New text and investigation: Estela Zatania
Acknowledgements: Gerardo Núñez, Guillermo Salazar, Brook Zern, Jerry Lobdill, Paul Magnussen y Ginés Pedrosa
On November 19th, 2004, ten years ago, guitarist Mario Escudero (Alicante, 1928-USA, 2004) passed away.
To pay tribute to the maestro from Alicante, Deflamenco published this special report. Since that time, the name of Escudero has circulated with greater relevance due to the centennials of Carmen Amaya, Mario's sister-in-law, and of another legendary guitarist, Agustín Castellón “Sabicas”, not to mention the recent loss of Paco de Lucía, painfully missed by all flamenco followers. Three people who, for various reasons, were important in the life and career of Mario Escudero.
“I steal his music, and he steals my girlfriends”. With these humorous words Sabicas expressed the close relationship he shared with Mario Escudero over the years.
Guitarist Mario Escudero who, like Sabicas, was not from Andalusia, was a student of the great Ramón Montoya throughout the creative burst of flamenco guitar to which he contributed not only his very flamenco way of strumming and a prodigious thumb, but technical preparation that was extraordinary for the era. When he went to New York he met the legendary Sabicas who became his protector and with whom he would eventually make two records.
The charisma and genius of Sabicas whom Escudero admired enormously, eclipsed the figure of the guitarist from Alicante. Sabicas’ long shadow, along with some family problems, turned Mario Escudero into an almost reclusive figure far removed from international stages. Today he is without a doubt one of the central figures young guitarist must look up to.
Gerardo Nuñez for Deflamenco
“Mario Escudero – With the Bienal as Backdrop”
by Francisco de la Brecha [Francisco Vallecillo]
originally published in Sevilla Flamenca No.8 [1984?]
“I want flamenco fans to know who
I am, starting with Andalusia”
Mario Escudero was born in Alicante in 1928. As a child he was taken to Madrid where he spent most of his youth. He was presented in public for the first time in France by Maurice Chevalier at the age of nine. Then dancer Vicente Escudero presented him in the Teatro Espanol in 1944 together with Ramón Montoya in a program of traditional flamenco that included singer Jacinto Almadén. For a long time, he studied with Ramón Montoya and Niño Ricardo. His career started out in intimate juergas and on the “Opera Flamenca” stages, traveling throughout Spain with artists such as Tomás Pavón, La Niña de los Peines, José Cepero, Antonio Mairena, Juanito Mojama, El Sevillano, Canalejas, Pepe de la Matrona, Pericón de Cádiz and an endless list of other major singers of the era. He has also recorded duo guitar arrangements with Sabicas.
Before he was 25, he had traveled widely as first guitarist with Vicente Escudero, Carmen Amaya and Rosario and Antonio. After his trip to the U.S. with Vicente Escudero, he found a lot of interest in the flamenco guitar in that country and decided to emancipate himself from flamenco troupes and try to establish the flamenco guitar as a solo instrument in concert halls.
In 1956 he began his career as a concert player after long musical study in New York, Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Los Angeles, continuing the studies he had begun with Daniel Fortea in Madrid. When he gave his first concert in Carnegie Hall it was a complete success. Since that auspicious beginning he has recorded more than 30 LPs and played in many Hollywood movies including “Cafe Cantante” with Imperio Argentina, “Brindis a Manolete” and “Jalisco Canta en Sevilla” with Jorge Negrete and Carmen Sevilla. He continues to give concerts around the world, and has just enojoyed another success in New York's Town Hall.
That's a brief biography of Mario Escudero, with whom we spent some time listening to his opinions, refreshing some old memories and exploring his profound artistic sensibility. This last item is not difficult, for Mario is an open person, expressive and sincere, even brave in his judgments although he seems rather shy. In our extensive chat one April morning we touched upon some topics that might interest the readers of Sevilla Flamenca in relation to the personality of this maestro of the flamenco guitar…
Photos by Kazuko Hillyer
Mario, we'd like to follow the course of your professional life through the key people you've accompanied in your long and brilliant career. We remember meeting you many years ago in Madrid, when you were a kid who had already earned fame as a revolutionary player, in the area of the Plaza Santa Ana and Plaza del Angel, near that legendary flamenco “university” that was called Villa Rosa, around Calle Principe, Echegaray, and Victoria. One afternoon you introduced us to an unforgettable master of Gypsy dance, Francisco Ruiz, whose artistic name was Paco Laberinto. You were accompanying the [flamenco and popular singer] El Principe Gitano, who aspired to be a bullfighter, no less. Going back to that era, let's talk about Vicente Escudero. Don't you think his fame was greater than was warranted by the reality of his dancing, in which there were some marked deficiencies?
