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A Bagpipe-Slinging Spaniard Finds A Home In New York Jazz

On the new album Migrations, Cristina Pato plays the gaita, a bagpipe from her native region of Galicia in northwest Spain. (Courtesy of the artist)

Cristina Pato is a jazz pianist from Spain who also plays flute and sings. But on her new album, Migrations, there's a striking sound not often heard in jazz: a bagpipe. Pato has been playing the traditional gaita (pronounced "GY-tah"), a version of the bagpipe from her native region of Galicia, since she was 4 years old.

"I think right now in Galicia, there are more bagpipe players than soccer players, which is a very big statement to say," Pato says. "But, you know, bagpipes, they are all around the world, and they are all related to the people where they are from. ... It's probably one of the oldest instruments in history."

The gaita's stark, commanding sound is an odd fit for jazz, but Pato says she's been able to use that contrast to her advantage.

"I think that is the reason I get so passionate about the instrument," she says. "It has so many beautiful limitations that really make you work harder to get things done."

Here, Pato speaks with NPR's Scott Simon about moving from Spain to New York, fielding bagpipe questions from strangers and getting up the nerve to record a Miles Davis tune. Hear more of their conversation by clicking the audio link on this page.

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Cristina Pato is a jazz pianist from Spain.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: She also plays flute and sings.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CRISTINA PATO: (Singing) I see, just as I seen you, more than...

SIMON: But on her new album, "Migrations," there's a striking sound not often heard in jazz - the bagpipe.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Cristina Pato plays the traditional gaita. That's the bagpipe from her native region of Galicia in Northwestern Spain. But a world of jazz opened up to her when she came to the United States in 2004. Cristina Pato joins us from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

PATO: Thank you so much for having me as (unintelligible). I'm enamored.

SIMON: We're going to get the jazz stuff in a moment, but tell us about this instrument. Because I gather you began playing the bagpipes when you were four years old. Does that happen in every Galician family?

PATO: Well, kind of. Not when you're four years old. But the gaita, the bagpipe I play, is like the national instrument of Galicia. So, I think right now in Galicia there are more bagpipe players than soccer players, which is a very big statement to say. But, you know, like, bagpipes, they are all around the world and they are all related to the people where they are from. So, coming from a traditional family of musicians, it kind of made sense for me to start with it when I was four years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: I don't have to tell you, in this country, as a generalization, you say bagpipes, people think you're talking about Scotland.

(LAUGHTER)

PATO: Well, you cannot even imagine the amount of faces I get when somebody asks me, oh, what do you do? And I say, hey, I'm a musician. And then they ask what do you play? And I say bagpipes. And you also get this typical line of I have a bagpipers playing in my grandparent's funeral. That is the other typical bagpipe conversation. No, I mean, the bagpipe is one of these instruments that is in almost every culture because it's probably one of the oldest instruments in the history. It was a shepherd instrument so it's related to...

SIMON: A shepherd instrument. I was going to ask if that was the derivation.

PATO: Yeah. Like wherever there was a shepherd, there was a bagpipe. But, you know, it's like the typical image we have of the bagpipers is usually the Celtic tradition, the Celtic connections in Scotland and Ireland, and Galicia, which is related to that culture to, to the Celtic connections. But there are bagpipes everywhere.

SIMON: Let's listen to another track on this CD, because you have the audacity to do Miles Davis "Blue and Green."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Wow. That's very nicely done.

PATO: Thank you.

SIMON: You know, this is a song that when you hear the Miles Davis original, there's something introspective about it, something about contemplative about it - late night, dark of the moon, all that stuff. The bagpipe has - we think of, is such a commanding song. You know, rousing people, getting them out. How do you make the bagpipe work in this situation?

PATO: Well, that is a constant challenge I have with my instrument with the guide down, because - and I think that is the reason I get so passionate about the instrument, because it has so many beautiful limitations that really make you work harder to get things done. So, this piece, this "Blue and Green," is related to another Miles Davis recording I did three years ago. And that recording was related to his album, "Sketches of Spain," in which apparently in his piece, "The Bagpiper," he was inspired by a Galician bagpiper. But that for me was the excuse to say, OK, now I can take him and play this tune. And if somebody asks me, I just will say that Miles Davis was listening to a gaita when he was writing "Sketches of Spain."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PATO: If you ask me right now where is home for me, I actually don't have an answer, because that is what happens when you move around and when you migrate and you try to find your place in the world. And then you feel connected to your roots, of course, but also disconnected because you don't live there anymore. And then you're here, and everybody in New York is from abroad. And it's such a strange and beautiful sensation that keeps me connected to this city. This is why the whole album is called "Migrations," because we are carrying our roots wherever we are going. I am from Galicia, I live in New York, and I brought my roots with me but my roots re-rooted again here. And from those re-roots, another thing was born. And this album was about that.

SIMON: Cristina Pato. Her new album, "Migrations." She joined us from our studios in New York. Thanks so much.

PATO: Thank you. A pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And you can hear more of Cristina Pato on our website, nprmusic.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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