entre Dos Aguas” from Fuente y Caudal (1973) which belies the legend of this famous piece having been improvised and shows that all that Paco de Lucía recorded was the outcome of earlier maturations.

Another pleasant surprise in this video n° 1 is the possibility of listening to Pepe Martínez, a great concert-oriented flamenco guitarist as was Ramón Montoya, and now unjustly neglected. The interviews enable us to evaluate the impact of Pepe Martínez in London and the eminent role that he played in spreading the knowledge of flamenco in Great Britain. All this is a delight for the lovers of the classical toque, and the Colombiana and the Guajira in D major offer a particular homage to Sabicas.

VIDEO N° 2.

MELCHOR DE MARCHENA: from the series Rito y Geografía del Cante; Melchor Jiménez Torres ‘Melchor de Marchena’ (Marchena, 1907 – Madrid, 1980) is shown with his family in Marchena, playing Seguiriyas, being interviewed, accompanying Manolo Caracol and Beni de Cádiz in Fandangos, playing Tanguillos de Cádiz; then his son Enrique plays Soleares and Melchor concludes them with a variation of his own.

ENRIQUE DE MELCHOR: from the program Flamenco, in color, presented by Fernando Quiñones — Enrique Jiménez Ramírez ‘Enrique de Melchor’ (b. Marchena 1950) with Luis (bass), Pedro (flute), Josele (flamenco guitar), Martín (bongos), playing Colombianas, in an interview, playing Bulerias in the tonality of Tarantos, and playing Rondeñas.

From another and earlier program, also presented by Fernando Quiñones, we hear José Cobos and Paco Heredia (guitars); then follow an interview, a Serranas, and Rondeñas with the same Cobos and Heredia.

Comments:

These are historic and moving images of the toque and speech of Melchor de Marchena, one of the greatest of all accompanists for singers and the one preferred by La Niña de Los Peines, Manolo Caracol, Antonio Mairena, etc., to name just a few of those he accompanied.  The video concludes with two programs devoted to Melchor’s son Enrique de Melchor.  They can be dated 1974 and 1977 (for the one in color); they are from the time of the launching of Enrique’s concert career, and we see him interpret various pieces of his first record as a soloist, La Guitarra Flamenca de Enrique de Melchor (1977).

VÍDEO N° 3.

PACO CEPERO: From the program Flamenco presented by Fernando Quiñones – Francisco López Cepero García ‘Paco Cepero’ (b. Jerez 1932) plays “Gaditana” (a Jaleo) with La Polilla de Madrid, Lolita Baena and Carmen Heredia (palmas), then is interviewed, then plays Tarantas and Tarantos, Tientos and Tangos, a Farruca, “Amuleto” (a Rumba), and Bulerías.

DIEGO CARRASCO: from the program Flamenco, in color, presented by Fernando Quiñones — Diego Carrasco Fernández ‘Diego Carrasco el Tate’ (b. Jérez 1954) is accompanied by Luis (acoustic Ovation guitar), Miguel Angel (bass), Pedro (flute), Tito and Rafa (flamenco guitars), and Pedro (bongos); they interpret ”Luz de Farola” (Bulerías); he is then interviewed, and sings and plays Bulerías, including “Bulerías del 7″.

ANDRÉS BATISTA: presented by F. Quiñones, who interviews flamenco authority Paco Vallecillo, then Andrés Batista (b. Barcelona 1937) on flamenco in Catalonia; then Andrés Batista plays Granaínas, Guajiras, Bulerías, Danza Mora, Fandangos, and a Zapateado.

Comments:

Together with the launching of Enrique de Melchor, we witness Paco Cepero’s career as a soloist, and hear him perform various pieces found in his first and only record as a soloist, Amuleto (1977).  Also, the unquiet tocaor and singer Diego Carrasco already proposes, in these late 70’s, a reinterpretation of the Bulerías of his native Santiago district, with influences from Chick Corea’s group “Return to Forever” and a markedly oriental coloring which makes us think of the present group Radio Tarifa, and of the theme “Reino de Silia” by Vicente Amigo in the estribillos (refrains) of the “Bulerías  del 7″ which served as introduction theme for the program Flamenco presented by Fernando Quiñones.

Then Andres Batista, the Gypsy guitar-player from Catalonia, describes the hotbed of flamenco experimentation that was the Catalonia of the 70’s (which explains the present fertility of Catalonian flamenco) and performs six pieces of a classical turn in a modern technique.

VIDEO N° 4.

PEPE HABICHUELA: introduced by F. Quiñones — José Antonio Carmona Carmona ‘Pepe Habichuela’ (b. Granada 1944) performs Soleares, is interviewed, plays Alegrías in E major, Taranto, Seguiriya, and Tangos with Carlos Carmona ‘Habichuela’ and Benjamín Santiago (guitar players).

From Flamenco (in color), we are given Bulerías with Juan Habichuela ‘hijo’ (guitar), Jaleo in the tonality of a Minera with Juan Habichuela ‘hijo’ (guitar), Guadiana, Chocolatillo, and Ángel (palmas).

VICTOR MONGE ‘SERRANITO’: introduced by F. Quiñones — Victor Monge Serrano ‘Serranito’ (b. Madrid 1942) is heard in a Taranta, Soleáres, an interview, in “Popular Themes” and a Zapateado with Alejandro Winia and Manolo Sison (guitar players).

Comments:

We are first given a black-and-white Pepe Habichuela at the outset of his career as a soloist at the beginning of the 70’s, with toques still influenced by his brother Juan, Sabicas, and Paco de Lucía, though his special mark already emerges (particularly in Soleáres); then the same Pepe Habichuela in color, at the end of the 70’s, with his personality now better defined and matured, is heard in toques from his first record A Mandelí (1983) and of the record Despegando which he made in 1977 with Enrique Morente.  The second guitar is that of his nephew, then known as Juan Habichuela ‘hijo’, who later became Juan Carmona ‘El Camborio’, and is today the established leader of the Ketama group.

The video ends with fascinating images of the astonishing Serranito, “a guitar-player for guitar-players”, in full possession of his virtuosity: Tarantas and Soleáres played solo, “Popular Themes” which are nothing else than the Tarara on a Tientos rhythm and in E minor, and his famous Zapateado for three guitars, “Punta y Tacón”.

VÍDEO N° 5.

DIEGO DEL GASTOR: from the series Rito y Geografía del Cante — Diego Flores Amaya ‘Diego del Gastor’ (Arriate, Málaga, 1908 – Morón de La Frontera, Sevilla, 1973) is heard in Alegrías, an interview, and Seguiriyas.  He then accompanies por Bulería (in the rhythm of Bulerias) a series of Alboreás sung by Joselero de Morón, and plays Soleares.

TOMATITO: from the program Flamenco in color, presented by F. Quiñones – José Fernández Torres ‘Tomatito’ (born Almería 1958), together with Jorge Pardo (flute), Carlos Benavent (bass), Juan Habichuela ‘hijo’, Rubén Dantas (percussions), Romerito de Algeciras, Guadiana, José Soto ‘Sordera’, Tino de Madrid (palmas), are heard in Bulerías, an interview, in Bulerías in the tonality of a Taranto, and in tangos.

MISCELLANY N°1, WITH MANUEL MORAO, PEDRO BACÁN, PACO DE LUCÍA, MANOLO SANLÚCAR:   Interviews of Rafael del Aguila (Jérez, 1900-76); Manuel Moreno Jiménez ‘Manuel Morao’ (b. Jérez 1929) plays Soleáres; Pedro Peña Fernández ‘Pedro Bacán’ (Lebrija, 1939-1997) plays Tarantas; Paco de Lucía plays Bulerías; the cantaor Juan Peña ‘El Lebrijano’ is interviewed; Manuel Muñoz Alcón ‘Manolo Sanlúcar’ (b. Sanlúcar de Barrameda, 1945) plays Seguiriyas.

Comments:

Again we see moving images of the legendary Diego del Gastor shortly before his death, taking a walk in Morón, in a gathering with friends, talking about the toque, interpreting Alegrías, Seguiriyas, and Soleáres solo, and accompanying his cousin Joselero in Bulerías in masterly fashion and with a duende worthy of his legend.

