“A Film About Kids and Music”: Ten Years Later
Let the celebrations begin for the 10-year anniversary of filmmaker Ramon Tort’s inspiring and heartwarming A Film About Kids and Music, a fly-on-the-wall documentary about Barcelona’s Sant Andreu Jazz Band, as it was throughout 2011 and 2012. The film was first presented in November of 2012, and premiered in national release in Spain on February 13, 2013.
Kids and Music conveys how the idea of teaching young kids to learn and play traditional American jazz — and play it well — can succeed, enabling them to perform for audiences living an ocean away from the music’s original birthplace.
Today, the SAJB continues to produce outstanding young jazz musicians and singers with a consistency that hardly seems possible.
Joan Chamorro created the SAJB in 2006, while teaching at the Escola Municipal de Musica de Sant Andreu (where many of the Kids and Music rehearsal scenes were filmed). An accomplished multi-instrumentalist, he wanted to interest music students in his beloved world of jazz. Most of them had enrolled in the school to study classical music, and weren’t much aware of jazz until he introduced them to the art form.
The SAJB had modest beginnings, with a handful of members playing mostly Dixieland standards at recitals in classrooms, hotel lobbies, and other less-than-glamorous venues. But they began to draw attention.
By 2009, the project had grown into a full-size big band, indulging mostly in swing standards from the 1930s and ’40s, and jazz styles from other eras. As word-of-mouth began to enhance the SAJB’s presence in the area, audiences found themselves surprised and thrilled to see such young musicians playing sophisticated arrangements and sounding like professionals. Home-shot videos from attendees began appearing on YouTube, but Chamorro wanted to preserve the performances and publicize the band via videos shot by a professional film team.
Tort picks up the story: “Yes, we met with Joan at the Barcelona Jazz Orchestra, for which I spent a few years making videos of their disc recordings and live performances. And he suggested that I film the [SAJB] concert at the Hotel Casa Fuster, which ended up being the first Jazzing in CD/DVD format.”
He still clearly remembers his first reaction upon seeing the band play.
“I think the first day I saw them perform was at this concert. A friend had already told me about the band and Joan’s work, but words to describe this band always fall short. It was watching them play when I understood the dimension of the project, and I think the same thing happened to me as to the audience at that first concert: emotion and disbelief.”
From that point on, Tort and his crew became an essential component of the project’s existence.
“To publicize his project,” he explains, “Joan quickly understood that the videos were the perfect element…The relationship we established has been totally organic and progressive. There was no plan, no purpose, no objective, beyond seeing that through the videos we were making, the project stopped being a local thing and began to interact with the entire world.”
Their working relationship then extended beyond that of filming SAJB concerts, when a meeting of minds produced a more ambitious idea: to film a documentary of the kids in the band, as they rehearse together with Chamorro, practice at home, travel to gigs, talk about music, and just have fun in between their preparations for performances.
“Although I already had the idea of making a documentary about the band,” Tort says, “it was Joan who, after an interview with the journalist Borja Duñó, asked me to get in touch with him, to conceptualize the idea. And so it was, with Borja we conceived the project and later he helped me in the script of the film.”
As the film begins, the first musical number we see opens with the sax section kicking off “Bill Bailey” before the full orchestra joins in.
From there, we enter the SAJB world on a more intimate basis, with a flow of scenes that allows us to sit in on rehearsals, eavesdrop on conversations, catch glimpses of private music lessons, and feel the excitement and joy of public concerts — all under Chamorro’s firm but benevolent guidance.
“A film About Kids and Music is a very important document,” he says, “that shows the beginning of something that continues and continues to grow and yield results. Results that go beyond myself and those who are part of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band.”
As for the actual filming, the kids took the presence of the camera crew in stride. Tort found that it wasn’t necessary to remind the subjects to ignore the scrutiny of the cameras with which their time at rehearsals were being recorded (Alba Armengou recalls that she, her mom, and sister Elsa shot the scenes their home of the girls disassembling and meticulously cleaning their trumpets). We later see Alba Esteban giving her own sax a thorough clean with the same tender loving care. “We spent a year and a half filming,” Tort says, “and they ended up normalizing our presence very quickly. For them, the presence of the cameras was totally normal.”
Was there anything that surprised him personally about the kids during filming?
“I was surprised by the group in general and at the same time, each one of its members seduced my gaze for different reasons. The way Joan treats children is and was, for me, an example to follow and in fact it has helped me personally, to draw conclusions about education, and parenthood. Treating children as people, without hierarchical roles, as equals, is also essential for me.”
There are a number of individual moments to enjoy (with dialogue best appreciated in the DVD version that includes English subtitles): Eva Fernandez teaching Alba Armengou a few dance moves as the band rehearses; teacher Montse Jorba asking Eva, Magali Datzira, and Andrea Motis to interpret the intent of the lyrics to “Please Don’t Talk About Me”; Chamorro and Andrea taking a nighttime stroll through Sant Andreu, discussing Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and whose life would make a more interesting biography; Chamorro telling friend and fellow bandleader Ricard Gili how young Alba Esteban had gone to great pains to learn a tune in a more difficult key than necessary; Jesse Davis offering Chamorro a heartfelt thank-you for his work with the SAJB; Magali singing, in a private lesson, a spare but breathtaking rendition of “Georgia on my Mind.”
