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Take Five with Francisco Quintero

Francisco Quintero By

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About Francisco Quintero

Francisco Quintero is a guitarist, composer, arranger and producer born and raised in Venezuela. He attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in 2009, where he obtained a degree in instrumental performance, and also holds a master's degree in Jazz Studies from Northern Illinois University. He has studied with artists such as Richie Hart, Ed Tomassi, Lin Biviano, Alain Mallet, Mike Stern, Adam Rogers, Peter Bernstein, Fareed Haque, and more, and played with an impressive list of artists including Andres Briceno, Gustavo Caruci, Derrick Gardner, Carl Allen, Victor Provost, Paul Carr, Geof Bradfield, Reggie Thomas, Ari Brown, and more.

Instrument(s):

Guitar, both electric and acoustic, bass, and some drums. My very first instrument was the drum set, and later I changed to guitar. Even though I really liked being a drummer, I was always curious about guitar. I grew up looking and playing around with my mom's guitar, which was just around the house. She got it as a gift from my grandfather when she was around fifteen, and she played a little bit. I think it was an original Spanish Tatay, a really beautiful sounding instrument.

Teachers and/or influences?

I had good teachers in Venezuela. My first teacher was guitarist Frank Osorio at the school, and then I went on to study with Richard Perez privately. Richard exposed me to fusion music and some jazz —I was coming from a rock background. He let me take home CDs from artists such as Scott Henderson, Diana Krall, Chick Corea, Frank Gambale, and others. As a musician I have always been extremely curious, so it was natural for me to really dig into all sorts of genres. At home, I was getting familiarized with Paco De Lucia, Wes Montgomery, and classical music, while I also played metal and progressive music such as Metallica and Dream Theater. I slowly started to transcribe all that other stuff, without thinking too much about genres. I just loved the sound of different types of music.

Much later when I was at Berklee, I studied with a lot of great musicians and teachers, and went to many clinics/workshops conducted by many of my musical heroes, but my main mentors there were Richie Hart, Alain Mallet and Ed Tomassi. What I got out of them was really important for my development. It really changed me and helped substantially. Then I also studied with Peter Bernstein in New York City, who is one of my favorite musicians and who I learned a lot from.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

I never really gave it much thought. I am a very passionate person, so if I like something, I am really curious and go into it very deeply. It's been music for most of my life so when I was graduating from high school I really wanted to keep playing and have the time to dedicate fully to it. Most of my time in high school I spent practicing many hours every day and studying music, so I just went with it and followed my heart when I got out.

Your sound and approach to music.

I have studied very deeply and passionately the music of Wes Montgomery, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and all of the jazz tradition, but I am also able to appreciate so many other styles of music. I am a fan of good music in general, and I love details. In good art, there is a lot of details, so it doesn't matter what the style is, you can hear or see that if the work is of high quality. For this reason, my sound is a lot of things that I am passionate about and have invested a lot of time in, but mainly jazz. The music I am currently writing is rooted in jazz; I am really passionate about swing, the history and the concept of improvisation in this style. Montgomery, Charlie Christian, Coltrane, Rollins and Monk are my favorite players.

But as I said, I am also very interested in other genres. I study a lot of Brazilian, fusion, rock, and also even world music.

I am constantly trying to be creative in my own playing and understand my sound to project it in the best possible way, but I also want to be connected to the history of the music in some way. It's a language and you should speak it, but have your own opinions for sure!

Your teaching approach

I like to be really honest when I am teaching. A teacher is supposed to show you the path to whatever you want to accomplish. As a student, you must choose the path and overcome the obstacles in it with the guidance of your teacher. If you are giving directions to somebody, you have to be completely honest about what road that person must take to reach the destination. There is no point in giving wrong directions, so I like to share the things I know, what I am working on and what has helped me reach whatever level I have. I don't really hide anything or keep it to myself when somebody asks me. At the end, all of it is on you though. You must put a lot of work in to reach the goal.

I focus on teaching my students that music is an art related to the ear more than anything else. Just like a painter will develop the eye, you must develop the ear. You have to become really intimate with sound and engage in activities that will activate your ear. It needs to be "thinking" and working when you practice. If you disconnect it, then it is very hard to really improve and later on find ideas when you play or write music.

I also teach my students how to design a practice session that will emulate the situation that they are not good at. For example, if I want to be better at playing fast tempos, you have to play fast tempos in your practice. I emphasize that this environment must be rehearsed to be able to be better at that specific thing you want.

