Eight years ago today, I launched my music site Musik.pm. Four years later, I highlighted the four years anniversary by publishing the article What is world music – not? Following some critical notes on the concept ‘world music’, I ended the article like this:
World music or not – here is some of the music that Musik.pm has covered the first four years. Enjoy!
During the four years that have followed, I have published two kind of articles. Portraits of musicians, bands, genres etc. form the first category. In the second category, there are different kind of reflections on music and our experiences of music. In both categories, I illustrate the themes of the articles by music videos.
In the end of the first four years, I found Joan Chamorro and his wonderful project the Sant Andreu Jazz Band, and I introduced the band on Musik.pm with a short article. (Sant Andreu Jazz Band) I have followed this project closely during the last four years, so among the portraits from this period, there are actually eight new articles on themes in one way or another related to the Sant Andreu Jazz Band. In addition, I illustrate one article in the reflections category by music videos with members of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band. (To be sincere)
As you understand, this project has played a major role in my enjoyment of music the last four years. The project has also given me important insights concerning the social and human factors involved in the SAJB project. I have reflected on these factors in the SAJB articles, so in a way these articles belong to the reflections category too.
Click the links below, and you will find the different articles. Enjoy your reading and/or the music!
I am of course referring to the unique American singer and songwriter Kat Edmonson.
I got my first impression of Kat Edmonson through a YouTube video in 2014. By then she had been around as a singer and songwriter for more than ten years. At the end of 2002, aged 19, Kat auditioned for the TV show American Idol and she was chosen to be one of the show’s 48 contestants for the following year. In 2008 she recorded her first single. When I discovered Kat, she had also recorded and released two albums; Take to the Sky in 2009 and Way Down Low in 2012.
Kat Edmonson radiated genuineness and sincerity in that first video I saw. These qualities are important dimensions of music that appeals to me. So, I searched for more music by Kat and found more videos with the same qualities.
Later in 2014, I wrote a short article in Swedish about Kat and her music, published on my music site Musik.pm. However, I did not dig deep into Kat as a person in that article. I built the story only on information I could find on the Internet and on my own impressions of songs from the two first albums. In 2017, I published an updated article on Kat in English. The update merely added some notes on my impressions of her third album, The Big Picture.
Before writing those articles, I had learned that Kat’s mother taught her as a young child to like the songs of the Great American Songbook. That kind of music is a base for most of her work – own originals, interpretations of standards or interpretations of more modern popular music. Kat herself labels her music ‘Vintage Pop’. Some of it fits into the jazz field; some is closer to the American folk song tradition. Kat makes them all her own and turns them into ‘Vintage Pop’.
Since I wrote those two articles, Kat has released two more albums. Old Fashioned Gal has the feeling of old Hollywood, but the lyrics comment on the contemporary, busy society. Kat has written all the songs. Her latest album, Dreamers Do, takes place over the course of one, sleepless night. It comprises a mix of Kat’s original songs and re-imagined Disney songs from the mid-twentieth century.
You will find links to a sample of songs from Kat’s five albums at the end of this article.
I have from time to time returned to Kat’s music, and have come to realise that I want to know more about this brilliant and very special singer and songwriter. Therefore, I recently contacted Kat through her website and asked if I could interview her online. Kat quickly answered, and we decided on a time and date. This article builds on that interview, but also on episodes of the online show that Kat has broadcast during the Covid-19 pandemic – The Kat Edmonson Show.
The online Kat Edmonson Show
Kat started to make this show when she had to cancel most of a tour promoting her latest album. With a few exceptions, the show runs on a weekly basis. I highly recommend it. In the different episodes, Kat sings and talks to us about her life. She is open and communicates in a genuine way and with a natural sense of presence. The way she looks at us through the camera and our screens makes me feel like Kat and I are in the same room. I guess I am not the only viewer who has this feeling.
Some of the songs and some of the glimpses she gives of her life are responses to requests, questions and comments received from her viewers in advance. She also communicates online with viewers. It is not an easy task to be alone on ‘stage’ in the show for more than an hour, and to interfold communication with lots of individual fans in the show, and still make it interesting and entertaining. However, Kat does so in an excellent way.
In the show, Kat sings some of the songs a cappella and others with accompanying musicians. Due to the pandemic restrictions, the musicians are never physically present with Kat. Sometimes she sings accompanied by the instrumental tracks of her albums, sometimes she has accompaniment specially made for the show – on piano by Roy Dunlap and Matt Ray, on organ by Roy Dunlap and on guitar by Al Street and Bob Hart.
In those cases, Kat sends the specifications of the accompaniment needed and receives the recorded accompaniment in return. This is of course the only way to have accompaniment to songs that Kat has not recorded on albums herself.
And there are lots of them! With the reservation that she sometimes might need time to study and prepare songs, she has not declared any limitations on which songs she might sing in the show. She has sung “That’s Life” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, made famous by Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, in ways that start you thinking that she could one day record an interesting Sinatra album and an equally interesting Presley album. Kat has earlier recorded some brilliant and very special interpretations of well-known songs from different genres – so why not Sinatra and Presley?
Altogether, the online Kat Edmonson Show is very rewarding to watch, although it is produced with very basic means. Kat and her partner Aaron Thurston produce and transmit the episodes by themselves, generally from their home. Aaron Thurston is a drummer and arranger, and he co-produced the albums Old Fashioned Gal and Dreamers Do with Kat. In the beginning, they made the episodes from their apartment in New York, where the scene of the show was a simple curtain arrangement in a room they used for their everyday life at other times. Now they have moved to a house upstate New York, where they can use one of their rooms just as their music and recording studio. This is a big advantage, but they also moved because of the pandemic situation in New York and for financial reasons. The pandemic restrictions are a heavy burden on all musicians’ financial situation.
In one episode, Kat declared that she wants to continue with the online Kat Edmonson Show, even when the pandemic restrictions are lifted. She enjoys doing the show, and you can tell that she does. I ask Kat if she really will have the time and inspiration to continue with the show when all the usual activities demand her attention again. Kat believes that she will – she usually has no problems with inspiration – and I hope that she is right. I think the format of this show suits Kat’s personality and her ability to be genuine and sincere very well.
Genuine, sincere and self-confident
Interviewing Kat, you apprehend the same personal qualities. She takes you and your questions seriously, and she thinks for a while before she starts to answer. Although most of the questions probably are not new to her, she still seriously considers how she can respond properly. Identifying her thoughts and emotions with care, and putting them into the right words, seem important to Kat. I think to myself that this might be a similar process to when Kat write songs – capturing thought and emotions, and putting them into relevant words and a melody.
When I ask Kat where her qualities of being genuine and sincere come from, she talks of her need of orientation – a need to be genuine because it gives her a reference point in life. If what she expresses does not feel authentic, she has no compass. To identify this orientation she operates with intuition that comes from her “heart”, an origin that maybe could be called “soul”, a kind of intuitive wisdom.
I suppose that a need for orientation might be part of the human constitution, but I am not sure that this means that everyone has, and follow, an intuition to be authentic. There are a lot of misleading orientation guides in society. Maybe Kat’s “upbringing by compassionate people”, as she characterises her childhood has, in her case, turned a common need for orientation in the direction of authenticity.
Most of her life Kat has had self-confidence. Compassionate care during childhood probably built the foundation of such confidence. She has been able to believe in herself from early age, and one of her first memories is writing a song.
As long as she can remember, Kat has had the ambition to write and sing songs, and – as she asserts as a fact – she had “the talent to back it up”. Not everyone can make such a claim in the natural and trustworthy way that Kat does – and of course, she is right. However, she claims that she could not teach song writing.
I have always been able to do it. If I were to instruct people I would only tell them to get in touch with their inner spirit.
The song ideas announce themselves to her, and she feels an irresistible need to make them into songs. Some of her inspiration comes from serious and sorrowful matters, some from more joyful life ingredients. There is even a song inspired only by the image of a sound. In episode 11 of her show, Kat tells the story of how the song Canoe came about. When I ask Kat if anything can inspire her, the straight answer is – “Yes, anything can inspire me”. Moreover, inspiration can ‘attack’ wherever and whenever. Kat tells us the story of when she purposely drove her car into unfamiliar surroundings in order to get lost. She needed the time to find her way home again to finish a song!
Life might seem nice and easy when you have a talent like Kat’s, but not all songs are easy to make, and the ideas force themselves upon her in a way that does not give her a chance to escape. The songs actually demand to be written. She has learned to recognise this feeling, and when it happens she might say to herself – here we go again! Sometimes, writing a song can be a way to process difficult things. In those cases, song writing is therapy to Kat – but not all therapy comes with pleasure alone.
Kat says that she often hears music in her head (a soundtrack of her life) and that she often thinks in terms of movies. I want to know where this inner imaging capacity comes from. Her answer is that she has a childish understanding of life. When she was as young as 3-4 years of age, she saw many old musical movies and expected that what she saw on the screen would be her future. She was thrilled, and her brain started to work in this way. She hears music, when washing, doing the dishes, driving the car etc. She does not have to analyse her feelings, they show through the music she is hearing in her head. The music proceeds her awareness of her mood.
When I found Kat back in 2014, her double talents struck me, being a great singer-songwriter and a great interpreter of songs composed by others. When I ask Kat how singing other people’s songs compares to singing her own, her answer somewhat surprises me. She seldom has problems interpreting other people’s songs, but sometimes can find it difficult to interpret her own. This happens when she is processing something and going through a change as a person. “I am my own greatest mystery”, she exclaims with a laugh.
In this context, one should mention her drama talents, visible to us when she sings at live performances and on videos. With the qualities of an experienced actor, she puts herself and her expression in the mood of the song’s subject. She radiates the anguish of unhappy love, or other painful feelings, when this is the theme of the song – like in Nobody Knows That from her second album Way Down Low. Of course, every singer tries to do this, but few have Kat’s capacity to be that genuine in the expression. However, it does not have to be unhappy feelings. Another example of her drama talents is the fun and somewhat spooky Someone’s in the House, on her latest album Dreamers Do.
Actually, Kat has had, and still has, ambitions to be an actor. When she watched many old musical movies on television as a young child, the combination of music and drama made her think that this was the natural combination. Dreaming about her future, this was the combination she was aiming for. Later she studied acting for two years at the William Esper Studio. She liked to be in front of the camera and felt she could have a career in acting, but eventually she followed the music thread instead.
There have been moments of doubt in her career, but not in those early years. Otherwise, one might have thought that the comment from one of the jurors when Kat, aged 19, was turned down in the final of American Idol would have drained her of self-confidence. His verdict was that Kat “did not look like a star”. However, neither being turned down, nor the comment itself, damaged her self-confidence. After all, she made it to the final, but more importantly, she saw through the aim of the show. The narrow sensation-seeking concept of the TV show was more important than to find talent, and she saw many talented young artists that did not fit into that concept. Therefore, she went home with her self-confidence unaffected.
Kat grew up in Houston, Texas, but returning from American Idol and Hollywood, she chose to live in Austin. She took many jobs, but finally got a day job at a real estate agency and could sing in restaurants and bars at night. Sometimes it was exhausting and her boss once asked Kat if she really could manage this combination. He needed her to be more alert at the office. She then decided to put all her efforts into her music career. Her boss supported her choice, but was also worried about her. After all, at that moment she had only one booking coming up! The boss added one, and then she was on her way.
