Enrique Llácer Regolí


An interview by PEDRO MARTÍNEZ
Photographs: Personal files of Enrique Llácer
Translation to English by: Francisco Flores Báez
© All rights reserved


An inscription in one of the many posters – the one given to him by Don and Georgie Collins – that hang on the wall in this crowded room where he, on his piano and computer composes endlessly his music, reads, “I don’t know what a Regolí is but this one is usually called maestro”. No more introduction needed, undoubtedly Regolí is one of the best percussionists in Spain, he is also a vivid memory of a living legend of my youth when I humbly astonished entered the free generous world of jazz, Regolí is also a wonderful person.

Those were the days when the former Bourbon Street Club, closed its premises at the Villamagna Hotel, and became Whiskey Jazz Club at Diego de León Street [1] which was packed every night, and where you could cut the dense smoke of cigarettes with a knife, the days in which jazz, cradled the generous dreams of my first youth.

Now all those memories seem to take life again, as Regolí shows me numerous photographs of the sixties and seventies carefully kept in a folder where he appears wearing long sideburns playing the drums with different musicians at the Wkiskey Jazz Club, such as the sax players Pedro Iturralde and Gerry Mulligan, this one showed up surprisingly one evening in the middle of a concert; anecdotes photographs and more photographs. Regolí speaks firmly and fast as the sticks he so marvelously used. He tells me “I’ll have nothing to drink I’ve just had something”.

REGOLÍ: We were as usual playing one night at Whiskey Jazz on Marqués de Villamagna Street, it was past midnight when a tall blond fellow shows up and Iturralde tells me: “Hey, Who do you think that guy looks like? And I tell him: “I think he is Gerry Mulligan”. We kept on playing and the mentioned guy comes to us and asks “Do you speak English?, Iturralde says yes and then the man asks: “If I bring my instrument will you let me play for a while? I have it at my hotel just next to the club”. Yes of course, was our answer. It was Gerry indeed, and then he told us he was staying in town for three or four days. Later we mounted a jam session at the Studio Club located at Argüelles Street, he came and we played with him, the group included Joe Moro and Salvador Font aka Butter. Mulligan was a nice guy.

Gerry Mulligan

At this moment I produce a Mulligan record (no more no less than Take Five recorded live in 1973) and then I ask Regolí about Alan Dawson.

REGOLÍ: I met him by chance through an acquaintance of mine Larry Monroe, a sax player who once lived at the American base [2] and used to come to Whiskey Jazz, He was also the director of Berkley Co. He introduced me to Alan Dawson who was teaching there.When I tell Regolí that it seemed to me that when I began listening to jazz in Spain, that kind of music was avoided or forbidden, Enrique shakes his head as he answers:

REGOLÍ: It was indeed music for minorities, people that attended jazz concerts were considered snobs, in those days only five or six people in a group of twenty really understood jazz, the rest were pure snobs. But little by little people grew accustomed to jazz.

Before the opening of Whiskey Jazz there used to be sessions at the University or in Night Clubs where we met late at night. Tete Montoliú had come many times to play here in Madrid. There also was another Club at Infantas Street [3], The Dorian Club, where we played on Saturdays and Sunday afternoons.

PEDRO MARTÍNEZ: We are talking about the days of the fifties...

REGOLÍ: It was 1955. Before that in 1952, I worked in Barcelona where there were frequent jazz sessions. I met Montoliú, Ricardo Roda, Bolau, piano player Echaus, trombone player Peiró and bass player Santiago Pérez. The jazz scene was livelier in Barcelona those days, I think it was because the nearness of France, French musicians went there to play constantly and in general it was a more cosmopolitan atmosphere.

After that, I came to Madrid, it was 1955, I joined a jazz group that played every Sunday at the University. The season ended after two months and I remember it was very hard. In those days it was not easy for musicians to own a car. I had to load the drums in a taxi unload them at the University, after that load them again and run to the club where I had to play and load and set them again. Fortunately we found taxi drivers who were more than helpful and made our movements a little bit less difficult. To be able to make things work, we used to tell the University organizers; we must finish at six whether they clap or not. There was no other way to be on time at the next job.

After that, came the inauguration of Whiskey Jazz, I remember that in those days I worked at the rendes-vous at The Hilton [4], playing dance music, and when my one-hour-long break came I walked up to the Marqués de Villamagna Street, played one song at Whiskey Jazz and then returned in a hurry to my work at the Hilton, where we played dancing music.

P.M.: Tell me Enrique, how did you learn to play jazz, with or without a score?

