"Chicano writers from El Paso are the most progressive, open-minded, far-reaching, and inclusive writers of them all."

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Remembering el Maestro Aquiles Valdez Ortiz (1933 - 2010)




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Remembering A
Maestro Aquiles Valdez Ortiz
(1933 - 2010)
One of Mexico's Greatest Guitarists

by Raymundo Eli Rojas

Former instructor at the University of Texas at El Paso, the Universidad Autonoma de Cd. Juarez, the Instituto Tecnologico de Cd. Juarez, and most recently La Guitarra School of Music (El Paso), Aquiles Valdez Ortiz passed away in early June of this year.

He was the victim of an attack in Cd. Juarez, Chihuahua in late May 2010. From what I hear he was carjacked and assaulted and later died of his injuries, a victim of the ever-present violence Cd. Juarez now faces. READ NEWS STORY.

Mario Otero, one of El Paso best guitarists and recording artist, called Aquiles Valdez "one of the greatest guitarist in the Southwest."




In the many years Valdez was at UTEP, he instructed and mentored many of the region blossoming classical guitarists. He was also the leader of the Rondalla and the mariachi class at UTEP.

I first met Aquilles my junior year in high school when I was assisting the UTEP mariachi. The guitarist in the group marvelled at Aquiles. One told me how Aquiles was listed in musical dictionaries and dictionaries of artists.

Many a times, my friends and I would visit Aquiles office at UTEP. He instructed many of my friends. If you hung out with Maestro Aquiles, you were probably the victim of a volley of jokes and chistes, from the joke of "Juan Caca" to an arsenal of chistes that Achilles would tell.

Aquilles was short man and he would always sport guayaberas. I remember many of the rockers guitarists that later became music majors, lovingly and humorously called Achilles "Mr. Spacely" due to his resemblance to The Jetson's character Cosmo Spacely. This was more out of love as Aquiles differed greatly from the despotic boss of George Jetson.




Aquiles Valdez Ortiz was born in Nov. 1933 in Jerez, Zacatecas, Mexico. He began playing the guitar at 7 years of age under the instruction of his father. Aquiles brother was also an accomplished musician on the violin.

In the last six decades Aquiles interpreted many styles of music from jazz to classical music. In 1965, he performed at the Concierto en Re Mayor para Guitarra y Orquestra de M. Castelnuevo-Tedesco, with the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra becoming the first Mexican guitarist to interpret this piece.

""In 1969, he served as arranger when the Casa Ricordi of Buenos Aires, Argentina, edited his first classical guitar arrangements; La Reilera. In 1976, he was invited by the Ofecina Panamericana de Salud to perform in Washington D.C. before the Latin American ambassadors. In 1991, he was commission ed by the Government of Jerez, Zacatecas, to compose a suite in homage of the great Mexican poet Ramon Lopez Valarde, which was premiered and edited the following year."  --- Liner notes to Mi Guitarra, Achiles Vadlez Ortiz.

Maestro Aquiles had played on soundtracks to films along with Mexican song writing great Manuel Esperon.

I remember one time when my understaning of different Latin American musical genres was just blossoming, we were sitting in the Fox Fine Arts Center at UTEP asking Aquiles to play various genres.

Songs that would usually take a full orchestra to perfrom, Achiles played them. "Como se toca una chacha," we'd ask and he would play one. If I remember it was, "Dile a su mama vamos a cha cha cha."  He showed us a samba, a pasodoble, a danzon, among others.

I was among the many who was pissed off when Aquiles' contract with UTEP was not renewed as supposedly not having the credentials of a U.S.-trained musician, and adding to the ever growing whiteness of UTEP's faculty. This was in the aftermath of the passing of Abraham Chavez, who not withstanding his own criticism, served as a bulwork against the those in UTEP's White musical academia who wanted to rid the department of Mexicano instructors.




El Paso has produced many fine guitarist and to find one who has not studied under Aquiles Valdez would be difficult. He was a mentor to El Paso's musical youth.

In the tradition of Manuel Ponce and Mexican guitarist Antonio Bribiesca, Aquiles arranged many classic Mexican songs into classical pieces: Ponce's "La Orilla de un Palmar," Gamiz' "La Barca de Oro," Jose Manuel Esperon's "No Volvere," "La Chancla," Jose Alfredo Jimenez' "Un Mundo Raro," and even Ruben Fuentes' "La Bikina. Of all the contemporary guitarist who tried to emulate the style of Antonio Bribiesca, though a classical guitarist, Aquiles was the best.

My favorite arrangement of Valdez was was "No volvere" as well as his "Suite Mexicana ' Fuensanta'" dedicated to his home state of Zacatecas and to poet Ramon Lopez Valarde, as described above.

My most cherished moments with Maestro Achiles involved LPs (LPs means Long Play vinyl records at 33 1/3 rpms for you youngster), blank tapes, and CDs. Like me, Maestro Aquiles was an avid collector of Mexican music recordings.

His collection was amazing. Mostly on LP, on a weekly basis, I would bring him recordings for him to burn, or bring him blank cassette tapes for him to burn me music out of his LP collection.

Now, this was before the advent of the MP3 and "burn" was not in our vocabulary back in the early 1990s. If you wanted to copy music, you had to do it on cassette.

Today, I look over my collection of music and see the many cassette recording with Maestro Aquiles' handwriting listing the cassette's content: Jose Mojica, Mariachi Roman Palomar, La Panchita, Orquestra Aragon, Andres Segovia, Dr. Alfonso Ortiz Tirado, and some much more.

Many of these recording have not been re-released on CD, but 15 years ago, they only existed in old LP or 78s (78s are a LP predecessor for all of you born after 1948).

Though I did not play guitar, at least to the the mastery needed to take lessons with Valdez, Valdez is among those I credit with my knowledge of Mexican music.

Most of this knowledge has been from research, reading, but personal conversations and music trading with Maestro Valdez is irreplaceable.

The last time I saw the maestro was when I bumped into him at a Target store. He was as funny as ever.

Aquiles loved El Paso and Cd. Juarez and he gave so much to these two cities. We return that love to him, musical teacher of our border youth.

Those weekly meeting to drop off some of my CD of Rafael Mendez, Juan Arivizu, and to tell which of his LPs to record for me, will always be memories I will cherish.




1 comment:

SDSUNHINE said...

THANK YOU FOR THIS ARTICLE. AQUILES WAS MY HUSBAND'S UNCLE AND I WAS FORTUNATE ENOUGH TO SEE HIM AND ALL HIS SIBLINGS PERFORM TOGETHER OVER HOLIDAYS WITH THE FAMILY. MOST PEOPLE DO NOT KNOW THAT ALL SIBLINGS ARE MUSICIANS, EITHER WITH AN INSTRUMENT OR THEIR VOICE,MOSTLY BOTH. THEIR FATHER WAS BLIND AND YET HE TAUGHT THEM ALL HOW TO PLAY THE INSTRUMENTS.