I’m an American flamenco guitarist currently based in Granada, Spain, and I basically can’t remember a time when I didn’t play flamenco.
I Get Schooled
When I finished college I decided it was time to get serious, so I moved to Granada, Spain, to study some more. I was promptly told by my new teacher, Juan Fernandez, that what I played “used to be” flamenco, so I got schooled in the ways that flamenco had started to groove since the time of Sabicas and Escudero. I owe a lot of the groove that I have to Juan and our lessons, which could could easily go four or five hours!
I left Granada after a year and moved to Moscow, Russia (long story). Oddly enough, that was a pretty productive time for me as a guitarist! I somehow found the only people in Moscow who also played flamenco and began what would become my teaching career – they were better musicians than I was, but they didn’t quite ‘get’ how flamenco worked, as all they had was records, which they imitated beautifully. I helped them understand the improvisational aspects of flamenco and they helped me become a better musician, and to survive life in Russia! I’m told that on one trip, the sets of cypress wood I brought to a Moscow luthier were used to make the first two flamenco guitars known to be built in Russia!
It was also during this period that I started studying with the great Enrique Melchor (every few months I’d have to leave Russia to renew my visa, so I’d go to Madrid and stock up on records and lessons). He was one of my favorite players at the time (still is), and I was lucky enough to have my friend Felipe Conde introduce me. Just as I had hoped, he taught me about some of the finer points of listening and accompanying, and just watching him play and produce that amazing tone of his was enough to inspire me.
After another year in Granada, I decided that I should probably learn to read and write music, and the Berklee College of Music seemed the best place. I managed to get a scholarship and headed for Boston. And while the guitar department gave me a hard time (how dare I play without a pick?!), the teachers were amazing. But even more so were the cats I got to play with – they still say ‘cats’ at Berklee 🙂
In Boston I also started playing for the Ramon de los Reyes Spanish Dance Theatre. Ramon had been a young dance sensation in Madrid, then in New York in the 1960’s, and had founded a company in Boston in the 1970’s. He took me in and made me his music director for the years I was in Boston. I played for all of his dance classes (about 20 hours a week) and all of his company’s shows. And then his kids would come to Boston twice a year from Madrid where they lived and it would be like my first year in Granada all over again, getting schooled in the modern stuff!
I had just started gigging and teaching in New York when 9/11 happened, and I decided it was a good time for a move. I headed West to Los Angeles, where I would spend the next 20 years gigging, recording, touring and teaching. I traveled to Spain to recorded my first CD, Vueltas, in 2005, but I was getting established in LA and meeting some amazing jazzers, notably my good friend, the legendary drummer Joey Heredia. While I was working in all of the local tablaos, I was also finding my voice as a composer.
I began working on some more fusion-y projects that would result in some really fun gigs (flamenco at the Baked Potato!) and eventually my second CD, Contra Tiempo, half of which I recorded in Los Angeles with Joey and the amazing Ric Fierabracci on bass, and the other half in Madrid with my friends Albert Anguela and Jorge Perez of Patax.
In LA I also began my recording career, opening my own studio and also recording guitars for the Guitar Salon International YouTube channel – a project in which over the ten years I worked on it would record over 1500 classical and flamenco guitar videos and which to date has accumulated over 50 million views. And while the audio part came easily to me, the video part did not, until I met Tara Stewart. Tara was the partner I had been missing, both in work and in life. When I met Tara she was producing videos for Fender and looking for a flamenco guitar teacher. We instantly became an inseparable team, with Tara handling the video and me handling the audio for GSI as well as Córdoba and Guild, in addition to freelancing to produce videos with some amazing artists.
My Own School
In LA I had also begun my ‘formal’ teaching career. A stint teaching flamenco at CSU Summer Arts in 2015 led to a teaching position at Cal State, Dominguez Hills, where I taught flamenco to guitar majors. The CSU Summer Arts guitar program moved to Granada, Spain, in 2017 and what was meant to be a one-time Summer program became a yearly program with support from Granada’s City Hall. I finished Flamenco Explained, the book, and Tara and I began shooting videos of the material in the book. This led to the idea of Flamenco Explained, the website, which has now grown into one of the most important online resources for flamenco guitarists with over 600 videos, and counting.
After spending so many Summers in Granada, Tara and I decided it might not be a bad idea to just stay here. Our initial move was interrupted by the lockdowns of 2020, but by early 2021 – and not without some serious adventures along the way (our wedding was moved from a beach to the interior of a station wagon!) – we got here with more or less everything we owned, including our two 80-pound dogs, Rocket and Louis. As I write this it’s hard to know what the next few years will look like, but we’re in the home of flamenco now, and we look forward to sharing lots of it with our friends and fans and subscribers!