The passage of time and my good memories of Vicente prevent me from openly pursuing the thread you've started here. Yes, in fact, perhaps you're not far from the truth here. But he had a distinctive line and a very personal style, and he was enthralled by the dance and by gypsies. Vicente Escudero was the first to dance siguiriyas. I started out calling him “Señor Escudero” and he vehemently corrected me. “No, I'm not Señor Escudero to you — I'm Tio Vicente [Uncle Vicente]”, and that's what I ended up calling him.
Your opinion of Carmen?
What can I tell you about Carmen Amaya that hasn't already been said? She was the greatest living genius of dance, the eternal and inextinguishable flame, she represented the glory of pure inspiration, because she never danced anything the same way twice. Her successes were enormous and knew no frontiers. She danced for Toscanini and for Franklin Roosevelt.”
“The evolution of playing toward the three A’s:
Aggressive, Accelerated, Arrogant”
You played with Ramon Montoya and Niño Ricardo. To what extent were these men the roots of flamenco playing. And can you compare them?
Ramón was a great innovator of the flamenco guitar; Ricardo, who followed this same line, came later. With Ramón one must also talk of Jerez guitarist Javier Molina, another innovator. And with Ricardo, one must think along the different lines, but always innovative, of Manolo el de Huelva. The very personal style – and so clearly Andalusian, if one can say that – of Ricardo was extremely important. That was also true of the man from Huelva. But Ramón and Javier were the real pioneers in the innovation and perfection of flamenco guitar playing. All of them brought a great deal to the huge process of seeking new forms and to the evolution of the guitar: the evolution of playing toward what I call the three A's: Aggressive, Accelerated, Arrogant.
You've accompanied such exalted singers as Pastora Pavón “La Niña de los Peines”, her brother Tomás Pavón, Antonio Mairena, Juanito Mojama. Who had the most meaning to you when you get right down to it?
All of them. To make a comparison between these colossi would be sheer vanity on my part. There is no way to select a favorite. But the deepest and most indelible memories I have are of Tía Pastora [Pavón]: sweet and not cloying…a thousand years could pass, and there will never appear another singer like her.”
What about your compadre, “El Nino de las Habicas” [the Kid of the Beans, Sabicas, who loved his “habas” as a child], Agustín Castellón, do you think he has influenced your playing?”
Of course! He had a great influence on me, and in fact the guitar in general owes this genius from Navarre a wealth of contributions and new ideas.”
Do you think there's room in Spain for the concert flamenco guitar, for this spruced-up style whose rise you have contributed to?
I have no doubt that there is. This concert guitar, whatever clothes it may wear, today represents a kind of music that is unique in the world, and people are enthusiastic in their admiration of flamenco guitar. Why shouldn't concert guitar have a place in Spain? One thing is certain: Outside Spain it’s valued more highly than in, and followed by multitudes of fans. But it’s gaining ground here, gaining strength, and with good reason, because it’s a genuinely Spanish art, just as Spanish as the instrument upon which it is played.
“Guitar-playing has Sabicas to thank for
a wealth of contributions and new ideas”
You were in New York in February, and in April you'll go back to play concerts in many states of the union. Are you thinking of establishing yourself definitively in Seville?
I sure am! What happens is that sometimes man proposes, and circumstance disposes. I have many obligations that must be met. But my decision to reside in Seville is definitive. I want flamenco fans to know who I am, starting with Andalusia. I’d like to do some teaching here, and I wish to live, be and work in Spain, because one's homeland, that homing instinct, it’s very strong…
Our mutual friend, Brook Zern, said in The New York Times of February 3rd that you are not only a guitar virtuoso, but also one of the players who has most significantly extended the style and range of flamenco music, and who had great influence on the most popular of Spain's younger guitarists, Paco de Lucía, who included your composition “Impetu” on his first album. What do you think of the fabulous Paco de Lucía?
