Acoustic Guitar, July/August 1994

Guitar Summit:  A Roundtable with Joe Pass, Pepe Romero, Leo Kottke and Paco Peña

by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

Page 4

Paco, do you think that your approach to playing an alegrias is fundamentally different from the way Joe approaches "They Can't Take That Away from Me"?


In flamenco, we have what we call the compàs; it's like a universe of a particular form within flamenco.  There is a rhythmic pattern and a harmony attached to it, and that in a nutshell is the piece you're playing.  It is the essence of that particular piece.

Now, what you do is improvise with the rhythm of it; you change the harmony, you displace the harmony from one place to another, you extend the resolution:  Instead of resolving at the end of one measure -- which may be 12 beats -- you continue into the next measure and you resolve whenever you like.  You are improvising with the rhythm itself.  You don't improvise with a tune and make variations.

However, there is a mode attached to it -- the harmony suggests a mode -- and you play melodies within that mode.  But you're not remembering a tune at all.  It can be completely different from one performance to another, so long as the rhythm is made alive by changes, by exciting syncopations or whatever you want to make.

In flamenco, as you learn, you gather a whole lot of little ideas of that particular piece -- they're called falsetas.  You can make hundreds of those.  You have a pool, a whole bag of ideas, that is in your head, and depending on how well you feel, who creative you feel, indeed how bad you feel, you draw from that information and you change the information as you play.  But it is not spontaneous creation of pieces as you play.

That's pretty much true of any style of music, isn't it?


Yeah.  And when you have a night that you really like, aren't you surprising yourself?




That's the same with jazz improvisation.  You have a form, but you have accumulated a great deal of ideas or themes and melodies that you have heard, and you can put them in.  They're like having a pocketful of music, or a mindful.  If you have a good night, they come; if you have a bad night, they don't come.  But you have this form that you work with.

I think the only person who's totally creative is a guy who has never played before.  He goes boomp [makes a playing motion], and that's creative, because what does he know?  Once he's learned the C chord, he's finished creating.

I'd like to ask one more question related to learning.  Often, guitarists band together around their common instrument and are very aware of what other guitarists are doing.  Yet it often seems that the most innovative players are the ones who are listening to other instruments and taking their sources from outside the guitar.  Do you think it's healthy for guitarists to focus heavily on the guitar?


I say no.


I agree with Joe.


I can't play you one Charlie Christian lick, and I come from that tradition.  Or I may play it, but I can't say, "This is from that song he recorded in 1939."  I listen to saxophone players, piano players, classical guitar players. I didn't listen to a whole string of jazz guitarists.

My point is that it's good to listen to guitar players but you shouldn't emulate one player.  When you're young you're always impressed by one guy, and you say, "I want to play like him."  If you play like Wes Montgomery -- Wes was the first one to play octave-style -- you could be even greater than Wes, but it doesn't make any difference.  What you have to do is develop your own character in music, your own way of doing things.


When I ask Joe a question -- and I ask a lot of them -- about harmony or playing or something, he hums the answer, he vocalizes the answer; he doesn't play it.  That means a lot to me.

How about in flamenco?  


Flamenco is a world of music; the guitar is only part of it.  So to saturate yourself, to really learn your art, you can't be isolated on guitar.  You have to listen to the whole thing, the whole atmosphere of flamenco.  But the only instrument played in flamenco is guitar, therefor you are listening to guitar, and the inspiration that comes form enjoying flamenco is inevitably generated in part by the guitar.


Flamenco has an advantage, a tremendous advantage, as you were saying:  You cannot just be a guitarist, because you are with a singer.  Not only are you listening to vocal music, you are listening to the words, so you are in literature and poetry.  Not only do you have vocal music, literature, and poetry, you have dance -- and there you have lines.  So when you are playing, you see lines, and in a sense it is like a classical musician who is very much aware of what a conductor is doing.  Because you do need to see lines and you need to be involved in all the other forms.

At the end, art is the expression of one's feelings, and we have a bag of music from which to draw, but actually we have a bag of emotions, and that's what really counts.  As musicians get older, they get better because they've lived longer; they can remember their happy moments, they can remember their sad times, and all this stores emotions.  You learn how to combine them and to marry them with the art, so that you can look at a painting and it makes you feel a certain way, and you can listen to a certain piece of music, and it can make you feel the same.  So you then say, that painting is like that piece of music.

I think that the important thing is to be broad-minded, and to have a training that includes not only listening to the guitar and other instruments...You should be open to all the arts.


Previous Next
Interviews & Reviews | Recordings | Concerts | Tour Schedule | Songs & Lyrics | Guitar Tab
Audio & Video | Photo Gallery | Kottke Network | Links | Search | Credits

Home (Frames) | Home (No Frames)

Comments or questions about Leo's web site? Send mail to