So now it’s mid-2023 and I haven’t posted here since last August. Lots has happened. I did spend part of the winter in Guatemala, playing some nice shows and just loving my time there. Then I went to Spain; spent a week in Granada. Delicious! Then, on to Madrid and the life I love there so much. With one notable exception: My dearest friend, David Serva Jones, was no longer there. He died on October 27th, 2022. His death was very difficult for me. Every time I feel like I’m dealing with it well, it sneaks up on me and clobbers me once again.
So, I’ll be out having a drink somewhere. I don’t go to bars often these days unless I’m doing a show there. But, sometimes I still do. After a couple/few wines I’ll make my way to the bathroom. Inevitably, I wind up staring at myself in the mirror…and, just like that, I’m there with David. It’s so weird, difficult to explain. But, for 40 years and more, we spent so much time in bars together, talking about flamenco usually. It was such a part of my life. Often, we were in the same 3-4 places—the “Portugues” place on Calle Encomienda y Meson de Paredes, for example. Or Antonio Sanchez, around the corner. Or “Bar Amargo,” not the real name. Often we were with Fletcher, now deceased for more than 10 years. I’d dip downstairs where the “loo” was and study my face as I washed my hands—it became a familiar sensation. “Otra ves,” buzzed with David. The Paul Butterfield song “I’m Drunk Again,” would come to mind. Funny how things like this can be the thread that sort of stitches the fabric of your days together.
So, now, all I have to do is go to a bar, alone. Have a couple of wines—David always ordered vinos for me to accompany his “botellines”—eventually, make my way to the bathroom, look at myself. Presto, David. You’re with me again. 40 years You were a major constant in my life. I miss you so damn much. Then there were those Sundays in Madrid at la CaÑa—right by Reina Sophia museum. Drinking Cuco and eating couscous, acting like idiots and having such a time.
Descanse en Paz, Gran Artista. Gran Amigo. Gran Persona.
Let’s talk about Rogue Tango. It is a band that performs authentic Argentine tango, not the flamenco form also called tangos, or tangos gitanos. Being a flamenco guitarist myself, I do understand the confusion.
Argentine tango is filled with delicious, heartbreaking melodies. It features engaging rhythms, elegant and graceful. Tango dance is social dance, which, when executed with skill, makes for compelling stage performance, too.
I first fell in love with tango through the music of Astor Piazzolla,in the early 1990s. I’ve had the great fortune of performing in his tango opera—Maria de Buenos Aires—with two separate large-scale productions.
However, I soon discovered that tango is much more than Astor Piazzolla, however brilliant his body of work is. So, I began the journey of learning as much as I could about the genre with its complicated history and colorful characters.
Ten years ago, I decided to create my own tango ensemble: Rogue Tango. Rather than play set arrangements, like a classical orchestra, I wanted to go a different direction. I believe that playing the melody, with clean conviction, and paying close attention to capturing the rhythm (the groove, soniquete in Spanish), provide the twin pillars of musical performance. Study of the articulation and the ornamentation serve to deepen one’s expression and authenticity.
I searched for highly skilled, even virtuosic, players who shared my commitment to keep learning, keep pushing, keep creating spontaneous and fresh interpretations of tango classics, in live performance, night after night. In tango this is called “tocando a la parrilla.” Often improvising, working from charts, lead sheets and sheet music (partitura) we seek to make meaningful, honest tango statements. We combine Jazz sensibility with traditional tango expression.
It is exciting to make music in this way. It is also a rollicking good time! I think we captured these things pretty well on our debut album, “Nostalgias.” It is a joy and an honor to perform with musicians of such integrity and skill.
First, may I say I love living in Madrid, and in Spain generally. Europe is such a civilized place to live, and, as a liberal/democratic/socialist, I feel so at home. The opportunity to speak Spanish on a daily basis is something I enjoy very much. And: the flamenco. That’s the real reason I spend so much time here.
So, I’m in the middle of 6 weeks in Spain. I’ve become involved in 3 separate musical projects and it is tremendously fun. I don’t like sitting idle, musically speaking anyway. Madrid is very hilly and is a great walking city. Temps have been in the 50s and occassionally the 60s so I’ve been walking a lot. Masks are worn by most everyone; the level of compliance seems to be higher than in the US. Covid is definitely winding down. Spain took the pandemic very seriously, people were quarantined in their homes for months (they call it “el confinamiento”) and they are thrilled to be returning to their own “new-normal.” Restaurants, bars and clubs are packed, even though people sit outside whenever possible.