For me, he is a remarkably complete artist, with enormous personality and individuality, who follows the path laid out by Niño Ricardo better than anyone else and who has discovered a way to create an inimitable and unmatched personal style or “aire”; fabulous: imitated by many, equaled by no one.
Sincere thanks to Brook Zern for the transcription and translation of this interview
Mario Escudero currently resides in Florida, USA where we are told he continues to play guitar every day.
In 1983, he and Sabicas went to Spain as guests of honor at Paco Peña’s Córdoba Festival, where Mario taught the flamenco guitar course.
Escudero eventually returned to Sevilla and sat on the panel of judges at the prestigious Giraldillo del Toque competition in 1984. That same year he opened a flamenco guitar school in Triana and was solo guitarist at the Gazpacho Andaluz de Morón de la Frontera.
In 1986 the Ministry of Culture invited him to give a recital as part of Madrid’s third Cumbre Flamenca, and the following year the Cátedra de Flamencología in Jerez honored him with its award for flamenco achievement.
Throughout the late nineteen-eighties Mario pursued a concert career in Europe and the United States playing to packed houses.
Guitarist Gerardo Núñez has announced that his next recording, due to be released very shortly, will include Escudero’s composition “Impetu” which was previously recorded by Paco de Lucía in the nineteen-sixties.
Historic review of Escudero concert.
MARIO ESCUDERO WINS STANDING OVATION IN AUSTIN, TEXAS
January 26, 1979
by Jerry Lobdill
Mario Escudero won the hearts of his Austin audience last night at Hogg Auditorium. The announcement that “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” by Tárrega and “Malagueña” by Lecuona would be replaced by flamenco pieces drew the vocal displeasure of the audience at first, but when Escudero came out and began to play, these sins were quickly forgiven. From the very beginning the great flamenco guitarist's music held the audience spellbound. By the time the program was over, even the most skeptical and conservative member of the crowd was shouting “Ole”. They brought him back for two encores and gave him a standing ovation.
Escudero is without question a genius of the guitar. Although he is primarily a flamenco guitarist, his ability and interests are not limited to flamenco. He studied classical guitar with Daniel Fortea, one of Tárrega's pupils, and collaborated with F.M. Torroba on “Fantasía Flamenco” which he premiered with the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in November, 1976. He has also performed the “Concierto de Aranjuez” by Rodrigo which is considered quite difficult by classical guitarists, but is ideally suited to the flamenco technique.
His performance here clearly turned the heads of Austin Guitar Society members, most of whom had never seen a first rate flamenco guitarist before. His playing was characterized by tremendous force, speed and accuracy, and where appropriate he demonstrated a capacity to play softly and sweetly as well.
The program was presented in two parts. Escudero began the first part with a technically difficult Granadinas. At the conclusion of this piece the applause brought him to his feet for a bow and evoked an appreciative grin which set the tone for the entire performance. Each of the ten pieces in the first part of the program was followed by thundering applause. The final piece preceding intermission was an astonishing Zapateado in which Escudero imitated the heelwork of the male flamenco dancer by tapping intricate rhythms on the guitar with his fingernails while continuing the rasqueado accompaniment. The audience was so impressed that they coaxed Escudero back for two bows before intermission.
The second part of the program began with “Almoradi”, a Farruca composed by Manuel Serrapi (Niño Ricardo), one of Escudero's teachers, after which followed eight selections of Escudero's original works including the beautiful Rondeña, “Homenaje a Montoya” dedicated to Escudero's other guitar mentor, Ramón Montoya. He dazzled the audience with “Abril en Sevilla”, depicting the pageantry of Holy Week in Seville, complete with snare drum rolls and trumpets, and finished the program with his famous Guajira, “Para Amina”.
For his first encore Escudero played “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” by Tárrega, to the obvious delight of the audience. For his second encore he played four typical Sevillanas. After he had taken a bow and left the stage the resounding applause lured Escudero back to receive a standing ovation from a wildly enthusiastic audience. Austin loved him, of that there is no doubt!
