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SPANISH CLASSIC MAGIC: Andrés Segovia’s work as a composer has never been celebrated—until now. Scott Tennant reveals the charmed circumstances that brought him together with a Segovia guitar and the master’s unheard songs.
By Mac Randall | Photos by Kevin Scanlon
In 1974 when Scott Tennant was 12 years old, his mother took him to see the Spanish classical guitarist Andrés Segovia at Detroit’s Masonic Auditorium. Tennant, who’d already been playing guitar for six years, was well aware of Segovia’s superstar reputation as the man who’d done more than anyone in the 20th century to legitimize the guitar as a classical instrument, and he was thrilled to witness the master in concert. The thrill increased after the show, when he received a brief audience with Segovia.
“My mom was very good at getting us backstage,” Tennant recalls. “She’d say, ‘Oh, this is my son!’ and the stage hand would look at her and go, ‘Okay, let her by. She’s got a kid.’ It was a little embarrassing at times. But I did get Segovia’s autograph.”
It’s difficult to verify precisely what guitar Segovia was playing that night in Detroit, but circumstantial evidence suggests that it was his principal concert instrument for more than a decade: a 1969 José Ramírez 1A with cedar top and Brazilian rosewood back and sides bearing the internal stamp AM for Antonio Martínez, one of the Madrid shop’s most venerated luthiers. More than four decades later, through a confluence of events that scarcely seems believable, that same Ramírez has ended up in the hands of Tennant—now one of the world’s top classical guitarists—to be played on the recording sessions for an album paying tribute to Segovia. And the nature of that tribute makes the instrument’s use all the more fitting, for Tennant isn’t celebrating the virtuoso interpreter of others’ material that most know Segovia to be. Instead, he’s presenting a side of the maestro that the world hardly knows: Segovia the composer.
The roots of this ambitious project go back to the third and final time that Tennant was in Segovia’s presence. It was the latter’s 1986 master class at the University of Southern California, during which Tennant played the only Segovia composition he was aware of at the time, “Estudio Sin Luz” (Study Without Light). “Segovia gave me some advice after I played it for him,” Tennant remembers, “and then he said, ‘Now, please, suppress this.’ Meaning put it away because it’s not very good. That was the last thing I expected him, of all people, to say. Segovia was a person who…well, let’s say he didn’t have many self-worth issues. But one thing that he was humble about was composing.”
As the years went by, Tennant learned of more Segovia compositions. Some were only played a handful of times in concert; most had never been recorded or published. “For a long time, my perception of Segovia the composer was limited to ‘Estudio Sin Luz,’” Tennant says, “but the more pieces I heard, the more my admiration increased. He was very skilled. I’m surprised that he didn’t promote his own music more, but I suppose it was more a personal thing for him, a way of getting things off his chest. Several years ago, the thought came to me of recording an album of his work on one of his old guitars that had come through town, a Hermann Hauser. But it buzzed a lot, and I couldn’t settle on a place to record, so I scrapped that idea.”
This is where David Collett enters our story. He’s the president of Guitar Salon International (GSI) in Santa Monica, California, one of the world’s premier dealers of classical and flamenco guitars. Last year, his shop acquired a group of 63 historically significant guitars from collector Russell Cleveland that were featured in the limited-edition coffee-table book, The Classical Guitar Book: A Complete History. One of them was Segovia’s 1969 Ramírez. “We’re not sure whether he ever used that guitar in the studio,” Collett says, “but we do have documentation of it being used a lot in concert. He sent it back to Ramírez in 1980. They had to refinish the neck because he’d played it so much.” Although the refinishing was done expertly, Segovia never reclaimed the guitar. Instead, it was sold off, eventually entering Cleveland’s possession.
“It took three weeks for us just to change all the strings on the Cleveland guitars,” Collett reports. “We were still evaluating them when Scott Tennant called us up. He’d heard about the sale and wanted to check out the collection. Just before Thanksgiving, he paid us a visit. I hadn’t even thought of showing him the Ramírez, and I had to leave before he tried it out, but he sent me an email the next day. I’m quoting from it right now: ‘I’ve played so many Ramírezes, but in that ’69 I found a guitar I could play for the rest of my life.’”
“That’s true,” Tennant says. “It felt like we fit together somehow, like I’d found a lost friend. There’s some kind of DNA connection there. This may sound like I’m explaining a cologne, but you can hear the character of the wood in the sound of the guitar, which is really the way it should be. There’s a lot of depth and dimension. As opposed to just any old Ramírez guitar, this one has a personal stamp on it. ”
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