Celebrating Senior Musicians of Santa Cruz County, CA



Tony Flores



Photo by Jane Hancock
Painting of Tony Flores by Manuel Santana

Tony Flores, 1999







Tony Flores
Mandolin Player

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."

The Aurora Mandolin Orchestra, 1939. Tony is the tall young man in the back row. (Click photo to enlarge)

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."

Tony and his family

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 playing with Greg Swim for dancer at Jardines restaurant.

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 my salvation."