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Flamenco Guitarist Finds His Voice

Flamenco Guitarist Finds His Voice

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Veteran Flamenco Guitarist Finds UNM Home

Guitarist Calvin Hazen never let the prospect of a bohemian lifestyle discourage him from pursuing a career in music. The flamenco records he inherited from his father brought 13-year-old Hazen lasting inspiration with rhythm that oscillated like a tide.

Forty-five years later, he’s still inspired by those early tunes and has accompanied flamenco dancers and singers for years, performing on some of the most prestigious stages in the U.S., Spain and Mexico. But Hazen, who has been playing guitar since he was seven years old, is pursuing a new avenue in music and looking for ways to grow as a musician.

Hazen hopes to develop an original style in his interpretation of flamenco fused with jazz.

“Hopefully we can create an identity of our own. A unique identity in terms of musical expression,” Hazen said about his flamenco jazz trio band, Vaivén. While the band has been playing in Santa Fe and Taos for a year, their next performance is in Albuquerque. They play at Outpost Performance Space April 13 at 7:30 p.m.

Although Vaivén plays flamenco within a jazz prism, as Hazen explained it, he’s trying to avoid limiting his work by classifying it with a genre. “We’re at an age where everything has been done and done again. My only goal would be to express my voice the best I can. Putting labels on things in terms of pop, jazz or flamenco are not very interesting to me at this point of my life,” Hazen said.

While Hazen strives for originality, he’s not without influences. One of the first guitarists to fuse flamenco with other musical genres, Paco de Lucía, was Hazen’s first flamenco album and he’s spent a lot of time studying de Lucía’s music. “As a flamenco guitarist, one really always has Paco present. There’s not a living artist who hasn’t been influenced by him,” he said.

De Lucia adapted the cajón, a Peruvian, box-shaped percussion instrument, for flamenco with the addition of guitar strings. Robby Rothschild plays the cajón for Vavién. The cajón has roots in Peru, but has been a staple in flamenco tradition, he said. De Lucia updated for the cajon for flamenco, bringing cajóns from Peru to Spain in 1977. 

“As an African percussionist, I’m interested in how flamenco intersects and these traditions lineup,” Rothschild said.

 Jon Gagan plays the upright bass and the electric bass with Vaivén. He’s been playing jazz for 40 years and said the band was a way for him to branch out and explore flamenco. Playing flamenco has been like learning a foreign language because American music is usually in a three-or-four-beat rhythm, while flamenco has a 12-beat rhythm, he said.

Gagan was in a band with Hazen in the early 1990s.  Hazen had just been accompanying a UNM dance rehearsal and was sitting with upright posture at the coffee shop. His hand, with long fingernails maintained for plucking nylon string, was wrapped around a cup of tea.

Hazen has just recently been frequenting local places as he’s only been back in town for three years. He was playing at clubs and small theaters in Madrid, Spain for 20 years, briefly returning to the states for gigs. Eventually he came to a point where he wanted to tour less and settle down. “It wasn’t going to work with my lifestyle or who I am as a person,” he said about touring. Now he has a contract with UNM to accompany flamenco classes and performs with Yjastros dance company.

No matter who Hazen collaborates with, he’s attentive to dancers and singers he shares the stage with. He said there are performances where there is an indescribable sensation between him and performers, what is referred to in flamenco as duende.

“It’s one of those moments where you feel outside of yourself. That’s what you’re working for, waiting for, hoping for, and when it happens it’s the most gratifying moment there is,” he said.

Hazen has performed at Lincoln Center in NYC, Teatro Nacional in Mexico City and Teatro Madrid in Spain. He’s made TV appearances on “The Tonight Show,” “Good Morning America” and “The Regis and Kathie Lee Show.”

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Sara MacNeil is an editorial intern at ABQ Free Press Weekly.

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