Tomatito, emerging from his recent recording of La Leyenda del Tiempo (1979) with Camarón, interprets various rhythmic pieces with the intensely Gypsy expression which sets him apart from all others, accompanied by a first version of the Paco de Lucía sextet, Juan Carmona the second guitar of the Ketama group, and the palmas of the no less famous celebrities of today: Guadiana, José Soto ‘Sorderita’ (then ‘Sotito de Jérez’) and Tino.

Then follows an interview of Rafael del Aguila, the disciple of Javier Molina and master of the current generation of Jérez guitar-players; Manuel Morao in one of the earliest expressions of that unmistakable Jérez toque; a youthful Pedro Bacán interpreting with great virtuosity one of his earliest Tarantas; Paco de Lucía in Bulerías accompanied by Camarón’s knuckles in a flamenco gathering; Turronero and Paco Cepero; Juan Peña ‘el Lebrijano’, then a youthful upholder of the classical flamenco tradition, expressing his opinion on the toque of the early 70’s; Manolo Sanlúcar playing por Seguiriya his ‘Elegia al Niño Ricardo’, the master who had just died when this recording was made in 1972 (Sanlúcar recorded this piece that same year in vol. 2 of his Mundo y Formas de la Guitarra Flamenca).  These documents form a superb miscellany which illustrates the coexistence of the traditional toque and the renewal then in its early stages.

VIDEO N° 6.

MISCELLANY N° 2 — WITH MANUEL MORAO, MELCHOR DE MARCHENA, PEDRO PEÑA, PACO DE LUCÍA, DIEGO DEL GASTOR: from the series Rito y Geografía del Cante, with Manuel Morao playing Seguiriyas, Melchor de Marchena playing Tarantos, an interview of Pedro Peña who sings and plays Soleáres, Paco de Lucía playing Rondeñas, and Diego del Gastor playing Bulerías.

MISCELLANY N° 3 — WITH FELIX DE UTRERA, CONDE HERMANOS, MANUEL MORAO, MANOLO SEVILLANO: from the series Flamenco, Antología de Cantes y Bailes Andaluces, Felix de Utrera is heard playing Tientos; comments on the making of guitars in the workshop of the brothers Conde; Manuel Morao plays Seguiriyas; El Calderas de Salamanca (song) and Manolo Sevillano (guitar) are heard in Peteneras, and Juan Cantero (song), Matilde España (dance) and Manolo el Sevillano (guitar) in Tangos.

SABICAS:  a performance in homage to Sabicas, on the occasion of his demise in 1990, with views of his funeral and of Pamplona; Sabicas in Alegrías in A minor and in “Temas del Pueblo”, la Niña de la Puebla, Pepe Montoya ‘Montoyita’, and Laura Toledo evoke Sabicas who plays “La Comparsita” and a Granaína.

Comments:

The Miscellany which opens this video completes that of the previous one by illustrating several toques by traditionalists and solos by the current renovators, with some curious shots of the guitar-player-cum-singer Pedro Peña Fernández ‘Pedro Peña’ (b. Lebrija, 1939), father of the piano-player Dorantes, brother of the singer Juan Peña ‘El Lebrijano’, and cousin of Pedro Bacán.  Pedro Peña achieves the feat of singing and accompanying himself in Soleares, with his mother La Perrata embroidering on the rhythm with her knuckles.

We also see Paco de Lucía performing his famous Rondeña “Doblan Campanas” from the record El Duende (1972); he concludes it here with the ending of his quote; from earlier Rondeña recorded in La Fabulosa Guitarra (1967) and revealingly includes allusions to the Rondeña “Cueva del Gato” which he recorded four or five years later in Almoraima (1976): one more proof that maturity came to Paco de Lucía before he made records.

The last miscellany shows us the “official” guitar-player of Hispavox, Felix García Vizcaíno ‘Felix de Utrera’ (born in the Canaries 1929), playing Tientos, a la Niño Ricardo; it takes us on a visit to the workshop of the Madrid guitar-makers Hermanos Conde, against the musical background of a Zorongo played by Ricardo Modrego; Manuel Morao at his most sublime in Seguiriyas; the toque of Manuel Antilla León ‘Manolo el Sevillano’ (Marchena 1910 – Madrid 1988), accompanying Felix on Peteneras Rafael Salazar Motos ‘Calderas de Salamanca’, and Juan Cantero in Tangos Extremeños danced by Matilde España.

The series could not end better than by rendering homage to Agustín Castellón Campos ‘Sabicas’ (Pamplona 1912 – New York, 18 April 1990) one of the greatest guitarists of all times, with a report on his native town and house, his multitudinous and grief-stricken funeral, an evocation of his friends and admirers like la Niña de la Puebla, Montoyita and Laura Toledo, and various extracts from one of the last concerts Sabicas gave, with his famous Alegrías in A major which incline towards the jota, “Temas del Pueblo”, the popular tune “Los Cuatro Muleros” as arranged by the master, the most famous Río de la Plata tango by M. Rodríguez ‘La Comparsita’, which the Gypsy from Pamplona included in 1969 in his record Tres guitarras tiene Sabicas, and a tremendously modern Granaína.

End of Norberto Torres description of “Rito y Geografia de la Guitarra” Flamenca”.

Gracias, Norberto.  And I can’t help noticing that the  magical keyword for flamenco greatness of expression appears in only one instance, repeated here:  ”Again we see moving images of the legendary Diego del Gastor shortly before his death, taking a walk in Morón, in a gathering with friends, talking about the toque, interpreting Alegrías, Seguiriyas, and Soleáres solo, and accompanying his cousin Joselero in Bulerías in masterly fashion and with a duende worthy of his legend.”

So it ain’t just us gringos.

Brook Zern

January 10, 2014   No Comments

Guitarist Paco de Lucía Speaks – 1986 Interview by Diego Caballero – Translated by Estela Zatania

A while ago I was digging around my basement for stuff to add to the displayed items at the new Lincoln Center exhibit “100 Years of Flamenco in New York” that just got a rave review in the New York Times.  I found a 1986 issue of the magazine called “Puerta de Sevilla” that I’d bought at that year’s Flamenco Bienal.  I slipped it to Estela Zatania, the author and the critic for the invaluable web publication deflamenco.com that always offers extensive English-language news and reviews as well as stuff for sale.  She ran it there on March 28th, added smart commentary, and also provided a fine translation which saved me the angst.  Like all Paco interviews, it’s a gold mine of frank comments and fascinating reflections on his art and his life.

For example:  ”Without doubt, it’s the Gypsies who know the most about flamenco.”

Here it is, followed by a few of my observations.  The deflamenco.com url is:

https://www.deflamenco.com/revista/entrevistas/paco-de-lucia-interviewed-in-1986-1.html

The Son of Lucía

The maestro arrived as workers had just finished placing the last chairs on the inlaid stone floor of the Patio de la Montería, when the rest of the group had been rehearsing for a good hour or more.  He had just arrived from Athens and was soon on his way to Argentina, as casually as someone who just stopped by to pick up a newspaper and a loaf of bread, but not without first putting the crowning touch to the fourth Bienal de Arte Flamenco, if only to dull the memory of the terrible reviews Seville critics gave him just two years earlier.  The maestro is timid and closes his eyes, but spits out passionate statements when the topic is flamenco and his unorthodox approach.  The shining star is reflected in the prophetic rippling in a cup of coffee, while caressing the sinuous curves of his blond instrument.  Paco de Lucía is performing for an audience of flamenco fans.  The Reales Alcázares seems to require starting out breaking with tradition and without forgetting the roots: a minera crossed with fandangos, a perfect pretext for making good music.

“Guitar is changing and I have an obligation to my followers to open new paths”.

The maestro Sabicas doesn’t like it when you join up to play with strange people like Al Di Meola and Chick Corea, he thinks you don’t need that to be the greatest.

It’s an opinion I respect as if it came from my own father, because we must all be at the feet of Sabicas, but it’s still just an opinion.  We flamenco musicians don’t know about chords, and we weren’t able to attend a conservatory to learn music.  Flamenco is in a very special moment, it needs to receive every possible contribution in order for us to learn things we’re not accustomed to in our own music.  For me personally these encounters have been very useful.  Guitar is changing and I have an obligation to my followers to open new paths.  Mike Oldfield is a great musician who’s not part of our world and from whom we have a lot to learn, that’s why I seek out his music.