Many thanks to Jerry Lobdill for providing this review
as well as the Hillyer photographs and concert program
Article from La Vanguardia, published August 12, 1989:
Next Wednesday to give a single recital in the church of Begur.
The prestigious flamenco guitarist Mario Escudero to debut in Cataluña
There is no doubt that this summer Begur is turning out to be the Catalonian capital of flamenco, more specifically, of the flamenco guitar. Just a few weeks ago the maestro Sabicas played in Begur and then Barcelona, and next Tuesday another great veteran and prestigious guitarist still performing professionally will do so: Mario Escudero.
The concert, the first to be given by Mario Escudero in Cataluña as soloist, will take place in the church of Sant Pere in the Gerona town at half past ten in the evening, and tickets are available at 1,500 pesetas.
Born in Alicante in 1928, making him fifteen years younger than Sabicas, Escudero, who is also a gypsy, developed a career similar to that of the guitarists from Pamplona. Both worked many years in the United States where they now enjoy more fame and recognition than in Spain. He has performed in all five continents, and has made more than 30
recordings, several of them in collaboration with Sabicas.
He began playing professionally at 14 or 15, but by the age of 9 he had already appeared on stage in public with a very special presenter: “I was in a theater in Bordeaux where my parents and uncle were working, they were also artists, and I insisted on going on-stage to play my guitar. My father refused to allow it, but Maurice Chevalier was there, he took me by the hand and took me out in front of the audience and I played a couple of things”.
In the early years of his career, Escudero had the opportunity to accompany some of the greatest singers – Antonio Mairena, La Niña de los Peines, Pepe de la Matrona, Tomás Pavón, Canalejas de Puerto Real, Pericón de Cádiz – and dancers – Vicente Escudero, Carmen Amaya, José Greco, Rosario and Antonio – and his maestro was the legendary Ramón Montoya – “a lion among lions” in the opinion of Niño Ricardo.
“It was Narciso Yepes!”
Among the numerous anecdotes from the early years of his career, Escudero remembers this one with special affection: “One day we were working in Lorca and a young man came over to me who wouldn't stop staring at my guitar. 'Would you lend it to me?' he asked. I shot a glance to a guitarist nearby as if to say 'what's this yokel going to know?'. I gave the guitar to him, and the guy began to play it with ferocious ease. So I told him 'kid, you need to go to get work in Madrid'. It was the maestro Narciso Yepes!”.
Mario Escudero, along with Sabicas and Juan Serrano, was one of the ones who gave the definitive push to the flamenco guitar as solo instrument. Like the other two, Escudero settled in New York, and later in California and Miami. “In each one of those places a son of mine was born, and they continue to live there” he says.
Escudero has worked in the most prestigious theaters of the United States, such as Carnegie Hall in New York, where in 1976, with the American Symphony orchestra, he interpreted the concierto for guitar and orchestra “Fantasía Flamenca” by Federico Moreno Torroba.
Not in favor of the fusion of flamenco with other types of music, Escudero believes todays's flamenco guitarists “have great technique, but are lacking in flavor. They overdo the speed, as sometimes happens with 'Paquete' [Paco de Lucía]. There is no doubt that he is one of the best flamenco guitarists today, but sometimes he gets carried
Selected Escudero discography compiled by Paul Magnussen:
Mario Escudero Flamenco – Folkways FW6920
Mario Escudero & Manuel Escudero – Flamenco Music MHS 994/5
Mario Escudero – ABC 396
Mario Escudero Escudero at El Poche – ABC 492
Mario Escudero Guitarra Flamenca – Montilla
Mario Escudero Guitarra Andaluza – Hispavox 18-1-165
Mario Escudero y su guitarra flamenca – Ibérofon
Mario Escudero Flamenco Fire – Everest 3131
Niño de Alicante Spanish Dances – Folkways
Viva el Flamenco – Musidisc
Ritmos Flamencos – MGM E3214
Mario Escudero y su Ballet Español – Montilla
Sabicas & Escudero Fantastic Guitars – Decca DL78795
Sabicas & Escudero Romantic Guitars – Decca DL9987
Sabicas & Escudero – Musicdisc CV1049
Sabicas & Escudero – Montilla CDFM105 (Reissue of CV1049)