Guitar virtuoso Francisco Pancho Navarro
Francisco Pancho Navarro, the guitar virtuoso & his solo album “Sweet Guitar”
James Gavin, New York City, 2006
James Gavin, the author of Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker, has written extensively for Time Out New York and the New York Times.
Why is it that one of Latin music’s true virtuosos – an acknowledged master of his instrument for over forty years – has never made his own album until now?
“There were some previous opportunities,” says Francisco Pancho Navarro, the Argentine-born, New York-based guitarist. “But I think this was the right time to do it.”
Sweet Guitar shines an overdue spotlight on an artist who has spent most of his career enhancing the work of others. Maybe you heard him playing throughout Elliot Goldenthal’s Oscar-winning soundtrack for Frida, or accompanying Plácido Domingo in a recording of Die Fledermaus made in 2003 at the Washington Opera. The Rolling Stones used Navarro on a 2006 remake of “I’m Free,” their early single; Paulina Rubio (“Perros”), Victor Jara, Cristian Castro, Celia Cruz (“Bamboleo”) and Armando Manzanero sang to his backing. “I always worked with my guitar to make my ends meet but I’ve been fortunate to meet the right people in show business,” he explains modestly.
Pancho, as he’s commonly known, can equal any of them. Out of his fingers comes an orchestral array of string and percussive sounds; a rhythmic and harmonic flair tha few jazz musicians can equal; an elegance born of years of classical study; an arranger’s sense of architecture; and a wealth of beauty, feeling, and wit. Swee Guitar is a diary of the music that shaped him, gathered in his lifelong travels through South America. “The way I play my guitar comes from absorbing the differen styles and colors of our Latin American culture and blending them with my style of performing classical music,” he says.
It’s an approach that endeared him to Soundbrush Records founder Roger Davidson,
a fearlessly adventurous composer and pianist with a special affinity for Latin
music. He and Pancho played together on Roger’s album of boleros and rumbas,
Pensando en Ti; he’s also a member of another of Roger’s ensembles, The
Tango Group, which made its first CD, Amor por el Tango, in 2003. But on
Sweet Guitar, Pancho’s only partner is his occasional overdubbed self.
Navarro was born in 1944 in La Consulta, a township in Mendoza, Argentina’s wine state.
Pancho wasn’t quite a teenager when his father, a policeman and amateur
guitarist, gave him his first guitar and showed him the basics of playing it.
He began taking formal lessons at thirteen. While working with local dance bands
he immersed himself in tango and the Argentine folklore that surrounds it; as he
studied classical guitar he pored over recordings by Andrés Segovia, Los Romeros
(the Spanish guitar-playing family of the ‘60s), John Williams, and Paco de
Meanwhile, he brought his guitar all over South America, settling the longest in
Chile and Mexico. Wherever he went he was hired by the best local musicians and
singers. In 1984, after a decade in Mexico City, Pancho took his wife and three
children and moved to New York: “the city I have looked up to ever since I was
a kid, and considered to be the most important place for a musician’s career.”
The gamble paid off. He became a first-call Latin guitarist on A-list sessions
– everything from the soundtrack of The Mambo Kings to hip-hop and
On this album, he had the luxury of playing the music he cares about most. Pancho wrote Sweet Guitar/T.Q.P.S. some years back in New York. “When I met my
wife,” he says, “we used to communicate with each other by letters, and at the
end of our love letters we had this beautiful way of saying goodbye: T.Q.P.S.,
Te querre por siempre. That means, I will love you forever.”
Singer-songwriter José Alfredo Jiménez (1926-1973) has been called the Woody
Guthrie of Mexico; his oftentimes patriotic songs celebrate the life of the
common man. Jiménez specialized in ranchera, the music of the rural
countryside. Tu Recuerdo y Yo (Your Memory and I) is one of his
trademarks; Pancho brings out its lazy hillbilly quality.