A trying experience.

There were times it drove me crazy, I even had nightmares, I couldn’t sleep; it was really quite a challenge I’d undertaken.  Sabicas thinks flamenco shouldn’t evolve, that it has to be monotonous and always sound old-fashioned.  In my opinion it has to be left to sound the same, but with a new vocabulary.

It had been announced that you were going to take part in Camarón de la Isla’s new record, but you never showed up.  What happened?

Simply that I was on tour, far away, and it was impossible to return for the record.

Is it very different playing in Seville compared to Moscow or Japan?

Anywhere is easier to play than here.   There are people outside of Spain who really know music and they listen in a different way.  Here, people are looking for a certain feeling, basically if it sounds flamenco, but abroad no, they hear you as a musician which is exactly how I feel most relaxed and the least nervous.  In Seville I have to consider playing things that are simpler and more flamenco, outside you have more freedom.

Someone recently called you a machista, only half-jokingly.  Can’t women learn to play guitar?

One thing is for sure, in order to play flamenco it takes a lot of physical strength and a lot of nerve.  You have to caress the guitar and then destroy it, the dynamic must be very strong.  Anyhow, many women wouldn’t be able to sit eight hours a day, guitar in hand, it’s thankless work to have to be practicing all the time.

Paco de Lucía believes women and guitars are the same gender, which is why he feels they are incompatible, with their sinuous curves, beings who will never be dominated although appearances seem to indicate the contrary as explains the son of Lucía with no qualms whatsoever, glancing at his well-manicured cat-like hands in case a nail has dared to threaten its very valuable place and mission.  “We machistas think like that…we think of having women under our thumb, completely dominated, but that’s fiction.   Maybe that’s why they don’t get along, and why there are so few excellent women guitarists, because they’re so similar”.

Is it just hype, or is it true you have a double in Moscow who calls himself Paco de Rusia?

The Association of Russian artists gave me a tribute some months ago, and it included a surprise, the live performance of someone I was told is a faithful fan.  He calls himself “Paco de Rusia”, and he combs his hair just like me.  I do the comb-over to hide my receding hairline, but he does it to look like me even though he has hair.  No, he doesn’t play badly, he’s just beginning.

In your previous concert within the Bienal, they did everything but throw rolls of toilet paper at you as they did with bullfighter Curro Romero.  It was as if there had been a secret agreement to bad-mouth Paco de Lucía.

There’s an easy explanation, it’s because in Seville there are flamenco critics who don’t have the vaguest idea what flamenco is, they’re individuals who, rather than write about something they know, they just string sentences together, but they do know that no matter how well a gypsy sings or dances, none of them is capable of writing for a newspaper.  Without a doubt, it’s the gypsies who know the most about flamenco.  But as far as the reviews, I refused to have the concert recorded live because the sound system was terrible.  They think they have power and a bad review is enough to ruin anyone’s career.  It’s laughable, they give you a bad review for purely personal reasons.  It didn’t bother me, but it’s infuriating that authority they think they have.

Tell us about how you go about your work.  Why do you always play with your eyes closed and a look of rapture?

Playing guitar is very hard, you need complete concentration.  I’m a timid person who prefers to be in the audience rather than on stage.  I wasn’t born to have everyone hanging on my every move, so many people looking at you.  You have to have a very balanced emotional state, that’s why I close my eyes when I play.  If you open them and see people talking, or some guy yawning, the whole performance falls apart.  When I close my eyes, I manage to focus much better.

Playing with contemporary musicians, the “strange people” like Sabicas calls them, you have to forget about your background a little to get into their mainstream world of pop music.

Playing with them, I had to play their music and forget about flamenco, that’s why I had such a hard time now and again, but on the other hand, it was worth it for the learning experience.  Aside from that, I’m defending a culture and a race which is the flamenco people, discriminated against for centuries until Manuel de Falla and Federico García Lorca came along and initiated a process of dignification.  It used to be shameful to be a flamenco.  We have a lot to be grateful for to Manuel de Falla and to all the musicians who bring in new blood.  We’re musicians and flamencos, that’s our place.   I won’t abandon my roots, and will try to do new things without losing the aroma and the flavor of flamenco.  In my work there’s a great deal of rage against this discrimination which still exists, although somewhat less than before, because fortunately things are changing.

Do you have everything planned out before going on stage?

Of course not.  There’s a very big margin for improvisation in my shows.

Does a person learn to play in the stony silence of the theaters, or in the impulsive heat of battle of nighttime gatherings?

Most of us learn to play getting drunk in the street in the wee hours of the morning.  That’s why I said that about women.  This isn’t the best atmosphere for them.  Aside from that, a women will always lift less weight than a man, it’s something ordained by nature.

We’ll let you go now, you’ll be needing to warm up…

You’d be surprised, I don’t play much to warm up my hands, I do it to record or play a concert.  And the guitar doesn’t really need to be warmed up.  An hour before a performance I do take it out and play for a while, file my nails, get focused…but not when I’m at home.

After Seville, the power and imagination of Paco de Lucía moves on to Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, then back to Spain and afterwards Asia.  In the middle of all these comings and goings he must find time to make a record with his friend Manolo Sanlúcar and formalize a contract with the record company.

“I prefer Moscow to Seville because here audiences know too much about flamenco and there are times when your psychological state just doesn’t let you play”.  The son of Lucía of Algeciras, is getting paid a million and a half [pesetas], more than Sabicas and Chiquetete combined, but this time he left a smooth cloak extending from flamenco and directly to the heart.

End of interview.

A few random notes: Paco’s 1.5 million peseta paycheck was probably about 15,000 U.S. bucks at 100 pesetas to the dollar.  In that pre-Euro era, countries could jiggle the value of their currencies at will, avoiding the disasters we see today when they must conform to the dictates of Angela Merkel’s Germany as it engineers more austerity for them, and more prosperity for itself.

In the mid-sixties, I remember the sensation caused when the sensational bullfighter El Cordobés pulled in a million pesetas — which was worth 16,000 U.S. bucks, because the exchange rate was just 60 to the dollar.

I’m sure someone can explain why the current carefully engineered suffering of Spain is a good thing, since it builds character and promotes fiscal discipline and besides, prosperity is just around the corner, due as early as 2021.  But I’m not sure the Euro is worth it — and in fact, a lot of savvy economists say it’s time to call Berlin’s bluff and see what happens, since it couldn’t be much worse and could be much better.

But I digress.

I shall now digress from that digression:

The bullfighter the interviewer refers to, Curro Romero, was indeed booed almost every time he entered the ring, because he acted in a cowardly fashion.  (What’s the opposite of cowardly in bullfight terms?  Bullardly?)  We screamed at him and threw our rented seat cushions, a 20-peseta investment, at him, and then had to sit on the hard hot concrete.  And we did it week after week.

Were we stupid?  Did we never learn?  Well, here’s the deal:  In the exceedingly unlikely event that Curro Romero was good, he was very good.  No, not very good like other bullfighters including the much greater Antonio Ordoñez.  Very good like on a totally different plane, stashed in another dimension, wrapped in an utterly separate reality.

Yes, Romero could take the whole crowd of ten thousand spectators to Duendelandia, a special region of Andalusia where clocks slowed down, or stopped (a typical headline: “Curro Romero Stops the Clock”) or, in one case I think I recall, actually ran backward.  Curro Romero did that, which is why he got contracts to fight at least a hundred times a year.  Because while other toreros who fought that often cut to cut a hundred or a hundred and fifty ears (two bulls and four available ears per fight, remember), Curro Romero would cut a piddling eight or nine.

But each of those ears, weighed on our handy Duendometers, weighed 48.7 times as much as the ears cut by human beings.  Just as the flamenco siguiriyas, on that same scale, weighs 35.67 times as much as a fine malagueña and 62.3 times as much as a charming colombiana.

Curro Romero, from Camas right outside of Seville, was one of two guys who pulled this off.  The other was Rafael de Paula, of Jerez.  That’s two out of about three hundred bullfighters.  And that percentage is about the same as in flamenco, where six or eight people can do the same trick out of about a thousand artistes who secretly or openly wish they could.  I won’t say who they are, but as Paco always says, “it’s the Gypsies who know the most about flamenco.”

