By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Whenever he strikes the first note or chord on the acoustic guitar, Angelo Pizarro hopes it creates a “nice tone” for his audiences to enjoy. And once he starts playing, his passion for what he calls “a mixture of what I like” — an improvisational blend of traditional Filipino–Spanish music with jazz and pop — is made very clear after he performs for several hours without taking any breaks.
“Instead of 8 to 10 [o’clock] or something like that, I would play from 8 to whenever,” Pizarro, 51, said. “I just love to play, but to tell you the truth, the time goes so quick.”
In his 40 years as a musician and composer, he has taken his talent for playing music and brought it to larger audiences, gaining success in the process.
He is the 2004 and 2005 Northwest District winner of Guitar Center’s Guitarmageddon, a 2005 Answering the Cry of the Poor-GK Ambassador of Goodwill, and a recipient of the Art of Urban Living Award from Broadway Market.
As for his 2009 Asian American Pioneers in Music award from the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation, he said, “I feel honored and blessed to be recognized.”
“He’s proud of representing the Filipino community, and the support that he’s been getting from them has been tremendous. Just being within this area, all the Filipinos are really coming up to us and saying how proud they are of him,” said his wife Annette.
Pizarro and his wife met in 1972 and have been married for 25 years. They have a son named Joshua.
Pizarro says he has performed at almost 60 local community festivals and corporate events in the last six years. He aims to help organizations and meet more people. He has also performed at 10 benefit concerts around the country.
For Pizarro, music began as a family activity as he was growing up in the Philippines. Music continues to be a family affair as Annette manages his full, non-stop performance schedule.
“I just carry all the equipment and play,” Pizarro said, referring to his role in their family business.
One of his strongest influences is his father, Gen, who played the saxophone. He was a disc jockey who played different genres of music — Filipino folk music, polkas, and cha-chas — at several fiestas in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur. This inspired Pizarro to pick up the saxophone as his first instrument.
Another one of his influences is his older brother Wilfred. Wilfred had taught himself to play the guitar. In 1969, 12-year-old Angelo decided he would follow his brother’s example and focus on the guitar.
After arriving in the United States, Pizarro said, “My cousin was trying to get me into a saxophone class at Sharples Junior High School, but they didn’t have any. So, it was a guitar class, and I got signed in.”
Carlos Santana is one of many guitarists that he admires. “I was challenged to do [the song] ‘Black Magic Woman’ — to learn the lines — by this guy named Manuel Carrillo,” Pizarro said. He met Carrillo’s challenge and learned to play the song by listening to the record — a method called ear training. After he was successful, he was asked to join Carrillo’s band. “Then, I was into playing music in the Rainier Beach High School Jazz Ensemble and the Franklin High School Jazz Lab,” Pizarro said.
Pizarro attended Cornish College of the Arts for six months in 1981 and studied music theory.
In 1985, he began working at the U.S. Postal Service. He retired last December after working at its Wallingford Station for the last 23 years in finance.
He now focuses on learning and growing as a performer and inspiring the youngest Pizarro family members to carry on the family’s tradition of playing music.
He is proud of writing and performing “Pearl of the Orient” in 1995 as the prelude to “Heart of the Son,” a play written by Seattle playwright Timoteo Cordova about the Philippine–Spanish revolution.
“From then on, when I started, I never wanted to put down the acoustic guitar. Once in a while, I play the electric [guitar], but it’s not as romantic or fun,” he admitted.
Pizarro continues to perform at Snoqualmie Casino’s Café Drip on Friday and Saturday evenings, the Blossom Asian Bistro in Renton, and Casa Feliz Mexican Bar and Grill in Seattle.
For Pizarro, music has always been a way to convey all of his emotions and share Filipino culture with friends, family, and audience members. With all his travels, carrying around all his equipment can be a little bothersome.
“Maybe I should haved taken [the] flute, it’s easier to carry around,” he said with a smile. “Or a piccolo or a harmonica.” ♦
Angelo Pizarro will be at the JazzPhil Festival on Dec. 4 and 5 at the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood, Calif., and has a CD out titled, “Serendipity.” For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and visit www.angelopizarro.com.
Meet Pizarro at NWAWF’s Pioneers in Music Awards Gala and Banquet on Oct. 16. For more information, visit pioneers.nwasianweeklyfoundation.org.
James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.