Joan Chamorro is the creator and director of the very successful youth band, the Sant Andreu Jazz Band (SAJB) from Barcelona. The band can be seen as an educational music project. Recently recruited members can be as young as eight years old, and they generally remain a band member until they have reached their twenties. The music that the band makes under the guidance of Joan Chamorro is of a very high quality, which of course attracts fans. But there is also a social dimension of generosity and cooperation to this project that adds to the attraction, and of course contributes to the high quality of its music.
Over the years, Joan and the band have attracted many well-known professional jazz musicians as collaborators. Moreover, Joan Chamorro and the band continuously generate spin-off projects, involving current and former members of SAJB and professional musicians. The band and the spin-off projects have recorded a very large number of albums, and hundreds of recordings of wonderful performances can be found on YouTube.
Like everyone else, Joan and the SAJB were hard hit by the pandemic, but they muddled through, and last year they were able to celebrate their 15-year anniversary, with a fantastic climax in the Palau de la Música on December 10, 2021 – a concert at which almost everyone who had been part of the band during the 15 years performed.
Today, Joan Chamorro celebrates a personal anniversary – his 60th birthday. We are many who want to congratulate Joan on his birthday, and to thank him for what he has created for us to enjoy in so many ways. For myself, I do so by sharing three earlier articles in which I have tried to understand and write a portrait of Joan Chamorro and the Sant Andreu Jazz Band project.
Musik.pm is about music and the experience of music. One aspect of such experiences is the circumstances where we meet with music. This article features and compares two very different contexts – contexts that I appreciate very much. The two contexts address very different preferences in terms of enjoying music. They are so different from each other that they seem to reflect different kinds of personalities. However, both preferences are mine. How can that be?
Our Saturday night dinners
We are at home. It is Saturday and dinner is prepared. With food, wine and music. With memories, plans and hopes. With ideas and emotions. My wife and I know that we will have enough to enjoy and discuss for the rest of the evening. We commence the meal by tasting the wine, and then we are on our way.
Like people in general we talk about everyday planning issues, family, friends, society, culture, politics, etc. Our associations of thoughts lead the conversation forward. However, music is an essential part of our dinner, not only to colour the atmosphere. Many songs recall memories of concerts and performances that we have attended. Such as Melody Gardot and Kurt Elling in Molde, Diana Krall and Keren Ann in Paris, Gin Wigmore in Munich, the Sant Andreu Jazz Band in Barcelona, Cécile McLorin Salvant in Oslo, Mariza and Carminho in Gothenburg etc. Many memories stem from experiences in the fado houses of Lisbon with performances by fadistas like Lina, Maria Ana Bobone, Joana Amendoeira, Pedro Moutinho, Rodrigo Costa Félix and many more. Music by those musicians that we have met on a personal basis brings special memories.
Sometimes our conversation leads us to have a look at a musician’s tour schedule. If we find an interesting concert at a time and in a place that is convenient to us, plans are sometimes made, and concert tickets might be bought before the meal is over.
But music also makes us travel in our minds to cultures and countries that we have not visited, and probably never will – Cap Verde, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and other countries that are hard to reach from our country in a climate-friendly way.
Some of the music we listen to comes from our CD collection. The rest is easy to access through streaming services. There, we can choose to listen to an album or a playlist with a collection of different musicians.
When we let the streaming service lead our way from a starting point that we have chosen ourselves, such as a playlist with favourite music, the streaming service adds more music for us to listen to – a mix of songs that we already know and songs that we have never heard before. Some of the new ones are fabulous, and we add them to our playlist. If it is a newfound artist, we can investigate that artist further another day. Therefore, a musical dinner can become a night of musical expansion.
Often the music addresses us in a way that calls for a response. Our responses might have the form of a question or a comment. “Who is this now again?” “That harmony was beautiful!” “This sounds like X!” “I must find out who that singer (or instrumentalist) is! “This band has brought us so much joy!” These responses interrupt the current subject of our discussion for a minute or two, and sometimes the interruptions put us on new conversational tracks. It is as if we are three individuals around the table – my wife, myself and the music. Creating atmosphere, yes, but the music is not like wallpaper. It is a living thing, communicating with us.
A fado experience
Now for something completely different. This is an excerpt from my article A fado experience from 2016. My wife and I had come to experience fado in the world capital of fado, Lisbon. But as we started our first visit to Portugal by spending a couple of days in Porto, it so happened that the first fado house we visited was there. This is the story.
It is the 25th of October and we go to Casa da Marinquinhas, a fado house that a Facebook friend who is herself a fadista has recommended. It is not easy to find the place among the irregular small streets and alleys alongside central Porto. The houses are very old and there are not many people in the sparsely lit streets. If it had not been for the recommendation, we would probably have avoided that part of the city at night-time. But, once there, we are warmly welcomed and invited to our booked table.
After four hours we have had a tasty meal interspersed by at least six performances by different fadistas, male and female, and two guitarristas. The man who seems to run the place is strict in his design of the fado experience. Food is ordered and served in sequences to fit in between the performances. Before every performance the lights in the small restaurant go down, and only a couple of tiny spotlights light up a small spot in the centre of the room. There is no stage. The musicians are on the same level as us. It is totally quiet. No one continues to eat, and we are all focused on what is going to happen.