And finally:  He hauls off and punches Sabicas a few times, smiling all the while.  I can’t recall the maestro ever saying he thought “flamenco shouldn’t evolve, that it has to be monotonous and always sound old-fashioned.”

Paco’s judgment of the maestro (whom he calls “tío”, a word we applied to Sabicas’s charming and competent brother Diego but never to Sabas) is hard and harsh.   (The interviewer, of course, begins by calling Paco de Lucía “maestro”, an honorific he richly deserves.)

Paco followed up later by accusing Sabicas of a failure of vision or nerve in not supplanting flamenco with a new kind expanded-harmony-based art form, like Paco’s.

He adds, “In my opinion [flamenco guitar] has to be left to sound the same, but with a new vocabulary.”  Hmmm.  Does French sound the same as Chinese, but with a new vocabulary?

I have saved the best for last, and invite any women to comment on Paco’s appraisal of a woman’s place in flamenco…

Brook Zern — www.flamencoexperience.com — brookzern@gmail.com

April 1, 2013   2 Comments

Soundscape – The flamenco recordings playing at the exhibit “100 Years of Flamenco in New York – 1913-2013″ at New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center

On March 12, the exhibit “100 Years of Flamenco in New York — 1913-2013″ opened at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center where it will run through August 3rd.

I’ve written about it in another blog entry, noting the extraordinary work of Carlota Santana of Flamenco Vivo in organizing it and the remarkable efforts of the dancer and scholar La Meira and the author and expert Ninotchka Bennahum in selecting and  arranging the materials.  They also wrote the impressive catalog that details the history of the dance in the city during the past century.

I added a section about the guitar in New York, and also selected the 21 recordings that are played as the so-called “soundscape” — it has a better ring than “background music” — playing during the event.  The objective was to shed light, or sound, on the materials that are displayed.  In the room, one can read a brief description of each cut.

(Some of the rare material in the show was generously contributed by Carlos Montoya, the son and namesake of the most famous concert guitarist in the world for many decades.  I also contributed some items, including LP’s and 78′s, programs — among them, two disintegrating tissue-thin sheets describing the programs and extensively detailing the cuadros or groups of artists working at the 1965 New York World’s Fair — and the 1951 José Ramírez flamenco guitar signed on its face with a black market Parker pen by the dancer Vicente Escudero — see the entry detailing its acquisition and “defacement” elsewhere in this blog.)

Just for the heck of it, I decided to write a lengthier description of the cuts and place it here, for anyone who wanted to know more — or who wondered how I could justify each cut, at least in my own mind.  (The process was painful, because the number of cuts, like the number of photographs and items in the exhibit, was very limited.)

Here is that full version:

1.  Carmen Amaya dances and sings a bulerías titled “Ritmos de Carmen Amaya” accompanied by Sabicas; from the recording Queen of the Gypsies – The Rhythms of Carmen Amaya

Notes:  This hell-for-leather bulerías reveals the seemingly telepathic connection between the flamenco’s greatest dancer-guitarist pairing of all time.  Carmen Amaya threw away the rule books and the frilly dresses, put on the pants and danced with an intensity that may never be matched.  Fast footwork, always an expression of raw masculinity in dance, became ferociously female as Carmen simply surpassed everyone else in the business.  She danced with a snap and instantaneous precision that would not be seen again until the advent of Michael Jackson.  Her energy and intensity were still undimmed near the end of her life, as revealed in the fine film Los Tarantos, with her nanosecond transition from seated to dancing in full fury.

When Carmen Amaya met Sabicas, she found her musical match and soulmate – the fastest, cleanest and most precise flamenco guitarist in the world.  Whenever they appeared in Buenos Aires, traffic was diverted from the midtown theater area.  When they stormed New York – well, the rest is dance history.  They epitomized an art that is the emblem and essence of southwestern Spain.  And both were born in the opposite corner of the nation, she near Barcelona and he in Pamplona.

2. Manuel Agujetas sings a siguiriyas, “Desde que te fuiste” (“Since you left me”), accompanied by guitarist David Serva, from the 1977 record Palabra Viva (the Living Word).

Notes:  Manuel Agujetas, who in 1976 set up shop for months in a dinky New York restaurant with his wife, the very talented New Yorker dancer wife Tibulina Lubart, briefly reappeared in New York last May.  The New York Times accurately described him as “a great singer” and more specifically “a great Gitano singer”.  He is the living embodiment of the immensely difficult and absolutely terrifying component of flamenco called cante jondo or deep song, which a Columbia student named Federico García Lorca called the realm of the sonidos negros, the black sounds.  This is tragedy told in the first person, directed to no one, expressed simply because it must be expressed.  It is traditionally linked to just a handful of gitano or Gypsy artists – Manuel Torre, the paradigm; Manolo Caracol, who at age twelve was the real winner of the Granada Deep Song contest of 1922 organized by composer Manuel de Falla; Fernanda de Utrera, the empress of the soleá; Terremoto de Jerez; El Chocolate; and today, the great José Merce.  Agujetas is not simply a link to a vanished past; he seems intimately and inextricably connected to separate reality.  Agujetas is accompanied here by the astonishing American flamenco guitarist David Serva, the only American player to truly enter the core of flamenco and make a career in Spain.

This is the siguiriyas, which along with the soleá and the martinete is one of just three deep song forms – three forms out of the more than sixty in the panorama of flamenco.  But somewhere there is a scale, and it shows that those three weigh as much as all the others put together.

3. Steve Kahn plays a bulerías on his record, Steve Kahn – Flamenco Guitar.

Notes:  Steve Kahn, another gifted American flamenco guitarist, is one of many foreigners to fall under the spell of Diego del Gastor, who made a career while never going far from his home town of Morón de la Frontera, some fifty kilometers from Seville.  Diego refused lucrative offers and intense efforts by Spain’s leading record companies because he had no desire to be famous.  To hear him play, you had to go to where he was, and that’s how Steve, and David Serva (accompanist to Agujetas in the above siguiriyas), and many others including this writer all ended up living in Morón for months and years.  In Diego’s seemingly simple yet ultimately inimitable approach to the instrument, many flamenco artists and aficionados heard worlds within worlds.

It is said that Diego del Gastor was “never recorded” – yes, unless one counts the hundreds of hours of tapes we foreigners made of him playing solo and accompanying now-legendary singers including Fernanda de Utrera, Juan Talegas and Manolito de la María, in which case he may be the most recorded of all guitarists.  Note that the underlying aesthetic is completely different from the marvelous high-speed, high-power bulerías of Carmen Amaya and Sabicas on the first selection.  In fact, speed is not necessarily seen as a virtue in this kind of flamenco – the intent is to simply let the music unfold, not to have it zip by faster than it can be absorbed.

Steve Kahn is also noted photographer, and during his many years in New York he created an exhibit of photographs taken by many foreign pilgrims, himself included, in the flamenco environs of Morón during the sixties and seventies.  The exhibit, “Flamenco Project” has been acclaimed in many Spanish cities; it  is accompanied by a book that also includes essays by veterans (this writer among many) who felt fortunate to fall into that strange vortex or singularity.

4.  Enrique Morente sings a granainasEngarzá en oro y marfil”, sung by Enrique Morente, accompanied by Sabicas, on the LP/CD “Morente – Sabicas – New York y Granada”.

Notes: You don’t have to breathe Gypsy fire to sing great flamenco.  Enrique Morente was from Granada, and he drew his inspiration from the other side of the flamenco coin.  He concentrated on the rich, complex and often lovely songs, drawing his first inspiration from Don Antonio Chacón, who earned that honorific “Don” for being the greatest vocal master, the greatest creator of new styles and the finest gentleman in the business.  Chacón built on the foundation of the fandangos, a major branch of flamenco in which beauty is not a handicap but an asset.  His malagueñas were ravishing, but perhaps his greatest creation was this granainas that Morente sings here.  He is accompanied by the adopted New Yorker Sabicas, in his final appearance with a singer.

What do you do when you’ve proved you are the best in your chosen realm of flamenco?  Morente answered that question by becoming a new kind of singer, using his total command of the tradition to make daring new conceptual leaps and forging new music, new melodies and new ways to vocalize.  He teamed up with Spanish rockeros and with daring recording engineers to make historic albums including Omega, Lorca, and El Pequeño Reloj.  When he died far too young a few years ago, he was the most revered flamenco singer in Spain – and not long before that, he filled Carnegie Hall with new New York acolytes.

