The Sant Andreu Jazz Band formula

Sant Andreu Jazz Band at the home of Joan Chamorro. Photo by Joan Chamorro.

 

Sant Andreu Jazz Band is a youth band led by Joan Chamorro, playing music with emphasis on a classic jazz repertoire. The band has become an international Internet phenomenon through YouTube and social media, and nowadays it also tours around the world.

Sant Andreu is one of Barcelona’s nine main districts. The start of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band was a small music class at the local music school Escola Municipal de Música de Sant Andreu. Joan Chamorro was a teacher there, and as a passionate jazz musician he introduced jazz to a small group of eight young students who had not played jazz before. Their training in the school had so far been focused on classical music. Their first attempts to play jazz was of course not very deft, and it did not involve much (if any) of the improvisational elements of jazz. This was back in 2006, and a lot has happened during the twelve years up till now.

The Sant Andreu Jazz Band is today an independent music project with some twenty members of different ages. They play jazz and related genres with high quality, although there are some very young musicians in the band. This is not to say that everyone in every way and all the time play like experienced professionals, but as a whole the band holds a remarkable high quality. They play sophisticated arrangements with strength and elegance and the solo improvisations are mature and played with passion. It is quite a remarkable development. Together with the charm of youth the band is irresistible. You just have to love them!

Carla Motis. Photo by Josep Colet.

Two weeks ago I had the privilege to have an interesting and very pleasant talk about the band with Joan Chamorro and two of the band members – Carla Motis and Èlia Bastida. Carla Motis plays the guitar and she sometimes does backing vocals. Èlia plays violin and tenor saxophone and she also does vocals, sometimes as the lead singer, sometimes backing others. We met at a café in the basement of Stockholm Concert Hall. In the evening the band would do a concert in the big hall above. The concert was a part of the Stockholm Jazz Festival.

Èlia Bastida. Photo by Lili Bonmati.

I arrived at the concert hall in good time for our meeting, and on the side of the hall I saw a well-known Swedish jazz musician walking in the opposite direction on the pavement, the trombonist, singer and band leader Nils Landgren. You see a lot of well-known people in Stockholm, so there is nothing peculiar about that. I continued to the main entrance where Joan and I were supposed to meet some fifteen minutes later. Joan was already there and he told me that he was looking for a person he was supposed to meet at the stage entrance. We found out that the person he was looking for was in fact Nils Landgren, who wanted to make a connection with Joan because he was interested in Joan’s work. We walked together in the direction where I earlier saw Nils Landgren, and we spotted him almost immediately. We said hello, and Nils politely asked me if he could talk to Joan just for a few minutes. There is no other answer to such a question than a “yes”. I waited at the main entrance, and a few minutes later Joan came back, anxious to keep his appoint with me. So, Joan is a busy person who many want to talk to and learn from. He is also generous with his time, and his ambition is obviously to give everyone what is agreed.

Joan Chamorro

When we entered the café (exactly on time) we had thirty minutes before the band´s rehearsal, but there was not a sign that Joan and the two band members would not give me and my questions full attention for the full half hour. Although the band now has quite a reputation around the world Joan and the girls did not have the slightest touch of diva manners. Instead, it was almost like we worked together. Joan told me to sit at the top of the table. Then he went to buy coffee for all of us, so I could start the discussion with Carla and Èlia. When he came back we continued the discussion, and we did it in English since I cannot speak a word of Spanish. They helped each other to understand and answer my questions. English and Spanish discussions were mingled around the table.

I have a good reason to give you these pictures of the social settings around my interview ­– about what happened before my interview and about the interaction during the interview. My hypothesis is that these settings indicate an important cultural dimension of the success formula of the band. Music, people, sharing and cooperation are in the centre of the band’s focus, not image building, glamour and other surface phenomenon.

Joan, Carla, Bengt-Ove and Èlia

When I asked about the basic concept or method of the band Joan told me that the work rests on four basic principles. Joan started to tell the story of those principles, and Carla and Èlia joined in, explained and gave examples. The features of the formula are obviously known and shared by these two senior members of the band, probably also by the others. The principles proved to be mainly of cultural character, and congenial with my observations above.

Firstly, said Joan, the young people need to hear a lot of jazz. Listening makes you feel the qualities and the soul of the music, and how it differs from other kinds of music. Of course you have to learn the songs and to play your instrument, but hearing jazz played is more important than the command of transcriptions.

Secondly, there is the belief that young persons, children and teenagers, actually can play jazz. As a leader and teacher of young musicians you have to have that belief. The young musicians then feel your confidence in them, and they also feel their own confidence in themselves. This might sound like a simple idea to adopt, but admit; quite many of us have the more or less conscious notion that jazz is music for grown-ups. Of course you cannot as a child play difficult things right from the start. Your contributions to the band’s music are small in the beginning, and senior members perform the more advanced tasks. But gradually you become more and more senior, both in age and tasks. And all the time there is this belief in you – the basic belief that you actually can play jazz.

Thirdly there is 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 can anyway observe yourself from that kind of perspective, and such preoccupation will split your focus.

Fourthly, there is 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 get more experienced and take on the roles of seniors and role models.

