Federico García Lorca discovered his passion for jazz at a very complicated point in his life. In the midst of a life crisis, but already boasting a certain prestige as a poet and playwright, Federico was advised to go on a journey. The poet from Granada earned a place at Columbia University. This allowed him to stay in the United States from 1929 to 1930.
Federico García Lorca between poverty and jazz
The man from Granada arrived in New York during the Great Depression: shortly after the most severe economic crash in history. The consequences of the crisis were visible everywhere. Lorca’s sensitivity allowed him to absorb all the pessimism and sadness that the city was experiencing in that period.
However, Federico García Lorca was also a curious man and a night owl. Therefore, in addition to reflecting on all that decline, he explored the nightlife of New York, which was where he discovered jazz. This music and culture impressed him, so much so that he wove it into his poetry.
Jazz was an explosion of energy and passion, born out of African-American culture. It was based on an expert mastery of instruments, the communication of the musicians and improvisation. The liberation of the deepest, wildest and most intense feelings, expressed through the tight control of musical instruments. Thus, the best jazz musicians were black people who voiced the years of slavery, the liberation from chains or the chained marches, the marginalisation in the neighbourhoods, the joy or sadness of being alive… all in a succession of perfect but improvised notes. How could the poet of passion, joy and pain not be moved by this?
Federico García Lorca became aware of the power of jazz and brought it to his work Poeta en Nueva York (Poet in New York). As was the case with the discovery of flamenco, his fascination was transformed into one of the best collections of poems in the world of literature. You can learn about this story in our private tour to the places of Federico García Lorca in Granada.
Federico García Lorca and the music of the marginalised
When you look deeper into Lorca’s life up until his arrival in New York, you’ll come to understand that it was only logical for him to fall in love with jazz. This genre, like flamenco from Sacromonte (the gipsy neighborhood in Granada), is born from the wild souls of the marginalised. It was created at the hands of people forced to live outside the system and who don’t find a place in society, people who had to invent a way of feeling and living. What happens when you don’t have social rules that tell you how you should feel? Well, in the case of flamenco and jazz, with the gypsies and black people, something new was created. Of course, that creation also reflects the rejection of normality: the pain of being treated as an inferior being. That’s jazz: the shouting and the laughing made into music.
As a man from a more privileged background in Granada, it is remarkable how Federico García Lorca found freedom among the poor and the exiled. This was the case wherever he went. In fact, when he was in Havana, the Afro-Cuban culture with its drums also sparked the same fascination within him. Federico found home in that extreme passion, that is to say, a way of living life that was warm and welcoming.
In this sense, the poet from Granada was also a pioneer, as nowadays, flamenco-jazz and latin-jazz are two genres that reap success all over the world. As far as flamenco-jazz is concerned, Andalusia has taken over from Federico, with big names such as Paco de Lucía. The flamenco guitarist spent years touring the world with a jazz band, and today, he is considered one of the best musicians in the history of Spain. All this in spite of coming from an impoverished background and having hardly gone to school. Today, Diego Amador is yet another musician of gypsy heritage, getting people up on their feet in theatres with flamenco and jazz.
Federico García Lorca was a visionary and a pioneer. The poet from Granada turned to the avant-garde of the 1920s not because they were fashionable, but because he carried the avant-garde, being ahead in his spirit. He saw the importance of popular culture, as well as that of the poor and the marginalised and channelled it on stage and in his books. He showed a society with a class system that art comes from the soul, so it doesn’t depend on large lounges or airs and graces. Federico García Lorca therefore knew how to give dignity to people and their genius, beyond social conventions.