Today Enrique’s stunning daughter Estrella carries the flamenco song flame for the family; her art doesn’t sound funky, but it’s gorgeous from the word go.

5. Fernanda de Utrera sings a soleá, accompanied by Diego del Gastor.  No label.  No company.  No multinational enterprise.  Just some dedicated foreign aficionados who were determined to preserve Spain’s cultural heritage.

Notes:  The first great female flamenco singer to appear in New York was Fernanda de Utrera, master of the deep song form called the soleá.  When her mother put her on the train to Madrid, she gave Fernanda some garbanzo beans so she would have something to eat in New York.  Soon she was onstage in Queens at the 1965 World’s Fair with her sister Bernarda, a fine singer of flamenco’s festive songs.

This cut is from one of the miles of tape recordings made by various Americans in and around Morón de la Frontera in Seville province.  It reveals a crucial side of flamenco which is by definition not found on official recordings made in studios.  It is instead made within an intimate gathering of artists and aficionados who know one another, and have gathered in a juerga or fiesta or, in English, a sort of jam session, with no schedule and no predictable outcome, assuming it starts at all.

In other words, the objective of this event is not to create a product.  If the truth be known, the aim is to create a few fleeting moments when some mysterious force or entity seems to invade the proceedings and take over an artist.  The entity is called the duende, and in the realm of flamenco and the bullfight in Spain, it is as real as it is rare.

Some of the foreigners went to certain Andalusian towns in the sixties and seventies did not go to “hear flamenco” or “find flamenco”.   You could do that almost anywhere.   Instead, we went with the hope of penetrating a normally closed circle of artists and aficionados so that we might be present to witness something unique  — a performance that went far beyond inspired.  In other words, we were hunting down the duende, and we knew that this word was used in southern Spain in just two contexts.

We were there on the off chance that in an intimate flamenco session at about five in the morning, or in a bullring at exactly  five in the afternoon (“cinco en punto de la tarde” in Lorca’s timetable/lament) we might see an artist simply bypass all normal barriers of performance, seemingly without effort, and start to function as – what? – well, perhaps as human receiver/transmitter mediating between the normal world and a realm beyond our ken.

Among hundreds of bullfighters, exactly two – Curro Romero from Seville, whom most people assumed was a Gypsy, and an actual Gypsy from Jerez named Rafael de Paula – might occasionally do this.  They were easy to find in the escalofón or ratings columns published in the bullfight weeklies, because while others who fought a hundred times would have cut eighty or a hundred ears. those men would have cut perhaps eight or ten ears, in a good year.  And yet we followed them from town to town, because – well, because they were obviously doing something that was qualitatively different from all the other matadors.  They were bringing down the duende, and the whole crowd of thousands knew when it started and stopped, and they were so happy that they kissed strangers and cried because that was what they had desperately hoped to experience.  And the newspapers the next day would matter-of-factly note the fact, and perhaps mention the strange feeling of time slowing down that characterizes those moments.  Typical headline:  “Curro Romero Stops The Clock”, or “Rafael de Paula Enduendado en Jerez” (“Rafael de Paula Duendified in Jerez”

(Yes, we now know that this always deadly and very Spanish spectacle is simply barbaric and/or morally indefensible and even illegal in parts of Spain that would rather not be parts of Spain.  But before our enlightenment, Life and Time and Sports Illustrated and Holiday and a dozen other American magazines reported on the bullfight season at least once every summer.  While some flamenco-seekers in those years already hated the bullfight, others thought it was an important art which shed light on a culture and its music.)

Alternatively:  A few hours before sunrise, in dingy, smoke-choked rooms in bars and roadside ventas, the handful of flamenco singers mentioned in the notes on the Agujetas recording above just might pull off the same trick.  Fernanda de Utrera was one of two women – the other was Piriñaca de Jerez – who could make the leap into this void.  Piriñaca once said, “When I am singing well, I taste blood in my mouth.” This is why we were there.

Of course,  the postmodernist deconstructionist authorities  who are now in charge of Spain’s official flamenco narrative will reassure you that this is all romantic nonsense designed to extract something from us gullible rubes.  And come to think of it, we usually shelled out a few bucks for the wine, or Tío Pepe sherry if we could.  Somehow, we thought we came out ahead.

6.  Carlos Montoya plays a solo bulerías on an anthology record, Las Guitarras Flamencas.

Notes: Carlos Montoya was the first guitarist to leave Spain in order to build a career as a soloist.  He was also by far the most successful, in large measure because he was a truly charismatic performer.  After proving himself as an accompanist for more great dancers than any other guitarist, he made his move.  In reality, he had no choice.  In Spain, the idea of a flamenco guitar concert was incomprehensible, because the “proper” purpose of the flamenco guitar was to accompany dancers or singers.

While we loved the dancers, flamenco singers have never really been appreciated in America.  The often rough voices, the language barrier (many Spaniards say they can’t understand the agonizingly extended vocal lines and the deep southern  Andalusian dialect) and the alien, oriental nature of the melodies remain an acquired taste that virtually no one wants to acquire.  But the guitar was both exotic and accessible, especially in the hands of a magnetic personality like Carlos Montoya.  He came to New York in the fifties, settling in midtown a few blocks from the immortal Sabicas and the brilliant Mario Escudero – making the Big Apple the epicenter of the concert flamenco guitar explosion for decades.

Montoya knew that hard-core aficionados would likely prefer the music of Sabicas, and would dismiss some of his mannerisms as crowd-pleasing efectismo – striving for effect at the expense of flamenco expression.  But the pleased crowds voted for Carlos Montoya and never felt deceived.  He sold out halls and even stadiums, and made more than 60 LP’s.

In fact, this bulerías reveals a very Gypsy style.   In an era where flamenco guitar concerts have devolved into group performances inspired by jazz quint-, sext- and septets, it’s remarkable that these lone artists could hypnotize audiences with two pounds of wood and six nylon strings.

7.  Antonio Piñana sings the Cartageneras del Rojo el Alpargatero “Los puntales del cante cartagenero” accompanied by his son, Antonio, from the record Antología de Cantaores Flamencos.

Notes:  Among the remarkable items in this exhibit, the most striking may well be the actual film of the Spanish dancer Carmencita, who was wildly popular in America at the turn of the last century.  She was so well known that when Thomas Edison decided to use his new-fangled motion picture camera to capture a dancer for the first time, he asked  Carmencita to come to New Jersey (the town probably wasn’t named Edison yet) for her close-up.

Her real name was Carmen Grau Dauset.  And when flamenco song buffs heard the name Grau, it rang a bell.  It seems that Carmencita was the sister-in-law of one of the most important singers in flamenco history.  He was called El Rojo el Alpargatero, but named Antonio Grau.  Regrettably, he was never recorded.  Incredibly, he sang in New York City – no doubt the first important flamenco singer to work in America, and probably the first of all.  He was the key creator in a distinct branch of exquisitely ornamented fandangos from the eastern mining region of Almeria that includes the tarantas, the cartageneras, the mineras and others.  He passed his music on to his son, who in turn entrusted it to the late Antonio Piñana.

In other words, this the music that Carmencita’s never-recorded brother-in-law probably sang in Brooklyn more than a century ago.  It might be considered the world’s first sound track, except that the song is in a free rhythm while the dance is most certainly not.

8. Carmen Amaya sings and dances a rondeña accompanied by Sabicas; from the 1958 LP Queen of the Gypsies.

Notes:  They’re back – the dynamic duo does a number on everyone by creating a previously nonexistent musical number.  Granted, the rondeña song did exist as a rare variant of a folky, bouncy fandango.  And Ramón Montoya, the progenitor of the musically developed flamenco guitar (and uncle of the famous New Yorker Carlos Montoya), had created or perfected a new guitar-only flamenco piece (the only such piece in the repertoire) using a unique tuning to create a mysterious and evocative free-rhythm form of the same name.

But Amaya and Sabicas at their creative peaks here conjured up a new rhythmic pulse and a singular melody.   It may never have happened again, and we are fortunate to have this recording.