Lastly but not least, look for things that make you feel you are really bad at, and make you uncomfortable. The more your brain is engaged while you practice, the better you will become. Don't practice what you are good at too much. That's nice as an incentive that you can play some stuff, but move forward. Throw curve balls at yourself.

Your dream band

I would like to work with many of my musical heroes. It's really an amazing experience to play with people that you admire. Another aspect for bands is friendship. I find that the more you know somebody and have shared experiences with, the better you will connect. It's a conversation, and if both parts are intelligent, there is no reason why the conversation shouldn't take off. Have a talk with your band members, share some stuff. Engage in communication.

Favorite venue

I don't have a specific one. There are many different types of playing situations. Maybe you have a favorite venue but one specific night it wasn't your favorite because of the environment/vibe. I think it's more about that for me... It's nice when the audience is very receptive, there are nice acoustics and good stage sound. Also, not so much stress... (based on how you were treated, acoustics, bandstand, regular dates, etc.)

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

I am honest. To me it is all about the music, and I really try to follow my heart at all times while I try to become a better musician every day. I play what makes me happy, but I am attentive and open to anything. I love collaborating and learning every day.

What are your favorite jazz albums?

Anything Wes played on, but some of my favorite recordings of his are the ones with his brothers. Wes was very well acquainted with them and of course they grew up together playing. The vibe on those records is amazing and so positive. They swing really hard and it feels all so natural. Wes plays some incredibly complex solos on those recordings. The phrasing and the level of detail is premium.

I love Coltrane's Sound, Standard Coltrane and Stardust, the sessions with Wilbur Harden, Sonny Rollins at the Village Vanguard, so many. I feel bad pointing them out because I love so much stuff and all of the discography.

Jim Hall with Paul Desmond on Bossa Antigua is also a recording I really like. Jim comps beautifully like always and his solos are perfect. Workin' and Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet.

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

I like to think that jazz is alive, because that is what ultimately keeps an art form live, being engaged in it at all times and being creative, helpful in different ways and informative through it. There are amazing players out there writing really good music and jazz is played everywhere now.

I meet people from many countries that play really well, so to me that's a good sign that the music is living on. Maybe I am not thinking too deeply about it but I think that's healthy and it motivates us all to contribute our own version of the music. There is only one "you," so, that part is needed in the scene. Essentially Jazz is a bunch of different personalities coming together to play the music.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

I think that depends on what jazz is to you, because then you will choose what it needs or is needed to satisfy the concept. I honestly don't look at jazz as something extremely separated from other styles of music, so I approach it in the same way I would play something different: it's music. I follow my heart, and I like the "tradition" a lot. I love transcribing my favorite solos and enhancing my language all the time, but when I write my compositions I never really think too much about rules or traditions. I let it come out naturally, and if you really study the things that you are passionate about in the right way, developing a creative approach more than just a purely and strictly recreational approach, those things will show up in your music or playing.

Jazz has a deep history and also language. The tradition of the music is also about evolution and constant change, but I think that happens in all genres. Things expand, and turn into different things. If you want to reinvent the wheel, that's cool too, but I mean, if you go that far out (not saying this is wrong), what's the point of labeling your music with a genre? It will not help your music if you do that because you will gain a lot of haters. Call it anything, like Miles would say.

You can play in the language and be creative too. A lot of people are sometimes afraid to play a standard, but they forget what it really is about. If you are really improvising, there should not be two versions that are identical to each other. The beauty is in the moment and in the originality of someone's voice on the instrument. So at that point, the tune "disappears." I like to think in this way. If you care about somebody playing a standard, you probably will care about their own music.

I never see rock musicians saying "Rock is Dead," or stuff like that. If it's dead, it is nobody else's fault but ours. I don't really think too much about it. I focus on being meaningful by following my heart and doing what I like, and if people like it or feel inspired by it, then that's beautiful and it's fulfilling. I like to create, without limitations.

What is in the near future?

I am writing a lot of music for quartet and trio, so there is at least one album that will come out of that soon.

What is your greatest fear when you perform?

I don't know if I would call it a "fear." But, thinking too much is something I look to not do. I try to just concentrate on playing without labeling any feelings, that way I only deal with the music. It's always so exciting, so I want to enjoy by simply having fun and being in the moment.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

A commercial pilot or to keep it in some sort of artistic expression, a graphic designer.

If I could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?

Albert Einstein.

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