And then one of the most beautiful combinations of instruments – the Portuguese and the classical guitar – starts to colour the background of the fado song. Soft, but nevertheless energetic. They do so with a delicate fabric of tones in which it is sometimes difficult to distinguish who is contributing which thread. Still, the different sounds of the two guitars are very distinct.
After a short and beautiful guitar introduction, often with a bittersweet colour, the fadista starts to sing. And the song is no less beautiful. The fadista tells the emotional story (most often a sad one) with a strong expression, closed eyes, and he/she does not open them until a storm of applause releases the tension of the fadista and the audience. There is never a second of silence between the song and the applause. It is as if the concentration of the strong emotions that the fadista and the other musicians create is released when the last forceful tones of the guitars and the fadista are hit.
As the experienced visitor of fado houses now realizes, this is not a description of what goes on only in Casa da Marinquinhas, but with variations in every fado house. At its best the fado experience is created in a close relation between fadistas, guitarristas and fado house guests. Fadistas sometimes say that they need the community with the audience to create genuine and honest fado. Guests are sometimes informed that “you and your silence are important parts of the fado experience”. This message has two parts. It means that the guests of fado houses are co-creators of the fado experience – but also that the guests cannot be co-creators if they disturb the fadistas, themselves or other guests by talking, eating, or just being focused on something else than the performance. Fado is serious business, and if you are not interested in participating on these terms you should probably do something else. It might sound a little bit too strict to some of you, but why not give it a try? You will be rewarded.
If I very much appreciate the strict separation of conversation and eating from the music performances in a fado house, why do I enjoy that my wife and I always listen to music while having our weekend dinners, with a lot of conversation? Could it be a matter of the presence or absence of fado music? No, there are frequent examples of fado music during our dinners, and my preference for separating conversation from music is not limited to fado houses. It is valid for any restaurant with music performance, and of course for performances in concert halls.
However, the conditions of our Saturday dinners point to several other possible explanations. We are only two people, and we both feel that this is a pleasurable way to be together. Being only us in the room, we do not disturb anyone else and no one else disturbs us. The music we listen to is recorded music. If we had invited musicians to perform in our home, we would of course not have disturbed the interaction between the musicians and us by talking or eating.
Our musical taste, and our experiences of music are about the same. We appreciate listening to our old favourites, and we appreciate widening our experiences of music. We know each other so well that the music does not demand a high level of split focus capability for us to be able to enjoy the music while talking. Whenever we feel that the music needs a higher degree of attention, we can within an instant give that level of attention.
I do not claim that the experience of music is the same during our dinners at home as it is at a fado house or in a concert hall. It is something else, but it has qualities that I cannot find in a fado house or at other kinds of live performances. So, I would not like to live without the kind of dinners with music that we have at least once every weekend – and I would not like to live without experiences like those in a fado house or a concert hall.
Musik.pm after hours
If you want to share some of our music experiences, here is a link to one of our play lists on Spotify. Just click the image below and enjoy!
Songs from this list will from time to time show up on the Facebook page and Twitter account of Musik.pm.
I am one of many who want to thank you deeply for creating the project of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band and all its related spin-off activities. You have created and developed this project such that it has become an important concern for many music lovers all around the world, including professional musicians. This is my tribute to what you have achieved.
In 2006 you initiated the project by introducing jazz and your own pedagogical method to eight very young music students in Sant Andreu, a district of Barcelona. Over the years that have passed since then, some 70 young musicians have participated in the project, learning how to play jazz and how to work together towards a common goal, helping and supporting each other. At the end of Ramón Tort’s documentary Kids and Music, la Sant Andreu Jazz Band (2012), this dual goal is phrased in these words: “Driven and directed by Joan Chamorro, the orchestra aims to educate children from 7 to 18 years old both as musicians and as people.”
How right you were to combine these two ambitions, to the benefit of both! The combination of developing musical qualities as well as social and human qualities has been very successful, and the combination has made many of us love your project in a way that goes beyond appreciation of the high-quality music itself.
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.
Yes, quite a few professionals play together with you and the band from time to time. These collaborations show the attractiveness of your project, and they help to develop the band and its members.
I know how hard you and the students work in practising and rehearsing together. The results in terms of wonderful concerts, videos and albums are part of the educational side of the project. They also help to cover the band’s costs, which means that neither the young musicians, nor their parents, have to pay any fees. This of course means that the band has to be attractive enough for people to buy concert tickets and albums. You and the young musicians have been able to create this attractiveness.
When I first found you and the Sant Andreu Band on YouTube, I did not consider the regeneration issue. The band was there with the members that I saw on the screen, and the performances were wonderful. However, after a while I noticed that the different videos showed different musicians, and the individual musicians could be ten years of age in one video and fourteen in another. I soon realised that even SAJB members (of course) grow older and eventually they leave the band – but that new ones are recruited all the time.
This quality of your work really impresses me. Instead of playing safe and continuing with the band that you have once selected and developed, you let the older members get on in life, and you all the time find new young musicians to recruit. In that respect, it is like a school, but your model in many ways differs a lot from institutional schools. The way you mix ages in the band, creating a family-like culture, is a key aspect of the band.
