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HOME > Biographical > 100 New Yorkers of the 1970s > WESTSIDER CARLOS MONTOYA
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Master of the flamenco guitar


Carlos Montoya speaks two languages. The first is music; the other is Spanish. At 74, he is the world's most famous master of flamenco — the ancient folk music of the Spanish gypsies, which Montoya performs with dazzling speed and dexterity. On October 29 he will give a major concert at Avery Fisher Hall.

With more than 30 albums to his credit, Montoya is the most recorded flamenco guitarist in history. He is thoroughly committed to his instrument. It is not merely his living, but his life. He is a pure gypsy — "on all four sides," as the Spanish say. Maybe that explains why he likes to tour from January to May and from October to December every year, almost nonstop, across the U.S. and Canada, to South America, Europe and the Far East. He has been a Westsider since the 1940s and has rented the same Westside apartment since 1957. Yet when people ask Montoya where he lives, he is likely to reply, "On airplanes."

An American citizen for more than 30 years, he is perhaps the first persons ever to acquire citizenship after answering "no" to the question, "Do you like the American form of government?" Because of his poor English, he had misunderstood the query. He corrected himself, and that night played for President Harry Truman.

Montoya's wife, Sally, is his steady helpmate. Since their marriage in 1940, she has been his manager, interpreter and best friend. He still speaks little English, so interviews with him are often ponderous three way affairs. When I arrived at the Montoyas' residence late one morning, he was very polite, but eager to get the interview over with. "Vamos," he said. His demeanor changed when he discovered that I was able to understand his crisp, precise Spanish when spoken slowly. We quickly dispensed with the interpreter.

Does he consider flamenco to be the highest art attainable on the guitar? Sitting upright in an overstuffed chair, he smiled benignly and said, "Not all the flamenco guitarists are artists. There are many guitarists, but in the world there are only two or three artists on the flamenco guitar. … Most musicians are technicians. I think that to play flamenco as it should be played, you have to be an artist. The music is either very bad or very good. People who hear the performance may applaud both the technician and the artist. But afterward, if the performer was not an artist, they forget what they have heard."

The smile remained on his face, and he began to use his hands with much expression as he continued. "I carry the music inside me. I want to touch inside the heart of the public. That's what I always aim for. My mu............
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