REGOLÍ: Up to a certain point with a score, people erroneously think that jazz is all improvisation, that we just play what comes to our minds without any rules at all. It doesn’t work so. The main theme carries the melody, the harmony and the chords and if you don’t follow and respect them, you will never agree with the rest of the players. There used to be a form of jazz known as free jazz, in which everyone practically played without rules or limits. In the kind of jazz we play, there is improvisation, but always within certain rules or bases according to the main theme and other musical components.

It happened commonly that for instance Pedro Iturralde or Moro played differently at night the same theme we played in the afternoon, but careful, they did it differently but always respecting the same basis of chords, harmony and other things…

Watch what happens; if the piano player plays a C chord thinking that the saxophone player is going to improvise the same way, and instead he improvises in any other tone, the music will never sound well, it simply does not fit. That is why I say there is improvisation but within certain rules.

P.M.: It means that jazz improvisation is the freedom you have to play in a certain moment…

REGOLÍ: Yes, that’s the way it is but within certain rules.

P.M.: On the other hand Negro musicians. Do they play without a score?

REGOLÍ: Well, since the beginning it’s been said that negroes did not know how to write music, It could be as it was in the case of Armstrong. I think it is something that also happens with andalusian musicians, some of them do not know how to write music but look at the way they sing, clap, and how they carry the rhythm, ask them how they do it, they will tell you , well, just one two three, one two three. It has been said that jazz is the american music, for me it is the afro american folklore.

P.M.: I Would say that negroes heard the music of the whites in plantations and then translated it.

REGOLI: Exactly, look, when I went to Brasil, I met young shining shoe boys and as they worked they produced sounds with a fantastic rhythm. I asked them, what are you doing? Playing the samba was the answer. I even asked one of them to continue and tried to imitate the same rhythm but I never could. Later you could hear the same sounds at the carnival, and remember, those boys didn’t know anything about writing music.

P.M.: How did you arrive to the world of jazz?

REGOLI: I started to play the drums in my hometown Alcoy, in those days at the local cinema they played American movies in which I could hear the music of Glenn Miller, Harry James and Xavier Cugat in which orchestra I will eventually play in the years 1963 and 1964 at The Pavillion [5] (Retiro Park) [6]. A little later the local radio station received and played jazz records, I used to learn the melody and then tried to improvise, only 3 of the 14 members of our orchestra were interested in jazz, the rest always followed the score. By the way, jazz musicians don’t use scores because they memorize the theme.

P.M.: That is also true for rock music, there are no scores. Rock comes from the blues…

REGOLÍ: That is true it is a branch of the blues.

P.M.: At the beginning jazz was played by the big bands…

REGOLÍ: Not necessarily, there were big bands and also other groups, for instance, in Armstrong’s group there were; a trumpet, a trombone, a clarinet, a piano and a banjo. Jazz really started only with a piano, after that Dixieland bands the ones that played at funerals, used to have a banjo and an helicon. As that kind of music was accepted by American society there were changes, bass substituted the helicon, drums, that were played by three musicians, were played then only by one and the guitar took the place of the banjo…The groups grew and in time included three saxophones and three trumpets. The real big bands, I think, started in the forties with the orchestras of Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Count Bassie…

P.M: Glenn Miller…The sound of second world war heard in many war movies…

REGOLÍ: In my opinion Glenn Miller was never a real jazz band, they played dance music although almost in every song someone performed a solo with lots of improvisation.

P.M.: And then Charlie Parker arrived…

REGOLÍ.: He was the one that changed everything, a real revolutionary, the effects of his work are still being felt.

Parker in the company of Gillespie, Max Roach and others realized that white’s music, dixie and swing, wasn´t really jazz and they went into the task, at the celebrated sessions of 52nd. Street of performing the necessary changes to create real jazz. Count Bassie once said, that every true jazz musician even if he played only one single note of jazz, was in debt with Charlie Parker.

P.M.: Coming back to Spain. Is jazz in Spain plummeting to the ground?

REGOLÍ: When the so called free jazz appeared, jazz lovers were disappointed, they did not understand what could not be understood. When I bumped into David Thomas I told him, look David, you know I am your friend and my intentions are good, but you are fooling your fans, I can not understand why you are supporting this kind of music. two years later we met at the Balboa Club [7] he had realized his mistakes and was back to his roots. How can something have sense if it can be played by people that can not even play the blues?. Free jazz was one of the causes of the decadence of jazz music but there were also other factors, for instance, it was a general situation even felt in New Orleans, where clubs started to play rock music. At the same time many clubs were forced to close, musicians began to ask for great sums of money, amounts that could only be paid by places with great capacity to receive customers. The same thing happened to pop singers. Raphael used to sing in places like the Pavillion or Florida Park [8], now the only places that can afford him are theaters.

