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Oscar Penas: From Barcelona to Brooklyn

Tomas Pena By

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AAJ: Obviously there are a lot of other guitarists that have influenced you as well.

OP: From the '80s there's the big three—Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell and John Scofield, but Jim Hall is the biggest influence of all.

AAJ: How so?

OP: He's so humble, so authentic, a non-conformist and he still practices!

AAJ: What about Lionel Loueke? He seems to be taking the guitar to new places.

OP: As well as guys like Kurt Rosenwinkel and Ben Monder. I am also into pianists, horn players and vocalists.

AAJ: What's on your, iPod as we speak?

OP: On my way to your home I listened to two albums: Radio Mali (Nonesuch,1999) by Ali Farka Toure and I think it's called 1 + 1 (Verve, 1997) by Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. If you visit my home, you will hear jazz but you will also hear Gal Costa, Pablo Milanes, Djavan and others.

AAJ: Career-wise and music-wise, where do you see yourself in five years?

OP: I want to do a little bit of everything. I like the duo setting, I enjoy accompanying vocalists and I want to perform as much as possible with my band.

AAJ: Do you have any upcoming recordings in the works?

OP: I hope to record with the BOB Trio and the Oscar Peñas Group this year. I am not sure when we will be going into the studio but I can tell you that we plan to have a number of special guests. We are still in the process of coordinating our schedules so I don't want to reveal too much just yet.

AAJ: What's your take on the current New York music scene? Is it everything you expected it to be?

OP: There are different levels in the music scene. There's the "official" music scene—the big clubs that feature big names—and there is the "unofficial" or "underground" music scene, especially in Brooklyn.

AAJ: Define "underground."

OP: Places like "Tea Lounge," "Barbes" and "Drom," to name a few, where a lot of independent musicians hang out.

AAJ: Who are the members of the group and what is it about the "underground" music scene that appeals to you?

OP: The energy. We have a saying in Spain that says, "Ponen toda la carne en la asadora" [they put all of the meat in the roaster]. Meaning, the musicians always play their best, even when they are not playing in front of a large audience or the crowd is noisy.

AAJ: What kind of impact has living in New York had on your music?

OP: I have come to realize that technique is not everything. I mean, it helps; I practice everyday, but there is already a Kurt Rosenwinkel and a Mark Turner. I don't think that a lot of the musicians in Spain have come to that conclusion. There are a few artists, like pianist Chano Dominguez, who are doing their own thing but many Spanish musicians have a tendency to emulate North American musicians.

AAJ: Before we close is there anything that you would like to add?

OP: I was very lucky to have been around such influential and inspiring people during my time as a student. People like Luciana Souza, Danilo Perez, John Damien, Frank Carlberg and Charlie Banacos. It was great to have their support. Also, I have come to realize that the public appreciates artists who do their own thing in their own way. That's what I am trying to do.

Selected Discography

Oscar Peñas Group, The Return of the Astronautus (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2006)
Oscar Peñas Group, introducing Javier Vercher, Astronautus (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2003)

Photo Credits

Top photo: Javier Vercher

All other photos courtesy of Oscar Peñas

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