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Up Close and Personal with Juan del Gastor

posted in listening on february 24th, 2008
flamenco dancers

Imagine, if you can, the unbridled joy felt in the hearts of Seattle flamenco stalwarts at the announcement that the UW would be hosting consecutive “lecture-demos” by Juan del Gastor and, a scant four days later, Juan Cañizares! Hooray for higher education! For all you poor souls out there who were unable to attend, here’s my little narrative (and some audio clips) of the event. And undoubtedly some commentary, but hey—it’s my blog. A second post on Cañizares will be soon to follow.

By any fair account, Juan del Gastor is flamenco gitano. To say that he merely “plays” gypsy style flamenco guitar is, I think, to understate the case. He is the nephew of Diego del Gastor, the famed 60’s icon of Morón de la Frontera and, as far as flamenco gitano is concerned, is a (if not the) definitive authority. The Morón style of flamenco (of which Diego was the de facto patriarch) is characterized by an almost pathological emphasis on compás. This isn’t to say that it has as better sense of “rhythm” than other styles of flamenco (they’re all pretty much pathological when it comes to “staying in compás”), but the Morón style pays more attention to feeling—and transmitting—the compás itself. A player in this style has little use for churning out bar after bar of 64th note runs. In fact, here’s Juan himself, speaking about speed as it relates to the style of his uncle (I’m not transcribing this because I think the way he tells it is just too good):

Juan vs. Speed

I love the fact that he says “no!” six times—and really, how would I even convey in words that other thing he does? (The translator here, by the way, is Juan’s wife, Lucy Edwards—who is, by the looks of it, the model of patience). Anyway, Juan goes on to say that he has nothing against speed in guitar playing, but simply that it’s not what flamenco gitano is about. For those of you into categorizing, you might think of flamenco gitano as a counterpart to the virtuoso strain of flamenco started by Ramon Montoya and Niño Ricardo—and continued by, among others, Juan Cañizares (and of course by the names you already know so well: Paco de Lucia, Tomatito, Vicente Amigo, etc.)

But enough of my idle chatter! Let’s have some clips! Juan played six songs altogether. He’s doing both the playing and the singing here—and if you think that’s easy, I encourage you to try it! The songs speak for themselves, of course, but I should explain that in the last number, the buleria, the guitar stops because Juan, at this point, could no longer stay in his seat: he puts the guitar down, stands up, and starts dancing and doing palmas. He eventually comes down off the stage and, bringing Lucy down with him to dance, finishes the song in the aisle:

Juan del Gastor: Granaina
Juan del Gastor: Soleá
Juan del Gastor: Siguiriya
Juan del Gastor: Taranto
Juan del Gastor: Buleria

And there you have it!

Now go play!

~A

tags: gitano, cante
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