TONI BELENGUER (1975 -2020)

Since I was eight years old, when I started rehearsing in my father’s orchestra, I started to learn other musical styles. I was in a brass band, which here in Valencia is very typical. I was also in a Heavy Metal band. Later, I formed a ‘Metal’ trio and then a Jazz group. It was a bit of an odd progression, really.

Something that has influenced me a lot has been heavy metal. I was a guitarist, and there is a very specific way of playing in that style: the power chords. You play the tonic and the fifth.Those chords are very powerful. There were more commercial bands like Def Leppard that freaked me out and I knew all the songs. Then there were hardcore groups like Napalm Death. These people started to make some combinations of chords that were scary. I learned a lot about the tritones, the augmented chords.Then you hear all that music and then you go to jazz and you start learning harmony and that’s when you start classifying that kind of thing and it’s amazing. I was also influenced as a child by soundtracks: Danny Elfman, John Williams and more..

Once I got into jazz the first influence I had was the ‘Latino Blanco’ influence, I went to a class of his and was amazed at how well he played the saxophone. Later, in a Clint Eastwood movie about Charlie Parker, I saw a saxophonist that played hundreds of notes and I was very impressed and I thought, how can you play like that? And well, of course, I was influenced by Ramón Cardo and of course by Perico Sambeat. Let’s say that listening to this type of music is so non-diatonic. Diatonism is already a pretty ordered way of playing, isn’t it? And for me this orderly thing doesn’t say much to me. There are people who want order in their lives and nothing else, and it’s very respectable…but it is not for me. What I have heard that I have not been able to analyze, because its logic escapes me…that is what attracts me the most. It has more magic.

When I was a child my father said to me:“Hey, take up the trombone as there is virtually no one who plays that instrument.” I played it when I was nine years old and I was so small that I didn’t reach the last position. My father, being a locksmith, made me a device to get to seventh position, but I went through everything and started playing the euphonium (Baby Tuba), which turned out to be very big for me. So, after a while, i left the Baby Tuba for the guitar, which was what I liked the most… because of the recognition by my colleagues, who would say admiringly:“Hey, my mate Toni is a metal guitarist.” (Laughs)

I then returned to the trombone, applying what I knew about the guitar, like virtuosity, to a metal tube of sorts. I’m actually a frustrated guitarist… very frustrated, you know? The tuning of the strings E, A, D, G, B, E… The passage from G to B, that’s what made me leave the guitar.

I think that what I base it on is that things escape my logic because it’s out of the ordinary. If you see 50 people all walking in the same direction and suddenly another one comes running in the opposite direction, it’s like playing notes that don’t fit in the scale and managing to square them. Besides, there’s also the good vibe: there are people who compose as if the world were going to end, which is why I left ‘Metal’ behind, right? It’s dark music, essentially… and I think that my way of playing can often be the opposite of that. There is a very good feeling, even though there are times when you have to generate that darker feeling, a little bit for the public…so that they can freak out at a given moment.

Rhythmically it is clear, you don’t have to always abide to the metronome, you have to deal with it, you have to feel the time. There are people that you see walking in the street and they are walking metronomes and other people that are very arrhythmic, that can be perceived in a lot of things in life.

Technically, with the trombone there is a thing called “flexibility”. If you notice, a trombone only has seven positions, not like a piano that has a lot of visual notes, and in each position there are different notes. So you study something in Spanish called “flexibilidad”, and I would tell all trombonists to pass on that. Let flexibility be the means and not the end.

The term “virtuoso” covers a lot of range; one can be virtuoso in playing fast, another can be virtuoso in playing slow, and another can be virtuoso in style. I think that many times I confuse the illness… this “guitarist-like” way of playing very fast, that becomes a challenge to the trombonist. There are very few trombonists that know how to play the trombone at real speed, it is hallucinatory, a crazy thing and that attracts me, but me being a virtuoso … I do not think so. I try, maybe someday I will be a virtuoso in style and such, but you have to play fast in time and accentuate everything… it’s a whole world. In the end, I think everything comes out of the mouth via the the stomach…

You put “virtuoso guitarist” on YouTube and you get about two hundred million videos, including kids eighteen and under who play…and are incredible. Instead you look for “virtuoso trombonist” and it’s a little more like American culture, at least in my field. Why? Because there’s also the Classical virtuoso trombonist, who plays everything perfectly and then there’s the Jazz virtuoso, who plays not everything perfectly but everything! Perfect in his own way, right?

Everyone can tell you one thing, but from my point of view I compose things that I would like to hear later. I get the point in composing when there is something in the subject that I can’t analyze. When that happens, it is a magical moment; if everything sounds conventional, it can be analyzed, I can enjoy the order of things but not at the same level as when the sound of the music escapes me, which becomes the point of reference in almost all my compositions. Then, the more I study, the more the sounds become obsolete…and I have to make more songs. The magic, as you study, it is more difficult to find…

That magic has to stay. When you learnt to play ‘Blues’ you think “Hey, these notes are magic!” Then someone comes along and takes away all the mystery by saying: “No, that is a flatted fifth …” and you think “Man…Shut the fuck up! Do not wake me up from this most magical of dreams!” . But well, let’s say that this magic is discovered in other places. No longer in the harmony but in the tempo. The tempo is something really special in terms of its possibilities and being played around with or respecting “it” from the beginning to the end of a particular song. It’s probably best when its organic, in terms of feel… and serves the tune too.

I am flirting with the avant-garde from the very beginning…but I think I am going backwards…studying where everything was generated. I think everything is in the language of Bop. There’s like a distribution of the notes, a hierarchy, which is like a chess game. Balance and fluidity. It’s like a waterfall that goes down where the stones take you, and that’s a bit like the flow of Jazz. If you start playing without knowing the language, the water still levitates or makes jumps that are not current, it doesn’t flow well. That’s why I’m going more and more to the root… And then I’ll come back; it’s a two-way street.

In fact, I can only talk about music. I want people to wake up to the rhythm. To make the public an accomplice with the musician, to generate a language that allows them to share those sounds and to bring joy. Because music is an energy that gives happiness. And what I want is to take the audience with me and let them go through areas that they are not used to, let them be surprised and feel like dancing. Every time I play, I trust the therapeutic work of music and rhythm. It seems like there are those who want to fix us with pills. They don’t realize that, with music and art, they can achieve much more.

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