The word about Kat got around and the number of gigs at restaurants and bars increased. Fans came to listen and eventually she performed every day, sometimes twice a day. Kat learned how to create a show with a beginning and an end and how to fill up to four hours of performance. She learned how to entertain and how to speak to people. She also met many other artists. It was a period of a lot of hard work, but it was also a very educational time in her life.
Kat had heard that it is difficult to get into the business if you have not recorded an album before you are 25, so the year she would become 25, she made her first album on a label that she had created with a friend. Three years later, she made her second album on her own label. It caught the eyes of Sony Masterworks, which bought the rights to the album, offering her what a big record company can offer in terms of distribution, promotion etc. Now Kat was well on her way in her music career.
A philosophy of dreams
Kat’s doubts in herself came later, and she has an explanation as to why – her philosophy of dreams. Kat believes that having a dream has a deep existential importance. Having a dream actually means power. People can hinder you from realising that dream, but no one can stop you from having and believing in the dream. It is a protected area.
However, if you subordinate that dream to accomplish other things – money, fame, reputation, or even to make other people’s dreams come true – your dream is no longer a protected area. Your belief in the dream is diminished by the measurement of the other things you believe your dream should help you to accomplish. You start to concentrate your thoughts on how successful you have been in those terms, and the essential quality of your dream fades away.
This is what happened to Kat. Was she successful enough after the years she had spent in the music business? Were people around her satisfied enough with what she had accomplished? Was the record company satisfied enough?
The expectations, her own and others, eroded her self-confidence, and her doubts led to a crisis. Kat asked herself if she really did have “it”, and she felt shame for not having accomplished certain things. The power of the dream was disappearing, and she doubted that she really had a voice in the meaning of having something to say.
But then, a song demanded to be written. Eventually it became the song A Voice, later recorded on her fourth album, Old Fashioned Gal. However, when she wrote it, it was a very private song. In a comment to the YouTube video, Kat tells us that, when she wrote it she did not intend this song to be performed for anyone. The process that preceded the song was painful, and it was painful to write. However, somewhere along the way, she realised what had happened to her – she was subordinating her dream to other goals. She was able to restore the status of her dream, and now A Voice is on the album and on a YouTube video, maybe trying to convince us that everyone has a voice, worthy of being used and heard. Now, she understands that the power of a dream rests on the fact that it is a goal in itself, not a means to something else.
Kat returns to the same theme from another angle in the song Too Late to Dream on her latest album Dreamers Do. Are the messages we receive as children about following our dreams relevant through adult life – or do we become caged by our age? The question is open in the song, and I choose to interpret Kat’s philosophy in a positive way. The question needs to be asked, because the threats to our dreams are greater in adult life, but you can still overcome them. You need to overcome them.
In retrospect, Kat realises, that the way the record industry works today is not optimal in terms of finding and letting talents develop. According to Kat, the music industry is not for the faint-hearted. Like much of modern industry, it is based on short-term calculation of profit. Kat has now left Sony Masterworks, and the latest two albums are self-released.
Of course, Kat understands the need to make money, but it seems obvious to me that Kat does not make music only to make a living, so I close the interview by asking what being a musician and a songwriter mean to her. Does she think that she has a mission in making music? Her answer is honest and rests on a well-justified self-confidence.
I am called to do those things. I found that I write songs that touch people. If there is a purpose in life, this is mine, writing songs and singing them.
This is a sample of music videos of songs from Kat’s five albums and her first single.
As I usually do, I conducted this interview with the support of my wife. We will both have our friendly conversation with Kat as a bright memory. There were many memorable moments. One is when Kat told us about the background to a favourite song of ours – Who’s Counting. Kat was about to leave Europe after a tour where she was the opening act to the British jazz pianist and vocalist Jamie Cullum. Standing in line at the airport, she felt lost in life and wondered where her place would be. The story Kat told us eventually turned into her reciting the song lyrics, and the beautiful words crossed the ocean between us. That was “no ordinary thing”. Thank you Kat!
Searching for something to which I can relate Standing in a long line at the third departure gate You’re first or you’re last it’s still hurry up and wait Crossing the ocean ain’t no ordinary thing Five thousand miles on a gigantic missile with wings One minute to take off and the captain bell dings I’ve got three three decades as Sue and Jim’s daughter And it’s been four years four years I’ve been singing in the halls We’ve shared two two anniversaries together But who’s counting babe who’s counting the tallies on the wall Who’s counting baby who’s counting anything at all We try to be right we try to be good we try to be strong It’s never enough it’s always too much and there’s still something wrong And yet in the meantime we just keep moving along…
I found Sant Andreu Jazz Band through a video on YouTube in September 2016. In the very first video that I saw, Andrea Motis was singing In My Solitude backed by the Joan Chamorro Quartet and Orquestra Simfònica del Vallès. I was astonished. She was so young and had the expression of youth, but she was nevertheless so sophisticated. The setting was grand, like in a jazz ballad performed by Diana Krall backed by her usual jazz group and a string orchestra. Moreover, like Diana Krall, this young lady proved not only to be a vocalist – she also played a solo on trumpet. (Click the YouTube image below to enjoy the video.)
More astonishment would come. I soon found out that Andrea Motis was not alone. She was a member of Joan Chamorro’s creation, the Sant Andreu Jazz Band, a big band with children and teenagers playing music “with emphasis on a classic jazz repertoire with lots of swing” – later also a lot of wonderful Brazilian bossa nova. Along the way, I discovered hundreds of fabulous music videos on YouTube of the big band or parts of the band – often together with top professional musicians as soloists, and always with their leader, Joan Chamorro. Moreover, the young musicians often played more than one instrument, and many were good singers too. How could there be so many talented kids in this band?
I have published a number of articles examining the answer to this question and I will return here to some of the band’s features that I see as key factors. However, my focus this time is on the relationship between the band and us, the fans of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band. The question is – what is it about the band, and what is it about us, that make us love the band so much?
The fans have a deep and wide interest in the Sant Andreu Jazz Band. Joan Chamorro often expresses his gratitude for people’s interest, but he expresses himself as grateful for the interest in “our project”. These two words, “our” and “project”, indicate something important; a “project” indicates a wider concept than a “band” and using the word “our” indicates that he does not see it as his project alone. It belongs to a wider community.
What about the project? Does it have boundaries in terms of people involved? Do people have to be musicians within SAJB to be part of the project, and be part of the band right now – or should we understand “the project” in a much broader sense? To acknowledge the true nature and the importance of the project I believe it is the latter.
Joan Chamorro is the leader of the project and without him it would not exist. He was the originator and with his enthusiasm, ideas and creativity the project continues and develops all the time. He is clearly part of the project. (Read more in “Joan Chamorro”, Musik.pm 2019.)
The young musicians of course also belong to the project. Fans often discuss who among the young musicians are still members of SAJB and who are not. However, I would argue that there is no sharp boundary. The musicians leave gradually through different stages, and can continue to play in one or several of Joan Chamorro’s many spin-off projects. They can even return to the big band as a guest. Sometimes they are officially announced as a guest, sometimes not (which tends to confuse those who want strict demarcations). However, what is important is that they remain part of a big musical network, with Joan Chamorro in the centre. That does not stop them from being part of other groups and networks too. (More about this in the article “Èlia Bastida”, Musik.pm 2019.)
Even if one forces a distinction between current and former SAJB members, I would not exclude the band’s alumni from a broader conceptualisation of “the project”. They carry the music, the ideas and the culture of the project within them – even as they develop in many ways. Yes, even those who do not continue as musicians. It is like when you become adult and move out of the family home. The attributes and traits you aquired growing up in your family never leave you totally. If not earlier, you realise this when you become old. In that and many other respects, SAJB is like a family. Even when you grow up and build a life of your own, you are to some extent still a “family member”. In this wider perception of “the project”, the musician never leaves it totally.
Many professionals collaborate with SAJB – some on a more permanent basis, some now and then. They are impressed by the young musicians. Are these professionals part of “the project”? Obviously, they are while collaborating, but maybe the professionals can utilize these experiences in their other activities. Where does the project then end?
However, band members and professional musicians are not the only ones important to “the project”. Several other contributors also belong, for instance those who provide Joan and SAJB with the music arrangements that are so very important to our enjoyment of their music. The producers of beautiful musicvideos, CDs, movies and photos are also part of the project. If these high-quality documentations had not existed, fans globally could not have found and enjoyed SAJB, as we are fortunate to do. I should also mention the growing importance of the project support connected to performances, information and administration.
So, what about us, the fans? This article started out from our love of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band but I would rather say that we love the broader less delineated “Sant Andreu Jazz Band project”. Because of our love, we, the fans, almost every day enjoy YouTube videos and/or albums by the big band or other line-ups connected to the SAJB network – and we spread the word and the music to friends and contacts on social media. We happily enrol ourselves in an informal “information service” of SAJB. In a way we actually become part of “the project” when we embrace it and tell the world about it.
Indications of love
Who are “we”, and what are the indicators of our love? Naturally, the fans of Sant Andreu Jazz Band are primarily to be found among people who like jazz, particularly the kind of jazz that the band plays. This probably means that the fans tend to be older rather than younger. Moreover, the fans are, as jazz lovers in general, scattered around the world, though many of them naturally can be found in Spain, SAJB’s home country. However, according to the Internet statistics connected to my music service Musik.pm, the band also has many fans in North and South America, Europe and Asia.
The fact that its many fans are scattered around the world means that the band does not receive a very strong attention in any one country, outside Spain. However, to have fans in many countries adds up to the total amount of attention that the band actually receives.
SAJB performs a lot in and near Barcelona, and those performances of course receive attention there. However, many foreign fans travel to Barcelona to experience the band on location. From time to time, the band also performs in other countries. As you can find fans of SAJB among jazz lovers who are in the position to be able to arrange tours, festivals and single concerts (which, testifying to the quality of the band, shows that some of its fans are influential in the jazz world), the band gets access to clubs and concert halls in different countries. Other evidence of love lies in the multitude of posts, “likes” and enthusiastic comments on social media and YouTube, not least reactions to the band’s and Joan Chamorro’s own posts. Some fans confess that they did not listen to jazz a lot before they found SAJB, but now they “cannot live without them”. Obviously, there are both “jazz veterans” and “jazz beginners” among SAJB fans. I would place myself somewhere between those two groups. I enjoyed jazz before I found SAJB, but Joan Chamorro and SAJB has deepened my knowledge about and love for jazz.
You can also find a number of very positive articles about the band on the Internet. I have myself received a lot of positive response to my articles on Musik.pm. Through these messages, I have gained new contacts and music friends in different countries, united in our love of SAJB. We share video links, concert dates and other things related to the band. There are also two Facebook groups with enthusiastic members, one in French and one in English. (Amis du Sant Andreu Jazz Band and Friends of Sant Andreu Jazz Band.)
I have sometimes confessed that I have one “problem” with SAJB. The rich variety of musicians, songs and genres, and the enormous amount of well-produced recordings sometimes leave little time to enjoy other music. Actually, it is not only a question of time; in fact, I often do not have a strong need for other music. Some fan friends admit they have the same “problem”. As an indication of our appreciation of SAJB, a Finnish friend and I once concluded, “Imagine that we would have the opportunity to experience a thing like SAJB in our lifetime!”
To explain love
So why do the fans love SAJB? As I have not done a survey, I can only propose a theory – a theory built on my observations and analysis of the phenomenon “the Sant Andreu Jazz Band project”. You can find the basis for this theory in my earlier articles, not least in “The Sant Andreu Jazz Band formula” and in the portrait of Joan Chamorro.
