Preview: Flamenco Then and Now

Written By Fernando Gonzalez
November 6, 2015 at 6:41 PM

Like jazz and tango, flamenco is a fusion. As such, it has a deep, rich tradition — but defining an essence can be a frustrating, an ultimately futile, exercise. For innovators this is both an opportunity and a challenge. “Sometimes I don’t even know how I do it,” says South Florida-based Spanish flamenco guitarist José Luis Rodríguez, who will be performing a solo concert presented by Tigertail at the Coral Gables Congregational Church next Tuesday. “I know there has to be a great degree of honesty. I have influences of classical music, a bit of jazz, Latin American music and music from the Mediterranean. But in my pieces I feel that I can’t catalogue my influences. I write flamenco pieces, using flamenco cadences, but these compositions could also be considered contemporary classical pieces with a flamenco structure.” ( Tuesday’s concert is divided in two halves he titles Origin and Evolution. The first half, which will feature compositions written, roughly, between 1920 and 1950, suggests a sampler of some of the best flamenco guitarists of the 20th Century. “I’ve chosen some pieces by my teacher Mario Escudero, something by Niño Ricardo and Ramón Montoya and my own version of some pieces by various composers such as Manolo de Huelva and Miguel el Tomate,” explains Rodríguez, speaking in Spanish in a recent interview via Skype from San Francisco, a stop in a series of concerts that also took him to the West Coast and Mexico. “The second half features my own compositions, pieces that show the evolution from those [first half] pieces and my own evolution.” Rodriguez was born in Chaouen, Morocco, the son of a Spanish doctor. In 1971, when he was 4, the family moved to the south of Spain, eventually settling in Huelva, in Andalusia. Music was a constant. “All the memories I have of Chaouen are in black and white, which is curious because everything there is blue and white,” he says. “My mother tells me that if I heard the call to prayer [of the muezzin] I would stop everything I was doing and listen. It was so much so that a Moroccan carpenter, a friend of my father, took me to the mosque — something as a Christian I couldn’t do — because, he said, he was sure my spirit and ancestors were Arabian.” He apprenticed with Escudero, considered one of the great guitarists in the history of flamenco. “I was more of a disciple than a student,” notes Rodriguez, who studied with the master for five years. Escudero, who played and settled for awhile in the United States, helped to establish and popularize flamenco guitar as a solo concert instrument, not just merely an accompaniment for singers and dancers. “He had a defining characteristic in his style of playing: His elegance. He was a very elegant player,” explains Rodríguez. “And he was also a very good composer, with a good knowledge of classical music even though he never studied formally.” And while others in flamenco could be sticklers for tradition, “he was very open minded.” “He would insist that I put my personality, my own ideas in the pieces he assigned me,” he recalls. “I started studying with him when I was 13 so there was a natural tendency to copy, but he didn’t want me to imitate. He insisted that I develop my own personality.” In Coral Gables, “It’s me alone with a guitar, trying to tell my stories my own way,” he explains. “I don’t even like to talk about what inspired me to write those songs. It would be ideal that what moves me also moves others, but it doesn’t have to be the same idea, the same image. That’s why I prefer not to introduce the songs, and I understand I’m a bit peculiar about this, but I prefer that the listener lets himself go with the music and his feelings that moment. That for me is what’s important.” José Luis Rodríguez performs on Tuesday, Dec. 10, at 8:00 p.m. at the Coral Gables Congregational Church, 3010 De Soto Blvd., Coral Gables; tickets cost $25; For a selection of videos, see:

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