Joan Chamorro New Quartet

Guest: Scott Hamilton

It is late afternoon, Tuesday the 26th of November 2019. After two days travelling by train, my wife and I will soon arrive at Barcelona Sants, Barcelona’s main railway station. We are looking forward to the following night’s performance by Joan Chamorro New Quartet and their guest Scott Hamilton at the concert and theatre venue Luz de Gas. The quartet comprises Joan Chamorro and three young musicians from the Sant Andreu Jazz Band – Carla Motis, Èlia Bastida and Alba Armengou. All three have recently featured in albums produced by Joan Chamorro – Joan Chamorro presenta Carla Motis, Joan Chamorro presenta Alba Armengou and The Magic Sound of the Violin, featuring Èlia Bastida.

The performance is the main reason we have come to Barcelona, but we will stay for five days. Barcelona has become a city where we feel at home, and one important reason is Joan Chamorro and the Sant Andreu Jazz Band (SAJB).

Joan Chamorro (Photo: Lili Bonmatí)

Sant Andreu Jazz Band , created and led by Joan Chamorro, is an educational project teaching children and teenagers of different ages to play jazz together and to grow as people. At the same time, it is a band that plays jazz at a remarkably high level. One of the band’s features that makes this possible is the division of tasks between senior and junior members. Everyone has a task and is important in their position, but as the members attain more experience, they take on more and more advanced roles in the band. Moreover, the senior members are role models to the junior members.

In order to understand and present the success of Sant Andreu Jazz Band, I have written several articles on this and other features of the band, which may be of interest to anyone who would like to learn more about the band. (Links below.)

The topic of this article is one of Joan Chamorro’s many spin-off projects from the Sant Andreu Jazz Band, the small group Joan Chamorro New Quartet. However, as we were fortunate to experience a wide range of SAJB activities during our days in Barcelona, I will first give you a summary of this broader scoop.

On Wednesday, there was the performance by the quartet and Scott Hamilton at Luz de Gas, and Joan invited us to arrive as early as the sound check. On Thursday, there was a performance by the quartet at a business award ceremony in the suburb El Prat. On Saturday, there was a five-hour rehearsal with senior members of SAJB at Joan Chamorro’s home, which he quite rightly calls “The Jazz House”. On Sunday, there was a full SAJB concert at Teatre Poliorama in the Barcelona centre, including new band members who we had not seen perform live before. On Monday, we left Barcelona after five exciting days.

The rehearsal we attended was a first reading of twenty new arrangements, preparing for concerts at the Jamboree Jazz Club and four new albums. These albums will in turn feature the band members Joana Casanova, Joan Marti, Marçal Perramon and the constellation “La Magia de la Veu 3”; a constellation where voices are in the centre. (Photo: Bengt-Ove Boström)

The experience of this wide range of SAJB activities over five days gave us a better understanding of how rich, almost hectic, life of SAJB can be. Still, we probably did not see all SAJB-related activities going on during those days. I imagine the regular full band and section rehearsals also took place. Not every band member participated in all activities we experienced, but Joan Chamorro and several seniors did. Moreover, this was an “ordinary” week, not a week like the hectic “Jazzing Festival – Festival de Jazz de Sant Andreu” which takes place in September, a festival where Joan and SAJB are very active. Joan Chamorro founded the festival in 2014, and he is since then the festival director.

Photo: Bengt-Ove Boström

Now back to Wednesday, Luz de Gas and the Joan Chamorro New Quartet! The sound check at Luz de Gas started at 6pm, and we wondered how we would be able to enter the building at this early hour. Looking for the entrance, we suddenly heard Alba’s clear voice from an alley that led to an open side door. We entered directly into the hall where the performance was going to take place – and there they all were on stage, except for Scott who had yet to arrive. Èlia noticed us and waved.

We sat near the bar and listened to what was a mixture of sound check and rehearsal. The rehearsal part started when Scott arrived about an hour later. They went through some critical parts of their interaction, but did not actually play any song in its entirety. As an amateur, I cannot really understand how this preparation together with Scott was sufficient for them to be able to perform at the high standard that we heard two hours later. Of course, there had been many rehearsals involving hard work for the quartet, but this was the first time with Scott.

Sitting at the bar, we realised that Joan would have the concert recorded. The filmmaker Ramon Tort was there with his camera, and of course a sound engineer was present to manage the sound.

When the sound check and rehearsal finished around 8pm, Joan and the girls came down to say hello to all of us who were attending the sound check. Besides the quartet, we also got the opportunity to say hello to a new and important person in the SAJB network, Blanca Gallo Yáñez, who is the Project Manager of Gaudi-U-Música. Joan Chamorro has recruited Blanca to take care of the practical side of the expanding range of SAJB related events.

The two albums  Joan Chamorro presenta Carla Motis  and Joan Chamorro presenta Alba Armengou were released in time for separate release concerts in the spring 2019, but Èlia’s album The Magic Sound of the Violin was released just in time for the performance at Luz de Gas. However, the concert at Luz de Gas promoted all three of the albums.