I feel at home in my theory, but maybe not everyone does. You will have to judge for yourself what parts of my theory best describe the reasons for your own love – or maybe what you think is wrong or missing in the theory. This is how it goes.
The fans of course love the band because its performances and recordings are of an astonishing and surprisingly high quality. This does not mean that everyone in every way performs like an experienced professional all of the time, but as a whole, the quality is amazing. Moreover, the quality of the individual members and of the band as a whole develops all the time.
It is not my impression that, from the start, the young musicians were musical wonder kids, such as the ones we sometimes see on YouTube, for instance, playing Mozart technically brilliantly on a grand piano at the age of four. Why should there be a concentration of such musical wonder kids in one particular district of Barcelona? Of course, they had talent, maybe some more than others, and many have had formal musical education before and alongside their life in SAJB. However, inspirational and hard work within SAJB does something great with all these young musicians.
The joy of observing development
When you follow SAJB on YouTube, you can watch band members grow, both in age and as musicians. If you follow the band as closely as many of the fans do, you sometimes feel as if you were an older, distant relative. Comments on YouTube or social media can go “How he has grown!” or “How young she was when she did that recording!” You almost feel like you are part of a big family watching this development happen. Apart from these heart-warming, family-like emotions, it is very enjoyable and interesting to follow the development of young musicians. This is to me, and probably also to many other fans, an important reason for looking around for SAJB videos from different years.
The human and social dimension
The musical training within SAJB has some specific and very interesting features. This training has been very successful. However, there is something more to the project; another dimension that I believe is very important. This other dimension is a cluster of human and social features. I claim that you need to understand both dimensions of “the project” to understand what it actually is that you love. When you understand the project, you realise that there is something more than the music to love, however good that music is. Moreover, if this “more” had not been there, the music would probably not had been as good as it is.
To start with, I return to the original basic statement of the project, as spelled out at the end of Ramón Tort’s documentary Kids and Music, la Sant Andreu Jazz Band (2012).
Driven and directed by Joan Chamorro, the orchestra aims to educate children from 7 to 18 years old both as musicians and as people.”
The key words are “both as musicians and as people”. From the start, Joan set these two, mutually supportive ambitions for the project. You can appreciate either ambition separately, but their development rely on each other – musical development enhances the human and social development, and vice versa.
The musical qualities are obvious for anyone to hear, but the human and social qualities might escape you if you are not attentive. When I interviewed Joan and the musicians Èlia Bastida and Carla Motis, preparing the article “The Sant Andreu Jazz Band formula”, I caught a glimpse of these qualities and phrased it like this:
My hypothesis is that these settings indicate an important cultural dimension of the success formula of the band. Music, people, sharing and cooperation lie at the centre of the band’s focus, not image building, glamour and other surface phenomena.” (The Sant Andreu Jazz Band formula, Musik.pm 2018)
Among the features of the method that Joan told me about in that interview, there were two principles that I should mention in this context.
The positive energy of the group: The younger learn from the older and you are perceived as important regardless of the size of your contribution. And eventually the younger become more experienced and take on the roles of seniors and role models.”
To make the project sustainable over time, it is important that seniors stay in the band and are willing “to give back” what they have received as juniors, and many do so.
The sense of presence: When you play you have to be there, not somewhere else. You have to be in the music and together with the others in the group. You must not observe yourself from the outside, from the views of spectators or a camera. The spectators or the camera might not be there, but you could anyway observe yourself from that kind of perspective, and such preoccupation would split your focus.” (The Sant Andreu Jazz Band formula, Musik.pm 2018)
I believe these features are an important base for the love of the band. They help its members to concentrate on the music and to cooperate within the band. As a result, the music gets better, for us to love, but we also love the human and social qualities in themselves. Part of the band’s charm is that its members radiate these qualities. Many who have met Joan Chamorro and/or members of SAJB have witnessed their kindness and generosity.
Sant Andreu Jazz Band comprises members of very different ages. I believe an age mix generally helps development. I have myself been part of youth organizations, led by a few adults, where members were of very different ages. The older members in some ways share the leadership with the adults, but they also share the member status with the younger. The band also comprises both female and male members.
Not being homogeneous in terms of age and gender, the organization becomes a small community organized to achieve a common purpose. The more the purpose is visible, practical and shared, the more successful the organization. The Sant Andreu Jazz Band has a very visible and practical purpose – to develop musically and from time to time show its musical standard in performances – and the result depends on how the members can build the quality together. Everyone is important to the common result, and they all develop as musicians and as people.
What about Joan Chamorro? Does he benefit from working with the project of Sant Andreu Jazz Band? I am quite sure he does. In my portrait of Joan, I conclude that “Joan creates the project and the project creates Joan in a spiral of mutual development.” (Joan Chamorro, Musik.pm 2019.) This is probably what could happen to all of us in our life projects. We put things into action, and if we deal with the results of the action in a creative and constructive way, we develop.
In a comment on Facebook, someone once said that an important success factor for SAJB is that it has a senior musician who sacrifices himself to fulfil the task of being the bandleader. However, anyone who knows Joan Chamorro knows that he absolutely does not see his task as a sacrifice! On the contrary, leading and developing SAJB is very important to him as a person. It is his mission in life and a part of his identity. The success of SAJB must also be very rewarding. Moreover, within his work with SAJB, he gets to play with some very interesting professional musicians.
Mentioning the importance of individuals, we should not overlook the importance of every individual young musician in Sant Andreu Jazz Band, their skills and their readiness to contribute to the positive energy of the group. According to the principle of including both current and former band members in the definition of “the project”, this statement includes everyone from the original eight to all current members. They are all part of a living and sustainable music culture that goes on and on, creating new experiences for us to enjoy.
An ideal society?
The project of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band seems to me to form a sort of “ideal society” – a community where everyone gets the opportunity to develop with the help of the leader, fellow band members and external professionals. There is no requirement that everyone develops at the same pace. With their own efforts and the support received, everyone can develop according to their own capacity.
You can observe the dynamics of the band through how soloist parts are distributed. Normally the senior band members take on most of the soloist parts, but then again, they often sit back to support younger members. In a few years, the young ones will have succeeded the old ones and taken on their roles.
The human and social aspects of the project have a value of their own, but they also enhance the quality of the music. In my view, the result is music with a special kind of spirit and a strong community that I have rarely seen elsewhere. We can appreciate the band members’ shared joy of playing together, but also their discipline, ambition and mutual support.
These features tell us something important about the SAJB project. However, since we love the band, they might also tell us something important about us, the fans. Maybe the human and social aspects of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band project form a kind of community we would all like to be part of.
In 2009, the album “Sant Andreu Jazz Band Live at Casa Fuster” was released. It would become the first in a long series of SAJB albums called “Jazzing”. Until today, there has been 16 “Jazzing” releases, and more will come. There are also many SAJB albums featuring different individual SAJB musicians. There is a lot of wonderful music to discover on all of these albums!
This is a sample of songs from the Jazzing series.
Featuring Andrea Motis, Alba Armengouand Èlia Bastida
In this piece, I contemplate the language of music, inspired by three young musicians (you will find links to them performing at the end of this piece). Their musical expressions create something in me that is a mix of melancholy and happiness – “Triste et beau”, to put it in French.
As I have said, they are young. However, the music does not enchant me because of some charming traits of youth. In fact, I cannot identify any traits of youth in their musical expressions. I rather perceive their performances as mature, expressing mature feelings.
How can these young musicians be mature enough to express feelings that speak to an elderly man like me? Is it because the language of music is so very different to communication by words?
When you want to reach a common understanding, the logic of communication by words is that you try to fuse into your messages what you want the receiver of your messages to comprehend. There are ways to find out if you are successful or not. When you tell friends something, you sometimes notice by their behaviour that they have misunderstood what you were trying to communicate. The reason often is that you and your friend did not have the same picture of the situation, and your message failed to bridge that difference. When you notice the misunderstanding, you might try to correct it by explaining further.
The language of music is different. In a broad sense, it is the communication of emotions. There is no easy way to establish if the musician’s emotions and the emotions of the individuals in an audience are the same. Actually, there are not even any strong incentives to do so; applause seems enough to satisfy both musicians and the audience.
When training to be a musician, the musician can learn how to express feelings effectively – maybe in a more mature way. However, the training does not transform the musician’s emotional life in depth. I do not deny that education and training could influence the musician’s emotional life to some extent, but if they are young with a young mind, they continue to be so until they are no longer young. However, the musical examples below show that young musicians can still communicate emotions with fellow musicians and audiences of very different ages.
So I conclude that the musician’s feelings and the feelings of the different individuals in an audience do not have to be identical, or even similar, to create valuable communication. Communication by music is not like communication by words.
Seemingly, music is a language that transcends age, gender and experiences. Different people, with different emotions that vary in depth and background, can enjoy the same music through their emotions. I do not see this as a problem – rather as a valuable asset that makes us all come together, all sensing the feelings that are important to us individually.
However, what I do think is important is sincerity. I believe musicians have to be sincere about their music to make it speak to us. So maybe sincerity, rather than maturity, is what counts. Andrea Motis, Alba Armengou and Èlia Bastida, all three with a background in the Sant Andreu Jazz Band in Barcelona, are sincere about their music. Here they each play a song together with fellow musicians – also sincere about their music.
ALL TOO SOON Andrea Motis, Jesse Davis and the Sant Andreu Jazz Band directed by Joan Chamorro (2011)
YESTERDAYS From the album “Joan Chamorro presenta Alba Armengou” (2018)
THE PEACOCKS From the album “Joan Chamorro presenta Èlia Bastida” (2017)
It is late afternoon, Tuesday the 26th of November 2019. After two days travelling by train, my wife and I will soon arrive at Barcelona Sants, Barcelona’s main railway station. We are looking forward to the following night’s performance by Joan Chamorro New Quartet and their guest Scott Hamilton at the concert and theatre venue Luz de Gas. The quartet comprises Joan Chamorro and three young musicians from the Sant Andreu Jazz Band – Carla Motis, Èlia Bastida and Alba Armengou. All three have recently featured in albums produced by Joan Chamorro – Joan Chamorro presenta Carla Motis, Joan Chamorro presenta Alba Armengou and The Magic Sound of the Violin, featuring Èlia Bastida.
The performance is the main reason we have come to Barcelona, but we will stay for five days. Barcelona has become a city where we feel at home, and one important reason is Joan Chamorro and the Sant Andreu Jazz Band (SAJB).
Joan Chamorro (Photo: Lili Bonmatí)
Sant Andreu Jazz Band , created and led by Joan Chamorro, is an educational project teaching children and teenagers of different ages to play jazz together and to grow as people. At the same time, it is a band that plays jazz at a remarkably high level. One of the band’s features that makes this possible is the division of tasks between senior and junior members. Everyone has a task and is important in their position, but as the members attain more experience, they take on more and more advanced roles in the band. Moreover, the senior members are role models to the junior members.
In order to understand and present the success of Sant Andreu Jazz Band, I have written several articles on this and other features of the band, which may be of interest to anyone who would like to learn more about the band. (Links below.)
The topic of this article is one of Joan Chamorro’s many spin-off projects from the Sant Andreu Jazz Band, the small group Joan Chamorro New Quartet. However, as we were fortunate to experience a wide range of SAJB activities during our days in Barcelona, I will first give you a summary of this broader scoop.
