Connect with us

Artist Features

JGT Interview With One of Spain’s Finest Gypsy Jazz Guitarists



Jazz Guitar Today contributor Joe Barth talks with gypsy jazz guitarist Pere Soto.

Photo credit: Quim Castilla

Pere Soto’s musical life is divided in three ways.  He is an outstanding jazz guitarist who most often performs in gypsy-jazz ensembles.  He is also an excellent composer of both jazz and serious classical compositions with over a thousand compositions, as well as a music producer with his own recording studio. He keeps an active performing schedule from both Mexico and Spain where he has homes.

JB: You were born in Badalona, Spain, did you start with flamenco guitar, and what inspired you to play gypsy-jazz guitar?

PS: I was indeed born in Badalona, Catalonia, Spain, but my musical preferences have always leaned towards blues, rock, pop, and Brazilian music rather than flamenco. At the age of 14 or 15, I came across the Blue Drag album by the Hot Club of France, which introduced me to the mesmerizing guitar skills of Django Reinhardt.

JB:  What was most helpful in the development of your technique?

PS:  There are several factors that contribute to my improvement in execution technique, making this question quite challenging. One crucial aspect is the process of transcribing records and the personal exploration of how to play them on my instrument. This compels me to find fingerings that are most suitable for my hand and mental agility. During that period, transcriptions were solely done by ear, utilizing radios, cassette players, and vinyl records, all in real time.

JB: To you, what are three of the most influential jazz and/or gypsy-jazz guitar albums and why?

PS:  1. The live recording of Barney Kessel’s “Just Friends” at Guldhatten in 1973 left a lasting impression on me when I first heard it at a music club. As someone who had primarily played blues and rhythm blues, I was captivated by the new phrases, harmonies, and incredible swing that this LP offered. Recently, I set out to transcribe Kessel’s solo as a personal challenge, which you can find here on YouTube.

The release of Virtuoso by Joe Pass in 1973 was a momentous occasion for me. After being influenced by the greats like Django Reinhardt and Barney Kessel, discovering Joe Pass was a true revelation. I vividly recall the exhilaration when a friend called me, urging me to come to listen to the exceptional skills of this incredible guitar player.

 My life took a powerful turn when I encountered Shakti of guitarist John McLaughlin at the young age of 25. It introduced me to a whole new realm of guitar playing, showcasing virtuosity in its purest form. This experience led me to explore a melodic concept that diverged from Jazz while still retaining its core essence.

JB:  You have worked with such great American jazzmen as trumpeter Dave Douglas, saxophonist Dave Liebman, and drummer Jeff Ballard.  Did you play gypsy-jazz style with them? 

 PS:  No, no at all.  We played and recorded my own original music, and music from my partner in music Bill Gerhardt. 

JB:  You are on a number of CDs as either a sideman or leader.  Talk about one CD by your group Django’s Castle and one of your Remisotopos CDs.

PS:  Django’s Castle’s Nuages CD – While living between Barcelona (Catalonia, Spain) and Amsterdam (Holland), in addition to playing jazz, free jazz, and also European improvised music, I always enjoyed playing some Django Reinhardt songs on my acoustic guitar. When I returned to my country around the year 2000, I found that there were already musicians playing the gypsy style, and I decided that it was the right time for me to form a group. As a result, Django’s Castle was formed, and their first album, Nuages, was released. As soon as we released the album, we had a great deal of success in the country as well as in England. Every year, we participated in the Birmingham Jazz Festival and sold many records, which then enabled us to produce more albums. This lasted several years.

Remisotopos CD – On my initial trip to Mexico, I had the honor of attending the premiere of my String Quartet No. 2, performed by the esteemed Cuarteto de la Ciudad de Mexico. While there, I had the pleasure of meeting Remi Alvarez, a highly acclaimed Mexican musician known for his expertise in improvised music on the saxophone and flute. We organized a recording session in the studio, which served as the foundation for the debut album of Remisotopos. The name Remisotopos was inspired by combining Remi with my second name, Soto, and symbolizes the radioactive essence of the music through the use of the term “isotope.”

JB:  You have performed with guitarist John Stowell.  Talk about John’s impact on your playing.

PS:  Upon meeting John in Portland, Oregon, I was immediately impressed by his unique and personal approach to harmony, as well as his impeccable timing and melodic sensibility. Unlike other famous guitarists who can be difficult to approach, John was incredibly accessible and always willing to share his knowledge. I was particularly struck by his humility, as he expressed a desire to learn the style of gypsy jazz from me despite his already established reputation in the international music scene. Resuming I can say; that my timing has improved, and the way I attack certain phrases with long intervals has been forever embedded in my improvisational language, thanks to him.

Pere Soto Photo credit: Antonio Porcar

JB: I have seen you play a Selmer-style guitar and then later on a nylon string with a pick. Talk about the guitars you use.

PS:  I have a collection of guitars in both Mexico and Spain to avoid any travel complications. In Spain, I own a left-handed 1974 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe, a 1977 Jacques Favino left-handed gypsy guitar, as well as other guitars such as a Martin 12-string acoustic and a nylon flamenco guitar made by Martinez in 2013, which was manufactured in China. In Mexico, I have my left-handed Steinberger guitar from the M series, a left-handed Picado gypsy guitar from 2002 (model Pere Soto), and a nylon guitar made in California.

JB:  How do you amplify your guitars?

PS:  I utilize two different systems for my acoustic gypsy jazz guitars, depending on the concert sound system. One system I use is the Paris Stimer pickup, specifically the Django Reinhardt model. Additionally, I rely on the audio technical AT831b miniature cardioid condenser microphone. As for the nylon guitars, they have their own built-in pickup, just like the electric guitars. About amps: I use a Roland Acoustic Chorus AC-60 for my Gibson Les Paul while an old Electroacoustic Vox for my Steinberger guitar.

JB:  Talk briefly about your composing of classical music.

PS:  From my earliest encounters with composition, nothing excited me quite like Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. This masterpiece opened my eyes to an awe-inspiring world of counterpoint and countless other musical innovations. Not only did it ignite my passion, but it also sparked a profound existential and spiritual awakening, transporting me into a vast musical universe. Suddenly, my guitar felt too small, beckoning me to explore orchestral and chamber music. Thus, I embarked on a journey of writing for classical guitar, baroque guitar, string quartets, harp, and more. I diligently studied and immersed myself in scores from the classical era to the 20th century, finding inspiration from illustrious composers such as Mozart, J.S. Bach, Giuseppe Verdi, Oliver Messiaen, Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, Charles Ives, and countless others.

JB:  You live in both Spain and Mexico as a gigging musician, talk about the jazz scenes in both countries.

PS:  Spain has experienced significant growth in its jazz scene in recent years, largely attributed to cultural exchange with other European countries and the influence of North American musicians, particularly those from New York. This growth has led to the establishment of numerous jazz schools, resulting in the emergence of highly skilled students. In contrast, Mexico’s jazz scene is primarily concentrated in Mexico City, although smaller local scenes like San Miguel de Allende and Jalapa also exist. The city boasts a talented pool of jazz musicians, predominantly from younger generations.

JB:  If American guitarists wanted to do gigs in either Mexico or Spain, what advice would you give them?

PS:  Plan a trip to explore the country and seek out opportunities to join jam sessions, attend concerts, and other events where musicians gather. Approach each performance as if you were playing at Carnegie Hall, and you may make valuable connections and friendships that could lead to future opportunities.

Subscribe to Jazz Guitar Today – it’s FREE!

Continue Reading

Featured Luthiers