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Tomatito

The great Tomatito played Herbst Theater last night as part of the Omni Foundation concert series. With José del Tomate on second guitar; Clapping/Vocals: Kiki Cortiñas & David Maldonado; Percussion: Israel Suárez “Piraña”; Baile (dancer): José Maya, the group was spectacular. Tomatito opened with a solo rondena, as Paco often did. Then his son Jose joined him for the Michael Camillo tune "Two". The other non original tune of the evening, also in the jazz idiom, was Charlie Hayden's "Our Spanish Love Song" While many flamenco guitarists listen to and love jazz, Tomatito alone understands the phrasing and can improvise conviningly. As the late Andre Bush said to me of Paco's playing: "Every note goes right through your heart". Jose Maya brought the house down with his dance to a bulerias. Whether soloing, or accompanying cante, or dance, Tomatito was magnificent. An added treat was sitting in the same row with my dear friends, the fantastically talented Yaelisa and Jason McGuire.

Last week was a beautiful one for music.  The great Tomatito played the Palace of Fine Arts on Wednesday.  Presented by the Omni Foundation and Eddie Diaz's Flamenco Society of San Jose, the tour was dedicated to the memory of Paco de Lucia.  With his son Jose del Tomate on guitar, El Cristi on guitar, Moises Santiago on percussion, Kiki Cortinas and Simon Roman on vocals, and the stunning dancer Paloma Fantova, Tomatito led a sublime evening of flamenco.  Ten years younger than Paco, Tomatito was Camaron's guitarist for the last 18 years of the great singer's life.  Building on the entire history of the music, and Paco's revolutionary innovations, Tomatito has ensured that flamenco guitar will continue to grow and evolve.  Perhaps the "jazziest" of modern flamenco guitarists, he has recorded with George Benson and Chick Corea, and understands bebop phrasing.  And yet his rodenas and mineras invoke the ancient. Fantova elicited gasps from the audience striking her first pose, steeped in the tradtion, and yet incredibly fresh and modern.  And in the one falsetta he was allowed in the encore, Tomate unsured that there will be brilliant guitarists for the future.  A greta and noble artist, Tomatito has a lovely gentleness and calm about him as well.  

It's taken me a few days to write about Paco.  Like many flamencos, he lived a hard and full life.  And so I am shocked but not suprised that he left us in the prime of life.  And in truth, playing with one's children on a tropical beach is a fitting way to leave this mortal vale.  There is wonderful early footage of Paco in a bathrobe, cigarette in mouth, and whiskey nearby, playing an amazing rondena.  He was one of the very few artists of any genre, where each recording was eagerly awaited, for not only the music, but the overall philosophical direction it might point to.  Like Picasso and Miles, Paco changed the way his fellow practioners thought about their art.  As Andre Bush once said to me, every single note goes right through your heart.  A majestic technique allowed no seperation between thought and emotion, and execution.  His picado the result of being locked in his room by his father while still a child for hours on end, so the legend has it.  And for all his genius, a humble man.  For the truly great ones know that the music merely flows through the vessel of the player.  I had the privilege of seeing him many times.  Once, a few nights in a row to see if I could figure out how much was improvised.  The set list was identical, to be sure.  And I realized that his concentration was so intense, each note so perfectly and uniquely attacked, that one couldn't tell what was improvised or rehearsed - it was all so fresh and real.  I think of Paco the way he almost always started a concert.  Alone, in deep concentration, usually with a rodena, or minera, or taranta.  Following the piece through to its individual, logical conclusion.  So lost in the music that he didn't usually recognize applause until the end of a performance.  Solo Quiero Caminar and Siroco being for me recordings which expanded my entire idea of what flamenco could encompass.  And so now it is left to his heirs to carry on.  Manolo, and Pepe, and Vicente, and Tomatito, Canizares, Diego del Morao, Chuscales, Jason McGuire, El Vejin -so many great guitarists Paco has influenced that I couldn't possibly name all of them.  Ole Paco!

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