There is tremendous support for the Ukraine here and throughout Europe. I think people are generally optimistic, but that’s hard to judge. I don’t think Putin counted on Europe being so unified in their condemnation of his aggression. The media coverage is constant, is graphic, and is shocking.
I’ve been to 8 shows so far, nothing earth-shattering but certainly of high quality. Last night I heard the Jerezano singer Vicente Soto accompanied by Manuel Valencia. Powerful though the guitar was a little “meh.” I found the concert by guitarist Juan Carlos Romero disappointing (mainly for his lack of melodic themes) although El Torombo as his percussionist was compelling. I’ve heard Antonio Andrade twice fronting a “cuadro flamenco” show—he’s polished and professional, also cheesy (“hortera”) and cloying. It sounds like I’m being ultra-critical of the guitarists—I am, I guess. I got to hear Jeronimo Maya up close and personal and it was gorgeous. And, a Jazz Manouche group I heard (Menil) was exciting as can be.
That’s all for now. The “menu of the day” beckons. “Menu del dia” is always a highlight!
End of January and, here I am, attempting to organize my thoughts. We’re beginning Year Three of Covid-19, most recently the Omicron variant. Everyone is worn down, bruised and battered, by the pandemic that seems to show no sign of ending any time soon. And winter—a Minnesota specialty—rages cold and fierce and snowy and gray. I’m not taking any walks outside these days. February 3rd will mark the one year anniversary of my wrist break. I made it through the anxiety, the pain, the rehab, the sleeplessness. No desire to repeat that. I make the pilgrimage to Mall of America a couple of times a week to walk for 1 1/2 hours in that hot-house environ.
And now, finally, to return to Spain. To Madrid. The pandemic started for me in Madrid, where I was quarantined for weeks inside my cozy apartment on Calle Olivar. Spring 2020 it was. And now, I’m so excited! To have desayuno (breakfast) at Cafe Peyma, to walk those old streets of Latina, Tirso Molina, Lavapies, Embajadores. To go out and hear live flamenco most every night. To hear the great artists, certainly; but also to hear those jobbers doing gigs, keeping the flame of aficion ever burning. Maybe, to rent a car for a couple of weeks and drive to Jerez, or Moron, or even Granada. Who knows? My time is mine alone.
To hang out with friends, some of whom I’ve known for more than 40 years, and whom I dearly love. How I miss them. And new friends, too, as my circle just keeps expanding. This is, to me, my true wealth. To play flamenco guitar, to understand some things about this arcane world, to participate, to enter in, to feel a part of. Wealth beyond measure. Aum shanti.
This is ridiculous and I’m ashamed! Does anyone read my blog anyway? In any event, it is a lovely late autumn day in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I’m taking a break from my marathon sessions of playing guitar. Since switching to the “pomodoro” method of organizing my time, I have had several break-throughs. Practice is never a drudgery and now a Great Day is a Guitar Day of 4 or more hours of playing, in a variety of styles. I discuss this technique on a YouTube video I made (The Best Practice Hack Ever! Or some such hyperbolic title). Oh, yes—the YouTube link is scottmateodavies or The Intrepid Guitar.
My broken wrist is healed, at last, and I’ve returned to my former performances at clubs, restaurants, and all kinds of venues. I did acquire some tendonitis in the left hand and wrist. However, the more hours I play, the better it feels and the less it inhibits me. The insights gained from the entire nightmarish experience offset the small loss of mobility, I feel. I have gained a deep sympathy and empathy for those who suffer anxiety. My anxiety was crippling and sleep became a real problem. I started taking small amounts of melatonin at night. I completely cut out caffeine and marijuana and Ibuprofin and CBDs. I gradually regained a degree of equanimity and, finally, I once again experience deep, glorious sleep. What an incredible luxury that I always took for granted.
Covid-19 is still with us. I’m now triple-vaccinated and also got the flu shot. Still, while returning from Guatemala 5 weeks ago, I tested positive after several days, quarantined and beat it, with only a lingering partial loss of taste and smell. I’d tested negative in Guatemala the day before returning. So, break-through cases are a real deal, too, as practically no-one doubts. People!! Get it together and Get the Jab!!