Asked about the idea behind the formation of this particular group, Joan mentions several reasons. One is to promote the three albums that Joan had recently produced, thereby giving the three young artists an opportunity to continue to grow musically. He also likes the sound of the group and thinks the repertoire is attractive, giving space to both instrumental and vocal themes.

I realize that one important reason to form this group is to promote the three recent albums – Joan always finds interesting opportunities – but if the constellation had not worked out well, he would probably have given it another profile. There was of course every reason to expect the four to work well together on a personal level – they have done so in numerous other constellations – but what about the energy and sound of a band without drums or piano?

Well, it worked out superbly, indeed! What we heard at the concert was a very soft and attractive expression; one I do not think I have experienced with any other SAJB constellation. In the concert we could enjoy Alba on trumpet, Èlia on violin and tenor saxophone, Carla on guitar and Joan on double bass. Alba and Èlia were the two main vocalists, but in “Doodlin” Carla joined in, and in “Sonho Meu”, Joan joined in.

We heard songs from all three albums, but of course not all. Altogether, there are fifty songs on the three albums, often played by larger constellations than a quartet. On all three albums, the featured musician and Joan play together with different members of SAJB and different professional musicians. The Joan Chamorro New Quartet is a new way to bring a selection of these and other songs to the audience. Without any reservations, we can say that it was a great success! My wife and I, and seemingly the rest of the audience, very much enjoyed what we experienced at the concert.

Carla told us that they had tried songs with a harder tone, but that those songs did not fit the quartet. Without knowing which songs we thereby did not hear, I think the selection of songs we heard was excellent.

When you attend a SAJB related concert you often meet fans from other parts of the world, and you even know some of them because you have established contact through e-mail or social media. At this concert, we met friends from England and the USA. They agreed with us that this was a wonderful concert.

Then there was the guest! The famous and wonderful American tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton. He has been playing with different constellations of SAJB for many years now. It is always a genuine pleasure to experience these collaborations. You can clearly see by the smiling faces of the young musicians how much they appreciate his contributions ­– and you can also see how much he enjoys performing with them. During a photo session after the concert Scott comments to me – “I love these girls, and they get better and better!”

Scott’s contribution at the concert was, of course, beautiful, and the only preparation they made together for this particular concert was their hour after sound check. This shows the professionalism of not only Scott but also of the members of the quartet.

The young musicians all highlight the inspiration they get from playing with Scott. They also point to how it motivates them to make an extra effort. Alba: “Playing with Scott Hamilton is an honour and a way of learning. Whenever I go on stage I give as much as I can, but with Scott Hamilton I try to give more.” “You prepare more, and in the moment you play; it is like a dream”, says Carla. For Èlia it is a very special experience to play with Scott. He is a role model for her, playing perfectly, using few notes. Scott plays in several songs on The Magic Sound of the Violin, and Scott and Èlia will collaborate on another album.

Alba enjoys learning to play in this new kind of constellation. Èlia very much likes the new soft sound and the musical “colours” that the band creates. In a challenging way, she feels that the project is intellectually demanding and a bit risky. Carla likes the fact that she has more responsibilities in this small group than she normally has. Besides the tasks involving melody, she is also “the rhythmic section” of the band.

We experienced the group once more, but in quite another setting, and without Scott Hamilton. The group served as entertainment at a business award ceremony in the suburb El Prat. The hall was rather large and the lights were on. It is not easy to create the same atmosphere under such circumstances as in a smaller concert hall with an audience of fans, being there only for the concert. However, Joan, Alba, Èlia and Carla showed their professionalism, and did very well. Handling different kinds of contexts is also a mark of professionalism.

Now for a short presentation regarding the three young members of the quartet. For further reading about Joan Chamorro, I refer you to my earlier article, Joan Chamorro.

Carla Motis

Detail from a photo by Lili Bonmatí

Of the three, Carla Motis has the longest record as a member of SAJB. She joined the band in 2008, when she was eleven. She is now formally leaving SAJB, but I cannot imagine that she will not continue to play with different constellations of current and former members of SAJB. This is the normal process of regenerating the band.

Carla comes from a musical family. Her parents sing and trumpet, guitar and congas were played in the family. As SAJB fans will know, Carla’s older sister Andrea Motis has been singing and playing trumpet and saxophone with SAJB for many years. Carla started in the band less than two years after Andrea.

Carla began to play classical guitar at seven. Since Andrea was a band member, her parents took Carla to concerts with the band. At one point Joan told her that she could join the band if she bought a banjo – the band being a group of eight children and teenagers playing Dixieland. Her parents did, and the rest is history. Carla has now been the SAJB guitarist for many years. She sometimes also does backing vocals. Like Èlia and Alba, she has studied music alongside the practical education in SAJB. Carla studied at Fundació Conservatori Liceu.

