Santiago Jiménez Jr. has conjunto music in his blood. The son of legendary accordion player Don Santiago, Jiménez has carried the torch for traditional conjunto for six decades. He’s recorded over 700 songs on over 100 albums, and he’s played his accordion for crowds in every corner of San Antonio, and even most parts of Texas. Beyond that, he won a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a National Medal of Arts.
At age 75, Jiménez isn’t done making music. His latest album is called “El Chief,” and includes 13 waltzes, rancheras and polkas – the kind of traditional tunes he’s played his whole career. And the cliché about not slowing down? Jiménez says he recorded the whole album in two-and-a-half hours.
“It’s easy for me,” Jiménez says. “The experience of playing for so many years. … To me it’s gravy.”
His career began when he picked up the accordion at age 15. He recorded his first album with another conjunto legend, his brother Flaco Jiménez, at age 17. It was the only album they recorded together.
“The music was all the time in my house by my father,” he says.
The brothers didn’t play music around the house as young boys, but they still learned from their dad.
“I would sit next to him when I was young. I would go to sleep with his music,” Jiménez says, tearing up.
Jiménez, who says he doesn’t feel his 75 years, says today’s conjunto players could learn a thing or two. But he still respects them as musicians.
“These musicians, they don’t know the old-school music,” Jiménez says. “When I play music of the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s – playing the old stuff, traditional like my dad – that’s what I consider ‘old-school music’. A lot of conjunto bands are not into this category.”
Jiménez says it’s important to him to keep those musical traditions alive.
“As long as I’m alive, I promised my dad I’m going to have his music going,” he says. “And I’m still doing it!”
Written by Shelly Brisbin.