I do stand by my credo of the last few posts: Embrace Creativity. Seek Tranquility. Practice Compassion. I shall seek to live out my days following this credo. It really resonates within me, having never cared much for religion. As a 20 year old, living in South India, I converted to Hinduism. I guess the Hindu teachings most appeal to me of everything I’ve encountered. The rise of Hindu Nationalism is most disturbing, however. Japa yoga, Nama yoga, Bhakti yoga all attract me deeply. I’ll post again soon. It is time to stop.
Part three in my personal strategy: Practice compassion. Daily. I truly believe in this strategy and try to live by it. These three parts are secular concepts that interface well with whatever spiritual or religious beliefs a person may have. Compassion makes the world a truly wonderful place in which to live. It is contagious, too. This can be a very cold and difficult world. The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly challenged us all.
On February 3 of this year, while taking a walk in frozen Minneapolis, Minnesota, I slipped and broke my wrist. It was a fracture of the scaphoid bone on the left hand. Extremely painful. I freaked out and began thinking my career was possibly ended. It was hard to deal with and surely put me face to face with my neat little strategy. Tranquility became difficult to attain and I encountered a good deal of anxiety. I still am. Finally, after many long weeks, the bone is healed and I’m doing physical therapy. I’m also playing guitar again, painfully, for an hour or so each day. I am, at last, confident that I will return to playing at my former level, perhaps even better, due to the many insights I have gained.
Little did I know my Meditation/Sleep/Relax music would be an important part of my healing. I also discovered some chanted mantras—one is 10 hours long!—that, along with Richter’s 8 hour piece, “Sleep”, have been great blessings. At times now, I am knowing a deep sense of peace and tranquility and compassion. I am learning to deal with anxiety. I’d only experienced it on rare occasions before. My compassion surely extends to those who experience it on a regular or even daily basis.
I am putting my music up here on the website as downloads without any cost. It feels so satisfying to do it. I hope to eventually get my entire recorded “ouvre”—how pretentious! Ha ha!—up and available to anyone who would like to listen to it. We hear so much about “monetization” these days, and I do get it. My monetization comes from performance fees, and perhaps the odd donation someone may choose to make. My book, in hard copy, as well as physical CDs I’ll continue to sell at prices sufficient to cover my production and mailing costs. That’s it. The world can be a beautiful place and I’m so eager to get back to playing live music, with other live musicians, for a live public. What a luxury!
This is the second stage of my personal Strategy for a Rich Life. Seek Tranquility.
I believe we have to actively seek it. There is just so much noise, confusion and out-right stress in the world that the quiet and still aspects can be drowned out. If we are to do good to others, to live compassionately, to share our gifts, to positively engage as World Citizens—-we need to come from a place of calm. And to do this requires some effort on our part. To seek tranquility.
How? How do we go about this? I believe “mindfulness” is key. Whatever it takes to achieve mindfulness. Crystals, astrology, meditation, I Ching, long walks, music, poetry, sacred writings. This is just part of a long list. I feel for certain that the important thing is to seek this sense of tranquility, achieve some degree of mindfulness, consciously slow down a bit. How does the 70s cliche’ go? Oh, yes: Stop and Smell the Roses. Most everyone loves roses. Not a bad idea, come to think of it.
Lately, I’ve become intrigued with “sleep music.” It is also called music for meditation, relaxation, calm. I am particularly enamored with the efforts in that direction by Max Richter. His 8 hour composition called “Sleep” is wonderful! He called it “a lullaby for a frenetic world, and a manifesto for a slower pace of existence.” I don’t think I could say it better than that.
So I devoted myself to creating my own composition of “Sleep.” It is nearly 2 hours long. It reflects my 2 years spent in India, as well as my 40 year involvement with Flamenco. I have imbedded a “bhajan,” a Hindu sacred song, in the piece. I learned it, along with the text, entitled “Aum Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram”, during the times I stayed at the Anandashram, in Kanhangad, South India many years ago. It is the ashram of a great Saint of India named Swami Ramdas, Papa Ramdas, no relation to the American-born, former Harvard professor by the same name. We chanted this bhajan and mantra each evening and I derived great peace from it. Happily, it recurred to me, in it’s entirety, when I began thinking seriously about seeking tranquility and writing music to help with that.
Perhaps the most sacred “palo,” or flamenco form, is one called Siguiriyas. I created my piece called “Contemplation” around this palo. There is a carefully imbedded and deconstructed Siguiriyas in my new creation, as well. Lastly, there is a thread of Soleares, the palo of aloneness, throughout.
This journey has been one of discovering deep peace, personally. I am so happy to share my Sleep Music.