On Wednesday, there was the performance by the quartet and Scott Hamilton at Luz de Gas, and Joan invited us to arrive as early as the sound check. On Thursday, there was a performance by the quartet at a business award ceremony in the suburb El Prat. On Saturday, there was a five-hour rehearsal with senior members of SAJB at Joan Chamorro’s home, which he quite rightly calls “The Jazz House”. On Sunday, there was a full SAJB concert at Teatre Poliorama in the Barcelona centre, including new band members who we had not seen perform live before. On Monday, we left Barcelona after five exciting days.
The rehearsal we attended was a first reading of twenty new arrangements, preparing for concerts at the Jamboree Jazz Club and four new albums. These albums will in turn feature the band members Joana Casanova, Joan Marti, Marçal Perramon and the constellation “La Magia de la Veu 3”; a constellation where voices are in the centre. (Photo: Bengt-Ove Boström)
The experience of this wide range of SAJB activities over five days gave us a better understanding of how rich, almost hectic, life of SAJB can be. Still, we probably did not see all SAJB-related activities going on during those days. I imagine the regular full band and section rehearsals also took place. Not every band member participated in all activities we experienced, but Joan Chamorro and several seniors did. Moreover, this was an “ordinary” week, not a week like the hectic “Jazzing Festival – Festival de Jazz de Sant Andreu” which takes place in September, a festival where Joan and SAJB are very active. Joan Chamorro founded the festival in 2014, and he is since then the festival director.
Photo: Bengt-Ove Boström
Now back to Wednesday, Luz de Gas and the Joan Chamorro New Quartet! The sound check at Luz de Gas started at 6pm, and we wondered how we would be able to enter the building at this early hour. Looking for the entrance, we suddenly heard Alba’s clear voice from an alley that led to an open side door. We entered directly into the hall where the performance was going to take place – and there they all were on stage, except for Scott who had yet to arrive. Èlia noticed us and waved.
We sat near the bar and listened to what was a mixture of sound check and rehearsal. The rehearsal part started when Scott arrived about an hour later. They went through some critical parts of their interaction, but did not actually play any song in its entirety. As an amateur, I cannot really understand how this preparation together with Scott was sufficient for them to be able to perform at the high standard that we heard two hours later. Of course, there had been many rehearsals involving hard work for the quartet, but this was the first time with Scott.
Sitting at the bar, we realised that Joan would have the concert recorded. The filmmaker Ramon Tort was there with his camera, and of course a sound engineer was present to manage the sound.
When the sound check and rehearsal finished around 8pm, Joan and the girls came down to say hello to all of us who were attending the sound check. Besides the quartet, we also got the opportunity to say hello to a new and important person in the SAJB network, Blanca Gallo Yáñez, who is the Project Manager of Gaudi-U-Música. Joan Chamorro has recruited Blanca to take care of the practical side of the expanding range of SAJB related events.
The two albums Joan Chamorro presenta Carla Motis and Joan Chamorro presenta Alba Armengou were released in time for separate release concerts in the spring 2019, but Èlia’s album The Magic Sound of the Violin was released just in time for the performance at Luz de Gas. However, the concert at Luz de Gas promoted all three of the albums.
Asked about the idea behind the formation of this particular group, Joan mentions several reasons. One is to promote the three albums that Joan had recently produced, thereby giving the three young artists an opportunity to continue to grow musically. He also likes the sound of the group and thinks the repertoire is attractive, giving space to both instrumental and vocal themes.
I realize that one important reason to form this group is to promote the three recent albums – Joan always finds interesting opportunities – but if the constellation had not worked out well, he would probably have given it another profile. There was of course every reason to expect the four to work well together on a personal level – they have done so in numerous other constellations – but what about the energy and sound of a band without drums or piano?
Well, it worked out superbly, indeed! What we heard at the concert was a very soft and attractive expression; one I do not think I have experienced with any other SAJB constellation. In the concert we could enjoy Alba on trumpet, Èlia on violin and tenor saxophone, Carla on guitar and Joan on double bass. Alba and Èlia were the two main vocalists, but in “Doodlin” Carla joined in, and in “Sonho Meu”, Joan joined in.
We heard songs from all three albums, but of course not all. Altogether, there are fifty songs on the three albums, often played by larger constellations than a quartet. On all three albums, the featured musician and Joan play together with different members of SAJB and different professional musicians. The Joan Chamorro New Quartet is a new way to bring a selection of these and other songs to the audience. Without any reservations, we can say that it was a great success! My wife and I, and seemingly the rest of the audience, very much enjoyed what we experienced at the concert.
Carla told us that they had tried songs with a harder tone, but that those songs did not fit the quartet. Without knowing which songs we thereby did not hear, I think the selection of songs we heard was excellent.
When you attend a SAJB related concert you often meet fans from other parts of the world, and you even know some of them because you have established contact through e-mail or social media. At this concert, we met friends from England and the USA. They agreed with us that this was a wonderful concert.
Then there was the guest! The famous and wonderful American tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton. He has been playing with different constellations of SAJB for many years now. It is always a genuine pleasure to experience these collaborations. You can clearly see by the smiling faces of the young musicians how much they appreciate his contributions – and you can also see how much he enjoys performing with them. During a photo session after the concert Scott comments to me – “I love these girls, and they get better and better!”
Scott’s contribution at the concert was, of course, beautiful, and the only preparation they made together for this particular concert was their hour after sound check. This shows the professionalism of not only Scott but also of the members of the quartet.
The young musicians all highlight the inspiration they get from playing with Scott. They also point to how it motivates them to make an extra effort. Alba: “Playing with Scott Hamilton is an honour and a way of learning. Whenever I go on stage I give as much as I can, but with Scott Hamilton I try to give more.” “You prepare more, and in the moment you play; it is like a dream”, says Carla. For Èlia it is a very special experience to play with Scott. He is a role model for her, playing perfectly, using few notes. Scott plays in several songs on The Magic Sound of the Violin, and Scott and Èlia will collaborate on another album.
Alba enjoys learning to play in this new kind of constellation. Èlia very much likes the new soft sound and the musical “colours” that the band creates. In a challenging way, she feels that the project is intellectually demanding and a bit risky. Carla likes the fact that she has more responsibilities in this small group than she normally has. Besides the tasks involving melody, she is also “the rhythmic section” of the band.
We experienced the group once more, but in quite another setting, and without Scott Hamilton. The group served as entertainment at a business award ceremony in the suburb El Prat. The hall was rather large and the lights were on. It is not easy to create the same atmosphere under such circumstances as in a smaller concert hall with an audience of fans, being there only for the concert. However, Joan, Alba, Èlia and Carla showed their professionalism, and did very well. Handling different kinds of contexts is also a mark of professionalism.
Now for a short presentation regarding the three young members of the quartet. For further reading about Joan Chamorro, I refer you to my earlier article, Joan Chamorro.
Detail from a photo by Lili Bonmatí
Of the three, Carla Motis has the longest record as a member of SAJB. She joined the band in 2008, when she was eleven. She is now formally leaving SAJB, but I cannot imagine that she will not continue to play with different constellations of current and former members of SAJB. This is the normal process of regenerating the band.
Carla comes from a musical family. Her parents sing and trumpet, guitar and congas were played in the family. As SAJB fans will know, Carla’s older sister Andrea Motis has been singing and playing trumpet and saxophone with SAJB for many years. Carla started in the band less than two years after Andrea.
Carla began to play classical guitar at seven. Since Andrea was a band member, her parents took Carla to concerts with the band. At one point Joan told her that she could join the band if she bought a banjo – the band being a group of eight children and teenagers playing Dixieland. Her parents did, and the rest is history. Carla has now been the SAJB guitarist for many years. She sometimes also does backing vocals. Like Èlia and Alba, she has studied music alongside the practical education in SAJB. Carla studied at Fundació Conservatori Liceu.
Joining SAJB, Carla felt like a musician for the first time. If she had instead continued with classical guitar, Carla does not believe she would have become a musician. Now she has no doubt that music is what she wants to do. When we met for a short interview after the concert at Teatre Poliorama, she was in a hurry to be on time for next engagement. Nevertheless, she gave us the time to answer our questions.
Carla’s last concert with SAJB was to be the same as the one we saw at Poliorama, but the week after. Rushing out of Poliorama to her next engagement, we see a young musician who already has begun her life as a professional musician.
Detail from a photo by Lili Bonmatí
Èlia Bastida was already 17 when she joined the band. She had played classical violin since she was four, so the violinist that Joan recruited was already a skilled musician. When she started to play with SAJB, she fell in love with jazz and realised that she wanted to dedicate her life to this kind of music.
Since Èlia’s mother is a music teacher, playing piano herself, there was always music in the family. Èlia’s father obviously also has an interest in music, which shows in his expressive paintings of jazz musicians. The choice of violin was Èlia’s own. Her parents wanted her to sing in the choir of her music school, but Èlia instead chose to play the violin. At the age of twelve Èlia started in Oriol Martorell music school. Later she studied for a bachelor degree at Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya (ESMUC).
So Èlia’s first instrument in the band was the violin, but she later also wanted to play the clarinet. Joan recommended that she try the saxophone instead. She did so and started with alto saxophone. After a few months, there was a position free in the band as a tenor saxophonist. Therefore, she started to play tenor saxophone, which she now likes more. She devotes more time to the violin, but she also loves the saxophone. In addition, she likes to sing – Bossa nova and other Brazilian music. Over the years with SAJB, Èlia has done both lead and backing vocals. Violin, saxophone and vocals are her three musical modes of expression. As Carla, Èlia has now left the big band SAJB. (Read more about Èlia in my article Èlia Bastida.)
Alba Armengou is the youngest of the three, and still a member of SAJB. However, she is in every way a senior band member, carrying many soloist parts. Alba plays trumpet and saxophone, and she sings a lot with the big band and different SAJB-related smaller constellations. She does both lead and backing vocals. She sees the trumpet as her main instrument, but she also likes to sing.
Alba started in the band ten years ago when she was eight. However, she met Joan when she was just six. He gave her classes in jazz and two years later, he offered her a position in the band. Over the years, SAJB and Joan have taught her a lot and not only about music. Being together with people of different ages has been very beneficial to her musical and personal development. Alba’s younger sister Elsa is also a member of the band, starting two years later and playing trumpet like Alba.
Alba’s parents are not musicians, but they love music. Alba’s musical training started at the age of three, when her parents let her attend a music school. From eight to 17 she studied trumpet and classical harmony at the IEA Oriol Martorell, and she is currently studying jazz trumpet at ESMuC.
Alba’s goal is to continue to devote herself to music and she sees herself as very lucky to be 18 years old, playing professionally around the world.
Well, will we see more of Joan Chamorro New Quartet? I think we will. Joan finds the experiences positive.
We have worked hard to get the sound we have and I think we all have improved with the work. It is one more possibility to continue working with young people. I believe a lot in all three. They are working hard to get a very good level, and the performances give space to that growth. Starting from the fact that they are already artists who have many things to express, musically, both with their voice and with their instruments.
The quartet have some performances lined up, and Joan is looking into the possibility of editing a live CD from the performance at the Luz de Gas.
So, look out for a CD called Joan Chamorro New Quartet & Scott Hamilton Live at Luz de Gas! And probably some very enjoyable videos from Luz de Gas on YouTube.