Leaving the big band of SAJB often does not mean leaving the SAJB environment totally. After leaving, the seniors often continue to collaborate in SAJB’s different spin-off projects. They can do so, and at the same time find new music friends, projects and genres. To be a SAJB alumnus offers many possibilities, not least because you have created many opportunities for the young musicians within SAJB. Many have been able to play more than one instrument within the band, and many have had the opportunity to develop their singing.
Over the years, I have more and more come to realise that you constantly develop your project. There is, of course, a core set of activities, songs, collaborations etc, but there is also always something new. You have a very open mind, a quality that I believe that you have passed on to your young musicians. This is an important legacy.
As you know, I have given your work quite a lot of thought and I have from time to time put my thoughts into writing. There are maybe no new ideas in this letter to you. Maybe I have said it all elsewhere. However, at the very end of this SAJB 15-year anniversary, I want to put these thoughts into one integrated salute to you and the SAJB.
You have managed to carry on your project in these hard times of the pandemic, ending the anniversary year with a number of activities. You managed to create a new edition of your Jazzing Festival of Sant Andreu, you managed to produce some new “Joan Chamorro presenta” albums with release concerts, and you have been selected as the portrayed artist (Retrat d’Artista) of the Barcelona Jazz Festival 2021. Apart from the well-earned honour, this appointment includes five SAJB-related concerts within the festival.
Although the pandemic persists, my wife and I could not resist going to Barcelona to experience the anniversary concert of December 10, a concert that included almost all students who have been part of SAJB sometime during the past fifteen years. A birthday party that all were invited to.
So, we were there, and what can I say? How can I describe the outstanding mix of music, warmth, happiness and joy that we all experienced in Palau de la Música that night? I have after that concert no words to describe what I feel for you and everyone in the Sant Andreu Jazz Band project. Words fail me. It’s only love.
Best wishes Bengt-Ove
I hope we all soon can enjoy this wonderful concert on video!
If anyone else reads this letter to Joan, and wants to explore the thoughts expressed above further, they can be found more developed in my articles below, ordered according to date of publication. In the end of each article you will find links to videos with wonderful music by SAJB and related projects.
Sometimes I discover music that I find very attractive but different to what I usually listen to. The music opens up a new musical space to me, a space where I have not been before. This happened when I recently experienced the music of Carolina Alabau and Èlia Bastida from Barcelona.
I became curious when I first saw a few videos on YouTube, shared on Èlia’s Facebook page. Later, in September, my wife and I were enchanted when we experienced Carolina and Èlia’s concert (online) at the Jazzing Festival in Barcelona. It was a beautiful concert, and I became inspired to write about their project. We contacted them through Èlia and asked if we could conduct an interview online. They were very generous, and the interview was held a few days later.
To prepare ourselves, we bought their recently released, first (joint) album, which we had time to listen to briefly before the interview. Directly after the interview, we listened to the full album twice, with growing enthusiasm. We had fully entered the musical space created by Carolina and Èlia. Writing this, I continue to play the album and indulge its powerful expression and colourful details.
Their music is not new in a strange way that is difficult to enjoy. It is different and of high class, but easy to listen to – beautiful, inventive and fun. Actually, we detect elements from many directions that are familiar to us – folk music from different countries, jazz, and even classical music. (I even detect colours related to the Portuguese fado, a favourite genre of mine.) However, it is not right to say that their music is a plain mixture of such influences. Carolina and Èlia´s music is very much their own. A space of their own.
However, their music should in the first place be experienced, not analysed. It opens up emotions of happiness and surprise to the listener. The title of the album, Meraki, is the Greek word for passion. To Carolina and Èlia, it signifies the creativity, love and soulful honesty in their creation of music.
The album consists of four original songs, written by Carolina and Èlia, and their interpretations of nine other songs – “traditional songs, Mediterranean music and Brazilian music, bossa nova and jazz, among others”, as is said on the album cover. But I cannot say that their own songs form a category of their own, separate from the others. It was clear to us that one of the songs (“The Sound of Silence”) was not their own original song, but for the rest we had to ask. Their own songs – “Something New”, “Conversation in Ramos” (Conversa em Ramos), “That Melody” (Aquela Melodia), and “Thousands of Lights” (Miles de Luces) – are of equally high quality and interest as the others. The tracks on the album differ in character, but they all have Carolina and Èlia’s beautiful expression in common.
Cover Design: Hugo Cornelles Photo: Silvia Poch
More from the cover:
Alabau and Bastida combine voices, violin, piano and percussion, and for the recording, they are joined by the Spanish guitar of MarcLopez; the vibraphone of Brandon Atwell; the double bass of Joan Chamorro and the tambourine of SergioKrakowski. The album was recorded live in order to best reflect the connection and dialogue between the musicians and convey the unique energy of this genre. The recording took place in the studio of David Casamitjana (Espai Sonor Montoliu, in La Segarra) during the summer of 2021.
