Tulsa native Ronald Radford is called the American Master of Flamenco. He has performed on his guitar in 15 countries and on four different continents.
Radford gave a successful show at the Lorton Center last Thursday for a packed auditorium.
Radford grew up in Tulsa. Though he always knew he wanted to be a musician, he learned to play several instruments, including the cello, before he found his passion in the guitar.
While a bit daunted by the instrument, Radford said, “I knew I could do it, all I had to do was start and practice.”
Radford dabbled in jazz, blues and rock and roll. He didn’t know Flamenco existed until his mother brought home a vinyl record of Carlos Montoya. Radford confessed that when “I saw the word Flamenco, I thought of a pink bird out at a zoo.”
Flamenco is a traditional folk art that developed in Southern Spain. It is the product of an organic process that blended music of Spanish Roma people (popularly known as Gypsies) with music of the Moors and Jews over several centuries.
Radford moved to New York with his “guitar and 35 bucks in (his) pocket.” He practiced Flamenco music on his guitar for eight to ten hours a day.
His practice paid off, and he went on to play in Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center.
Radford is the only person to have received a Fulbright Scholarship in Flamenco.
He quickly realized, however, that there were no universities specializing in Flamenco. In order to master Flamenco, he traveled to Southern Spain and lived with the Spanish Gypsies.
Once in Spain, Radford’s strategy was simple. He would choose a strategic spot, play his guitar and look lonely. More often than not, he would be joined by other musicians, told where a Flamenco musician could be found, or invited home with a passerby.
This spontaneous method of teaching uniquely suits Flamenco. In this type of folk art, Radford said “the dancer doesn’t follow the music, the music follows the dancer.”
One of his greatest teachers was El Sabio, the wise man. He was an old Gypsy who gave Radford invaluable lessons as well as sound advice. When Radford asked El Sabio to play his best variation, the man replied, “Every variation I play is the best, because it’s the one I’m playing right now.”
That seems to be the rule the Gypsies live by, according to Radford. To them, “every moment in life is the best moment, because it’s the only one you have.”
Radford learned to “escuchando con corozón,” or to “listen with heart” by stripping away the intellectual filters that Radford said are barriers between you and the music.
El Sabio’s lessons followed that theme. He told Radford, “the most important ingredient is not what your fingers do on the strings. . .it’s what you feel in your heart.”
Radford ended the concert with a bit of advice. If you ever find yourself in a Flamenco bar in Southern Spain, stay at least until 3 a.m. Because it is only after the tourists go home, that the true Flamenco artists come out to play.