9.  Luís Vargas sings a tangos, accompanied by Basilio Georges, on “Cante Flamenco”.

Notes:  There have been all too few singers living in New York, and our cadre of hard-core aficionados have treasured them all – in the older generation, we have had Paco Ortiz, Domingo Alvarado, and not many more.  Luís Vargas is a fine singer, steeped in the traditions of his native Cádiz but commanding a wide range of flamenco forms.  Here is his rendition of the form including the distinctive Tangos of La Repompa de Malaga.  The tangos, incidentally, is that rarity among flamenco pieces – it’s in a solid 4/4 tempo, march time or rock time, just like 98.6% of all the music that sells in the western world.

(The great majority of rhythmic flamenco forms use a weird polyrhythm or amalgam with twelve beats, of which five (yes, five!) are accented.  So in the soleá, the alegrías family and the bulerías, the accents are on three, six, eight, ten and twelve; the peteneras and the guajiras accent the one, four, seven, nine and eleven; and the siguiriyas and serranas accent the one, three, five, eight and eleven.  This is why you can’t tap your foot to flamenco songs without years, or at least hours, of practice.)

Guitarist Basilio Georges is a valued asset in the New York flamenco scene, both for his expert playing and for the tireless work that he and his wife, the dancer and singer Aurora Reyes, do in keeping their midtown group Flamenco Latino active in teaching and performing both flamenco and Latin music in the city and far beyond.  This recording resulted from their determination to properly document the art of Luís Vargas.

10. Mario Escudero plays his bulerías titled Impetu on Mario Escudero Plays Classical Flamenco.

Notes:  For decades, New York – the world capital of the concert flamenco guitar – was privileged to be the home of the marvelous guitarist and true gentleman Mario Escudero.  Mario had made a name for himself accompanying dancers including Vicente Escudero (no relation) and other superb artists.  He was a dear friend and ardent admirer of Sabicas, and it was mutual – they made several duo recordings that have never been surpassed.

Mario Escudero had received some classical training in Spain, and it gave his artistry a broad musical dimension.  In fact, he was a visionary of the flamenco guitar, determined to give genuine structure to solos that were usually just random agglomerations of a guitarist’s store of material, whether original or borrowed from others.  Mario patiently explained that there was a way to build a theme and development into a guitar solo.  And then he proved it with this remarkable invention in the complex bulerías rhythmic pattern or compás.

His bold move was vetted and seconded by the young emerging genius Paco de Lucía, who included Impetu on an early recording – in retrospect, an honor bestowed only on Mario and on Esteban de Sanlúcar, another genius who, like Sabicas, left Spain before the Civil War but who settled in Argentina.

11. David Serva plays a bulerías on a private recording of a concert in Minneapolis in 2006.

Notes:  David Serva, the American who accompanies Agujetas on the second selection, displays his singular solo style in this bulerías, which draws on the guitar tradition embodied by Diego del Gastor.  David was the first and, according to Diego, the best of the foreign players to go to Morón de la Frontera.  (In the early sixties in Greenwich Village, where we both played in coffee houses, David showed me my first Diego material.  It’s among the finest music I have ever learned.)

The piece includes some of David’s own astonishing falsetas (melodic variations), which build upon the Morón style to create a very personal statement.  The ability to create worthwhile flamenco guitar music is surprisingly rare even among Spanish players; for an outsider, it seems even more remarkable.

Bulerías is usually played using the chords of A Phrygian or A Natural – most typically descending from D minor to C major to B flat major to a tonic or root chord of  A major.   (It’s not necessarily in the key or register of A, because in flamenco the guitarist might fasten a capo or cejilla around the neck to raise the pitch by an arbitrary amount, to match the singer’s  range or just to put more edginess into the guitar’s sound,)

This bulerías, however, uses the chords of E Phrygian rather than A –- characterized and defined by a falling chord sequence from A minor to G major to F major to the tonic or root chord of E major.  (This descending rather than ascending nature is one key, so to speak, to the essence of flamenco music.  In fact, it is called the Andalusian Cadence.)

12.  José Mercé sings a tangos called Bandera de Andalucia accompanied by Luis Habichuela on a CD titled Cultura Jonda – 14.

Notes: It’s possible that José Mercé today is the only true master of deep flamenco song who is in his prime.  He sings the soleá, the siguiriyas and the unaccompanied martinetes or tonás with a profundity – aficionados call it an eco because it seems to resonate in a space and time of its own– that only the aging Manuel Ajujetas can equal.  Mercé is the proud inheritor of a family tradition that extends back into the dawn of cante jondo.

Not long ago, at a press conference in New York, Mercé urged everyone to pay close attention to the second half of his City  Center recital the next evening, because it would be challenging and difficult to understand.

In the first half, he gave what may have been the finest rendering of  great flamenco song forms ever seen on a major New York stage.

For the second half, the curtains opened to reveal a rock or pop group, with José as the front man and lead vocalist.   He launched into a strange musical mélange that was, if nothing else, all his own.  And that was why he was so proud of it – because he had stepped outside of a glorious but confining family tradition and created unique music.

Afterwards, I was walking on 55th Street with Liliana Morales, a fine dancer and teacher and a  jewel in the city’s flamenco scene.  (When she had very little, she shared it all with a stream of confused visiting flamenco artists, helping them with heedless generosity.)  We were seated at a restaurant counter when José Mercé happened to walk in.  He saw Liliana, she saw him. They each let out  a yelp of joy and fell into each other’s arms, laughing and sharing memories of when they were kids, working and learning the ropes together in the tablaos or flamenco night clubs of Madrid.  Watching them, I envied Liliana’s vast intangible wealth.

Today, Mercé is not just the best but also the best-selling singer in the business.  His records, like that recital, are divided between incredibly intense flamenco song and his new thing, and total sales have far exceeded the half-million mark that is otherwise unheard of in a profession where five thousand copies constitutes a smash hit.

This tangos is from the early phase of Mercé’s career, and reflects the influence of Camarón de la Isla, his contemporary in the tablaos, who from the seventies until his death in 1992 would work with guitarist Paco de Lucía to revolutionize and transform the art with a fresh and contemporary air.   It is a harbinger of Merce’s later willingness to break rules.

Here he has created an anthem to Andalucía, using a backing chorus.  The guitarist is Luís Habichuela, who died young and was part of Granada’s great Carmona dynasty that includes Juan Habichuela – for many years acknowledged as the finest accompanist in the flamenco tradition – and Pepe Habichuela, a creative genius who has played with jazz artists and actually made good music while doing so.

(Pepe is also a concise judge of character.  After a night at the amazing 1986 New York production of Flamenco Puro, I made a casually dismissive comment about the art of the late singer Pepe Marchena – Spain’s leading figure in a very popular subset of flamenco called cante bonito, or pretty song, because it values sweetness and fancy vocal ornamentation above all else.  Pepe looked over at me and asked, “Do you know what your problem is?”  I said no.  He said, “Your mouth is too big, and your ears are too small.”  For a moment, or maybe even longer, I was at a loss for words.)

Today, the Habichuela children and grandchildren are cheerfully mulching the flamenco rule book and making terrific music of their own.  That’s the way it goes, even if that’s not the way it used to go.

13.  El Chocolate sings a siguiriyas, titled (from the first line of the first verse), “Aunque murmure la gente” – “Even if people are whispering about us”, with guitar accompaniment by Niño Ricardo.

Notes:  Like many others, I consider the late Antonio Nuñez “El Chocolate” a charter member of the very exclusive (perhaps seven or eight members) Deep Song Masters Still In Living Memory Club.  (Agujetas concurs, which counts for much more.)

A few years ago, El Chocolate sang very well in New York’s City Center as part of the hugely successful Flamenco Festival.  This phenomenon was created by the visionaries Robert and Helene Browning, whose World Music Institute had offered music’s planetary pantheon to adventurous listeners; and by Miguel Marín, who insisted that such a festival could work despite my unsolicited advice to the contrary.  (Wrong again – but Miguel did write a long article for Andalucía’s official flamenco publication, detailing the daunting difficulties of attaining success.)

After the show, I found El Chocolate and launched into a long harangue about what a privilege it had been to know him and to witness his singing – all of it, because when he wasn’t singing hard-core flamenco he would walk around singing his exotic versions of Beatles songs or advertising jingles for Cola-Cao.  I had to tell him, because it was clear there might never be another opportunity.  There never was.

