Artist Profiles: Tomatito

Tomatito – Photo by Mario Pacheco

José Fernández Torres, son of Tomate (tomato) and grandson of Miguel Tomate, has taken the Flamenco nickname of Tomatito, the little tomato.

He was born in Almería in 1958, in southeastern Spain, surrounded by Flamenco guitars and the influence of his father and grandfather who were both accomplished musicians. As if this wasn’t enough, he is the nephew of the legendary tocaor (guitar player) Niño Miguel.

When he was 12 years old Tomatito moved from Almería to the southern city of Málaga, where he started his musical career playing in tablaos (flamenco nightclubs). It was at the famous Taberna gitana where Tomatito met two flamenco legends, guitarist Paco de Lucia and singer Camaron de la Isla, at the age of 15. Camaron, then 24, liked Tomatito’s guitar playing style and asked him to play with him.

Tomatito had to get his family’s approval to become Camaron’s accompanist. He was still a teenager and Camaron’s tours traveled the whole world. His father finally gave him permission. A few years later, when Paco de Lucia quit playing with Camaron, Tomatito and Camaron became the perfect duo, giving passionate fiery performances. Until Camaron’s death, they never separated from each other.

Tomatito with Camarón – Photo by Mario Pacheco

Camaron’s tragic death in 1992 was a serious blow to Tomatito. They had performed together for 20 years and Tomatito’s career was directly associated with the legendary singer. His first thought was to quit making music to become a traveling merchant, like many other Gypsies. Tomatito was not confident that the Flamenco fans were still interested in him and he was ready to quit forever. But one day he got a call from a promoter that asked him to be the opening act for Elton John’s Spanish tour in 1992. Camaron’s death was still fresh in his memory and Tomatito was uneasy about playing in such a large stage since he had never played as a soloist before. But he made up his mind and the audience’s response was very positive. Tomatito was offered more gigs and his confidence grew, becoming comfortable as a soloist with a unique guitar style.

Tomatito – Photo by Manuel Rodriguez

Tomatito has recorded several solo CDs and collaborations with Dominican jazz pianist Michel Camilo. He also appears as guest on numerous Flamenco albums. In addition to recording and performing, Tomatito has also participated in several motion picture scores. He appeared in the movie Devil’s Advocate and composed music for the German film “Bin Inch Schoen” directed by Doris Doerrie. He is also an avid collector of world music and jazz.

Tomatito has become a soloist of major significance within the realm of the Flamenco guitar. His particular approach to both the traditional and festive forms highlights his unprecedented musical sensitivity and interpretative power. Young singers line up to record an album with him and young guitarists sweat on his falsetas. He is one of the pioneers of modern flamenco and considers flamenco to be an open kind of music. “But flamenco can’t go in other directions, because then it stops being flamenco.”

The Tomatito family tradition continued on his 2001 release, Paseo de los Castaños. It features one of Tomatito’s five daughters, María Angeles, a 13 year old at the time, who did some of the singing. Tomatito returned to his flamenco roots, playing tangos, soleá, bulerías and a taranta, but his world music interests were still present with a Turkish song, an Argentine tango chord in of his soleás and a rumba accompanied by American jazz musician George Benson.

By themselves, pianist Michel Camilo and Tomatito represent the best of their instruments, combining unmatched technical ability with natural musical sensibility. As a duo, they create music that blends jazz-infused sounds of the Caribbean with the flamenco music of Spain.

The first meeting between the two musicians was at a recording session in the early 199s. In 1998, the Barcelona Jazz Festival asked the duo to perform a duet tribute to the late Spanish hard bop pianist Tete Montoliu. By the end of 1999, they had played over forty concerts together, and soon a studio album was made. The album, Spain, received much critical acclaim, and was followed up in 25 by the successful Spain Again (released in 2006 the United States).

Recording the new album proved to be exciting for Camilo: “It gave me so much joy to see that the magic is still there after all these years.”

Camilo noted that he was thrilled to see how they both have evolved as artists. “The musical horizons we travel together on this recording are close to our hearts. It was so amazing to see how after we shared our personal feelings for each song, we simply enjoyed the self-discovery process by letting the music tell us where it wanted to flow.” The eleven track album includes original compositions, a tribute to Astor Piazzolla, jazz standards and a collaboration with renowned singer/songwriter Juan Luis Guerra on “Amor de Conuco.”

Spain Forever (Universal Music Spain) was released in 2016. The duo recorded tributes to their favorite artists such as Brazilian guitarist and composer Egberto Gismonti, bassist Charlie Haden, Astor Piazzolla, Erik Satie, Ennio Morricone, Django Reinhardt, and a few others.

Discography:

Rosas del Amor (Hispavox, 1987)

Barrio Negro (Nuevos Medios, 1991)

Guitarra Gitana (Nuevos Medios, 1996)

Spain, with Michel Camilo (Polygram, 2000)

Paseo de los Castaños (Universal Music, 2001)

Aguadulce (Universal Music, 2004)

Spain Again, with Michel Camilo (Decca, 2005)

El Guitarrazo, with Luis Salinas and Lucho Gonzalez (2007)

Anthology, 2CD compilation (Emarcy, 2008)

Sonanta Suite, with Josep Pons (2010)

Soy Flamenco (2013)

Spain Forever (Universal Music Spain/Verve, 2016)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.

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