Jazz Monkey Echoes In Ancient Stone Arches

Music is what drew me to Galicia in the first place, just as it was the siren that sucked me into all things Brazilian. And though most of the attraction was the folk stuff mentioned in yesterday’s post, and the ancient (is 800 years old ancient?) Cantigas de Santa Maria, some other music popped up on this trip that I found very interesting, very enjoyable, and quite surprising.

Nearly every morning, up to the lunch hour of 2pm, right outside our hotel door we’ve been treated to some mighty fine jazz guitar playing. At first it was a little irritating, for who wants to hear jazz guitar in the 1000-year old stone streets of Santiago, the holy city? But the more I listened, the more I found the guy to be truly talented. He played a variety of jazz standards and a handful of Brazilian tunes.

Who could this guy be, and why was he playing on the street?

And then….

We didn’t notice at first, but then…

Something wrong with the guy?

He was wearing a black mask with lips sticking out of the mask, holding a cigarette. Whoa! It looked like maybe he was a burn victim, the lips appeared scarred from a distance, and we assumed he wore the mask to not scare folks too much…he relies on tips for his income, so you don’t want potential contributors to be too spooked in what is already a risky proposition as far as striking it rich is concerned.

But after a day or two of passing him several times each morning, it became clear that he was in costume, and it looked like he had on some kind of monkey mask. Whoa! again. How cool. What a concept! Takes a lot of balls to do something so radical in such a socially and culturally conservative town. A smoking monkey-masked dude, dressed in black, playing some tasteful jazz guitar. Wow.

He reminded us, because of the premise he established with the mask, of a musician who used to live in Austin, Adam Bork, aka, Earth Pig, the son of our pals from many years back, Albert and Kathy Bork. So we began referring to him as Earth Monkey, as a sort of tribute to the long-lost musical aardvark.

Then, a few days ago, we walked by as he was packing up to call it a day, 2:30pm. His mask was off, he looked normal. I think we stopped and said hello, that we liked the music, and we noticed he was selling CDs out of a brief case. I made a mental note to return the next day to buy a couple.

But he wasn’t there on Tuesday. No Earth Monkey anywhere. We actually looked around other public places, but he was nowhere to be found. I was disheartened. What if he’d left town, having worn out his welcome. I sure wanted to learn his story, to get a CD and to fill in this funny, mostly blank page in the musical portrait of Santiago.

But as we approached our hotel yesterday morning, we heard his guitar. Wow, I was joyful! Carlos has found my fascination with Earth Monkey strange, but ya gotta understand how out of place he is here. So I have lots of admiration for him, especially because he’s obviously a talented player.

And it turns out we know some of the same people in Brazil!  What????

I took a few photos from a distance, then we walked up and I began looking at the CDs. He said, “Texas, ¿verdad?”  We had gotten that far in our brief chat the other day. I said yes, and we embarked on a 15 minute chat about his music, his time in Santiago, and, since I was speaking Portuguese, his two or so years living in Rio back in the 1980s. We threw around some names and it turns out he’s worked with, or knows, many of the people I know in Brazilian pop music, including Toninho Horta (on whose Diamond Land LP he did some singing or maybe playing), Milton Nascimento, Helio Delmiro, Hermeto Pascoal and others. I think he was impressed when I told him I’d hosted Toninho for nearly a week at my house in Austin back in 1983 when he had several gigs there.

Turns out he calls himself Jazzman. Jazzman de Compostela ( www.jazzmanencompostela.es ). He’s from Uruguay. His real name is Quique Azambuya. He’s been here nearly 12 years, and he loves it, but now, he told me, he’s about ready for something new. “It’s been a personally spiritual time here, but something is telling me it’s time for a change.”  The magic of Santiago gets to lots of folks.

And the mask? Well, it’s his Jazzman persona. And it’s not a monkey. It’s Louis Armstrong, or Lightnin’ Hopkins or Al Jolson. Totally non-PC in the USA, but obviously not a problem in Spain. He’s sold more than 20,000 CDs in 10 years, and I can assure that that number is huge for any jazz player in the States, save Diana Krall or someone of that ilk.

I picked out a couple of discs, paid and retired to the room. A bit later, like 15 or so, I resolved to go down to talk more, maybe go to lunch with him. But in the meantime, from the open window of the room, about 50 feet from his chair, I heard him play a Toninho Horta song. Very cool.

When I got down to the street again, he was sans-mask and packing up for the day. The reason he was absent the day before was due to a cold he was developing, and his throat was hurting, so he was cutting short his Wednesday. We talked for another 20 minutes or so, very enjoyable. He’s a great cat, as they say, and we will definitely stay in touch.

And he’ll always be Earth Monkey to me. PC or not.

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