Not many musicians can say they died for their art and lived to tell about it.
On Aug. 28, 2010, the flamenco-jazz-fusion band Gypsy Cat, led by guitarist Carl Ferrari, had a show at the Jakmel Art Gallery, in Wynwood, to raise money for its first album. While setting up on stage, Ferrari grabbed a microphone stand, got electrocuted, and suffered a heart attack. Ferrari’s friend and fellow musician, Alex Logan, remembers that he was about to join Gypsy Cat on stage for a jam session when he heard “a humming in the speaker.”
“Carl goes to grab the microphone, and he started shaking, and he dropped,” Logan told me in a recent phone conversation.
Ferrari remembers the moment up until he lost consciousness.
“When I reached down and grabbed the mic, it fused to my hand, and I couldn’t let go of it,” he says. “I had no pulse and no breathing. I had a heart attack.”
Lucky for Ferrari, Logan, an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officer who, at the time, had recently earned his paramedic certification, came to his friend’s rescue. After making sure Ferrari wasn’t a live wire, Logan began giving him CPR, a technique he had learned only months earlier.
“It felt like forever, but it took at least seven to 10 minutes,” Logan says. “When the ambulance gets there, they had to attach a defibrillator, so for sure he was in cardiac. You can only shock flat line.”
The defibrillator did the trick: Ferrari came back to life. This coming Saturday marks the first anniversary of his re-birth.
It is a very happy occasion, not least of all because Ferrari, who studied classical guitar at the New World School of the Arts, is one of the best performing guitarists working in South Florida today. In the early nineties, he was crunching out sludgy guitar riffs in the progressive, gloom-rock outfit Swivel Stick, which eventually added jazz to the mix to create a sound similar to early-‘70s King Crimson with a strong Coltrane influence.
Now, at the age of 36, Ferrari has adopted a lighter touch on his instrument, arpeggiating hyper-kinetic flamenco melodies on a classical guitar in Gypsy Cat, which released its self-titled debut in June. (Listen to “Zambra”, track five off of the album, at the end of the post.)
Featuring former Swivel Stick member Richard Rippe on bass, percussionists Andres Roa and Nestor Prieto, saxophonist Ronald Rodriguez, and Ferrari on guitar, Gypsy Cat combines the distinctive rhythms, hand drums, clapping, and rolling guitar of flamenco with elements of jazz. (Alongside more flamenco-rooted numbers like “Nuestra Rumbra”, the eight-track album includes a daring, electric-guitar-driven cover of the Miles Davis classic, “So What”.)
Ferrari says Gypsy Cat, born approximately three years ago, is a natural progression for him, as he began experimenting with flamenco as a solo artist nearly 15 years ago. The current members of the band jumped on board at different times along the way, with dancer Ana Miranda rounding out the lineup in 2008.
“[We’re] trying to basically create something that is entertaining for people and brings all the elements of music together that I like: classical music, flamenco, and jazz, and rock,” Ferrari says.
No one should be surprised about his journey from prog-rock to flamenco, says Ferrari, whose passionate, speedy style fits both genres.
“This guy that I met … a tabla player, he summed it up best,” Ferrari says. “He was from India and played death metal drums, but then he discovered flamenco … He said, ‘The reason I love flamenco is because it has the visceral energy of death metal, but it has the virtuoso technique and refined element of classical music.’”
Of course, having survived his own death, Ferrari is grateful to be alive to make music of any kind. As for his savior, Logan says Ferrari hasn’t missed a beat since his brief visit to the dark side.
“[A]s far as I know, he’s playing as good as he ever has,” Logan says.
Hans Morgenstern maintains a blog on independent film and music called The Independent Ethos. He has freelanced for several music publications, taught cinema studies, and worked in programming at local film festivals.