Checking in with Rick Olivarez

What are you working on right now?

I’m trying to get some songs together for our next album. I’ve got something written and ready to go, and there are a couple of things that need a little fine tuning. There’s one tune in particular that I’ve been working on for over a year now. Actually, I was reading a biography of Chopin, and as he was composing works and fine-tuning them he called it “chiseling.” I can’t think of a better description. A little here, a little there—still not happy—I put it away and I come back a week or a month later and chisel a little bit more. 


As sure as the sun rises, The Olivarez Trio, featuring Rick Olivarez on guitar, fills the C&O with gypsy jazz on Tuesday nights.

Tell us about your day job.

I used to be a stone mason. I guess I am still a stone mason, but I’ve been so busy with the band. I teach music during the day, and that’s become my day job. 


What is your first artistic memory from childhood?

My aunt and uncle have, believe it or not, 17 kids, and the middle eight have a Baroque and Renaissance choir. As a little kid, I didn’t get what it was that they were singing. It continues to this day, and their children have continued on this family tradition. I remember listening to that when I was a kid.


Item you’d splurge on?

If I could somehow find my grandfather’s guitar. He had a great, old Gibson hollowbody guitar that he toured with. My cousin played it for a while, but it was stolen. It’s out there somewhere, I’m sure, but I don’t know where. If somebody out there had that guitar and I had unlimited funds, I would splurge on that. 


How do you prepare for work?

I play the first thing that pops into my head. Sometimes, it’s just mindless noodling, which I try to avoid, but I can’t help myself. I just go into that. Or sometimes there’s something new that we have been working on, a new song, I might go over that a few times. Quite often, Jeff Cheers [accompanying guitarist in The Olivarez Trio] and myself warm up before a show, and we’ll just play whatever. I’ll start playing a song and he’ll jump in and we’ll play and see what happens.


Do you have any superstitions about playing?

I’m kind of worried about picks. Thickness is a part of it. I swear some of them just have a different tone. Especially with acoustic instruments, if you perceive a tone as being pleasing to your ear, as a good tone, then you’re able to do more. If you feel as though it’s too harsh sounding, it’s going to go the other way. You’re not going to be able to do your best. My fellow guitar player friends just think I’m insane about it. If I find a good pick, I’ll want to buy a whole box of them. Timbre is a big part of it. 


What is a concert, exhibit or show that has recently inspired you?

I was in France this summer for the annual Django Reinhardt Festival at Samois-sur-Seine, France. Seeing the performances was great and there were a lot of people I admire there—Fapy Lafertin, Tchavolo Schmitt. But more so, it was great to walk around the campsite and hang out with Fapy, jam with them, or watch him jam with other big name guys. That was really inspiring. 


What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

Hit the Blackjack table in Vegas. Honestly, if I knew I couldn’t fail, it may not be worth doing. There has to be a chance to crash and burn.

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