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They call him Citizen Flores

“It was a serious occasion, something you dress up for”

Pianist Irving Flores avoided homelessness and gained a new homeland during the pandemic.
Pianist Irving Flores avoided homelessness and gained a new homeland during the pandemic.

In the days before Covid, piano virtuoso Irving Flores was one of the busiest cats in town. “Yes, I was playing every day,” recalls Flores. “But, just like that, it all collapsed from all that craziness.” The pianist says he was lucky enough to avoid homelessness, thanks to some help from his friends, notably trombonist Dave Scott. “He gave me a place to stay during the pandemic, and was always looking to help me out.”

Little by little, Flores began putting gigs together, and now he’s nearly back to his previous schedule. “It’s great, but a little scary at the same time” — he’s deeply aware of just how quickly and drastically things can change in the current climate. “Right now, I’m playing six or seven days a week. The previous three months have been very busy, sometimes with two or three gigs a day.” And while busy is much better than the alternative, it does carry its own causes for concern. Live music means live fans, many of whom keep their social distance, but some of whom do not. Flores doesn’t want to offend anyone, so he keeps it friendly, shakes hands, and then heads for the sink in the restroom for a wash. “I might do that 20 or 30 times a night. My Friday gig in Chula Vista has the acoustic piano in the center of the room, so I wear my mask when I’m talking to the people.” In general, he tries to balance caution with good sense and optimism.

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Flores came to the U.S. (and San Diego) in 2004. One of the main goals he was able to accomplish during the pandemic, in March 2021, was becoming a U.S. citizen. It’s easy to hear the emotion in his voice when he talks about the process. “It’s a very good feeling. I am so proud to become an American citizen. I love this country. I’m very conscious to be a law-abiding citizen, so I can be a part of this beautiful society. I have a lot of respect for this country and this amazing music community. I’ll never forget where I came from. For sure, I will always love Mexico, but I am very thankful to be a U.S. citizen.”

Being granted citizenship was a unique experience, but for different reasons than he expected. “Of course, there were so many friends I wanted to invite to the ceremony, but this was right in the middle of the pandemic, so that was impossible. It’s not the same ceremony as it was before Covid; you couldn’t invite people. It was very controlled with a small group of applicants, like maybe 20 people who were socially distanced. It wasn’t in the same building as before. All in all, it was a very short ceremony. I went in at 7:30 in the morning and was finished by 8:00. But even though there were a lot of changes, it was still a very big deal to me. It was a serious occasion, something you dress up for. In the end, you get the certificate and the paperwork, and now you are a citizen.”

Irving Flores Trio

  • Romesco, 4346 Bonita Road, Bonita

The general public can shake hands with Flores at several recurring gigs throughout the city. Since last May, he’s been working Friday evenings at the Brew Bar in Chula Vista. Thursday nights, he does a solo gig at Alcove Wine & Beer in City Heights, and he plays in Bonita with his Afro-Cuban trio (Ignacio Arango on bass, Fernando Gomez on drums) every Wednesday at Romesco Mexiterranean Bistro.

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Pianist Irving Flores avoided homelessness and gained a new homeland during the pandemic.
Pianist Irving Flores avoided homelessness and gained a new homeland during the pandemic.

In the days before Covid, piano virtuoso Irving Flores was one of the busiest cats in town. “Yes, I was playing every day,” recalls Flores. “But, just like that, it all collapsed from all that craziness.” The pianist says he was lucky enough to avoid homelessness, thanks to some help from his friends, notably trombonist Dave Scott. “He gave me a place to stay during the pandemic, and was always looking to help me out.”

Little by little, Flores began putting gigs together, and now he’s nearly back to his previous schedule. “It’s great, but a little scary at the same time” — he’s deeply aware of just how quickly and drastically things can change in the current climate. “Right now, I’m playing six or seven days a week. The previous three months have been very busy, sometimes with two or three gigs a day.” And while busy is much better than the alternative, it does carry its own causes for concern. Live music means live fans, many of whom keep their social distance, but some of whom do not. Flores doesn’t want to offend anyone, so he keeps it friendly, shakes hands, and then heads for the sink in the restroom for a wash. “I might do that 20 or 30 times a night. My Friday gig in Chula Vista has the acoustic piano in the center of the room, so I wear my mask when I’m talking to the people.” In general, he tries to balance caution with good sense and optimism.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Flores came to the U.S. (and San Diego) in 2004. One of the main goals he was able to accomplish during the pandemic, in March 2021, was becoming a U.S. citizen. It’s easy to hear the emotion in his voice when he talks about the process. “It’s a very good feeling. I am so proud to become an American citizen. I love this country. I’m very conscious to be a law-abiding citizen, so I can be a part of this beautiful society. I have a lot of respect for this country and this amazing music community. I’ll never forget where I came from. For sure, I will always love Mexico, but I am very thankful to be a U.S. citizen.”

Being granted citizenship was a unique experience, but for different reasons than he expected. “Of course, there were so many friends I wanted to invite to the ceremony, but this was right in the middle of the pandemic, so that was impossible. It’s not the same ceremony as it was before Covid; you couldn’t invite people. It was very controlled with a small group of applicants, like maybe 20 people who were socially distanced. It wasn’t in the same building as before. All in all, it was a very short ceremony. I went in at 7:30 in the morning and was finished by 8:00. But even though there were a lot of changes, it was still a very big deal to me. It was a serious occasion, something you dress up for. In the end, you get the certificate and the paperwork, and now you are a citizen.”

Irving Flores Trio

  • Romesco, 4346 Bonita Road, Bonita

The general public can shake hands with Flores at several recurring gigs throughout the city. Since last May, he’s been working Friday evenings at the Brew Bar in Chula Vista. Thursday nights, he does a solo gig at Alcove Wine & Beer in City Heights, and he plays in Bonita with his Afro-Cuban trio (Ignacio Arango on bass, Fernando Gomez on drums) every Wednesday at Romesco Mexiterranean Bistro.

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