A decade or so ago, through some divine fluke, the tiny-selling El Chocolate won the Latin Grammy in the flamenco category.  No one will ever deserve it more.  Still, his initial response seemed refreshing:  “¿Qué es un Grammy?”

14.  Pastora Pavón “La Niña de los Peines” sings a peteneras, “Quisera yo renegar”, accompanied by Manolo de Badajoz on a 1929 recording.

Notes:  Manuel Torre? Antonio Chacón? Tomás Pavón? Manolo Caracol? – there is plenty of room for debate about who was the history’s greatest cantaor (the word means “male flamenco singer”).

As for history’s greatest cantaora, the verdict has been in for more than a century, ever since she started singing in the streets and cafés of Seville.  In the 1940’s, many New Yorkers haunted record stores, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the next 78-rpm record by La Niña de los Peines.  They usually didn’t know about flamenco singing, or even care about the art itself.  All they knew, whether they were opera buffs or jazz fans, was that this woman had to be heard.  Like Edith Piaf or Amalia Rodrigues or Oum Khalsoum or Billie Holiday, this was a female voice that didn’t just transcend but simply demolished cultural barriers.

She sang everything brilliantly.  She absorbed the most profound songs from the magnificent Manuel Torre and her glorious brother Tomás, and scooped up everything else by just listening to the best interpreters and regurgitating it in new, improved and unforgettable versions.  To the public dismay and private delight of purists, she took Mexican ditties like Cielito Lindo and folksongs collected by Lorca like Esquilones de Plata, tossed them into the irresistible rhythm of her bulerías, and let it rip.

If she has a signature song, it is the peteneras that she recorded many times for many labels in her six decades as flamenco’s leading lady.  The origins of this song are unclear, since it doesn’t fit well into any particular branch that emerges from the trunk of the art.  A few of the early verses refer to situations between Jewish lovers, while another indicates that a woman called La Petenera was a famed femme fatale.

Unlike most flamenco songs, this melody seems almost catchy, or memorable, or even “memorizable”.   The rendition is supreme.

(In 1963, in the Seville bar owned by her adoring husband, the very popular singer Pepe Pinto, I haltingly exchanged a few words with Pastora Pavón, whose mind was gradually clouding over from what we now know as Alzheimer’s.  In my own mind, that momentito has become a hefty flamenco credential.)

15.  Sabicas plays an alegrías titled “Campiña andaluza” from his monumental first LP, Flamenco Puro.

Notes:  Sabicas had left Spain during that nation’s Civil War, and gone with Carmen Amaya’s troupe to the New World, finally settling in New York to launch his glorious career as a soloist.  We always called him maestro.  Sabicas didn’t exactly teach the guitar, but if we asked him which fingering he used for a certain falseta, he would indicate the correct version with a nod.  This was a lesson from Olympus.

In 1961, I went to Spain to learn how to play the real flamenco guitar.  I had been studying in New York for a few years with a fine player and fine gentleman named Fidel Zabal, who was my father’s teacher from the mid-1940’s to 1959, when I took up the challenge. Fidel was close friend of Sabicas, and he showed us a lot of his material.

When I was taking my first lessons in Madrid, the teacher asked me if I knew anything.  “Not really,” I said, “at least not the real flamenco guitar.  I just know New York flamenco, mostly stuff by Sabicas.”

His jaw dropped.  “You know the music of Niño Sabicas?!   “My god, how we have missed him!  Stay right there!”  He ran to a phone.  And a half hour later, I was laboriously showing Sabicas’s music to a half-dozen of the city’s best players, who immediately proceeded to play it with a professional punch, pizazz and command that I have never approached.

Moral: The grass might actually be greener on your own side of the fence.

Sabicas played with an uncanny mastery of flamenco’s fiendishly difficult rhythmic patterns, called compás.  His playing at any speed seemed effortless, and the sounds that emerged have never been equaled in the sheer beauty and perfection of every note and the glorious tone of the instrument.  It would serve as an object lesson for Paco de Lucía.

The twelve brilliant cuts on Flamenco Puro would give guitarists their marching orders for decades.  In addition to the maestro’s new conceptions, this alegrías incorporates some falsetas by the great unrecorded Jerez genius Javier Molina.

Sabicas had many American admirers, none more fervent than New York’s Dennis Koster.  Dennis plays both classical and flamenco guitar quite well, and he regards both Sabicas and his long-time teacher Mario Escudero as extraordinary and important composers, often integrating their works into programs that are primarily classical.  It is an interesting and revealing perspective.

16.  José Greco dances la caña, which is sung by Rafael Romero while Miguel García accompanies; from the record Danzas Flamencas.

Notes:  If New York ever had an official bailaor or male flamenco dancer, it was the late José Greco Bucci, born in Italy and dance-educated in Seville, who built his career while based in the Big Apple. In 1942, he toured the States with La Argentinita, working with her until her death in 1945.  He accompanied her body to Spain, and joined the Pilar López troupe before working with Carmen Amaya and Mariemma before founding his own group.   He did a memorable star turn in Around the World in 80 Days”, was a regular on the Ed Sullivan Show, and did shows at Lewisohn Stadium before audiences that could approach 20,000.

José’s personal style was very athletic, very efectista or effects-driven, and sometimes over the top.  But he was an excellent dancer, and today we can still see some of his charisma in the work of his son José II and his daughters Carmela and Lola.  If he was also showman, it was often in the best sense of the word: He was not  afraid to share New York stages with some phenomenal artists, up to and including the young El Farruco, now posthumously seen by many as the finest bailaor in living memory and perhaps of all time.  (As was often the custom in the early phase of such dance troupes, there was a mixture of flamenco and other styles, such as the jota and formalized dances in the bolero style.)

Greco even had an ear for guitarists, and when he took a youngster from Algeciras to New York, the kid was introduced to Sabicas.  The maestro listened to him play, recognized a budding genius and potential rival, and suggested that he stop copying the material of the great Niño Ricardo as most Spanish players were doing, and instead create his own style.  The kid listened, and when he walked out onto Eighth Avenue that night, the future of the instrument was literally in his hands.  A decade later, Paco de Lucía’s revolution was rapidly overshadowing and obliterating all the flamenco guitar music that had come before, including the styles of giants like Ricardo and Sabicas himself.

On this recording, a marvelous Gypsy singer named Rafael Romero sings his signature song, called la caña (that article “la” is unique in flamenco nomenclature, and seems to be a sign of respect for this unusual old song which was once revered as the “Mother of the Soleá”, although that historical claim hasn’t held up.)

Romero had been a key figure in a transformative earlier event.  In 1954, when it seemed that serious flamenco song was in danger of extinction due to a lack of interest, a French company decided to document its death throes with a swansong 3-volume LP called the Antología del Cante Flamenco.  Among the select singers they chose, Rafael Romero did a lot of the heavy lifting and the appealing caña was among its revelations.

The record won France’s Grand Prix du Disque, and suddenly, perhaps because of that fashionably French imprimatur, Spain woke up to the monumental cultural creation that it had been neglecting for so long.  (It probably helped that the great singer Antonio Mairena had been struggling for many years to put flamenco song in its rightful place.)

Whether it was the anthology, the current of mairenismo, or just a propitious moment, the die was cast.  By the mid-sixties, Spain had embraced serious and difficult flamenco music, along with the idea that singers from venerated Gypsy families had a virtual patent on intense flamenco feeling.

In this view, that extraordinary dimension may have resulted from the Gypsy experience since their arrival in Spain in the Fifteenth Century.   There followed several centuries of intense persecution, documented in the deep song styles that are traditionally attributed to Gypsy artists.  Those songs served as a testament and as a warning to future generations, and were restricted to Gypsy gatherings.  Only when the persecution eased in the mid-1800s did the music emerge into public view, joining the many other styles in the flamenco panorama.

This view dominated until the 1990’s when a backlash developed.  Today, gitanismo or “Gypsyism” is out of favor among Andalucía’s officially-anointed authorities and among most academic researchers and writers.  They distrust malleable oral histories and rely primarily on documents including newspaper reports that began appearing around 1850, insisting that the art itself didn’t exist until then.

