Tuesday, March 17, 2015

RIP Juan Claudio Cifuentes, 'Cifu' (1941-2015)

(For once, this entry is not a parallel translation of its Spanish sister)

After all the arguments and bickering — which, yes, it's better than many other things, but we could do without most of it, really — there is something about intense music fandom, including jazz, that benefits your health. Case in point would be the dean of Spanish jazz commentators, Cifu who, even as a septuagenarian and having survived two cancers, never lost the enthusiasm for the music. I would introduce him to new, unknown, talent with zero commercial value, and, if he liked it, he would push it harder than Samson in the temple. Last time we spoke, it was about Gigi Gryce and his looking forward to doing a series of programmes with the complete recordings of Artie Shaw and His Gramercy Five. We never got around to finishing it.

Cifu by Jaime Massieu, October 2014

Cifu is how friends called Juan Claudio Cifuentes de Benito, who's died earlier today, having suffered a stroke last week. He was husband, father, grandfather, friend... but for a gigantic amount of people in Spain and beyond he was the face and voice of jazz, judging from the reaction in social media (and he didn't even like computers).

(A todo Jazz — theme)

Born in Paris on April 20th, 1941 — his parents fled Spain after the Civil War — he enjoyed the jazz riches of the city in the 1950s, when all major jazz stars coming to Europe would play there, or even stay months, years, or the rest of their lives. This episode ended, after his first university year, when he and his family moved back to Spain. Being neighbouring countries, they could not have stood further apart. Sartre, the recently departed Sidney Bechet and Boris Vian, Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke... against Franco's Spain. More time travel than plain travel.

(Jazz porque sí — theme)

After a hilarious episode trying to buy a drum and cymbals kit in Madrid at the time — "A what?!" — it didn't take him long to join in with other jazz fans, take part in fan magazine Aria Jazz, and, after dropping his law studies, thanks to his fluency in English and French, he started working in the record industry.

In 1971, when the FM was starting in Spain, he began doing his programme Jazz Porque Sí ("Jazz Because", no pun in Spanish), which has been going with no breaks until tonight, when public station RNE-Radio Clásica will broadcast the last show he taped (at midnight in Madrid, Spain, UTC+1).

Lately he'd been doing four one-hour shows per week, two on Radio Clásica and two on its sister youth channel Radio-3, as A Todo Jazz, where he was the oldest host. From our vantage point it is hard to believe he was offered and hosted a TV show, from 1984 to 1991 — when it was cancelled for reasons yet unclear — with plenty of live music and some very good archive programmes.

The constant presence on the radio — the show kept the name but went through a good half-dozen stations — and especially on television, opened the door to jazz for many of us in Spain. The outpour of affection for him in the last few hours shows we are indeed many, possibly more than some thought. He also worked on an encyclopedia in installments (El Gran Jazz), translated and adapted Arnaud and Chesnel's Les Grands Createurs de Jazz (the first reference book for many — mine was photocopied), did the first edition of Spain's Professional Guide to Jazz, wrote liner notes, introduced many musicians...

(Introducción de Jazz entre amigos — intro)

Regarding his musical preferences, he didn't sail too far from the orthodoxy, especially in latter years, and who could blame him for it, but he pushed for young and local talent — the way so many Spanish musicians speak of him bears testimony to that.

He is already missed.

Rest in peace.

(Jazz entre amigos — theme)

Obituaries (in Spanish): El País, Cuadernos de Jazz and El Mundo.

Links (in Spanish):
  • Wikipedia, a good biography.
  • "His" blog Cifujazz (run by the family) expands on the Wiki entry.
  • The archive of A Todo Jazz (RNE-Radio 3) is here (656* programmes).
  • And for Jazz Porque Sí (RNE-Radio Clásica), go here (844* programmes).
  • More Jazz Porque Sí, as Jazz Internacional, here (25* programmes).
  • Complete list of available programmes of Jazz Entre Amigos (TVE) here
  • YouTube playlist with Cifu's theme tunes and jazz from his Paris (and around). 
* As of 30 March 2015.

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