So, the recording is quite recent. Carolina’s voice and Èlia’s violin lie at the centre of all the songs. They form a musical dialogue and sometimes quickly leap between the tones in dynamic unison. Carolina is the lead singer and on occasion Èlia joins in with her voice in harmony. Èlia’s violin serves as a solo instrument, but also, like Carolina’s piano, as an instrument of accompaniment. The two young musicians are a perfect match. When we ask how it is to work together, they both say that they mutually help each other to connect better to music. They are very good friends, they can be creative and improvise together, and it is easy for them to find a way forward in their creative work.
As is said on the cover, Carolina and Èlia receive help to create a more full musical body and varied flavours in some of the songs of the album. The additional instruments and musicians are carefully chosen to deliver those flavours, and the result is beautiful. To the listener those musicians could very well be apprehended as group members. The characterisation “perfect match” can be used again.
Photo: Helena Palau
We know Èlia from her work within Joan Chamorro’s creation the Sant Andreu Jazz Band, and in 2019 I wrote an article on her when she was about to leave the big band as a regular member. However, she had by that time already collaborated with Joan in other projects within his big network of musicians – and she has continued to do so. Apart from her main instrument the violin, she sings and plays the tenor saxophone. Èlia´s musicianship has so far been portrayed on two albums (Joan Chamorro presenta Èlia Bastida and The Magic Sound of the Violin) and a third is close to completion (Èlia Bastida meets Scott Hamilton). More about Èlia´s background here: http://musik.pm/elia-bastida/
As Carolina is new to us, we asked her to fill us in about her background. We learned that Carolina has a similar background to Èlia in terms of music. She was born to a musical family; her father and brother are cellists and her mother plays the viola. Like Èlia, she went to a music school, where music is integrated in the curriculum alongside other subjects. The musical focus was on classical music. She studied the first year of the jazz voice degree at the “Guildhall School of Music” in London, and then finished the degree at the “Conservatori del Liceu” of Barcelona. Singing has been there all the time. Her classical training has been a great help in teaching her how to breathe, but for the rest, the technique is very different in the kind of music she now sings. In the beginning, she also played both violin and piano, but she now concentrates on the piano. In 2020 Carolina recorded her first album, Primera mirada, and like Èlia, she is involved in several additional music projects.
One interview after another…
Carolina and Èlia are two very busy young musicians, and we are thankful to them for giving us the time for an interview. The setting of the interview was very special. It was conducted by a Messenger video call, right after a live radio interview. They tried to find as peaceful a place as possible, but central Barcelona is not very peaceful anywhere. So, we were experiencing the urban life of Barcelona as a background to our conversation! But aside from a few difficulties in hearing, it was actually a wonderful experience to be transferred to central Barcelona while talking to Carolina and Èlia. When the streets after a while became too noisy, they brought us into a café to finish the interview.
The radio interview was one of many positive reactions that Carolina and Èlia have received after the Jazzing Festival concert. As our interview is one of those reactions, I can very well understand that they have faced that kind of interested and positive reception after the concert and the album release.
A duo in collaboration
Carolina and Èlia found each other in a music project in 2019, and realised that it would be a good idea to play together. Carolina loves the idea of singing with a violin. They met several times, exchanged songs, and found that they liked to create music in collaboration and to melt the violin and the voice together.
They see themselves as a duo, using violin and voice as the base, but they also love to collaborate with other musicians. So they bring in other instruments that they find attractive in creating the different expressions of the songs. Early on, they felt that there sometimes should be percussion in their music, and when they composed one of the songs, they “heard” the sound of a vibraphone. So, why not try to bring those instruments in? Likewise with the double bass and the classical guitar, and I will not be surprised if they were to bring in other instruments in the future.
Photo: Helena Palau
Well, what about the future? At the moment Carolina and Èlia have no other answer to that question except that they want to continue to collaborate. They are now intensely involved in the Meraki project; in living and delivering the songs of the album, which means that right now there is no time nor emotional space to be involved in planning for further albums. As stated above, they are also both involved in several other musical projects. However, I am sure that eventually there will be another album by Carolina and Èlia. Their shared creativity seems to be irresistible.
We enjoy travelling and we enjoy music. For almost two decades, my wife and I have combined these interests by travelling to different concerts in Europe. Once we are in the city of the concert, we add other experiences. We might visit a few tourist attractions, and we enjoy the daily life of the city.
Sometimes we attend more than one concert in a city, for instance when we visit a jazz festival. And when we go to Lisbon to enjoy fado, we go to different fado houses every night. There are many!
Some years ago, we decided not to travel by air any longer. This means that we now travel by train. We enjoy it very much, and we have the time as we are retired so the fact that travelling from Sweden to our destination might take two or three days is not a problem. However, once having reached the south of Europe, it is practical to combine a couple of concert destinations. This demands some planning, which we also like. The planning and the actual travelling give us the possibility to enjoy the journey twice.
We discovered Joan Chamorro and the Sant Andreu Jazz Band in 2016, and we have enjoyed the band’s music a lot since then. The project is about music education for children and teenagers, where the actual performing is an important part. There are many albums, YouTube videos and live concerts. We have been able to enjoy the big band and smaller constellations of SAJB members and associates live, several times in Scandinavia and in the band’s home base, Barcelona. We have also been able to combine SAJB jazz in Barcelona with fado experiences in Lisbon, another music love of ours, a couple of times. The music flourishes in the two cities, and we have enjoyed both kinds of experiences very much. In 2020, we had planned two journeys to Barcelona and one to Lisbon.