Those of us who still retain gitanista views may be viewed with suspicion, and termed “racist” for bringing ethnic heritage – and an admitted predilection or bias – into the arena.

17.  The legendary dancer Pilar López sings and dances an arranged version of peteneras titled “El Café de Chinitas”, from the arrangement originally danced by her sister, La Argentinita.  Another singer, Niño de la Corredera, joins her at times.  They are accompanied by guitarist Pepín Salazar, on her record Suite Flamenca.

Notes: Pilar López, born in Madrid, was the younger sister of La Argentinita, who was born in Argentina before the family went to Spain.  Pilar was a professional from the age of 15, playing piano, singing and dancing.  There followed a string of triumphs in Madrid and beyond, and intellectuals and artists were among her adoring public.  In 1933, she worked with her sister for the first time in a version of Falla’s El Amor Brujo.  In 1943, they appeared in the Metropolitan Opera House in the sensational production El Café de Chinitas, and reports insist that in Washington’s Water Gate they danced on a floating stage while some ten thousand spectators watched from boats.  They went on to barnstorm the nation until Argentinita died in 1945.

After a year of mourning, Pilar formed the Ballet Español de Pilar López, featuring veterans of her American tour including José Greco, Manolo Vargas and Rafael Ortega.  A seemingly endless series of triumphs followed, as she conveyed her infallible sense of precision and elegance to a generation of great dancers, including Roberto Ximénez, Alejandro Vega, Mario Maya and Antonio Gades.  The accolades and awards were endless, and included two Silver Cups awarded in New York for the finest interpretation of flamenco dance as well as Spain’s Cruz y Lazo de Isabel La Católica.  She effectively retired from the stage in 1974.

This arranged version of a peteneras from El Café de Chinitas shows how this flamenco song, heard earlier as sung by La Niña de los Peines, is reimagined from the perspective of a flamenco dance production.

18.  Another legendary dancer, Vicente Escudero, dances and plays castanets to an arrangement of Isaac Albéñiz’s classical piece “Sevilla”, played on the piano by Pablo Miquel, on Escudero’s record Flamenco!

Notes: Vicente Escudero, born in 1888, was one of the most important flamenco dancers of the twentieth century, and one of the most radical.  In the bohemian Paris of the 1920’s, he was drawn to Dadaism and surrealism – at one point, dancing to the sound of a massive electrical generator.  Among his pals were Picasso and Miró, Man Ray and Luís Buñuel, Juan Gris and Paul Eluard.  He worked with Diaghilev and when Ana Pavlova died in 1931 he performed at her tribute in London.  In 1932 Sol Hurok booked him for New York.  In 1939, he broke a flamenco taboo by dancing to the crucial siguiriyas, answering critics by saying “I could dance in a church without profaning it.”

By the 1950’s, this inveterate rule-breaker regarded the great Antonio as his principal rival.  Suddenly, he conjured up the new rules of dance orthodoxy – a ten point decálogo that happened to forbid a lot of Antonio’s coolest moves.

In 1961, as a student at Columbia College, I saw Escudero perform at the MacMillan theater on the campus – it was one of his many farewell tours, and in fact it really was his last hurrah.  I found his art confusing and disconcerting, and some others shared similar reservations.

(As a flamenco guitar student, I was probably watching the superb accompaniment of Mario Escudero, (no relation to Vicente) at least as closely as  I was watching the old man.  And years later, at the New York Society of the Classic Guitar, I saw an old film of Vicente dancing – in silence, because the separate soundtrack had been lost if it had existed at all.  I contacted Mario, who watched the film while recording precisely the accompaniment that had been missing; I hope that film has surfaced somewhere.)

The aesthetic of Vicente Escudero, minus the most disconcerting idiosyncrasies, infused the work of other dancers, most notably the brilliant Antonio Gades.

This exhibit includes a 1951 José Ramírez flamenco guitar on which Escudero has etched in pen his remarkable autograph that incorporates a drawing of a dancer and a guitarist and is dated “España 1952”.

19: Adela La Chaqueta sings a colombianas called “De los rizos de tu pelo”, accompanied by Sabicas.

Notes: When the great 1980’s Flamenco Puro production opened on Broadway, unsuspecting audiences were often overwhelmed by the intensity of the proceedings.  Fernanda de Utrera, El Chocolate, El Farruco – this was flamenco immersion therapy, starting with a dive off the deep end.  Even neophytes sensed that this black art could be not merely disturbing and desolate but downright terrifying.  In fact, deep song can seem like a dance with death – because death is always its real topic.  (Okay, putting aside all this absurd mumbo-jumbo – let’s just say  the show was not what a normal audience would expect for its entertainment dollars.)

And then Adela La Chaqueta came bouncing onstage, overflowing with joy and energy, and the crowd heaved a collective sigh of relief.  Yes, there is a happy component to a lot of terrific flamenco, and it came just in time.

On this recording, accompanied by Sabicas and his beloved brother Diego Castellón, Adela performs a colombianas, allegedly one of several charming cantes de ida y vuelta or “round trip songs” like the Cubanesque guajira and the Argentinish milonga, that emigrated from Spain to Latin America and returned with a lilt, a sway and a slightly lascivious tropical air.  Allegedly, because despite its name and that believable backstory, the colombianas was actually fabricated entirely in Spain by Pepe Marchena, the most gifted of Spain’s popular cante bonito or “pretty song” maestros.

(The runner-up was Juanito Valderrama, whose son Juan recently released a CD called “White Sounds”, riding today’s majority-pride backlash against the mystical myth-making that García Lorca weaved around Gypsy “black sounds”.)

20:  Antonio dances to a folk song, “Anda Jaleo”, collected and annotated by Federico García Lorca and possibly sung by Carmen Rojas.  The guitarists are Manuel Morao and Mariano Cordoba, on Antonio’s record Flamenco Fiesta.

Notes:  There is flamenco dance, the province of the bailaor, and there is the more formal and classical Spanish dance, the province of the bailarín.  In the world of Spanish dance, there was Antonio el Bailarín.  He was born Antonio Ruíz Soler, but as a professional he never needed more than “Antonio” or “the Antonio” to show he was in a class by himself.  (“The great Antonio” seemed almost redundant.)

As noted above, the revolutionary Vicente Escudero cemented his reputation by daring to dance the deep siguiriyas.  That left only the older and even more profound martinete as sacrosanct.  And no wonder – the song evidently predated the use of the guitar, and it was sung rather freely, not revealing a pronounced metric system.

Then, in a remarkable 1952 Spanish documentary film by Edgar Neville called Duende y Misterio del Flamenco, a breathtaking shot showed a small platform, at the foot of the great gorge of Ronda, one of the world’s most spectacular sights.  And there was Antonio, alone, blithely borrowing the rhythm of the siguiriyas but revealing a completely new dance form: the martinete, now a major part of the repertoire.

Here Antonio dances to “Anda Jaleo” – not a flamenco song but a popular or folk song which may be among those collected and annotated by Lorca.  (It has always seemed a bit strange to me that virtually all of the songs allegedly brought to light by Lorca have memorable melodies, irresistible hooks and marvelous lyrics, and have become permanent parts of Spain’s national consciousness.  Beginners’ luck?  Or did Lorca polish, refine or perhaps even invent some of these remarkable “popular” creations?  Hey, just sayin’.)

21.  La Argentinita sings and plays castanets to the song “Los Cuatro Muleros”, accompanied on piano by none other than Federico García Lorca.  From the Italian record “Canzoniere Spagnolo – Flamenco e Canti Popolari”.

Notes:  Again moving away from the unbridled intensity of hypercharged flamenco, we hear the restrained elegance of the great dancer La Argentinita as she sings and plays the palillos/castañuelas/castanets (pick one).

Tickling the ivories is a folksong collector who wrote the definitive essay on the phenomenon of the duende and also dabbled in poetry.

In 1929, while he was studying uptown at Columbia University and observing New Yorkers firsthand, Federico Garía Lorca wrote a letter to his family.  It began: “You have no idea how deeply moved these Americans are by the traditional music and song of Spain.”

Indeed.

Brook Zern

Brookzern@gmail.com

www.flamencoexperience.com

www.flamencoexperience.com/blog

March 16, 2013   1 Comment