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The Making of El Pañuelo de Pepa

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I don’t know how common it is for a live performance to spark a recording project but that’s the way it was for me. In 2017, I knew Javier Colina, a renowned Spanish bass player, before I met him. I didn’t know Pepe Rivero from Adam. When I went to see them at Bogui Jazz Club in Madrid, their show was a two-session performance scheduled to begin as a piano-bass duo and to conclude as a piano and two basses trio dubbed Dos Con Trabajo y Uno Sin. I saw the first performance only and that was enough for me to be drawn to the idea of turning it into a CD.

After the show at Bogui Jazz, I introduced myself to Pepe Rivero and we connected right away. Pepe is one of those rare artists whose outsized talent is equally matched by their bonhomie. I told him about Jazz/Latino and our work in the United States. I mentioned the piano duo concerts Jazz/Latino had held with Nicki Denner and Rebecca Cline and he told me about his Los Boleros de Chopin project. I saw him perform the same show with Javier Colina at Café Berlín and we again had a brief conversation. When he performed at Café Central with Quinteto Cimarrón, a Cuban string ensemble based in Galicia, we spoke again and I left with copies of Los Boleros de Chopin and of Homage to Monk-Monk and the Cuban Rumba, a double CD featuring his Quartet and Big Band. I left Madrid and kept thinking about recording Pepe and Javier but the idea was like driftwood in the middle of the ocean: it kept moving around in my head, bobbing up and down, but not going anywhere in particular.

In 2017, Jazz/Latino had barely any money left in its bank account. I thought that as its Swan Song, the organization could maybe produce one project designed to make a permanent mark. So, back in New York, I sent Pepe a Whatsapp message asking if he and Colina might be interested in recording their duo show under the aegis of Jazz/Latino. He never replied. I figured then that I could just as soon do one last duo piano concert and then put Jazz/Latino to bed. I invited Nicki and Rebecca back to the Emerson Auditorium at Union College in Schenectady to play original songs in commemoration of Charlie Palmieri’s 90th anniversary. After that concert, held in April 2018, I went back to Madrid and reconnected with Pepe. After I reminded him, in passing and with no intention of proposing to record, of my now one-year-old unrequited offer, he told me that he had not replied because Colina’s reaction to the idea had been negative but that he had changed his mind. They were now interested in pursuing the project! At that point, Jazz/Latino had even less money than in 2017 but I said yes to Pepe. This was a reckless commitment on my part because less money actually meant no money. But the stage was set for the production of El Pañuelo de Pepa. It was one of those situations where you agree to do something without resources to do it but because you have given your word that it will be done, you force yourself to make it happen.

Just before I left Madrid, Pepe, Colina and I met at LoSiguiente, a restaurant across the street from El Palacio de Longoria, the opulent former home of a Spanish magnate that is now the headquarters of the Sociedad General de Autores y Escritores of Spain (SGAE). Before the meeting, I was wary of meeting Colina but he also proved to be both a master musician and a very sweet man. The meeting was easygoing, almost playful. We got to talking about the music of Willie Rosario and Bobby Valentín, their amazing arrangements and fantastic coros in three-part harmony. There was an all-around feeling that the project could be done on the basis of a friendly conversation, como un proyecto entre amigos. But when I said that I would put everything in writing and have Jazz/Latino’s lawyer draw a contract with approval from the association’s Board of Directors, they understood that cuentas claras conservan amistades.

At the end of the meeting I told Pepe and Javier that I was happy not to have to put into effect my “three D” policy with them. I explained that after a bad experience with a musician who shall remain nameless, I quickly decided not to work with Divas, Difficult, and/or Disorganized artists. They laughed mightily. We agreed that between July and December 2018, Pepe and Javier would select the repertoire and I would raise the money for the project based on a proposal from Javier Monteverde, the head of Cezanne Producciones, and our recording engineer. “We need a studio with a good piano,” said Colina during our conversation and we concurred that Monteverde’s recording studio met that requirement.

Monteverde would also do the mixing, mastering, and arrange for the manufacturing of the CDs. We sealed the deal with a handshake and a round of smiles. Colina said: “Look, Paquete [referring to Flamenco guitarist Juan José Suárez] just went in [the SGAE building]. Let’s go, before he takes all the money!” We all laughed. They went to SGAE and I went back to my hotel, wondering how the hell I was going to raise the money for the project.

Raising the money was easier than I thought, but here is my caveat: do not become a producer if you want to be debt-free. Confident that the project was on a secure financial footing, I flew back to Madrid in January 2019. Pepe, Javier and I met for lunch on January 9, 2019, and finalized the repertoire. On January 10, I went with them to El Brunete, a little town in the outskirts of Madrid where a fateful battle was fought during the Spanish Civil War, for a concert that doubled as a rehearsal for the recording session. The concert was a sensation. The enthusiasm of the crowd was unequivocal and there were sweetly comical moments, as when one of the participants told Pepe and I how exciting it was to listen to the music of the Nueva Trova. We smiled politely while secretly laughing, but without malice, at her innocent malapropism. Pepe later shared the story with Javier and told us of the one time when another confused enthusiast kept raving about the great genre of Jatin Lazz.

