I don’t remember exactly when I first became aware of Gonzalo. But I would guess that my first exposure to him was about 16 years ago when a buddy gifted me a copy of “Concatenacion” . Being a frustrated musician since the age of 5 , I had by then (aged 36 or so) developed a good sense for recognizing great artistry, and boy was I blown away. (I thank God that I have been able to develop my musical mind to a point where I can appreciate rarified and enlightened music). Music appreciation is a gift. Finding your way “into” beautiful and intricate music is one of the most fulfilling adventures I have come to know. It may be a form of communication that is potentially more profound than the spoken word. The emotions a world-class musician can convey through an instrument are nothing short of divine. (This is why cultural education is so essential to our sharing and enjoying divine things like music to the fullest). Not many can do it quite as well as Gonzalo. Being half-cuban, I quickly developed a sense of great pride in Gonzalo as I dug into his music. I began to recognize him as one of the world’s best ever. Needless to say, since that time I have bought every disc Gonzalo has recorded or been involved with. I love everything he has ever done. He always “brings it”. And the “It” is always getting better and better….
One of the things that I have always lamented about when listening to certain musicians over time is an eventual end to their development. I often wonder why this happens. Is it a lack of inspiration, discipline, talent or curiosity that causes this? Or is it a satisfaction with ones level of development that removes the desire to grow? Or maybe gradual and continued development is only graced upon the greats? Of course I have always had great respect for anyone with the CoJohns to get up and play for a crowd of people. I appreciate many great musicians in all Genres. I openly confess to loving some iconic musicians that go back to my childhood but haven’t done much that you would consider fresh and new. But there are few musicians that constantly keep you on the edge of your seat waiting to hear what new sounds they are developing. They are constantly getting better, just when you think it’s not possible, year after year over 10’s of years ….. Gonzalo is one of the very few amazing talents on this earth that continues to absorb, refine, develop, reflect….. and deliver an ever-evolving sound that is nothing short of divine.
Soon after discovering Gonzalo, I started to actively seek-out his concerts. To my disappointment, he never seemed to be playing anywhere in the states. One evening in early 2010 I grabbed my MacBook and started searching for “Gonzalo” news. To my shock, I stumbled upon a “Ticket Alternative” post claiming that the great Gonzalo Rubalcaba and his other-worldly quintet were set to play a concert in Homestead, Florida. Tickets now on sale…. HOMESTEAD? Surely this had to be a joke. The next morning I contacted “The Ticket Alternative” and asked them several times if they were sure that this was Gonzalo Rubalcaba we were speaking of. They confirmed it, so I bought 20 tickets……
…..and invited some of my co-workers (the ones with “ears”) to the concert, explaining that we were going to see and hear something to remember for a lifetime. Among the group of invitees was a co-worker by the name of Julian, a Cuban gentleman who quickly pointed out that he knew Gonzalo and his wife Maria personally. He claimed to have grown up with them in Cuba and was best friends with Gonzalo’s cousin Richard. Julian said that he would call Maria to see if she could arrange for back-stage passes. I thought O.K.?…. Homestead, Gonzalo Rubalcaba Quintet, Backstage Passes….. I wasn’t believing my ears ……but just went along with it…..
The night of the show, we showed up at an unlikely facility known as the EBS Auditorium way out in the middle of Homestead, Florida. The place frankly seemed out-of-character for a talent like Gonzalo, (but we soon found the sound and presentation to be top notch). We checked in at the front counter as instructed by Julian, who sadly couldn’t join us due to minor surgery, but had arranged to get us the backstage passes. BANG!, the woman at the counter handed me an envelope with 10 backstage passes….
The band made their entrance promptly at 8PM. They all wore suits, and once they started to play, we were all blown away. I sat there thinking that seeing this quintet live, was no less exciting and important than perhaps having experienced Miles Davis and his famous “second quintet”, with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams back in the early 60’s. This quintet carried themselves with the same dignity and demonstrated the same respect for their music as did Miles’ group. For my money, it was just as historic. The music was wicked good…..
The music ended too soon. We made a beeline for the green room. Madness. So many people were lined up to greet Gonzalo, hugging , kissing ….. that I felt out of place and that we should split, and leave him in peace with his friends and family. But as fate would have it, I was able to shake his hand, he signed a piano key for me from an old Yamaha C7, I told him he was “una bestia”, and then we took off. The minute I got home, I sat down to my piano and tried in vain to play something intelligent….. No matter, I was happy to have met Gonzalo.
The next day, Friday, Julian came up to my office and said, “What Happened? Gonzalo wanted to talk to you and the folks you brought to the concert and you took off…” “They were looking for you in the parking lot and you had all gone”… “Gonzalo wants to come meet you and see Gables Engineering, (the Avionics company where I have worked for over 20 years)…. an maybe have lunch, etc….” I was thrilled!… (Gonzalo loves airplanes and cars, and Gonzalo was told by Julian that Gables Engineering was a wonderful, family oriented place and that we actually manufactured great electronic products for the Aviation industry…)
A week or so passed and Gonzalo came to Gables with his beautiful wife Maria, and we gave them a tour and had a great lunch in the Gables. I was thrilled, we talked about music ,watches, airplanes , cars and funky shoes and had a great time. In the midst of our conversations and for a brief moment, Gonzalo mentioned that although he was still under contract with Blue Note Records, that he felt that “going independent” was inevitable. Although EMI and Blue Note had treated him extremely well over the years, the recent turmoil in the record industry was making an independent effort more and more necessary and inevitable. After a bit more conversation, we decided to call it a day, we said our goodbyes, and off we went.
Saturday morning, I woke up kicking myself in the rear. I don’t know what happened to my brain, but the minute Gonzalo mentioned the business about going independent, my brain went dead….I should have told Gonzalo right then and there that I was very interested in helping with the independent record label concept. I kicked myself out of bed and tried to figure out how to get a message to Gonzalo directly, to see if he could spare a few minutes in order for me to make my pitch. Luckily a few days later, he sent me a message wishing me a happy birthday. I thanked him and expressed a desire to speak to him about the record label concept. He wrote back saying that he was about to leave on tour, and that we should get together for lunch when he came back to talk face-to-face.
Upon his return, we had a late lunch at Randazzo’s in the Gables. On that day, 5Passion was born.