There are a couple of connecting features of the band that fit neatly together with these four principles. Many members take on different roles in the band. Sometimes you are the front figure as vocalist/instrumentalist, sometimes you sit in the band backing up other band members who are the front figures in those songs. And many members play more than one instrument and sing very well too. It should also be mentioned that several senior members have been featured in special albums, backed up by the others and/or professional musicians. Altogether this means that the band really works as a school where everybody is supposed to have his or her chance, but the band uses this modus operandi and still keeps up an exceptional quality.

The band nowadays performs many times a year in different constellations, often outside Spain. There are also more video recordings of a high technical and musical quality on YouTube than I have seen with any other group or artist. (This exceptional YouTube coverage has paved the way for many, including me, to discover the band, and then to follow it.) And there are many albums produced and released. Aside from the musical side of all these activities, all administrative and media work around touring, albums and videos must take a lot of effort and time. I ask if all this work is carried out by personnel in a Barcelona office, but there is no such office. However, Joan gets a lot of help from parents to band members, and he also likes to be in the centre of things himself, also practical issues. The band is what I do, says Joan, and looks happy about it.

Joan Chamorro. Photo: Toni Ricart

What about the musical side of the band, then? Who works with all this? As the musical director, Joan of course is in charge of the music in terms of planning, repertoire, arrangements, rehearsals and performances. Joan leads rehearsals not only of the band as a whole, but also of the different sections separately – trombones, trumpets, rhythmic section and saxophones. In addition, the saxophone players receive Joan’s individual saxophone classes since they started those classes with him as very young. Other members get a lot of their training as musicians in their basic music schools and universities, but anyone who wants to deepen in jazz music could receive Joan’s classes. Again, Sant Andreu Jazz Band is a music school to its members. Joan’s main instrument is tenor saxophone, but he also plays other saxophones as well as double base.

Joan is obviously a very important person to the band, being in the centre of both music and organisational tasks. However, you can now and then see signs of an ambition to make the musicians take on leadership responsibility. On stage, you can sometimes see that Joan has delegated the setting of tempo and other guidance of the band to the soloists. And sometimes there are micro discussions between soloists and Joan before starting the songs. A culture of sharing and involvement.

Another important feature of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band is its collaboration with professional musicians. I ask how Joan, aside from the collaboration with his own quartet, finds all the well-known professional musicians that from time to time play with the band.  Are they old pals of his? No, this is not so. Joan selects good professional musicians that he believes could fit with the band, calls them, presents the band, and asks if they are interested in collaboration. They often are, and after the first joint sessions the contact is established.  All professional musicians that I have seen seem to have a very good time playing with the band, and obviously they often come back. Of course the band’s development benefits from the collaboration, but I would not be surprised if the professionals also would argue that they benefit from it.

An earlier version of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band

Is this a band where the members will grow old together, until you cannot really call it a youth band, or will it regenerate over time? All three answered this question with strong conviction. It is definitely not a band where the members will grow old staying in the band and where no new ones can enter. All three assured me that the band over time will regenerate, and it is already going on. The youngest member is Max Munné , who is eight, and he joined the band just a few months ago.

Carla is now the only original member of the band. She is 21 and was 9 when the band started. Èlia joined the band 2012 when she was 17. She is now 23. Both had played their main instruments (guitar and violin) several years before they started in the band ­– Carla since she was six and Èlia since she was four. Two years after Èlia joined the band she started to play the saxophone, inspired by others in the band and given the possibility by Joan.

Joan Chamorro

If you search for the band on YouTube you get a mix of videos from different years, and you can see that there over some years has been a strong core of members developing in the band, a core that now probably is getting close to go somewhere else in musical life. However there is no reason to believe that the Sant Andreu Jazz Band will not be successful in the future regeneration process. If you can create a band like that from almost nothing, you will probably also be successful in regenerating the band. And the Sant Andreu Jazz Band must today be a very attractive band for young musicians to be a part of.

The only problem I see for the future is when it is time to find a successor to Joan Chamorro. Sant Andreu Jazz Band is very much a music project built on his vision and sustained by his passion. The four principles above might seem easy enough to formulate and to accede to in theory. But the formula does not rest on theoretical principles; it rests on a very personal and lived practice. Regeneration of leaders can be difficult. Fortunately that moment is probably far away in time.

As a last question I asked Joan, Carla and Èlia for an advice on where to see the band next time. They all agreed that I should come to the performance in November 28 at the Palau de la Música Catalana, in Barcelona. Seeing the magnificent hall and the program (photo and links below), I cannot resist…

 

Palau de la Música Catalana
Sant Andreu Jazz Band at Palau de la Música Catalana

 

Earlier posts about Sant Andreu Jazz Band at Musik.pm: Sant Andreu Jazz Band, Sant Andreu Jazz Band Live and La Màgia de la Veu & Jazz Ensemble

Follow Sant Andreu Jazz Band on blogspot.com and on social media. And of course on YouTube!

Below you’ll find links to a mix of YouTube videos from different years and with different constellations, often also involving professional musicians. The video list is not arranged in categories. To me, this unsorted mix of ages and constellations is an important part of the charm of this band. And the list only gives you the song titles. You will find information about who is playing in connection to each video.

You can easily find many, many more nice music videos if you search for Sant Andreu Jazz Band and/or Joan Chamorro on YouTube!