Yes. Embrace creativity. Your own. And that of others. Can ART be seen as: what thou art?
Everyone is creative. It is what we are. Sometimes, it is obvious. Dancer, musician, film-maker, singer, painter, poet, writer. Other times, it is not so obvious.
Our thoughts are free. Dreams, hopes, aspirations. They, too, are art. Unfettered expression, our world with wings.
Fear is the Great Inhibitor. Fear of failing, of being ridiculous, of offending others, of going against the current. Of being ostracized.
I believe we must cultivate fearlessness. We all know how cool it is to be different from the pack. To stand out as an individual. To express our individuality through our look, our ideas, our “swag.”
And, beyond that, is to surrender to our most creative instincts. Juice up our lives. Hydrate our souls. Irrigate our longings, our expressions of those longings. Liberate our creative voice. Embrace Creativity.
Am I being preachy here? Professorial? Not my intention. No soapbox, either. I do want to share my ideas. A creative life is full of juice. Not too safe, Not boring.
This is Part One of my personal strategy for happiness. With or without a specific religious focus, it remains the same. Creativity. Tranquility. Compassion. Today.
I have decided to write more frequent blog posts. I’m thinking weekly but maybe 2-3 times a month is more realistic. After finally completing my book I see I’ve become accustomed to sitting down, gathering my thoughts, and writing about them. Also, I’m always seeking greater congruity in my activities. I’ve been putting a lot of time into developing a YouTube channel. It is very fun, satisfying, and provides a good focus during days of covid which equates to no or few live performances. So the blog can be seen as the written component to The Intrepid Guitar.
I am listening to Metamorphosis by Phillip Glass as I write. I love these pieces. I find I’ve become a huge fan of Max Richter’s music, also Nils Frahm, Olafur Arnalds, and Ludovico Einaudi. I find so much to love, to admire, even to absorb (and ultimately emulate…) in their music. Richter’s Mercy slays me. Absolutely. So, in keeping with this, I’m trying my hand at Sleep music, meditation and relaxation music. Creating “soundscapes,” exploring repetitive grooves, de-emphasizing development somewhat. Looking more to the Sound and a little less to the Mechanics of it. Let’s see where this goes.
No political commentary except to express my hopes for a peaceful transition of power, a general healing of what has become an extremely divided and antagonistic citizenry. And for the adoption of a truly progressive agenda that begins to right the many wrongs that exist in this very wealthy and influential country.
After all these years of studying philosophies and systems of belief, I inadvertently stumbled upon my personal message. I’m not a preacher, so don’t expect any sermons. Probably no podcasts either.
Simply put, it is this: Embrace Creativity. Seek Tranquility. Practice Compassion.
Yes. That’s the big news, I guess. After 2 years, it’s hard to believe but this project has finally come to fruition. I’m really very happy with the way it turned out. I had an insane amount of help from my dear friend, Janice Jahn, who typed, edited, proofed and did a million other things for me. So, for now at least, the book will be available through this website. Eventually, I’ll get it out on e-book and Kindle and Nook etc, but for the moment, only hard copies are available.
Oh yes—-the BOOK is called “Love, Magic and the Guitar.” It consists of 4 books, really. Book One is The Intrepid Guitar. In conjunction with that, I’ve created a YouTube channel of the same name. Thus my new passion/obsession: making videos, trying to create meaningful and compelling content. Also, trying to get views, followers, subscribers, all that.
Book Two is The Book of Strategies and is probably as close to a “manual” as I will get. Strategies for practice and performance, memorization, improvisation, making money in music and so on.
Book Three is Love Magick and the Guitar. Mostly, it is written in 3rd person, about a guy uncannily like me, named Matias. The book is a way to pay homage to and tribute the many great people who have helped me and influenced me in my 5 decade-long career.
Book Four is The Blog Book, Glossary and Graphics. Selected blog entries from these very pages. I started writing my blog in 2007 and, although I haven’t been terribly consistent in keeping it up, it does have items of interest. Then I put just a few musical studies and charts plus a long list of my favorite players.
In all, the book is 214 pages of text. Considerable but not overwhelming. A pretty quick read, really. It has been a remarkable experience for me, an experience that has tied my life together in so many ways. It makes one realize the connectedness of their life and how, truly, “the child is the father to the man.” I think Emerson wrote that, if I remember correctly. It has also helped me understand and solidify “my message.” More about this in subsequent posts.