By: Rick Landers
Word had it that there was a Flamenco guitarist in Virginia that had the most efficient set up to haul his gear around and load out than most had ever seen. And besides that, Vincent Zorn, gets places jumping with his thumping Flamenco guitar playing, as well as make his audiences swoon with his quieter romantic Latin tunes.
So, I took a hike down to Charlottesville, Virginia, where Vincent was performing in a duet with Humberto O Sallies – a weekly event – for a packed crowd at a local restaurant, with patrons dancing to the music, drinking a few shots of Tequila and thoroughly enjoying his and his fellow guitarist’s performance.
Flamenco is an art form from the Andalusian (Southern) part of Spain and relates not only to a guitar style, but also includes a style of dance and song.
Zorn has released six albums/recordings where he fuses into a fine blend the fiery passion of Flamenco, the intricacies of Jazz and what he’s called, “the relaxed sensuality of Bossa Nova”. To imagine a feel for his Flamenco style, think in terms of the Gipsy Kings, Ottmar Liebert or the legendary Manitas De Plata.
Vincent has studied guitar in Spain, Turkey and Mexico where he traded licks with The Blonde Gipsies: Latcho & Andrea. He’s also the founder and composer for the Flamenco dance band, Last Caracan, and the gypsy guitar/violin duo Vincent & Vedant (Koppero).
Although Vincent calls Charlottesville home these days, he makes his way to more than 250 gigs a year and finds his way to other locals, including many in California where he’s played at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Bill Graham’s Mountain Aire Music Festival, The Chico World Music Festival, The Bear Valley Music Festival and many more, including private and corporate events.
Vincent uses Jose Luis Diaz Reyes Flamenco Guitars & Daniel Mari Strings, exclusively.
Rick Landers: I understand you’re living in Charlottesville, Virginia, and wonder what the Flamenco music scene is like in that part of Virginia – I mean, aren’t you in Bluegrass territory?
Vincent Zorn: [Laughs] Yes, the Commonwealth is definitely the heart of Bluegrass country. Luckily, Charlottesville has such diversity; my sound has fit right in. I was a bit nervous prior to my arrival, however, there are a couple of us performing Latin and Flamenco guitar here so I found my tribe pretty quickly.
It’s funny; I released an album with my band, Last Caravan, back in 1999 titled Original American Gypsy Music, never thinking I would end up in the middle of American country and mountain music, but it works.
Rick: I suppose you’ve got a niche market for Flamenco, so you can line up gigs regularly. Are you mostly playing in the background with softer ballad-style guitar work, or are you shattering a few windows with some of that rapid fire strumming style?
Vincent Zorn: I do a bunch of low volume, background work. – Weddings and private parties. However, I have a restaurant residency at The Bebedero here in Charlottesville that allows me to rattle the walls. It’s not uncommon for patrons to jump out of their seats and dance.
There is a real appreciation for dance and music here so I have been having a blast. Plus, there is no shortage of great players and dancers!
Rick: What road did you take that led to playing Flamenco?
Vincent Zorn: There are only two places on the planet that, as a culture, express the art of Flamenco. Southern Spain, and Southern France. While I studied in Spain (Seville, Cadiz, and Jerez), I wouldn’t consider myself a traditional Flamenco guitarist.
My style comes from the Gypsies of Southern France – Manitas De Plata and The Gipsy Kings.
It’s a fun, party style that incorporates heavy percussive right hand playing. Lots of pulgar (thumb) and syncopated percussion played on the body of the guitar. Its gypsy music – technique pulled from Flamenco and made into its very own thing.
While traditional Flamenco is strict with compas, singers and dancers, Gypsy Rumba is free and open to improvisation. I was immediately attracted to that wild, free style and pursued it relentlessly. I traveled to Southern Spain, and to France – to Arle and Les Saintes Maries de la Mer looking for the sound.
I have a teacher in Mexico that I studied with that learned from the Gitanos. He and his wife have a performing duo, and made an indelible mark on my life and playing. I owe most of my success to them, for without their sharing of this style, I would still be searching.
Rick: While studying the guitar, most of us find the fret board pretty daunting, especially trying to find our ways around it when improvising. How did you lock in on that to have such a fluid, and what seems like an intuitive approach?
Vincent Zorn: Gypsy music is folk music. Flamenco is the blues of Spain. So, in a theory sense, it’s pretty accessible. The lessons are in the subtlety. I can listen to a song I’ve heard a thousand times and hear lots of new tricks and executions that you miss if you’re not actively listening.