Thank you Lili Bonmatí for allowing me to use the beautiful photos from Luz de Gas, including the cover photo of this article, and of course the portrait of Joan Chamorro.
Here is a sample of songs from the fortcoming album by the Joan Chamorro New Quartet and from the three albums featuring Carla Motis, Alba Armengou and Èlia Bastida.
An important part of a learning process is to pose interesting and relevant questions. However, having sought answers to your questions, you sometimes realize that the answers you get are of a different kind to those you had anticipated.
This happens sometimes in everyday life and all the time in research. It happened to me as I prepared this article seeking to discover who Joan Chamorro really is – Joan Chamorro, the musician, music educator and band leader, creator and leader of the successful youth band Sant Andreu Jazz Band. The coordinator of a network of musicians and lots of other people who in different ways work together with SAJB. The jazz musician who plays bass, baritone, tenor, alto and soprano saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, cornet and double bass.
I have written several articles about Sant Andreu Jazz Band and in the latest ones my ambition was to understand why the band has been so successful. Like many others, I have realized that a basic success factor is Joan Chamorro himself. He is the man behind the methods, the pedagogics and the culture of the band.
Having presented the band and Joan’s formula for success in several articles, I now wanted to leave the band aside for a while and draw the picture of Joan Chamorro himself. Who is the man behind the band? What in his background made him so successful later on? And who is Joan Chamorro outside the band?
My preparation was to arrange a meeting with Joan and to develop some more detailed questions supposed to help me answer the ones above. We met in June during the Riverboat Jazz Festival in Silkeborg, Denmark. SAJB performed five times (once in a smaller line-up), and of course we attended every performance. After the first concert, which school children from Silkeborg were specially invited to join, my wife and I sat down backstage with Joan. An hour later we parted, and I realized that my story about Joan would be somewhat different to the one I had imagined beforehand.
Backstage (Photo by Èlia Bastida)
Actually, it was not so much his answers to my questions that changed my view – it was more the eventual focus of our conversation. In fact, our conversation quickly moved on from Joan’s background and, as in previous interviews, came to circle around the features of his work with SAJB. Joan’s experiences during his childhood and youth did not seem to incorporate any big secrets or explanations as to why he was so successful later on. There was not a lot of music in his family. Joan’s father liked music, but not in any exceptional way. He was a builder while Joan’s mother stayed at home taking care of the family which included – aside from Joan and his father – Joan’s sister and two brothers.
Like his father Joan liked music, but also sport. However, he did not in those days really pursue either interest. Joan finished school when he was 18 and did not know what to do with his life. By then he had started to play the guitar and some flute, by ear, and to sing a bit. Joan didn’t hear about jazz until he was 18, and then only by coincidence when he happened to buy his first saxophone and casually applied to the Taller de Musics, a jazz school. He was admitted and must have shown talent in his studies, because after a few years as a student he was appointed a teaching professor at the school. Taller de Musics is where Joan began to fall in love with jazz, albeit gradually and not without doubts. For several years he wondered if he was able to dedicate himself to music and if he really had the necessary talent and ability to do so. He worked hard, studying long hours and, little by little, got into the world of jazz. He got his first jobs as a musician, alternating between jazz and more commercial types of music.
Eventually, Joan applied for and was admitted to a degree programme at the Municipal Conservatory of Music of Barcelona. There he studied classical guitar and saxophone for three years before continuing with saxophone for a higher degree. During those years his love for jazz deepened and he came to love the music of Charlie Parker, Ben Webster and especially Dexter Gordon, among many others.
The young Joan Chamorro
So, it was during his years at Taller de Musics and Municipal Conservatory of Music of Barcelona that Joan learned the basics of music – in his studies and elsewhere. After having finished his degree programme Joan was appointed music teacher at the Municipal School of Sant Andreu. He had already – as a professor at Taller de Musics – become aware of the problems associated with traditional teaching of music in terms of the understanding of the musical language. Based on these experiences Joan wrote a book of exercises that used a different approach to music than the traditional way (Language of music, and rhythm and auditory comprehension and development of the ear). These were the exercises he later applied and developed in training the members of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band.
Obviously, Joan’s thinking about efficient teaching and learning habits came natural to him. It was his reaction to his experiences as a teacher. Why some persons are like that I do not know, but I imagine Joan’s own learning experiences, sometimes not as rewarding as he would have wished, together with his responsibilities as a teacher, triggered his spirit of pedagogical innovation. He could understand what the kids needed to become devoted and skilled musicians, and this understanding I believe comes from a general understanding of people. Of course, Joan’s interest in jazz also helped to open up new ways of thinking about learning to play music.
I shall not dig further into Joan’s pedagogical ideas here; they are presented in my earlier articles (links below). I am now more interested in why he found them and why he was so successful in implementing them. And this is where my original thoughts were at least partly wrong, thinking that Joan’s background would explain why he became the successful creator of SAJB. Joan did not have a strong musical background from his childhood and his entrance into the world of music did not rest on a conviction that it was his vocation. He describes the entrance rather as coincidental and sometimes characterized by doubt.
And my supposition about how personal factors can explain was also misleading. I had seen Joan Chamorro and SAJB as separate entities, where one created the other. However, my interpretation of what I heard during the interview is that Joan is not an innovator separate from the problems he tries to solve. He is rather someone who always interacts in a very creative way with the situation and people around him. He sees the connections between ideas, facts and people; he sees the opportunities and makes something positive out of them. So the process is really an interaction between Joan and his project. Joan creates the project and the project creates Joan in a spiral of mutual development. Built on his experiences as a teacher he developed his general ideas about music pedagogy early on and then practiced and developed them all along the way.
In addition to his particular mode of innovation, there is a very close connection between Joan’s work life and his private life. You could say that Joan’s work is his life, both in terms of engagement and hours. Sometimes it is said that you should not let your work invade your private life, but I do not think that applies to people like Joan. You could just as well say that his private life invades his work life. But it’s more accurate to say that his work and private lives are two sides of the same coin. (I can understand this situation very well, simply because I recognize myself in it.)
This close connection between Joan and the band also has a social dimension. Joan states in the interview that SAJB is his family. And when I recently interviewed the band’s violinist Èlia Bastida she also said that she sees SAJB as a family, with Joan as one of the family members (link below). In his own home, which he calls the Jazz House, Joan recently built a special room for rehearsals and recordings. Obviously the “family members” of SAJB spend a lot of time there.
Sant Andreu Jazz Band at the Jazz House (Photo by Joan Chamorro)
Rehearsal at the Jazz House (Photo by Lili Bonmati)
When I ask Joan what he needs to be motivated to carry on his work his spontaneous reply is “positive energy”. He can give a lot of positive energy himself, but he also needs some in return. Everyone can have worries and bad days, but they should try to ensure that this does not interfere with the activities of the band. Instead, one can use the positive energy of the group as a support.
Some think that it is hard to teach children and young people, that children do not try hard enough and don’t do their homework. Joan does not see it like that. The teacher can be the problem, rather than the children. A teacher’s basic task is to motivate, and with motivation young people can do wonders. You start with what is fun and simple. Singing, dancing and enjoying the music is therefore important in the beginning, reading music is not. That can come later. Adding to that I guess that Joan’s early doubts about his talent later made him realize the importance of promoting young musicians’ self-confidence; a teacher should show his belief in his students.
Photo by Lili Bonmati
Of course, Joan’s own development as a musician since he first started to play has been decisive for his development as a musical leader. Not least his passion for jazz. But the mode of innovation that I describe above reflects a more general psychological quality that actually can be utilized in many contexts. If music had not been there, Joan might very well have found another sphere to be creative in. This quality means that Joan creates and develops all the time, such that his activities also develop all the time. The SAJB of today still has its foundation in the basic ideas of the SAJB he initially created, but much has also happened since then – with SAJB and with Joan himself. Joan admits this during the interview. Some developments concern music and pedagogics, but a lot has also happened with regards to facilities, touring, organization, collaboration, documentation etc.
Being in music education and the music business, Joan is definitely an entrepreneur in both these areas, finding and creating more and more possibilities all the time. SAJB was formed in 2006 and has developed a lot since then, and even since I first discovered SAJB in 2016. The next exciting project coming up is the Jazz Education Stage at the Jazzing Festival – Sant Andreu Jazz Festival in September 2019. Joan is the founder and director of the Jazzing Festival, and also founder and director of the Jazz Education Stage.
From the Sant Andreu Jazz Festival 2017 (Photo by Lili Bonmati)
Asked about visions and strategies Joan hasn’t got any elaborate answers. Of course he makes practical plans – educating, rehearsing, collaborations and giving concerts would be impossible otherwise – but planning in Joan’s mind does not involve long-term visions and elaborate strategies. The recruitment of new band members illustrates this. Joan knows what positions he needs to fill in a year or two, and uses different avenues to find these musicians. It might be a brother, sister or a friend of a band member who shows interest, or it might be parents who talk to Joan about their child. He is happy to recruit siblings as he thinks family is important. Otherwise he has no standard method of recruiting. Recruitment is a response to what the band needs in terms of replacements for those who leave, and occasionally to develop potentially interesting combinations of instruments, such as when Èlia Bastida was recruited as a violinist.
Of course, Joan roughly knows the direction he wants to go with the band, but this does not necessitate elaborate strategies. I find this attitude towards planning, strategies and visions very attractive. You do need to know in what broad direction you want to go, otherwise you do not see the opportunities to go in that direction. But if your goals and strategies are too detailed you will probably not recognize interesting opportunities because they do not exactly match your detailed goals, and you will probably not reach these goals at all. Having a sense of direction and an eagerness to develop is what makes Joan find or create opportunities, and then to utilize them in a fruitful way. I believe this is also one explanation why Joan and the band cover many sub-genres in jazz and related music.
So the separation of Joan and the project into different entities was misleading as a basis for my questions. You cannot describe who Joan is without describing SAJB and vice versa. The two are so much one that it is almost impossible to describe who Joan is outside SAJB. What happened before SAJB was more like Joan finding himself. Having done that he saw the necessity and opportunity of SAJB, and the rest is history.
Photo by Lili Bonmati
However, one is also influenced by sad things. Some twenty years ago something tragic happened which was a life-changing experience for Joan. His son died from cancer aged three years old. Some time ago, in one of our e-mail conversations about Sant Andreu Jazz Band, Joan told me about his son, including his importance for Joan’s work with SAJB. With Joan’s permission I quote from his message to me.
”A sad but beautiful story
One day, 20 years ago, I met a person who was an angel. That angel was, is my son, Nicolas, who left when he was three years old, to heaven (he got cancer when he was a year and a half old), and he taught me something as important as the only thing we have is the present, that the future may cease to exist at any time. And he was happy during his short but intense life and he made me appreciate how nice it is to get up in the morning and say thank you to the sun, or the rain. Or the fact of breathing. Or the fact of making others happy simply by being kind and generous.
I believe that this teaching, which is so important to me, has been very important in this process of all these years.
Be generous, dreamer, try to be kind and respectful and above all know that what matters most is the present. That’s what I try to teach, through music.
Few people know this story, the story of my son Nicolas, how important it was and is for me and, I imagine, that it has been, to a greater or lesser extent, for all those people who have crossed my path, especially the members of the sajb.
Joan told me the story because he wanted me to understand this dimension of him and his work. At that time he did not want me to write about it, which I of course respected. But in this context he now agrees that I can relate the story.