When the pandemic hit the world in the beginning of 2020, everything changed. The most serious consequences of Covid-19 naturally concern public health, but there have also been serious consequences for economies, social life and culture. To stop the spread of the virus, the authorities have imposed restrictions on attending school, working at our normal work places, socialising, shopping, travelling, attending sport and cultural events etc.
The consequences for cultural life have been hard on consumers of culture, but harder still on those who produce culture and earn their living from it. Consumers of music can still enjoy audio and video recordings, which up to a point can compensate for the loss of live concerts, but most musicians nowadays earn their living mainly from performances. Selling albums cannot compensate for this. The loss of performances is also a matter of lost opportunities to communicate with audiences, and thereby sustain and develop cultural skills and expressions.
This article is about the consequences of the pandemic for one specific cultural entity – the Sant Andreu Jazz Band project.
I am not the only one outside Barcelona who has discovered the Sant Andreu Jazz Band. The music is of an amazingly high quality, even if one disregards the musicians’ ages, and the project has some very attractive features in terms of how Joan Chamorro achieves these qualities with the band. Joan aims to educate the young members both as musicians and as people, and the two ambitions turn out to be mutually supportive. Therefore, there are many fans of the SAJB, mainly jazz lovers, all around the world. Before the pandemic, some of them occasionally travelled to live concerts in Barcelona.
The Sant Andreu Jazz Band is a big band playing music from a classical jazz repertoire with lots of swing – sometimes in collaboration with professional musicians. From time to time different SAJB members, former SAJB members and professional musicians collaborate in smaller constellations. These constellations have added some beautiful bossa nova to the SAJB repertoire. (In the photo above you can see a constellation focusing on vocals, La Màgia de la Veu.)
The educative ambition of SAJB and the extensive number of constellations – with Joan Chamorro in the centre of it all – means that we actually should talk about this phenomenon in terms of an extensive and developing project rather than in terms of just a band. I have interviewed Joan Chamorro a couple of times and published a few articles on his work with the SAJB project. (Links below to those articles.)
Joan Chamorro initiated his project, the Sant Andreu Jazz Band, in 2006. This means that the band has been around for fifteen years, and Joan had big plans for the anniversary year, starting already in the end of 2020. What has happened to the Sant Andreu Jazz Band project during the pandemic? Recently I was in contact with Joan by e-mail to hear about the consequences. These were my questions and Joan’s answers.
When did you realize that Covid was going to stop or delay much of what you had planned?
As soon as there was talk about restrictions. Two students came from Italy a few days before the general alarm, and what they told us put us on the alert. Shortly after, the restrictions were announced to last for two weeks, then for another two weeks, and then up to three months. The rest is already known.
Concerts began to be cancelled. We couldn’t rehearse (and we still can’t rehearse the whole orchestra in the jazz house, all together – we do it in sections).
I’m still happy that we were able to do the Jazzing Festival in September and were able to record the concert. I’m also happy because we were able to do a couple of recording sessions to finish some of the albums that we were halfway through. Finally, we were also able to do the concert at the Barcelona Jazz Festival, which I also recorded and which will be released in the coming months.
That alone, for me, was already a miracle, as things were.
Cover of Jazzing 11 vol. 4. Photo and design by Lili Bonmati. Image from Barcelona Jazz Festival 2020 at Palau de la Música Catalana.
Can you briefly tell me how Covid affected your SAJB activities during 2020 – and your plans for 2021 so far?
There were numerous consequences. As I mentioned, for several months there was no type of rehearsal and some of the classes, especially with the little ones, we carried out through the internet.
Since all this began, band rehearsals are limited to rehearsals section by section.
To prepare for a concert, we have done the general rehearsals in a larger room, kindly provided by the concert hall, one or two days before the concert and also by the Nau Bostik. (Near the Jazz House.)
We had planned to record with Scott Hamilton and I rescheduled the date twice – but in the end it could not be arranged.
Two musicians were due to come from New York, but they couldn’t make it.
The entire Jazzing Festival was left with very few people attending, because obviously, no one came from outside Barcelona. A big band from Mexico was planned to come, but obviously couldn’t. A lot of visitors from outside Spain could not come, etc. etc.
But, well, as I have already mentioned, I am happy to have carried it out. We are already preparing the next.
Rehearsing with the new section of trumpets
Rehearsing at the Nau Bostik
What have the human consequences been for you as leader of the SAJB, and for members of the SAJB? How have you and the young musicians felt about the situation?
Humanly, it is a very sad situation because you have to stop doing what you are dedicated to – in my case, all that is my life.
But once reality is accepted, we have been able to do important things.
When you work with people that young, close follow-up is important. Rehearsals and concerts generate positive energy and enthusiasm for studying at home and wanting to move forward.
I, for my part, have taken the opportunity to think and organize myself, to clarify my ideas of what I want for my future and, little by little, to make decisions for the future of my project.
On an economic level, for the Sant Andreu Jazz Band, it has been a disaster and, although for the moment we can move on, the situation, if it lasts much longer, will be untenable.
Luckily, concerts are beginning to appear. Concerts are our way of making our dreams come true, and we need them for economic reasons.