As far as my approach to the instrument, I have always tried to connect the emotion with the hands. To me that’s everything. Of course, there are scales and chords, and relationships to each, however the difference between a soulful player and a technician is that connection.
Rick: How about a run down of all the guitars you’ve owned and if you still have some of them hanging around?
Vincent Zorn: I have paired my guitars down to just what I need in order to perform. Don’t get me wrong, at one point I had 10 Flamenco guitars. I love nylon string guitars, however, I just need a few to work and be happy.
I currently have three handmade Flamenco guitars by Jose Luis Diaz Reyes of Paracho Michoacán, Mexico (two blancas and a negra), and one Flamenco Negra that I built myself. Oh, and a fretless flamenco guitar that I use for recording.
Rick: As essentially a solo artist, and recognizing the investment one has to lay down to produce a CD, what kinds of advice would you give songwriters and other performers in that regard, so they don’t waste their hard earned cash?
Vincent Zorn: My advice is to buy some recording gear first. Learn the process and start recording. Don’t get bogged down in the technology, and have your studio ready so when the muse visits, you can hit record and go.
There has definitely been a decline in CD sales, so produce short runs of discs if needed. Plenty of places online doing it for a little over a buck per disc. Submit your work to all major online retailers and streaming services.
My last cd I recorded was done live with a handheld digital recorder hanging from the ceiling in an attic room of an old Victorian house. We did one takes and was done in three hours. Are there mistakes – yes. Who cares – we made a moment and we documented it.
Can you hear the room on the record – hell yes. You actually hear the foot taping and us breathing, and laughing on the record. I love the raw approach and that record cost me under $50 to release. I spend more on strings. [Laughs]
Rick: “Music” is virtually everywhere – people’s voices, traffic sounds, the wind, the ocean – are you a good listener that picks up on the sounds around you for inspiration, or does your music come from the inside and work its way out?
Vincent Zorn: There is no secret to this art. Just be ready and inspired. I could let you listen to tons of 20 second melodies on my phone, that I hum into just to capture it. Influenced from the outside, internalized, and processed. Or, with the instrument stumbling onto something great. The beauty is that the approach is always evolving.
Rick: I heard that you’ve got some “contraption” that folds up your gear, including a seat that makes lugging gear around much easier. What’s that all about?
Vincent Zorn: The older I get, the lighter my gear gets. I don’t have a contraption to carry gear, however, I did design a stool with a fold out footrest.
There is something about sitting up higher than your audience that I noticed playing in restaurants. You need to create the illusion of a stage.
So, being that stools are higher, and my pedal board is on the ground, I designed a small foldout foot rest that I place my pedal board on so I can sit up high while still being able to comfortably access my pedals. Stool folds flat and is easy to transport.
Rick: What guitars are you playing at gigs and do you have guitars that don’t go outside at all – a low risk decision?
Vincent Zorn: I have my workhorse Flamenco Blanca with a custom built Bartlett mic built in. It’s the guitar that get the most wear and tear, and it plays and sounds fantatstic. I actually modeled the neck profile on the guitar I built after it. This is definitely the guitar that gets the hardest workouts.
The French polish needs to be redone, but will put it on the bench for a few weeks.
Secondly, I have another Blanca that stays at home these days, but is by far my favorite to play. I used to mic it up as I just can’t bear to drill into it. Just plays like a dream, and actually sounds the best out of all of them.
Last is the guitar that I built that pretty much stays home and I practice on. It’s a larger scale guitar (660) and is just a cannon. I have performed with this a few times, but I appreciate it more at home.
Rick: Tell us about your past recordings, current recordings and dreams you have of recording in the future.
Vincent Zorn: Well, I have nine recordings with different projects over the years. Full band, a couple of duos, couple of solo records.
Looking forward to recording with my current duo beginning of next year, as well as a compilation album. I recorded a modern lullaby album with a Midi Flamenco guitar a few years back that was recorded live with delays and a looper. Would love to do another like that. Kind of a Flamenco Pink Floyd.
This month (December 2018) I am releasing a compilation album from all of my albums. Probably do a short CD run as folks still sometimes ask about CD’s.
Rick: Many artists seek to blend their ambition with their altruism and they play at senior living communities, hospitals or have a favorite charity that gets a bit of their income. Any favorites or venues you seek out to give back?
Vincent Zorn: You know, making a living as an artist is a tough business. Schedules, etcetera. I do my best to donate my time when I can. It’s always a great feeling to give with your talent and time rather than just write a check, and some of my favorite gigs have been ones that I donate my talent and time.
Flamenco, the Gipsy Rumba and the Raw Organic Approach of Guitarist Vincent Zorn
Source: Guitar International Magazine