What was the challenge in revisiting these tunes from ‘My Spanish Heart’ and ‘Touchstone’ all these years later? These are not merely covers but ambitious re-imaginings of some beloved pieces in your very expansive book. How were you trying to set them apart from the original versions?
The initial idea was a summer tour of a new band based on the concept of “My Spanish Heart” which is both the title of my recording from the 70’s as well as a real love of Latino, Spanish and flamenco music cultures that I’ve had since I was a teenager learning to make music.
So, rather than writing all brand new music, I decided to bring to the audience some themes they might remember from that album and from my album Touchstone, which also expressed my love for flamenco and Latino music and was my first recorded collaboration with the great Paco De Lucia.
Except for “Armando’s Rhumba”, I never made band arrangements of the other songs. I performed Duende with Gary Burton; I played The Yellow Nimbus as a solo piano piece; but I have never performed or recorded “My Spanish Heart”. So, as I was arranging for the new band, I extended the originals in various ways to create fresh approaches to these old songs.
This music has been bubbling up for some time now. I recall seeing performances of some of these tunes with your Flamenco Heart band at the Blue Note in 2011 during your 70th birthday gala and again in 2016 during your Blue Note residency to celebrate your 75th birthday. Why is this music so important for you to reprise?
As I travel and play I, receive feedback from the music listeners and fans all the time. I get to see what themes ands songs they respond to in performance. These compositions of mine that come from my Spanish heart and mind are always enjoyed and asked for. Also, the rhythm section I wanted – including Marcus Gilmore, Carlitos Del Puerto, Luisito Quintero, Niño Josele and our dancer Nino Del los Reyes is the perfect vehicle for me to express these particular musical thoughts. When I was able to have Jorge Pardo, Steve David and Michael Rodriguez join me, it became a real dream band for me.
Your heritage is actually Southern Italian and yet you have “a Spanish heart.” How do you account for this? How did you get the feel for the clave so deep in your soul?
I think anyone’s love for others or other families and cultures develops naturally with life’s experiences. Starting early in high school, I began to be attracted to the musics of the Spanish speaking world. Early influences were Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente, and Machito. Then later on, Paco De Lucia and the music of the Flamencos. I took every opportunity to play with these musicians and learn from them. My first major gig in New York City 1960 was with the great Mongo Santamaria. That experience really solidified my interest and love in those rhythms and culture. I can feel this amazing influence even when I play a Mozart piano concerto.
Nice to hear from you,