Ken Leighton 12:30 p.m., Feb. 21
Sound description: A fiery blend of Gypsy, Latin, jazz, and Flamenco, with sensual romantic overtones.
RIYL: Jean-Luc Ponty
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Influences: Jean-Luc Ponty, Jose-Jose, Pandora, Yuri, Armando Manzanero, Victor Iturbe "El Piruli"
Violinist Diego Mondragon grew up in San Ysidro, where he began playing in the second grade and gave his first concert in 1970 at the age of 10.
His father Jose de Jesus Mondragon spent nearly 25 years with the San Diego Symphony and was first chair of the Orquesta de Baja California. “[He] played with the magic violins of Villafontana,” says Mondragon. “He toured all over South America, Cuba, New York, Las Vegas, and finally settled in San Diego.”
Mondragon was 15 when the Royal British Conservatory offered him a full scholarship. However, “After a turbulent relationship with my demanding and perfectionist father, I left home at age 15 and wanted nothing to do with the violin. I didn’t return home and didn’t play the violin for over 10 years.”
While working on a second bachelor's in string pedagogy at SDSU, he says, “During that time, I heard Jean-Luc Ponty and hence began my pursuit of playing jazz violin. I started a band called Jazz-Vaz and played throughout San Diego, Mexico City, and Baja California. I was much more connected in Mexico.”
In addition to performing, Mondragon has held teaching positions in Spring Valley, Temecula, Murrieta, and elsewhere. His ensemble with saxophone player Ben Menancio, Savio (merging saxophone and violin), made its debut in July 2004 at the first International Temecula Jazz Festival. They perform locally and have released a Christmas album, Latin Beat Christmas.