As a child in Mendoza, Pancho looked up to Santiago Bertiz, a local guitar wizard and
family friend. Bertiz wrote the jaunty, Brazilian-flavored Chichi Bonita
for his daughter Chichi. In 1939, two top guitarist-composers of the day –
Alfonso Medina (Ecuador) and Nelson Ibarra (Colombia) – merged cultures in their
original duet, Esperanza (Hope). Pancho plays it as a duet with
himself. From the same vintage comes Boedo, an historical tango named
after a blue-collar neighborhood in Buenos Aires. It was written by Julio de
Caro (1899-1980), a violinist and composer.
Tico-Tico no Fubá is a Brazilian choro from 1917, and it tells of the ruckus caused when a sparrow invades someone’s cornmeal. The composer, Zequinha de Abreu
(1880-1935), wrote a string of Brazilian hits in the teens and ‘20s; none scored
bigger than Tico-Tico. Sadly, he didn’t live to see it become an
American smash as well, thanks to performances by Carmen Miranda and Donald Duck
(in the Disney cartoon Saludos Amigos). Pancho handles its dizzying rush
of notes with the poise of a master juggler. He goes on to mimic the sound of a
trotting horse in Las Mudanzas (The Moves), a song by his early teacher,
guitarist Tito Francia.
The same year Pancho was born, one of his artistic forefathers died. Agustín Barrios
Mangoré was an iconic Paraguayan composer for guitar, an instrument he played
with startling dexterity. Like Villa-Lobos, Mangoré wedded folk and classical
music; he’s credited with making the first classical guitar recordings in
history. Pancho chose his lilting Vals No. 4, composed in 1923.
In his own composition Pájaro Bobo, Pancho overdubs himself into a whole Argentine street band. He named the song after a wild plant that grows in Mendoza. The guitarist dedicates Pájaro Bobo “to the warm memory of my brothers Miguel and Paul and my little sister Rosita.
From the 1940s through the ‘70s, two mysterious guitar-playing brothers, born of the Tabajara tribe of northern Brazil, toured the world to huge popular success. Los Índios Tabajaras wore ceremonial Indian garb and performed pop versions of the classics, along with native Brazilian folk songs and originals in that style. The latter
included Ternura (Tenderness), written by the duo’s Antenor Moreyra Lima,
known by his Indian name of Muçaperê.
In the next two tracks, Pancho revisits dance forms known almost exclusively in South
America. De Sobrepaso is a famous example of the milonga, a
quicker-paced predecessor of the tango. Milongas are played in 2/4, with
syncopated rhythm and improvisation. The composer here is Abel Fleury
(1903-1958), an Argentine guitar master who wrote many of his country’s
important folk tunes. Coastal Peru birthed the vals criollo, a brisk
waltz. Antonio Lauro (1917-1986), a Venezuelan composer of semi-classical
guitar works, wrote the Vals Criollo heard here.
Rio-born guitarist Luiz Bonfá (1922-2001) composed his brooding Manha de Carnaval (Carnival Morning) for Black Orpheus (1959), the film that introduced America to a
sophisticated new wave of Brazilian music. Pancho’s version of this bossa nova
standard intertwines two arrangements, Bonfá’s and his own. A generation before
Bonfá was born, a celebrated Paraguayan harpist and composer Félix Pérez Cardozo
(1908-1953) had a hit of his own with Pájaro Campana – “one of the most
important songs in Paraguay,” says Pancho.
The album ends at the beginning of his story. Alma de Nogal (Soul of the Walnut
Tree) is another of Pancho’s originals; he dedicates it “to the precious
memories of my father Anselmo, my first guitar teacher, and to my mother
Catalina” – the people who gave him his life and helped him discover his gift.
The most of the songs came from Sweet Guitar, with exception of:
Burn it Blue with Caetano Veloso and Lila Dawns from the soundtrack to Frida
The Journey from soundtrack to Frida
A Media Luz from Tango Para Milongueros Vol 4 (with Tito Castro) see sources below
Taquito Militar from Tango Para Milongueros Vol 4 (with Tito Castro)
Cindy Byram, Navarro’s PR agent for finding my show and contacting me.
4 CDs Tango Para Milongueros recorded by Pancho Navarro and Tito Castro can be purchased by contacting Flor or Tito Castro
Pancho Navarro and Tito Castro appear in Tango Grill, White Plains, NY on Sundays