After rehearsal with the little ones at the Jazz House
How do you see the future of SAJB now – in 2021 – and later?
I am very excited about this new rejuvenated orchestra. Several older musicians left this year (although they continue to collaborate with us), and we have a very good feeling about it all.
The average age of the orchestra has dropped a lot, and that, in part, is good, because it is the present and it is the future.
There are very good students, with great enthusiasm, and that makes me also feel that desire to continue with the work of these past 15 years.
We have several projects for 2021:
Soon the Joan Chamorro presentations of Joan Martí and Marçal Perramon will see the light.
Also the four volumes of Jazzing 11. Only vol 1 will be made a physical album. The other three will be released only on internet portals such as Spotify and Itunes.
This year we will also record the Jazzing 12, Joan Chamorro presents Alba Esteban, Alba Armengou sings Brazil etc, etc.
And since this is the anniversary year 2021, there will be several important concerts – from our part in the Jazzing Festival in September and onwards.
We will do a concert where I will try to bring together the more than 60 musicians who have passed through the Sant Andreu Jazz Band these 15 years.
I am also going to gather in a concert all those who have their presentation CD and I am gooing to make a big band with them, with new songs. (This will be only for a concert, which I want to record and edit on a new CD).
As you know, I am writing a book on the SAJB project. I have decided to publish the book in 2022, in order to give me time to include my reflections from 2021, when really important things will happen. I want to include my reflections on those things in the book.
and take a photo with all the musicians, include it in the book, etc etc etc
As you can see, I am with the same enthusiasm as always and the same desire to continue with the project. Let’s hope things improve and the winds continue to blow in the right direction.
Preparing Joan Chamorro presenta Joan Martí
Recording for Joan Chamorro presenta Marçal Perramon
Recording session for Jazzing 11 vol. 3
Preparing for Joan Chamorro presenta Alba Esteban
SAJB at the Barcelona Jazz Festival. (December 18, 2020) Photo: Lorenzo Duaso
Joan mixing with Josep Roig, Temps Records
Those were Joan’s answers to my questions. Apart from the economic threat, which is serious, Joan gives us some very positive signals concerning the future of the SAJB project. After more than one year of the pandemic, and all the restrictions related to it, we all need those kinds of positive signals. Joan Chamorro and his SAJB project continue to educate young boys and girls as both musicians and people and, when the vaccination programme hopefully has had its effects, it will again be possible to travel to Barcelona and enjoy live performances by the Sant Andreu Jazz Band and related constellations of musicians. Maybe we will meet there?
We first encountered The Vocal Ensemble Amanda (Sångensemblen Amanda) in the 1990s at the jazz club Nefertiti in Gothenburg. The performance was completely different to anything that my wife and I had experienced before.
The song that sticks most in my mind is Lennon and McCartney’s “Come Together”, interpreted in a spectacular way. The dynamic arrangement and harmonies of some twenty singers were breathtaking, but that was not all. The singers combined their singing with a very expressive choreography. Together they created the illusion of a living and moving organism, from which individuals from time to time stuck out as parts of the organism, reaching towards us. The group created this illusion without the disguise of any shared covering – it was just their bodies moving together.
The show was the start of our relation to Amanda. The group is still very much active and we recently had the opportunity to interview three of its current members – Johan Hogenäs, Sanna Källman and Karin Marmander.
Much more than just a choir
Choir music has a long and strong tradition in Sweden, involving both professionals and a great many amateurs. It is a very large cultural and social movement. Although the musical genres differ between choirs, they all have one thing in common – they sing. However, Amanda does something more.
The Vocal Ensemble Amanda was formed in 1981. Some members of the Chalmers University Choir had longed for Latin American rhythms and other kinds of fun and engaging music. They also wanted to find a new type of expression. So, led by the music student Bengt Ollén, they formed Amanda. After three years, Lasse Smedlund became the new leader and he remained a leading figure in the group for many years. However, he was not a traditional leader; responsibilities were shared and group members encouraged in their individual creativity.
Several of the singers who joined Amanda had a theatrical background. Therefore, it was natural to develop the choir’s activities towards dramatic expressions. Choreography was also involved from early on. Moreover, many members of the group are skilled instrumentalists and so the members provide their own accompaniment. The voices are always in the forefront but, when needed, Amanda has a rich instrumental palette to choose from – brass, woodwind, guitar, harmonica, violin, cello, percussion etc.
Although combining music with choreography and a dramatic expression, Amanda has not gone down the path of creating cohesive theatrical plays with music – such as operatic pieces or musicals. Their main artistic form of expression is instead a sort of ‘collage’ production, where the group performs a combination of songs and thought-provoking monologues/dialogues. The different pieces of the collage are connected to an overarching theme – reflective, philosophical and humanistic in character.
Through these performances, Amanda communicates with the audience on many levels. Like in many other forms of art, emotions, intellect, intuition and aesthetics interact. Although serious life questions are often implied, a stroke of self-reflective humour is also always involved, giving yet another dimension to the theme. These collage productions run for a month or more at suitable venues. Later, songs from these productions are included on studio recorded albums.