Jazz music was played in big places, the little intimate clubs were you can really feel the closeness of the audience and recognize you, were lost. One example, in 1955, Don Byass, charged the Wiskey Jazz Club, one thousand pesetas a night. Ten years later Byass earned two hundred thousand pesetas a night in New York. In the sixties there were here some fourteen clubs. In Paris the same happened in the sixties, there were eight jazz clubs; only one of them survives today, The Blue Note. Who is going to hire the Jazz Messengers at the rate of ten thousand dollars? You really need a big place.

The small intimate places have been lost. What works now, are the so called jazz routes, as you know: Madrid, San Sebastian, Vitoria, Bilbao, Saint Germain, Le Mans, Paris, Berlin, Hamburgo, playing two days here two days there. In 1985, I played in Anoeta [9] before a big crowd. Intimacy definitely has been lost.

P.M.: Do you prefer night clubs or big places?

REGOLI: I prefer small places. In small places, you are very close to the audience and you can see the reaction of the people, you can spot easily those who are there only to talk.

There were many occasions when we played at Whiskey Jazz, and the audience silenced people that were talking instead of listening. In concerts performed in big places, there is a great electronic sound support, but there is not personal contact with the audience. In the small clubs after the show, you talked to people and made friends.

Regolí once also sang, when he was in Japan he gave concerts with twenty-minute demonstration of drum playing, in another occasion while visiting New Orleans on vacation at the mythic Bourbon Street, at The Court of Two Sisters Club, they lent him a set of drums to see how well he played. They gladly heard him for forty five minutes. Our talk continues remembering the lean years of jazz and many other aspects of this kind of music.

REGOLÍ.: In Japan I saw max Roach, playing in a theater. He had a very bad temper on stage. His band included: piano, bass, tenor sax and a female singer. His show was fantastic, there I learned ninety per cent more of what I knew about drum playing. The show started with a number including all the members, then all of them left except for the piano player, after that, the bass player started a new theme, at the middle of the song, Roach appeared to accompany him, after that song, the bass player left. And that was it, My God I exclaimed! this is what I was looking for, fortes…pianos…with great speed, whit ideas with phrases, everything incredible. When the sax player appeared something made Roach mad and he simply threw him out of the stage.

Regolí’s copies of his book “LA BATERÍA: Técnica, Independencia y ritmo, edited in 1966, are still sold. He was a member of the Faculty of The Conservatory, Pepe Nieto, who was one of his numerous pupils said once in an interview that Regolí was his only teacher, and that he even learned from him, during the many recording sessions they attended.

REGOLI: Pepe was very intelligent; he used to play the drums very well.

P.M.: Is he still playing?

REGOLI: No, he is more into composing movie scores. He won the Goya prize five times. He was not very talented technique wise, but had enough, to do very well what he tried.

P.M.: Well, now you are into classic music, better said , you never left it…

REGOLI: I went into classic music in 1970 when I joined The National Orchestra, before that I played classical music in recording sessions. At that moment I continued to play jazz and some days I almost could not sleep. I played some concerts real sleepy. So I had to leave first, the recordings and then jazz playing.

The afternoon is almost gone, we keep on talking about the lack of jazz programs on TV. We missed the Claudio Cifuentes show (Cifu for his friends) on the second chain of Spanish TV, program that was brought live from the Whiskey Jazz Club, at Diego de León Street.

Regolí gives me photographs for the scanner, and I take them as if they were a delicate baby, with the great care deserved by the best memories of a life.

And now, my friend Enrique, it is time for the great festivals … the global show. I say good bye to him, feeling I have lived again the magic of jazz, the illusion, the sentiment, the passion and the freedom of this music that helped me became a person. The afternoon falls upon the city and no one will play jazz in any club in Madrid tonight. These are other times, other times my friend.

[1] Street of Madrid.

[2] American base at Torrejón de Ardoz, near to Madrid.

[3] Street of Madrid.

[4] Hotel Hilton in Madrid.

[5] A Club in Madrid.

[6] The most important park in Madrid.

[7] Jazz Club in Madrid.

[8] Night Club in Madrid.

[9] Stadium in San Sebastián.

Enrique Llácer Regolí, was born in Alcoy (Alicante) right next to the Mediterranean, on June 20, 1934. He lives in Madrid, with his wife María Esther, his best fan. My gratitude to both, for their friendship, attentions and deference. So long dear friends…
Pedro Martínez (2001)

Versión en español

N. de R.: Este artículo ha sido reeditado en septiembre de 2017.

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