Everyone who reads Joan’s words will inevitably, like me, feel deeply touched and will see his work with SAJB in a new light. Together with the effort and joy of Joan and all band members, the bright image of Joan’s son shines through the music of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band.
We have recently been on our third fado expedition to Lisbon, the capitol not only of Portugal but also of fado. We spent two of the nights at the famous Clube de Fado, and on March 28 we were lucky to enjoy beautiful fado by the fadistas Maria Emília, Maria Ana Bobone, Rodrigo Costa Félix and Joana Amandoeira, accompanied by Mário Pacheco, Pedro Pinhal and Paulo Paz. On April 3 we could again enjoy Maria Emília and Joana Amandoeira, but also Carlos Leitão and Carolina, accompanied by Henrique och Carlos Leitão. Two beautiful fado nights!
On the first night I was happy to agree with Maria Ana Bobone to meet for an interview. Maria Ana sings fado beautifully, but her musicianship also includes some elements that make her a bit unusual in the world of fado. So in the morning of April 1 my wife and I met with Maria Ana at Centro Cultural de Belém for an interesting conversation over coffee. This is what we talked about.
Conversation over coffee at Centro Cultural de Belém
Maria Ana comes from a musical family sensitive to art and music, although her parents were not professional musicians. Her mother was a teacher and her father an engineer. But there was a lot of music in the family as well as in the extended family. Maria Ana was born in Porto, but since the family soon moved to Lisbon, this is where she grew up. The extended family often meets, which means that Maria Ana often visits Porto.
With the exception of a few years Maria Ana’s school was an English private school. This means that she speaks excellent English. At the age of twelve she started in the Conservatory in order to study piano alongside with the ordinary school. In sixth grade she switched from piano to classical singing. Maria Ana started to sing fado at the age of 16, and continued with singing courses until she was 23.
Unsure whether singing would be her future she started to study public information and journalism. She laughingly calls it her “plan B”, so I suppose this was not her main option after all. But Maria Ana wants to have many options. She is not a planner in life, and assures us that too much planning bores her. Maybe journalism fitted into that frame. Being able to know a little bit of everything, kept many doors open. So, actually Maria Ana did not consciously aim for a music career. It happened anyway. She calls herself “a late bloomer”.
While writing this post I wonder if we sometimes unconsciously aim for a goal by moving into certain positions and options that will make the attainment of that goal more probable. It is not planning, but the effect can be the same – or even better. You avoid the boredom, the rigidity or the anxiety of conscious planning, but you might anyway get where you want. Some of that applies to me, but I do not know if it applies to Maria Ana. That is for her to say.
Without any doubt Maria Ana Bobone now is a fadista, a well-established and much appreciated fado singer, but she makes a point of that she does not come from within the fado tradition. Her family background is Italian, Irish, German and Spanish. Her voice was in the beginning more Celtic, but she has practiced and worked with the fado expression since she was 16.
However, some are born in the tradition, and they learn from people close to them. There is a vocal characteristic that seems to run in the family, a kind of coloratura with ornaments. Others learn fado from the outside. There is almost like a genetic thing which marks the difference between coming from the inside or the outside, says Maria Ana. It is not that one or the other is better, but they are different. And the Portuguese listener can tell the difference.
From my perception of Maria Ana compared to fadistas with a more obvious origin in the fado tradition, I believe I can sense another difference. I hesitate to describe that difference with my own words, but maybe the difference has to do with treating the voice as a beautiful and clear instrument or telling a story with the voice as a theatrical instrument. If I am on the right track I would still stress that it very much is a matter of emphasis, not of mutually exclusive categories. Exactly where on such a scale Maria Ana Bobone and other fadistas are positioned I let others argue about. I very much enjoy the whole scale.
Anyhow, I can easily say that Maria Ana Bobone has a beautiful and carefully trained voice, and she uses it for beautiful singing. Often fado, but also other genres. More of that later. First I want to mention something else that differs her from many other of today’s fadistas. As I mentioned, Maria Ana in early age started to play the piano, and she has later brought the piano into the fado. One of her albums is called Fado and Piano. This is in fact a re-introduction of piano into the fado tradition since piano was common in the end of the 19th century. Now the guitars by far are the most common instruments in fado – the Portuguese, the classical and sometimes a base guitar.
But new instruments are introduced, and Maria Ana Bobone is one of the fadistas who does that. Not only the piano, but also less expected instruments. In her album Luz Destino there is a harpsichord, and in the album Senhora da Lapa a saxophone. But, as Maria Ana points out, even Amalia Rodrigues experimented with the saxophone by Don Byas in 1973.
Most often fadistas do not accompany themselves on an instrument, but Maria Ana Bobone does. Often on a piano, and sometimes on a classical guitar. And the base player Rodrigo Serrão, who often accompanies her, plays an upright bass, sometimes one with a futuristic design. So there are some things in Maria Ana Bobone’s performances and albums that differ from the kind of fado you most often experience in the fado houses of today. But it is beautiful and exciting music, sometimes with melody and/or lyrics by Maria Ana.
Although Maria Ana Bobone is a renowned fadista, not everything that she does is positioned in the centre of the fado tradition. With my northern European cultural background I cannot be sure of the borders of fado, but I sense that some of Maria Ana Bobone’s music balances on borders to other genres. I appreciate music positioned in the centre of a loved genre, but it is also exciting to experience music on or close to the borders of a genre. It helps me to expand my musical habitats, and that is what Maria Ana Bobone does for me.
But Maria Ana has also recorded music far from fado. I’m thinking of her album Smooth. Actually, I cannot see any relation at all to fado. The English title indicates instead that this album positions itself in the North American/North European culture sphere. When I saw that album for the first time I got suspicious. I have experienced beautiful fadistas reduce themselves into much less significant singers, trying to interpret songs from the American tradition. They have not been able to compete with singers raised in that tradition, and they have not been able to bring interesting elements of fado into the American tradition. But Maria Ana Bobone is exceptional. She is in this album well in class with her most well-known American colleagues, and she has a part in most of the songs as composer and/or lyricist. My respect for this multi-talented artist continues to grow.
Can it be that Maria Ana still “keeps many doors open”? If so, I only hope that her audience will have the capacity to appreciate her capacity to vary between expressions. So far the brilliant album Smooth has not got the attention it deserves, neither in Portugal nor in the US.
Maria Ana has lived almost all her life in Lisbon. She says that you do not have to be born in Lisbon to become a fadista, but eventually most fadistas with career ambitions move there. That’s where most of the action around fado is. In Lisbon there are a multitude of fado houses, and of course also more concert opportunities than in other places in Portugal.
Which kind of venue does she prefer? They are different experiences, she says. Maria Ana likes the human contact without barriers and technique in a fado house or other small venue, but she also enjoys the show of a big concert, for instance in the great auditorium in Centro Cultural de Belém. She earlier used to sing in churches, which of course is a kind of venue suitable for her way of singing. Maria Ana has also performed internationally in different countries – in big concert halls and at small venues.
What is it to sing fado? Maria Ana gives us a rich answer: Fado is about communication, the sharing of emotions. You want to convey emotions to people, to make them join you, even if they do not understand the words. It is a type of communication without words. Still, the message of the poetry is important in building the emotion. You try to convince people that you feel what you sing. And in a way you can actually feel what you sing through the means of your empathy. Words are powerful. And emotions of empathy are closer to you, the older you get.
I agree with Maria Ana. Empathy and passion are two of the feelings that give depth to a fado experience – even if you only understand the emotional expression, not the language. Actually, I believe that is why you have to be quiet and concentrate on the performance in a fado house. If you think of something else your experience will be disturbed. And if you talk or eat during the performance, the fado experience will be ruined for everyone in the room.
The theme of maturity and empathy ends our fado discussion with Maria Ana. But we do not split just yet. We talk for a while about differences in the world, how climate in different regions influences culture, how nature provides different possibilities to find one’s dignity, and that different people consider different things essential.
But everything that is different is not good. How can we know what is good and what is bad? What should we avoid? Maria Ana has given her children one role of thumb:
If it does not make sense to you, trust yourself and your thoughts.
That principle is of course not the only one you need in life, but maybe that rule of thumb can provide some sort of guidance to an open mind. An open mind like Maria Ana Bobone’s.
Here is a mix of songs from different times, venues and albums. Enjoy!
The message on WhatsApp came three minutes earlier than expected, and I took the elevator down to let Èlia into the house where my wife and I rented an apartment during our stay in Barcelona. Èlia and I had agreed three months earlier to meet for this interview – unless she was booked for a concert outside Barcelona. Fortunately for me, no such concert was booked.
Actually we had agreed to meet at 15.30, but when Èlia after leaving another meeting realised that she would not be in time, she sent me a message and informed me that she would be ten minutes late. She was very sorry about that. Not everyone would even pay attention to being ten minutes late, and in the end it was only seven. The impression I got of Èlia in connection to an interview I conducted with her, Joan Chamorro and Carla Motis last year proved to be very right. Èlia is a reliable person. A person to be trusted. A person I would be happy to depend on, if I was a leader of a youth band and had Èlia as a senior band member.
And actually Èlia Bastida has for six years been a member of the excellent youth band Sant Andreu Jazz Band (SAJB), led by Joan Chamorro. She is now 23 years old, but as she joined the band at the age of 17 she was never a very young band member, as many of the other members have been. Although junior in the jazz context at the time she joined the band, she was not junior as a musician, having played classical music on her violin since she was four. But for the last seven years the jazz music of SAJB and different projects connected to the band have been a very important part of her musical life. And music is what dominates her daily life.
When Èlia joined SAJB she was already a skilled violinist. Now she has developed into a mature and versatile jazz musician, both with respect to genres and instruments. She has a beautiful feeling and she plays with authority. I admire and love her musicianship.
The specific reason I wanted to interview Èlia at this particular time in her life was because she is on the brink of establishing a new musical base. As Joan, Èlia and Carla unanimously declared in my interview last year, SAJB is a band that regenerates; older members at some point leave and thereby open up room for younger member to be recruited. This is where Èlia is now in life and I wanted to know how that feels and how her new music base emerges. After all, SAJB is not just any youth band. It combines the double ambition of making young people grow as musicians as well as persons in a social context – and the band is very successful in both respects. That experience is of course a wonderful asset to a young person, but to leave a wonderful experience can also be threatening. So “life after SAJB” was my concern, a common situation for all “aging” band members of SAJB.
Discussing the subject with Èlia I realize that my presumption about the “life after SAJB” situation was partly wrong. There is actually not a sharp point where you are, or are not, a SAJB member. Eventually every member will certainly leave the band totally, but things do not necessarily change all at once. At this point one of two big differences for Èlia concerns rehearsals. She can still play at concerts with the big band, and she will do that most of the concerts this year, but she does not take part in the general weekly rehearsals any longer. Not being part of those rehearsals gave Èlia a sense of “weirdness”. That is understandable since the regular musical and social interaction of the band’s rehearsals have played such an important role in Èlia’s life. But of course she realises that this is the natural order of development. And she has no problems filling the freed hours with other tasks.
The other thing that has changed is her opportunity to play her second instrument in the band. She is still the only violinist, so she can continue with that. But in the saxophone section there are new younger musicians, who have taken her place.
The Joan Chamorro New Quartet – a new project with Joan Chamorro, Alba Armengou, Èlia Bastida and Carla Motis. Photo by Lili Bonmati.