An expression of its own
Amanda wants to build an expression of its own. Amanda members write some of their songs, but the group also carefully choses songs by other artists. Amanda makes these songs its own by a variety of means – the song’s function in the performed collage, sometimes with new lyrics in Swedish, musical arrangement, dramatic expression and choreography – in short, the group’s interpretation. Moreover, all spoken parts are written by Amanda members.
The international context is important to Amanda. Its repertoire includes folk music from around the world, rock and pop songs, samba, chanson, classical art music and other genres. Among folk music, Haitian music, introduced to the group by Sten Källman, is particularly important. Haitian songs and modes of expression are often present in the Amanda productions. (The production “Hunger” included only Haitian music.) In quite another area of the folk song part of Amanda’s repertoire, Nordic folk music plays an important role. The Amanda repertoire is wide and different members have brought influences from different parts of the world to the group.
Although differing so much in character, most of the songs and spoken parts in a production follow one another in an almost seamless way. This gives few opportunities for applause such that the created atmosphere becomes increasingly intense. However, in a few instances, and at the end, Amanda leaves room for applause. It is like opening up the flood gates, releasing the audience’s ‘dammed’ emotions.
Amanda uses single songs from these collage productions in commissioned performances. Sometimes you will also find new songs in these performances, which might foreshadow a forthcoming collage production. In the process of creating new productions, Amanda often invites audiences to ‘test performances’ of new material. Therefore, following Amanda is following a continuum of development.
When Amanda introduced its concept, it was a revolution to the Swedish choir community. Forty years later, it remains revolutionary. Although much appreciated, only a few groups have followed Amanda’s trail.
What has kept Amanda together?
What has kept Amanda together and active for forty years? Of course, the members have changed. As Johan, Sanna and Karin point out, Amanda regenerates gradually all the time.
Regeneration is important for keeping a movement alive, but regeneration can also be problematic in terms of continuity. So, the question remains – what has kept the group together?
They all agree that the main explanation is cultural in character. It is a special way of making music together, says Johan. There is not a strong leadership in the group. Instead, ideas and visions emerge between members, where, from time to time, some members might be more active than others.
Building the next collage production, the discussions take on an increasingly clear direction over time. Eventually, decisions concerning theme, songs, responsibilities etc. are made. However, it can be hard to identify the specific points of decisions. As Karin puts it: “There are no decisions, only deliberation and actions.” You intuitively know when you have reached a point from where you move forward. This, I believe, indicates a culture of friendship and trust within Amanda.
The process from the initial idea to first performance can be quite long. Sanna points out that the processes in Amanda give an opportunity to reflect on and deal with different issues of life. When I ask if this means that being part of Amanda provides a sort of therapy, they agree.
The involvement of many can be a big advantage in keeping the group together, but it can also be a source of frustration. Even if not everyone is equally involved in discussions and decisions, many are – and that can slow down processes. However, if you can build a community that both accepts this democratic culture and can find ways to improve efficiency within that culture, you build a solid base for the survival of the group.
Those who are there
Improving efficiency within the Amanda culture is in fact what has happened, they say. Nowadays, they delegate more than they used to, and they accept that the more active members can influence more than the less active. You have to be there to influence. Still, as Johan points out, the involvement of many in the process feeds into the engagement in reached decisions. That is the big advantage of Amanda’s modus operandi.
Actually, Sanna, Johan and Karin question the concept of membership concerning Amanda. Amanda is “those who are there”. This does not mean that there is not a cohesive group of people forming Amanda. The group is quite stable over time, but of course, everyone can miss a meeting or a rehearsal or two, and sometimes people take a ‘sabbatical’ from Amanda due to other life commitments. While a sabbatical could be the first step toward leaving Amanda, many return afterwards.
One can understand that this conceptualisation of Amanda – those who are there – corresponds to a practical need in terms of being able to move forward as a group. Early on in the interview, they question the membership concept in a more spiritual way – as if Amanda were an organism with a personality of its own. In Sanna’s words: “You are not a member of Amanda – you have a relation to Amanda.”
Moreover, there is an artistic council within Amanda. This group of members does much of the planning, including of human resources. It tracks recruitment needs and is where members turn to when they plan to change their involvement in Amanda. However, when the artistic council meets, everyone is welcome to attend. Forming this council is a way to allocate responsibility, not to exclude.
Success and self-confidence
Amanda’s very first collage production “Leakage” (Läckage) was a big success. It premiered at a small theatre in Gothenburg in May 1988. It was highly innovative and the reviews were very appreciative. This created the image of a high-quality group – with critics, audiences and within Amanda. This first success set the level they have always tried to match since then, an ambition that adds to the attraction of being part of Amanda.
Success could encourage the belief that your next production needs to copy the main features of the first one to be successful again, such that you become stuck in a pattern (and also risk boring your audience). However, Amanda identified this problem early on and, instead of looking back, the Amanda community believed in their ability to develop new successful production concepts and trusts that they will turn out well.
The title of Amanda’s latest production (2016) was “Help” (Hjälp). Usually an Amanda production comprises music by many different songwriters. This was not the case with “Help”. All songs were original Beatles songs, “Help” of course being one of them. It goes without saying that Amanda did not want to make this production a string of Beatles covers. Each song had a meaning in the theme of the production and, as usual, Amanda’s interpretations were very special and engaging – often with new Swedish lyrics, relating to both contemporary and eternal conditions of life.