On Friday January 11 and Saturday the 12th, after 22 takes of eleven songs, El Pañuelo de Pepa became a reality. This project was born in Spanish and it is now offered to the world in a language that knows no boundaries. It was baptized with Cuban rum and it is now pure and libre de pecados, ready to spread the good musical word. You can buy the CD as a digital download at platforms such as iTunes and Spotify, but if you want a real quality listen get a physical copy at Amazon, CD Baby, or here on the Jazz/Latino website; purchasing the physical copy of the CD through this website gets you the best deal. Go to the shop page now.

During the recording session, as Pepe and Javier worked on the tracks, I drew a list of possible titles while listening and drinking Ron Varadero. I had mentioned to Javier and Pepe how Tito Puente had recorded Puente in Percussion as a jam session in a borrowed RCA Victor studio at 3 in the morning over a bottle of rum and lo and behold, the day of the recording Colina showed up with his bass…and a bottle of Cuban rum. He is a good listener in more ways than one. For my part, I listened more than I drank. Oh but I did drink! It is amazing how in a social situation you can drink and drink and not lose your head, whereas alone it is so much more difficult to drink and easier to get drunk. Almost every song inspired a new title so at the end of the day I had a list of ten title candidates and an empty bottle; nota bene: I was not drinking alone!

Originally, the repertoire was supposed to include a jam session titled Carga y Descarga and I thought that could be the name for the CD. Throughout our meeting in June 2018 and in further conversations, we all agreed that the name would come about in the process of making the CD. But it was at the end of the recording session that we settled the matter when Colina simply said “we should call it El Pañuelo de Pepa,” after the title of one of the songs in the repertoire. I suggested using the titles of two other songs—Tu Sonrisa or Invitación—but I was voted down. Carga y Descarga was not recorded so it was not considered. I didn’t even get a chance to go down the list of possible titles I had written down during the recording session. None were part of our short deliberation and I am glad.

When the recording was done, as I rode back to Madrid from Las Rozas with Pepe, we talked about getting our friend Jorge F. Hernández, a notable Mexican writer, who joined us in the studio on Saturday and treated us to chocolate and candy, to write an article about the CD in El País from which we could use an excerpt as an endorsement in the album. Jorge delivered in his inimitable literary style, and an article was published on February 1st, 2019. I had already secured the assistance of one of my colleagues—Ilka Kressner—to translate the liner notes into French. She was swift: I received her translation before I could follow up.

In the car, Pepe and I barely noticed the traffic. Madrid is like any other major urban center: the closer you get to the city the heavier traffic gets until you almost come to a full stop, not because you have reached your destination but because the bottleneck of cars gets fatter and fatter. But we were not really paying much attention to that. We were giddy with excitement thinking about the presentation of the CD, about future concerts, and a possible tour in the United States. I told Pepe I had originally thought of the project as Jazz/Latino’s Swan Song but my sense now was that it would instead be the Trumpet of the Swan. Before I had a chance to explain that I was making a reference to the E.B. White story, Pepe said excitedly: “Yeah, that’s part of how it happened, we have to let people know that!” He then gave me a knowing look and smiled.

Pepe dropped me off at Gran Vía and Calle de la Montera and as I walked down the street toward my hotel at Plaza del Ángel, I glanced at all the women working the street. The two winos who sit day in and out with their signs asking for money for wine, beer, and the hangover were there, true to their claim that when they panhandle “at least we are honest.” As I walked past the tourists eating bad overpriced food in the terrazas I muttered: Suckers!, with a small burst of laughter. The Peruvians of Mariachi México were playing as usual under the shadow of the statue of King Carlos III at Plaza Sol. The Plaza, as always, was flooded with tourists, performers, and African manteros eager to make a sale and ready to flee from the cops if necessary. A man with a big sign kept shouting “Oro, oro, compro y vendo oro.” I thought to myself: I can’t wait to have the physical copies of the CD in hand when I come back to Madrid next summer. I walked up Calle de Ezpoz y Mina on the way to my hotel while the words oro, oro, resounded in my head.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

JOSE E. CRUZ is the President of Jazz/Latino, Inc., a non-profit, 501(c)(3) corporation dedicated to the promotion of jazz and Latin jazz appreciation. Our signature event is the Ahora, Latin/Jazz! concert series held annually. We seek to enrich the cultural environment of the New York State Capital Region through concerts and other activities. Jazz/Latino, inc. is committed to the values of diversity, pluralism, and cultural understanding.

Also, he is the author of Liberalism and Identity Politics: Puerto Rican Community Organization and Collective Action in New York City (New York: Centro Press, 2019), Puerto Rican Identity, Political Development, and Democracy in New York, 1960-1990 (Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield 2017) and Identity, and Power: Puerto Rican Politics and the Challenge of Ethnicity (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998).

Jazz/Latino, Inc.: info@jazzlatino.org

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