Joining SAJB, Carla felt like a musician for the first time. If she had instead continued with classical guitar, Carla does not believe she would have become a musician. Now she has no doubt that music is what she wants to do. When we met for a short interview after the concert at Teatre Poliorama, she was in a hurry to be on time for next engagement. Nevertheless, she gave us the time to answer our questions.

Carla’s last concert with SAJB was to be the same as the one we saw at Poliorama, but the week after. Rushing out of Poliorama to her next engagement, we see a young musician who already has begun her life as a professional musician.

Èlia Bastida

Detail from a photo by Lili Bonmatí

Èlia Bastida was already 17 when she joined the band. She had played classical violin since she was four, so the violinist that Joan recruited was already a skilled musician. When she started to play with SAJB, she fell in love with jazz and realised that she wanted to dedicate her life to this kind of music.

Since Èlia’s mother is a music teacher, playing piano herself, there was always music in the family. Èlia’s father obviously also has an interest in music, which shows in his expressive paintings of jazz musicians. The choice of violin was Èlia’s own. Her parents wanted her to sing in the choir of her music school, but Èlia instead chose to play the violin. At the age of twelve Èlia started in Oriol Martorell music school. Later she studied for a bachelor degree at Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya (ESMUC).

So Èlia’s first instrument in the band was the violin, but she later also wanted to play the clarinet. Joan recommended that she try the saxophone instead. She did so and started with alto saxophone. After a few months, there was a position free in the band as a tenor saxophonist. Therefore, she started to play tenor saxophone, which she now likes more. She devotes more time to the violin, but she also loves the saxophone. In addition, she likes to sing – Bossa nova and other Brazilian music. Over the years with SAJB, Èlia has done both lead and backing vocals. Violin, saxophone and vocals are her three musical modes of expression. As Carla, Èlia has now left the big band SAJB. (Read more about Èlia in my article Èlia Bastida.)

Alba Armengou

Alba Armengou is the youngest of the three, and still a member of SAJB. However, she is in every way a senior band member, carrying many soloist parts. Alba plays trumpet and saxophone, and she sings a lot with the big band and different SAJB-related smaller constellations. She does both lead and backing vocals. She sees the trumpet as her main instrument, but she also likes to sing.

Alba started in the band ten years ago when she was eight. However, she met Joan when she was just six. He gave her classes in jazz and two years later, he offered her a position in the band. Over the years, SAJB and Joan have taught her a lot and not only about music. Being together with people of different ages has been very beneficial to her musical and personal development. Alba’s younger sister Elsa is also a member of the band, starting two years later and playing trumpet like Alba.

Alba’s parents are not musicians, but they love music. Alba’s musical training started at the age of three, when her parents let her attend a music school. From eight to 17 she studied trumpet and classical harmony at the IEA Oriol Martorell, and she is currently studying jazz trumpet at ESMuC.

Alba’s goal is to continue to devote herself to music and she sees herself as very lucky to be 18 years old, playing professionally around the world.

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Well, will we see more of Joan Chamorro New Quartet? I think we will. Joan finds the experiences positive.

We have worked hard to get the sound we have and I think we all have improved with the work. It is one more possibility to continue working with young people. I believe a lot in all three. They are working hard to get a very good level, and the performances give space to that growth. Starting from the fact that they are already artists who have many things to express, musically, both with their voice and with their instruments.

The quartet have some performances lined up, and Joan is looking into the possibility of editing a live CD from the performance at the Luz de Gas.

So, look out for a CD called Joan Chamorro New Quartet & Scott Hamilton Live at Luz de Gas! And probably some very enjoyable videos from Luz de Gas on YouTube.

Thank you Lili Bonmatí for allowing me to use the beautiful photos from Luz de Gas, including the cover photo of this article, and of course the portrait of Joan Chamorro.

Videos

So far, there is only one music video by the Joan Chamorro New Quartet on YouTube, but when there are more, I will add them. However, there are many videos with music from the three albums on YouTube. You find some of them below.

Joan Chamorro New Quartet
Sonho Meu

Joan Chamorro presenta Carla Motis
Peggy’s Blue Skylight / What’s New? / Doodlin’ / Chelsea Bridge / When It’s Sleepy Time Down South / Minor League

Joan Chamorro presenta Alba Armengou
Diz Que Fui por Aí / Yesterdays / Nobody Else but Me / In the Wee Small Hours / Meditaçao / When I Fall in Love

The Magic Sound of the Violin
Ella y Yo / How High the Moon / A Kiss to Build a Dream On / Beriwaltz / Alfonsina y el Mar / Day Dream

 

Related posts

Joan Chamorro (August 9, 2019)
Èlia Bastida    (May 24, 2019)
Added reflections on The Sant Andreu Jazz Band formula    (January 3, 2019)
The Sant Andreu Jazz Band formula    (October 26, 2018)
La Màgia de la Veu & Jazz Ensemble    (July 8, 2017)
Sant Andreu Jazz Band live    (April 30, 2017)
Sant Andreu Jazz Band    (September 22, 2016)