Saxophonist Pedro Iturralde, Spanish jazz giant, dies … Pedro I El Grande

Saxophonist Pedro Iturralde, Spanish jazz giant, dies … Pedro I El Grande

A pioneer teacher of Spanish jazz, the saxophonist, clarinetist and composer Pedro Iturralde, also creator of the foundations of current jazz-flamenco, dies at the age of 91.

Saxophonist Pedro Iturralde, Spanish jazz giant, dies ... Pedro I El Grande

Those who knew him knew that he would die with his boots on. What's more: everyone was clear that the day he couldn't get on stage would be his last. And so it has been: the saxophonist, clarinetist and composer Pedro Iturralde (Falces, Navarra, 1929-Madrid, 2020) has died at dawn on Saturday at the age of 91, leaving pending the concert that he had scheduled for next November 23 in the Galileo Galilei room, within the Madrid International Jazz Festival. Glossing the figure of such a gigantic musician for Spanish jazz is a complicated task, since not only was he responsible for the prehistory of the genre in our country, but he was agitator until the last breath of its greatest characteristics and essences, signing countless performances in festivals and clubs and teaching several generations of jazz players who today mourn their goodbye. “We are dejected, I cannot find words,” Mariano Díaz, his regular pianist for several decades, answers us on the phone.

“When I feel better is on stage,” he told us a few years ago. And it really was like that: Pedro Iturralde remained faithful to live music despite the ailments of his age, which not long ago gave him significant scares, such as that session at the Central Café in which he had to attend a ambulance. But Iturralde was born a musician and his life was between the margins of an infinite staff. “The best thing is that he has been feeling very loved and recognized,” said Dick Angstadt , former manager of the Bogui room, who last summer staged a tribute to him with the Bobd Sans big band in the Royal Palace Gardens to celebrate his 90th birthday. Gold Medal for Merit of Work; Medal of Honor from the SGAE; Gold Medal for Fine Arts; Prize to “All a life” of the Academy of Arts and Sciences of Music; Francisco de Javier Award; Special Critical Eye Award 2019 …. Many were the distinctions that the Navarrese teacher received in life, although he sought the greatest recognition every night in the smile of his audience. That is why his name continued to dress the programs of the different Madrid and Spanish clubs, as if it were a beginner. It was certainly a revealing example of how much you could love music.

Today it is clear, Spanish jazz could not be written without its literature. He was responsible, along with Tete Montoliu, for the maturity and professionalism of jazz in our country, at a time when the genre was badly surviving on our scene through gestures that were generally more exotic than true, giving it a present and a future. nonexistent until then. He was also one of the first Spanish musicians to embrace jazz and flamenco with the intention of providing a new language, with that disc with an explicit title that was Jazz Flamenco , published in 1967 with the participation of a very young guitarist from Algeciras, then universally known as Paco de Lucía; the album would end up joining the catalog of the prestigious Blue Note label , being the first Spanish musician to do so (the second was Chano Domínguez). That was a good year for Iturralde, who would later perform at the Berlin Jazz Festival, sharing the bill with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sarah Vaughan or Baden Powell. The following year wasn't bad either, which allowed him to record another iconic record in his career alongside pianist Hawpton Hawes . And it was not the following decade, in which Madrid saw the birth of the San Juan Evangelista Music and Jazz Club, which he attended so many times.

Undoubtedly, one of the most and best-defined germs of that musical beat so much ours that is jazz-flamenco, was contributed by the Navarrese saxophonist, who later would also develop a wide career in the world of classical music or film composition, signing the soundtracks of films like New friends , by Ramón Comas; Older with objections or The trip to nowhere , both by Fernando Fernán Gómez. Likewise, his relationship with the Real Conservatorio Superior de Música de Madrid allowed him to stay tremendously alive, sharing knowledge and experiences with a multitude of young musicians.

The same thing happened to Pedro Iturralde and Tete Montoliu that, in football terms, happens to Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo , that is, two titans of our jazz coinciding in time and place. In this sense, comparisons between one and the other have been recurrent even after the pianist's death, generating absurd discussions about their respective hegemonies. Today, the only certainty is that the two were essential pillars in the creation of a real feeling and attitude to exercise the profession of jazz players in our country, with a musical height beyond any doubt, the first, supported perhaps more in tradition European jazz music and, therefore, building solid bridges both with continental folkloric classical music, and the latter clearly bordered on North American expression. Be that as it may, the comparisons were inopportune, although it is already known that the public and the press like to label things, put them in a ranking .

Pedro Iturralde's career is accompanied by capital names of the genre, from Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan or Donald Byrd , still being one of the most internationally recognized Spanish jazz players. In the sixties he was revealed as a saxophonist of many carats within the fragile Madrid jazz scene, where he used to play in such emblematic venues as the Whiskey & Jazz Club , for the Navarrese maestro, “the best jazz club”. Parallel to the successes recorded at the end of the sixties, underlined with the aforementioned Jazz Flamenco album, he was also recognized as an author, with prizes at the Monaco International Jazz Composition Competition.

The echo of his tenor sax reached the United States, from where he was sent a scholarship to expand musical knowledge at the prestigious Berklee College Of Music in Boston along with teachers such as vibraphonist Gary Burton . His American journey was praised by renowned magazines such as Down Beat , while his return to our country is accompanied by exciting musical adventures, such as his participation in the “Europalia 85” in Brussels. His traditional link with the world of classical music became clear, especially during the eighties and nineties, when he was requested by the National Orchestra of Spain and the RTVE Symphony on the recommendation of conductors such as Sergiu Celibidache , Igor Markevitch, Rafael Frúbeck de Burgos, Jesús López Cobos, Odón Alonso, Enrique García Asensio and Miguel Ángel Gómez Martínez, among others.

In the mid-nineties, Iturralde abandoned his chair of saxophone at the Conservatorio Superior de Música de Madrid, dedicating himself to the promotion of new saxophonistic values, performances and recordings such as Una noche en el Central or Ethnophonies. At the end of this decade his Hellenic Suite was performed by the Orchestra of the Teatro de la Scala in Milan , along with works by other masters such as Gershwin or Piazzolla. Currently he appeared regularly at the main Spanish festivals and clubs, as well as continued closely linked to classical music, showing a strange vitality that contrasted with his octogenarian age.

The Jazzmadrid festival will surely end up dedicating this year's edition to the venerable and already longed-for teacher, who, as already mentioned, was expected on November 23rd. Fans will miss his absolute and exemplary dedication to jazz; the musicians his teachings, since Pedro was an unlimited conversationalist, who could spend hours and hours talking about harmonies and languages with unusual passion; his family and friends, a good man .

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