The dimension of SAJB that has not changed for Èlia is her opportunities to play with musicians in one way or another connected to SAJB; meaning current band members, former band members and professionals who have collaborated with SAJB. These kind of smaller band projects connected to SAJB go on all the time, Joan Chamorro being the centre of it all, and Èlia has been part of such projects most of her years as a SAJB member. So in this respect there is not really a big difference having left the big band of SAJB. In these projects she can still play her two instruments (violin and tenor saxophone), and also sing. She very much wants to continue with all of these musical forms of expression.
In an earlier post I discussed the consequences of being multi instrumental, which several SAJB musicians are. When I now ask Èlia about it, she assures me that it is beneficial for the playing of one instrument that she also plays the other. In my earlier post I also worried about the possibilities for SAJB alumni to continue to be multi instrumentalists since other bands might not need more than one of the instruments. But Èlia points out that it might actually be difficult to find positions in other existing bands with either one of Èlia’s two instruments. For sure, there are few jazz violinists on the market, but positions are also rare. There are more saxophone positions in bands, but then again the supply of saxophone players is larger.
The SAJB string section. Photo by Lili Bonmati.
The SAJB saxophone section. Photo by Lili Bonmati.
But the narrow scope of opportunities might actually be two-sided. I believe Èlia and her fellow musicians in SAJB might not want to play in just any kind of band, playing any kind of music. They have learned to play and love some forms of jazz, and there might not be so many bands like that around these days. So even if there are bands who would welcome good musicians like Èlia and her friends in their bands, the former SAJB members might not like to play the kind of music that is requested in those bands. In the new documentary about Andrea Motis, The silent Trumpet, Andrea Motis points out that her mission in music is jazz. And Èlia tells me that starting to play jazz changed her life. Her eyes glimmer when she tells me that, and I realise that something very positive was released within her as she turned to jazz music. She appreciates the freedom of jazz and the demand to make use of that freedom. I do not think that Èlia at this point in her life can imagine playing music she does not have that kind of passion for, and a very personal relation to. So Èlia and her music friends might have to continue to create their own job market, like they so successfully have done so far. Actually, all around the world!
So, why did Èlia become a musician? Since her mother is a music teacher, playing piano herself, there was music in the family from the beginning. Èlia’s father obviously also has an interest in music, which shows in his expressive paintings of jazz musicians. When Èlia was three years old her parents wanted her to sing in the music school choir, but Èlia did not like that.
Èlia, five years old.
She wanted to play the violin! Her mother then said – if you study violin at an early age, the teacher has to be a good teacher for children. A friend of her mother who taught violin became Èlia’s teacher and she started to play when she was four. His method was built on the foundation of natural thinking. The music was classical, and if Joan Chamorro later had not appeared on the scene maybe Èlia would still be playing classic violin. Or not. Maybe turning to jazz was what was needed to release Èlia’s musical self and make her continue with music. That we will never know, but Èlia’s assurance that jazz changed her life points in that direction.
At the age of twelve Èlia started in Oriol Martorell music school, where music is integrated in the curriculum alongside other subjects. The pupils range from 6 to 18 years old, and in the school she met Andrea Motis and Joan Mar Sauqué, two of her future music friends in SAJB.
Since Èlia’s mother and Joan Chamorro both were part of music life in Barcelona they knew each other. Joan was interested in adding a violin to SAJB so he asked if Èlia would like to try to play Joe Venuti’s Pretty Trix. And yes, she wanted to give it a try. Never having played jazz before she first rehearsed this classic jazz violin piece for herself, and then asked her friend Andrea Motis to listen and judge whether Èlia’s way of playing the song was good enough. Andrea had no doubt, and Èlia then played the song for Joan, who also liked what he heard. This was in 2012. Èlia was 17 and from that day she was a member of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band. The band had by that time existed for five years. Two weeks later she rehearsed with the band for the first time and three weeks later she performed with the band at Teatre Greek in Barcelona.
The second song Joan asked Èlia to play was another jazz classic, Django Reinhardt’s and Stéphane Grappelli’s Minor Swing. Most SAJB fans have enjoyed the YouTube clip with SAJB playing that song in the outdoor concert at Plaça Reial in Barcelona, 2013.
So, since she was seventeen, SAJB has been a parallel music school for Èlia, alongside her formal music education. She in fact sees SAJB as the best kind of school for a young musician. To study for a degree gives you a title that might become handy some time in the future, but it’s SAJB that has developed Èlia to become the musician she is today.
After Oriol Martorell, Èlia started to study for a bachelor degree at Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya (ESMUC). She now attends her last year of four. The last year includes a final project, but she will do that project next year since she has so many other things to do now. Apart from a lot of concerts Èlia has lately worked on the preparation and recording of the album “The Magic Sound of the Violin”, a project she co-leads with Joan Chamorro. Carla Motis is one of the other musicians in this project. Èlia enjoys co-leading the project together with Joan, choosing songs etc. The album will be released in November 2019 at the Barcelona Jazz Festival. (At Luz de Gas.)
Èlia Bastida makes magic. Photo by Lili Bonmati.
If it had not been for Joan Chamorro and SAJB Èlia would not have started to play jazz, and she is very thankful for this turn in her life. How did that change feel?
“It totally changed my mind-set”, Èlia answers. Joan has no limits, is very open, tells you to listen, and to play a lot. In the classical world you play by the scores. In jazz you listen and play. There is no special reference for the violin. It’s the same language as for other instruments. You can sing, play saxophone, or violin – it’s the same ideas. A lot in jazz is different from classical music. They are different worlds, Èlia concludes, and she wants to live her life in the world of jazz.
Èlia Bastida with her tenor saxophone. Photo by Angel Tejo.
So Èlia’s first instrument in the band was the violin, but she later also wanted to play the clarinet. Joan recommended that she try the saxophone instead. She did that and started with alto saxophone. After a few months there was a position free in the band as a tenor saxophonist, and if she wanted to play saxophone in the band it had to be tenor. So she started to play tenor saxophone, and now she likes that instrument better. She devotes more time to the violin, but she also loves the saxophone. And she likes to sing – Bossa Nova and other Brazilian music. Over the years with SAJB Èlia has done both lead and backing vocals. So violin, saxophone and vocals are, so far, her three musical modes of expression.
Èlia expresses her gratitude towards SAJB with emphasis, not only because of the music – SAJB has also developed her as a person. SAJB is like a big family, where you can learn music in a group together with other people of different ages. You learn from the older, and when you become senior yourself, the younger can learn from you. The older are role models both as musicians and people. Being a junior and being a senior are rewarding in different ways, and teaching the younger is also a way to pay back. From the outside it is not difficult to see the importance of Joan Chamorro as a leader and organizer, but Èlia also stresses his role of being one of the family members.
Èlia Bastida and Joan Chamorro, Photo by Lili Bonmati.
In addition, Èlia points at the opportunity to play in concerts, sometimes with big and famous jazz musicians. Often the concerts are recorded on videos of high quality, which are uploaded to YouTube. And you get the opportunity to record CDs. To get all this, the band members do not have to pay anything at all. When Èlia tells us about all this you can see that she appreciates these magnificent gifts. We know since earlier about the SAJB formula, but to hear a senior SAJB member like Èlia tell about the features of SAJB with strong emotions and gratitude gives an extra dimension to our understanding of SAJB. And probably this is only the beginning of the rich music life of a young and very talented musician.
Èlia as vocalist and saxophonist with the band. Photo by Lili Bonmati.
Yes, Èlia’s life is full of music. She studies at a music university. She lives with her mother who is a musician, and many of her friends are musicians. She has over the years every Wednesday participated in the weekly band rehearsals, and also in weekly section rehearsals. And there have been a lot of concerts. Now her base as a musician slowly is altered, but listening to Èlia you have no doubt that music will be her future. She loves to play jazz, she loves to play the violin, and her dream is to play more and more in concerts. She mentions two sub genres that she at this point in life wants to explore further – Swing and Bebop.
Èlia ends our rich and long conversation with three statements:
Being part of SAJB has been a gift of great importance.
If you work for your dream; work hard with happiness and a positive mind. Then you have a better chance to reach it. This is a philosophy often expressed by Joan Chamorro that I try to bear in mind.
Music is very important, one of the most important things in life. It is my life. We don´t know the power of music in the world. Music is most important.
And I conclude for myself – it has been a pleasure to talk to this pleasant and devoted young musician, and I am looking forward to follow her career. As I will do with Joan Chamorro and Sant Andreu Jazz Band, with new young musicians to follow in the footsteps of Èlia Bastida, Andrea Motis and all the others. This part of the future is bright, and like Èlia I will try to live by the Joan Chamorro motto.
Music videos where Èlia Bastida appears together with music friends, in one way or another connected to Sant Andreu Jazz Band
Some years ago I decided to get to know Brazilian music better. I used the different means of the Internet, and among the music I found, there was Céu. (Maria do Céu Whitaker Poças). This was my first reaction, originally told in Swedish, in a dreamlike post on Musik.pm.
The music of Céu is for sure Brazilian, but not in any traditional way. I don’t know exactly what it is in her music that makes me begin to listen more intensely. Her music has dimensions that are completely new to me, but yet Céu builds some sort of a bridge to my previous music experiences.
The more I listen, the more I broaden my perspective. It is as if Céu meets me at the Brazilian seashore and leads me into some musical kind of rainforest. There awaits an evocative fabric of sounds and Céu starts to sing. 10 Contados. I’m hooked.
I let go of things in music that I previously have held dear. I trust Céu. We continue a little bit longer, and there her band turns up. It has only a few members, and they play with discernment. Everything is parsimonious and slow, but swings anyway. Malemolência.
Then I listen all day to a kind of music that I have never listened to before. Grains de Beauté Some of it sounds strange, but I don’t let myself become disturbed. The music is released on her three albums CéU (2005), Vagarosa (2009) and Caravana Sereia Bloom (2012). And so evening comes, and Céu sings Véu da Noite – the Veil of the Night. This could be the start of something new.
This was in May 2013. I continued to listen to Céu’s first album, but not so much to the two others. The first one appealed more to me. Three years passed and in 2016 her fourth original album was released, titled Tropix. (In between, her first live album Céu – Ao Vivo was released.) I like Tropix as much as her first album. Her music has developed, but the base is the same. And last Saturday, April 13, Céu performed in Stockholm at the music club Fasching. I was there to see her live for the first time, and I was a little bit worried. Were my expectations too high?
Céu at Fasching, April 2019
They were not. It was a great night, and the audience was enthusiastic. Her band was in some songs not at all “parsimonious”, but they matched Céu and her songs perfectly, and with a lot of happiness. There were songs from all albums, and I could experience the dream sequence above become live reality. I am now waiting for the next concert and the next album. Céu still appears new and exciting to me.
Concert at Palau de la Música Catalana November 28, 2018
This is an add-on to the post The Sant Andreu Jazz Band Formula from October 26, 2018. If you have not read that post, I recommend you to do that first and then return to this add-on.
I finished the October post with the assumption that I would not be able to resist the temptation to go to Barcelona to enjoy the Sant Andreu Jazz Band concert at Palau de la Música Catalana. I was right. The day before the concert my wife and I arrived in Barcelona with the necessary concert tickets in our luggage. We had decided to expand an already planned trip to Paris with a couple of extra days in Barcelona. For climate reasons we nowadays always travel by train, so we arrived at Barcelona Sants in the centre of the lovely city.
Palau de la Música Catalana is a very special concert building. To be able to experience the full beauty of the building you should see it in daylight. Therefore we joined a guided tour in the morning and returned for the concert in the evening.
