Jean Fletcher & his band

1984 - San Francisco, the Triskalari Musicians, Pilar Sangroniz and Jean Flesher playing in the Basque Festival.

Jean Flesher was born in Salt Lake City USA. His mother came from Ezterenzubi, Baxe Nafarroa, to the States. He lost his fatherwhen he was very young, and although he and his sister knew a little about Basque Culture when they were younger through their mother and her family, they really became involved in Basque Culture after their father had passed away . 

When he was 16 years old, he joined the Basque Club in Salt Lake City, Utah and then the dance group from there, the Triskalariak. Since the Triskalariak did not have a musician in the group at the time, Jean stepped forward and decided to start learning how to play accordion. Because one of his aunts in California had an old student accordion, he borrowed it and started playing and practicing by himself, learning how to play different songs.  Very soon he was able to play for the Utah’ko Triskalariak as a musician. Soon after that, he formed a band to play at Basque social events with his sister and a couple of friends-John Piercey and James Sangroniz. Later some other musicians would add to the mix here and there. Jean plays the piano accordion but also the guitar and drumsa little.

When Jean went to the Basque festivals and other social events in the Western United States, many times The Jimmy Jausoro Band would be playing. Jimmy was a very big influence in Jean’s musical life. He helped Jean and other musicians by making them get up on stage to play for 20 minutes or a half hour, giving them experience and courage to be public performers. Bernardo Yanci and Jean Iribarne from Elko and Alain Erdozaincy from San Francisco were also a big influences and mentors to Jean.

When Jean was living in the San Francisco Bay Area, The Basque Cultural Center of South San Francisco decided to put on a Pastorala. For that task, Jean formed a small orchestra with Christian Iribarren, Pierre Labat, Jean-Louis Curutchet, Maurice Negueloua and Rene Caballero to play the music for the performances of these traditional Basque plays. The band continued on in several different forms after those Pastorala shows, at the beginning with Jean-Louis Curutchet as the accordionist and Jean as the drummer. 

Later, Jean would accompany Jean-Louis on the accordion and add vocals with Rene Caballero along with others, adding their talents on the drums. Jean also played solo with a drummer many times during these years. Alain Saldumbide later joined Jean with his trumpet and voice and even later Mireille Machicote would add the pandereta and Christian Iribarren would play keyboards and xirula. This group of musicians would go on to play with another friend and fellow accordionist, Idoya Salaburu with whom Jean had also had the pleasure of playing after Jean left the San Francisco area. Jean by then had also put together a different orchestra for playing at Basque events with Christian Iribarren, his brother Daniel playing the bass guitar, and Pierre Igoa playing the trumpet. 

This version of the band continued for many years with Jean-Pierre Etchechury, Rene Caballero, and Bill Curutchague trading off on drums depending on the location of the performance. He also has been asked on certain occasions to put together even a larger orchestra and so has called on the talents of John Ehlis and his mandolin and guitar, and Michelle Iturriria with her trumpet, saxophone and vocals. He also has had Rene Caballero assist on conga drums and Jean-Louis Curutchet accompany on other hand percussion instruments when a larger sound was necessary for a special occasion.

He also has had to call on the talents of Joseba Etxarri with his diatonic accordion, keyboards and vocals and also on several drummers over the years when his regular drummers could not perform. Drummers such as Morrie Berriochoa, Denis Petrissans, Michel Alfaro, Maurice Negueloua, Spencer Basterrechea Martin, Jay Shortsleeve among others. Jean has also sat in with other Basque-American accordion players including his good friend Manuela Labrouche Etchechury. 

Of course some of his greatest memories playing has been when he has had the pleasure of performing with some of the great musicians of the Basque Country such as Txomin Artola, Xabi Aburruzaga, Mintxo Garaikoetxea, Jean-Louis Bergara and Mikel Markez among others. He also has been privileged to play for many of the Basque dance groups of the American West and also to teach many of them dancing over the years. He regularly plays for the Utah’ko Triskalariak along with Pilar and Jay Shortsleeve, Mariana McNamara, and Jean-Jules Flesher. Jean has played music at close to every single Basque festival in the American West.

For Jean it was a lot of fun to go and play music, travel around, visit and meet Basques aroundthe States. After Jean got married and had children, his motivation to continue to play Basque music evolved into the desire to see Basque music in the United States survivefor the next generation. In fact, he is ecstatic that his son, Jean-Jules, is now a member of the band playing the pandereta (and also learning to play the alboka) and that the son of Jean-Pierre Etchechury, Pampi, is now playing guitar and sitting in at performances with his mother and father when they play. Jean and his wife Monique (along with the help of many others) also organized the first ever Basque Accordion festival at the Basque Cultural Center in South San Francisco which honored three Basque accordion giants, Jimmy Jausoro, Bernardo Yanci, and Pedro Juan Etchamendy.

Many Basque American accordionists took part and it was very well attended even though it was the first one. This tradition lives on thanks to Pierre Igoa who has organized it twice more in Bakersfield, California, Jean was also lucky enough to be asked, along with one of his mentors, Bernardo Yanci, to collaborate with Amuma Says No onthe album “FirstThursday”, due to his longtime friendship with Dan Ansotegui, and he and his band expect to record their first album soon.

Like other Basque-American bands such as the Jimmy Jausoro Band, the Jean Flesher Band plays not only Basque songs like Arin-Arins and Fandangos, Kalejiras and the like, but also waltzes, polkas and other tunes more popular in days gone by such as the paso doble, schottische (ezkotixa), and mazurkawhich gives the band a very unique sound.

Jean has haddifferent band members over the yearsbut for twenty plus years nowhe has had the pleasure of playing with a fixed set of regular musicians depending on the situation. The band adapts to every concert, having a different number of musicians every time. Once in a while, he will have a guest drummer sit in or he will get to play with an artist from the Basque Country but these are the main members of the band. The members of the band are the following:

·         Jean-Pierre Etchechury (drums)

·         Pierre Igoa (trumpet, keyboard and vocals)

·         Michelle Iturriria (trumpet, saxophone and vocals)

·         Christian Iribarren –txirula and piano (txistu and clarinet in the past)

·         Daniel Iribarren – (bass guitar)

·         John Ehlis – (mandolin and guitar)

·         Jean-Jules Flesher – (pandereta)

·         Rene Caballero – (drums, congas)

Text by Jean Flesher.

 

2016 -  Jean Flesher and his and his band in the Chino Basque Picnic. Photo credit www.euskalkultura.com

1, Amuma Says No, First Thursdays, 2008. © Amuma says No. Used with permision.

Audio Recording: 
Andre Madalen, Amuma Says No featuring Jean Flesher, 1.
Porrusalda, Amuma Says No featuring Jean Flesher, 1.
Jean Flesher playing for the Oinkari Basque Dancers, 1994 NABO Accordion Festival. Recording provided by Jean Flesher.
Jean Flesher covering Enrike Zelaia. 1994 NABO Accordion Festival. Recording provided by Jean Flesher.
Jean Flesher, Erromeria Berrian. 1994 NABO Accordion Festival. Recording provided by Jean Flesher.
Jean Flesher, Porrusalda. 1994 NABO Accordion Festival. Recording provided by Jean Flesher.