Photo by Jane Hancock
Painting of Tony Flores by Manuel Santana
Tony Flores, 1999
Tony Flores was born in Sicily in 1914 and moved with his family at the age of 7 to California, first
living in Monterey and then San Francisco. Tony's sister taught him to play mandolin by ear soon after.
When he was 10 he took up the violin, studying with a teacher for about six years. "That was my parents'
dream for me to play the violin," says Tony, "but I always had the mandolin in my heart, you know. I
always loved the mandolin."
After graduating from high school, Tony played in the Aurora Mandolin Orchestra and in several mandolin
trios (two mandolins and a guitar) in North Beach, the Italian area of San Francisco. His trios played
Italian music in clubs and on the Italian radio station during the late 30s and early 40s. Tony recalls that
many of the mandolin players were barbers from Tuscany: "I'd take turns going to these different people and
I'd bring my instrument in and before we'd have my haircut we would sit down and play. People enjoyed it
so they didn't mind waiting."
The Aurora Mandolin Orchestra, 1939.
Tony is the tall young man in the back row. (Click photo to enlarge)
During the years he was raising his family, Tony stopped playing professionally, but
didn't give up his instrument. All of his five children also play music and know his repertoire of
Neopolitan songs (his favorite), mazurkas, polkas and tarantellas.
Tony and his family
Since 1980, Tony has been playing Saturday and Sunday afternoons at Jardines restaurant in San
Juan Bautista every week. During that time he has expanded his repertoire, learning tunes in Mexican, Greek,
Portuguese and other styles in response to his listeners' requests. Of his longtime gig he says, "It's
heaven!" In 1999 Tony completed a musical residency with the House Island Project in Southern Maine and
released his first CD, Ricordi di San Vito: Italian Favorites for the Mandolin.
When asked what the rewards of doing music are, Tony replied: "The rewards are just my whole life. I mean,
making my life bearable, making my life pleasant, making my life worthwhile, you know...I think music has been
Tony playing with Greg Swim for dancer at Jardines restaurant.