The concert was part of the Barcelona International Jazz Festival, which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year. Over the years many of the world’s most celebrated jazz musicians have participated in the festival concerts at the Palau – Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Oscar Peterson, Django Reinhardt, Sonny Rollins, Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan and many more. In 2011 Sant Andreu Jazz Band participated at the Palau for the first time. Like in 2018 the band played together with some specially invited well-known jazz musicians. The concert in 2011 was a big success, and there are many beautiful video recordings from the concert on YouTube. And some of the scenes in Ramón Tort’s documentary Kids and Music, la Sant Andreu Jazz Band originate from that concert.
The specially invited musicians at the 2018 concert were Ignazi Terraza (piano), Andrea Motis (vocal and trumpet), Èlia Bastida (violin and tenor saxophone), Scott Hamilton (tenor saxophone), Luigi Grasso (alto saxophone), and Ray Colom (trumpet). Being a member of the Joan Chamorro Quartet (sometimes Quintet) Ignazi has played a lot together with members of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band. Colom was new to me, but Hamilton and Grasso have played a lot with the band, and you can find many beautiful music videos on YouTube showing their collaborations. Motis had been a regular member of the band, but appears nowadays as a guest. From this concert the senior band member Bastida has the same status. Specially invited to this concert were also the gospel choir Barcelona Gospel Messengers and the two dancers Clara Martínez and Paula Farran. And, of course, everything was supervised by the dynamic leader of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band, Joan Chamorro.
This is not supposed to be a review of the concert, but before I come to the intended subject of this add-on I have to declare that the two and a half hour long concert was one of the most enjoyable music evenings I have experienced. Of course I am biased since I love Sant Andreu Jazz Band, but my love emanates from the band’s musical brilliance and charm. And the invited guests of course added even more musical brilliance. All concert photos in this post are from the concert November 28, 2018.
The complexity of success factors
Now for the themes I want to discuss in this add-on. Everyone can see that the project of Sant Andreu Jazz Band is a huge success, but it might be harder to point to specific features as being more important than others to create this success. The question of critical success factors can be complex. But to those who want to educate young musicians and/or start a youth band this question is important, and of course Sant Andreu Jazz Band is very interesting as a reference point. This is the general theme of this post. I will formulate as many questions as answers, and my aim is to stimulate analysis and contemplation of possible success factors.
I have no doubt that the four features that Joan Chamorro points to in the former post are very important – listening to learn, the belief that young persons can play jazz, the importance of presence, and the positive energy of the group – but are they equally important? And might there be additional, equally important features that might be interesting to take notice of in the creation of a youth band and/or music education?
I have read statements claiming that one of Joan’s four factors need to be introduced into contemporary music education to improve it, but maybe that factor alone would not do the trick if introduced in music education? The road to success might be much more complex. Even if all four features were copied and practiced in institutional music education those institutions would still miss one crucial factor – Joan Chamorro. Obviously he is very important. He might not be the only one in the world who can build and sustain a project like Sant Andreu Jazz Band – but certainly not just anyone can do it.
And mentioning the importance of individuals we should not forget the individual young musicians in Sant Andreu Jazz Band, their skills and their readiness to contribute to the positive energy of the group. The younger learn from the older, and you are perceived as important regardless of the size of your contribution. And eventually the younger become more experienced and take on the roles of seniors and role models. They are all part of a living and sustainable music culture that goes on and creates new experiences for us to enjoy.
What about the cultural background of the members of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band? Is there something about the general culture of the society where the members grew up that facilitates the evolution of positive group energy and professional music culture? I am not saying that there is; just that the question of finding the important factors behind the Sant Andreu Jazz Band success is a complex one, and that some common dimension of the cultural background might be one important factor – or not. I have not investigated this question any further, but an investigation by a sociologist would be interesting. And the possible influence of cultural background might be an interesting question to reflect on if you want to create something like Sant Andreu Jazz Band in your city.
View from Sant Andreu, Barcelona
A question that touches on culture relates to finances. Joan Chamorro shared my post The Sant Andreu Jazz Band Formula on Facebook, and one of the followers asked if the students in the band had to pay tuition fees. Joan’s answer was that they did not.
This is a question that did not pop up in my mind during my interview because most education in my country is free. In other cultures the question of fees is more natural. Of course I understand that there are costs involved in running a youth band, and that they have to be paid for by someone. Joan’s answer to the question on Facebook was that the income of concerts covered the costs. But then you have to become interesting enough to make people come to your concerts and pay for the tickets. The same goes for buying your albums. Joan Chamorro and Sant Andreu Jazz Band have obviously managed to create the necessary quality and public interest in the band.
The role of money might have effects on recruitment to a youth band. If students do not have to pay fees, everyone can afford to be part of a band like the Sant Andreu Jazz Band. This means that you as a band leader can find your talents anywhere in society. You are not restrained to look for talent only with those whose parents can afford the fees. This kind of recruitment situation may also influence the internal culture of the band you form.
To be fair, I should add that most of the members of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band get musical training outside the band as they go to music schools or universities. But the training you get during section and band rehearsals (led by Joan Chamorro) is a very important part of the training. And Joan gives special classes to the saxophonists and to everyone who wants to deepen in jazz.
Sant Andreu Jazz Band in fact started from a music class in a music school, but is now an independent project run by Joan Chamorro. The start from a music school was probably necessary, but can a formal institution in the long run harbour a band like the Sant Andreu Jazz Band? There are many valuable assets in a formalized educational institution, but there are also restraints and obligations that I would guess would not be advantageous to everything that Sant Andreu Jazz Band has achieved over the years. If this is so, it might be difficult to import the features of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band formula and make it work equally well in an institution. If you still want to try, you should be aware of the frame you work within.
The Sant Andreu Jazz Band concept is a very rich concept, and I believe this richness means a lot to the success. When I say “rich” I do not mean rich in terms of money. I mean the multiplicity of different music activities. The big band itself is the base, but a number of different smaller (in terms of the number of musicians involved) projects with different band members are linked to the band. Sometimes these projects feature one or two of the band members. The big band and these smaller constellations are often combined with professional musicians. This means that the young musicians get to know, and can learn from, these professional musicians. They might play the roles of juniors and seniors, but they are all musicians in the constellation. That probably means a lot to the young musicians.
Soloists Alba Armengou and Scott Hamilton
This richness in terms of activities, projects and collaborations is of course in itself a dimension of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band success, but it probably also strengthens other dimensions of the success. The multitude of different projects, rehearsals, travels and concerts frequently provide new challenges and something to look forward to for the young musicians. These young individuals will probably have few hours of having nothing interesting to do. Rather, there is almost always something interesting, fun and challenging waiting. You are part of something that makes you happy, and together with the others in the band you make other people (like me) happy. Musicianship also provides a possibility to express oneself, a rewarding aspect of an activity for a young person.
Soloists Èlia Bastida and Scott Hamilton
Eventually the young musicians are not so young any longer, and they leave the big band. But then the small projects provide opportunities for these musicians to carry on playing with Joan, other senior band members and also the professional musicians that Joan Chamorro collaborates with. The result is a large and strong network of musicians of different ages.
Concerts and recordings
Sant Andreu Jazz Band and all the other project groups run by Joan Chamorro do a lot of concerts. There are also many albums available for current and potential fans. Even more impressive is the phenomenal releasing of music videos on YouTube. It is phenomenal both in terms of quality and in terms of quantity. This means that the fans get a lot of opportunities to experience Sant Andreu Jazz Band and the other projects. And the concerts let the band members frequently meet their audience.
The extensive releasing of YouTube videos shows an interesting policy. When new distribution channels such as YouTube emerge, traditional distributing companies can see the new phenomenon as a threat to their business. This view can be shared by the artists connected to the traditional distributing companies, not least if they earn a living through concerts. The result is that you often can find only a few official video recordings by established artists on YouTube.
But regarding concerts you can think the other way around. YouTube can be seen as a place where you can make a band well-known and liked in order to make people wanting to experience the band live. After all, a live performance is very different to a video recording. This is obviously the way it has worked out for Sant Andreu Jazz Band.
The extensive realising of videos on YouTube has also triggered the interest in the band as an educational project. This is a road I believe music education in general should go down.
One feature of the band that has really struck me as impressive is the multi-instrumental approach. Many members play more than one instrument, sometimes more than two, and there are many instrumentalists who are also good singers. In the general discussion about whether you should force specialisation at an early age (in sport, music and other activities) the Sant Andreu Jazz Band model is very interesting. Maybe you as a young person sometimes will find that your second instrument was actually more suitable for you than the first one – or not. Or you just like to alternate now and then. Variation can be fun!
This is not to say that it is always better to play several instruments than to focus on one. Maybe the practices of different instruments can fertilize each other, but maybe not to focus on one instrument sometimes also comes with a cost.
However, what I find attractive with Sant Andreu Jazz Band is the possibility to play several instruments and also to sing, if you want to. And if you want to, I assume you are also encouraged. For those band members who have found combinations of several instruments (and singing) rewarding, I sincerely hope there will be such opportunities when they leave Sant Andreu Jazz Band.
Joan Chamorro and Èlia Bastida with their string instruments and saxophones
Musicianship and life
A quote from the end of the documentary Kids and Music, la Sant Andreu Jazz Band shows the double ambition of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band project: “Driven and directed by Joan Chamorro, the orchestra aims to educate children from 7 to 18 years old both as musicians and as people.” Joan has in reality stretched the age span a bit, but the double ambition is still there. And he continues to give his care even further.
I have recently watched Ramón Tort’s beautiful new documentary The Silent Trumpet, featuring the former band member Andrea Motis, and I believe I could see signs of a very fruitful nurturing culture there. In the movie Andrea tells the story of how she, her father and Joan Chamorro earlier have discussed whether to accept two tempting consecutive offers of record label contracts. It seems that they all three show a thoughtful engagement in Andrea’s future as a musician and as a person. In the discussion Andrea herself stresses the importance of being a jazz musician, not just any kind of musician. Both offers are in the end turned down, not to disturb Andrea’s development. The combination of these three persons’ serious and balanced attitude towards musicianship, life and fame indicates a posture that I believe is beneficial for a steady and long-term development.
Soloists Andrea Motis and Luigi Grasso
Soloists Alba Armengou and Andrea Motis
What to do?
Well, what should you do if you want to form a fruitful music education, a youth band, or a combination of the two? My assumption about the complexity of success factors should of course not stop you from trying to form your own concept, but it is probably wise to first reflect for a while on the issue of success factors. After doing that, your own belief has to decide your choice of action, and your own belief is probably also a positive force in itself. Maybe a well-considered selection of features from the ones that are accessible to you, supported by your own conviction and commitment, can be fruitful.
But you cannot avoid studying the Sant Andreu Jazz Band. Their example is remarkable and a great source of inspiration. Their formula is bound to incorporate a number of interesting success factors.
What’s your favourite music video by Sant Andreu Jazz Band? I know that Sant Andreu Jazz Band has a lot of fans around the world, and some of the fans also read my posts. This is my fifth post on Sant Andreu Jazz Band and connecting constellations. I usually end my posts with links to music videos on YouTube, but this time I thought you might want to contribute. Please send me a YouTube link to your favourite music video by Sant Andreu Jazz Band, or other connected constellation, and I will put at least some of the ones I get in the end of this post.
Send the link by e-mail to email@example.com .