Flamenco phenom Juanito Pascual brings together global audiences through his mesmerizing virtuosity, original composition style, and passion for collaboration. An acclaimed recording artist (featured on film scores as well as his own creations), educator, and performer, Juanito weaves jazz and rock with flamenco in a seamless, organic blend.
Last time we spoke, Juanito recounted his musical journey from midwestern roots through studies with Spanish masters, conservatory education, and an extended healing and rebuilding process of self-discovery. Today, Juanito tells us more about flamenco and some of his varied activities in the genre.
Q: Hola Juanito! Welcome back to Musical U. Please tell us more about the music you love. What are the particular instrument techniques or characteristic sounds that you think are unique to flamenco, or at least the most distinctive?
Flamenco is definitely characterized by several sounds and techniques. There is the percussive element, which includes tapping the face of the guitar in different ways. There are very characteristic strumming techniques used as well, that are very fast and powerful. Also, the thumb is used in some ways that you don’t find in other styles of guitar as well, by alternating up and down strokes.
Overall flamenco has become quite a virtuosic style, and partly is characterized by the fluidity and rhythmic element infused into all of the various techniques. At the same time there is a strong emphasis on the soulful nature of this genre and so it is quite a dynamic musical universe.
Q: Juanito, you’ve made a significant original impact on that dynamic universe of modern flamenco. What would you say have been your most important contributions?
I’m not sure about contributions, but what I have done within my own music, and continue to do, is freely let the sounds that I have learned to make from the guitar be present in my music – even if they are not traditional.
I am fascinated by this notion of improvising by blending flamenco technique with my awareness of improvisation coming from my pre-flamenco life, and study of great jazz improvisers.
Also, due in large part to the hand injury, I just stopped trying to sound like other people and had to really tune into what felt good for my hands and body. I think this has led to some interesting things.
Q: With the importance of being yourself, you have been folding the music of your earlier days into your flamenco expression. Who have been your main musical influences?
My main musical influences in order have been, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, John McLaughlin, Carlos Santana, Paco de Lucia, Vicente Amigo, J.S. Bach, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, George Benson, and currently Julian Lage and Derek Trucks among many others!
I have also been incredibly fortunate to have some amazing teachers. Of particular influence were my two most recent mentors, master guitar pedagogue Dmitry Goryachev (and father of my dear friend the brilliant guitarist Grisha Goryachev), and master healer and yoga teacher Catherine Larget-Caplan, with whom I worked for eight years to completely heal my hands and related issues that arose – including some back pains.
I also was blessed with the opportunity to study with the phenomenal guitarists Adam del Monte, David Leisner, Eliot Fisk and Gene Bertoncini, Parrilla de Jerez and Manolo Sanlúcar, at different points.
Q: Last time we spoke about your experience at the New England Conservatory. The Third Stream (Contemporary Improvisation) approach at NEC is known for its emphasis on ear training. What has been the role of ear training in your musical development?
I always perceived the possibility of hearing something in your head and then be able to play it directly on your instrument as a kind of magical ability. Ear training created a path to make that ability a reality, and for me that feeling of excitement was what drove me as opposed to feeling simply like I should.
Ear training has been central to me. I was always more inclined to learn by ear even before I ever heard the term “ear training”. It turns out that use of the the ear as the primary learning tool is central to the two central genres in my music, flamenco, and jazz. The formal study of ear training massively accelerated my ability to learn and retain music and made me a much more effective communicator with others.
Also, I just found it a fun challenge. It is like a muscle and I just started to hear more and more things in music and in daily life, as I started to actively do ear training.
Q: All along you’ve been a teacher. How do you use ear training in your teaching? How do you connect it with music theory and instrument skills?
I approach ear training differently with different students. For some, I really put them on the path of ear training and that usually involves getting them to take a separate course. For some people who basically want to play guitar and don’t have all that much time, it is not a big focus.
I connect it very directly with theory and in turn to a direct application on the instrument. I believe a well-rounded musician should strive for a sameness between hearing, describing (theory), playing, and notating any and everything. In other words, if you hear some music you should be able to sing it, be able to play it and notate it. That is a multi-year journey but nonetheless, something to strive for in my view.
Before, I always perceived the possibility of hearing something in your head and then be able to play it directly on your instrument as a kind of magical ability. Ear training created a path to make that ability a reality, and for me that feeling of excitement was what drove me as opposed to feeling simply like I should.
Q: What are your current passions? We’d love to hear more about your band, books, albums, and other creative endeavors (and especially how it all relates to your background as discussed so far!)
I’ve recently moved to California after many years on the East Coast. I’ve gotten some opportunities to play for film scores and to submit music for use in some television programs. I’m enjoying that and plan to do a lot more.
I also am planning to launch an online flamenco guitar course. I put out a method book The Total Flamenco Guitarist in 2011, and this online course is, in my mind, well overdue. I’m quite excited about that. Also, currently working on two new recordings, to be released in 2017 and 2018 respectively. So lots of good things happening, thankfully.
Q: Beyond your own work, what gets you most excited in the world of flamenco today?
This is a great time in flamenco, there are a lot of really talented artists in all the branches – guitar, singers, dancers, and percussion. I am a particular fan of Diego del Morao and really been enjoying some new younger players, Pepe Fernandez and Jesus Guerrero.
Q: Finally, what advice would you give to musicians pursuing a career or creative endeavors in flamenco?
Listen, listen, and listen some more. This applies to most any field of music and certainly to flamenco. People are eager to play, which of course is fantastic, but so much of the learning actually happens from listening, both actively and passively.
My advice is to take things in stages. There is a need to deeply immerse yourself in the tradition and practice of the art form. This is a lifelong journey but truly put in your 10,000 hours (at least) before expecting much.
Flamenco takes time, learn patiently from the masters and enjoy the journey. In the end don’t be afraid to be yourself.
Thank you so much, Juanito! That’s certainly good advice for any aspiring musician. We’ve so enjoyed getting to know you and your beautiful music. Please keep us posted on your upcoming online flamenco course and your new albums.
Juanito Pascual has so much musical generosity to share. You can enjoy his music and his teaching on iTunes, CDbaby, and YouTube – or catch him on tour. Moreover, we can all be inspired by Juanito’s success, which has come through so much patience, persistence, and passion. And most of all: the choice he made to be himself.
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