Amanda performed “Help” at a small venue with the audience sitting in the formation of a horseshoe reaching out from a stage. Many songs were performed from the open space in the horseshoe, like in a circus, with the audience very close to the performers. Some of the songs were performed from the stage, or in a combination of the two. It was a very dynamic and beautiful production.
Photo: Johan Wingborg
Professionals or not?
Over the years, Amanda has created seventeen original productions performed at small and large concert halls, theatres and churches. Amanda has also performed many one-off events.
Everyone in the group has a musical background of some sort. There are quite a few trained musicians and actors in Amanda, and they work professionally as such outside the group. They bring their professional experiences to Amanda. You can also find people from many professions in the group, including medical doctors, teachers, systems analysts and an artist. As all of the revenue from performances goes to the costs of the group, everyone earns their living outside Amanda. Although Amanda’s performances are very professional in terms of artistic quality, no one is in the economic sense a professional within Amanda.
Many are also involved in sub-groups within Amanda and music constellations outside the group. Amanda is an important junction in a large musical network in Gothenburg.
Again, one might wonder if the features of Amanda have been a disadvantage or an advantage to its development. More money could of course have helped on some occasions, but being a more commercially oriented act might have meant that Amanda was not the group it is today – it might not even exist. Movements of ideas and people can sometimes be more sustainable than companies are. As Sanna puts it – passion, not money, keeps Amanda going. Moreover, Sanna, Karin and Johan point to the friendship and affection that keeps Amanda together. People in Amanda genuinely like each other as persons and friends.
Recruitment and regeneration
Amanda comprises men and women of very different ages, including those who have participated for a very long time and those who are young and new to the group. New members are recruited when people leave or when changes to the repertoire demand a new specific set of voice types.
Over the years, the recruitment method has changed from informal, based on knowledge about the music network around Amanda, to become more formal, using auditions. To be accepted as a member you have to be an excellent singer and the ability to play one or several instruments is a great advantage. You do not have to be a trained actor or dancer, but since dramatic expression and moving your body in accordance with a choreography is important, you need some sort of base from which to develop those qualities within Amanda. The group is like a university of its own, where you learn all the time from each other and from common experiences.
Last, you need to be comfortable with the culture of Amanda, and so interviews are part of the process. However, not all stay as they find that they do not feel at home in ‘the organism’ Amanda. To be part of Amanda requires a lot of patience, tolerance, respect, creativity and openness to new ideas – but also the ability to accept realities.
An impossible equation
Sanna says that combining the different features and ambitions of Amanda should be an impossible equation. However, the group has repeatedly solved the equation for forty years! This does not mean that there have not been crises. The three laughingly claim that Amanda is a constant crisis, but group members can evidently cope with the difficult features of Amanda. They can even laugh at the problems and appreciate that these challenges also offer enjoyment and possibilities. As Karin says, in crises Amanda shows unbelievable strength and human warmth.
Amanda reaching out
Most of the Amanda performances take place in its hometown, Gothenburg, but it also performs in other Swedish cities on occasion, and has performed in Germany, France, Spain, Holland, Senegal, Brazil and Cuba, at festivals, touring and one-off events. The group has not yet been to Haiti, but has collaborated with Haitian performers in creating performances with a Haitian theme in Sweden. International collaborations mean a lot to Amanda, and touring welds the group together.
A special moment of collaboration and inspiration occurred when the Spanish musician David Costa saw Amanda perform in 1999 and was inspired to start a group combining different forms of expression, as Amanda does. He formed the group Cor de Teatre, which resides not far from Barcelona. Later Costa created a younger group on the same line – Cor de Teatre Joves. This initiative in turn inspired Amanda to start the group Young Amanda (Unga Amanda) to pass on the legacy of Amanda to a younger generation.
Young Amanda (Unga Amanda)
With the leadership and guidance of Amanda seniors, Young Amanda has created one production (“Passage”) to date. In September 2019, Cor de Teatre Joves and Young Amanda met in Gothenburg, performing one production each. Then the pandemic arrived, hindering further projects and collaboration.
Young Amanda is part of a broader approach to outreach, named Amanda Academy (Amanda Akademi) with activities targeting different age groups: children aged 6-9 (Small A / Lilla A) and children aged 10-12 (Middle A / Mellan A).
Within the Academy, Amanda also offers courses and workshops to adults led by Amanda members or sub-groups, dependent on their specific competence, interest and availability. You can say that Amanda is the communication platform for a wide variety of outreach activities, all in one way or another inspired by the Amanda approach to performing.The purpose of all activities within the Amanda Academy is to spread and pass on the Amanda legacy.
A developing legacy
However, the legacy itself is still developing in terms of new songs, arrangements, productions and collaborations. Amanda does not want to repeat itself, and one can be sure that a new and different production will soon be part of the Amanda legacy. The Vocal Ensemble Amanda will be around for many more years!
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. As the leader of the project, Joan Chamorro is clearly part of it. (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 sometimes sit back to support younger members. In a few years, the young ones will have succeeded the old ones and taken on their roles.
As stated above, 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)