There are plenty of other memorable scenes as well — and that’s not even including the concerts themselves.
Also in the film, veteran American jazzmen Jesse Davis, Terrell Stafford, and Wycliffe Gordon not only lend their talents to the band’s annual November concert at the Palau de la Musica, but also offer words of their genuine astonishment upon witnessing the SAJB’s level of excellence, and the kids’ feeling for playing jazz, despite their young ages.
At the film’s November, 2012 world premiere at the In-Edit festival in Barcelona, Kids and Music won the Jury Prize. “The festival not only allowed us to understand that the film was capable of explaining Joan’s project well,” Tort says, “it also opened the door for us to be able to release it in commercial cinemas in February of the following year. A true dream, that we would never have imagined.”
In Austin, Texas, a representative from the Austin Film Society filed this report from the Lights-Camera-Help! Film Festival:
It was amazing to see these kids mastering jazz standards by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong that were written decades before they were born. If a six-year old named Elsa can play a mean trumpet to a packed concert stadium, maybe it’s time I dust off my grade-school violin. Director/producer Ramon Tort and Joan Chamorro received a standing ovation as the credits rolled. Later, I wasn’t surprised to learn the film went on to win Best Feature at the festival. I’d like to thank the translator on stage after the screening, as Tort and Chamorro were most informative in their native language. A person in the audience asked why the children sang in English. Chamorro simply replied, ‘It’s American music. We learn through the models and the models are American.’
Throughout 2013 and 2014, Tort traveled to 37 film festivals across Europe and North America, where Kids and Music won 14 awards in all.
By this time, the SAJB had separated from the Escola Municipal de Musica de Sant Andreu, to become a self-contained, non-profit entity. “Most of the members of the project came from the school itself, of which they were part,” Chamorro explains, “paying tuition and fees and having other parallel subjects. Now it is very different.”
The project would also soon host its first Jazzing Fest, a music festival consisting of concerts and workshops by SAJB musicians, special guests, and other bands. The 10th Jazzing will take place in 2023.
So, what goes through Joan Chamorro’s mind today, as he reflects on Kids and Music ten years later?
“When I see, at present, scenes from the movie,” he says, “everything seems very far away. The musicians that appear are all out of the orchestra, except Elsa. We were all different and the project itself was also very different, since at the time it was part of the Sant Andreu Municipal School of Music. It all seems so incredible to me, and that, ten years later, we continue with the project, and that we are more alive than ever. On the other hand, when watching the scenes, sometimes I don’t recognize myself. People change with experience, if we are open to it. I have learned a lot from those years.”
He elaborates, “I think that I have learned to better manage possible problems with students, to teach with more wisdom, with more patience. I have incorporated into my methodology some more philosophical aspects that I believe have more positive effects on students. Also, at a practical level, the project has changed a lot and the level has risen compared to the first years. The balance between the oldest and the youngest who enter produces a very interesting motivational effect.”
He notes that in those intervening years, “we formed a great family, along with David Casamitjana, Ramon Tort, Josep Roig, Blanca Gallo, Lili Bonmatí, and all the musicians and their families.”
Tort, aside from his involvement with many other productions unrelated to the SAJB, has remained the “official” filmmaker for countless SAJB videos throughout the past decade — not only for live performances, but for recording sessions in Chamorro’s home studio/rehearsal space, known as The Jazz House. There has been little variation in how these videos come about.
“The truth is that, although the type of cameras and the format have changed,” Tort says, “the approach to the filming is practically the same, and with more or less the same camera operators (Toni Galitó, Jordi Cabestany, Joan Montserrat, Romà Caba, Jordi Canxales, Ferran Gassiot, etc.). Everyone already knows what to do almost automatically and this makes everything quite easy and organic. I think it is a style that differs from classic productions, because it is edited after the fact and because we never use typical filming equipment for television productions.
“I edit them without Joan, although in the first Jazzing we worked on the final part together. Now, after hundreds of edited videos, the truth is that everything has been automated so much that the workflow is very easy. I edit them, send them to Joan and he approves them and occasionally corrects a plan or asks me for an image that he finds is missing.”
Tort agrees that YouTube and other online outlets has been essential to the SAJB’s growth in popularity around the world.
“The growth of the SAJB goes hand in hand with the evolution of social networks. It is perhaps one of the positive things that platforms like YouTube have, that allow something that fifteen or twenty years ago would have been impossible.”
Aonther project, in collaboration with Chamorro and Andrea Motis, became the film The Silent Trumpet, released in November of 2018. Andrea left the SAJB as a regular member at the end of 2016, but by then was already gaining a worldwide reputation as an extraordinary trumpeter, saxophonist, and singer, all while still in her teens. The Silent Trumpet documents the months preceding the recording of her first album in New York, a concert at the Beacon Theatre, and her subsequent tour. The liner notes describe “A time filled with changes and emotions; from leaving her parents’ home for the first time and start living by herself, to embarking in a world tour that would take her to places like Japan, United States, Asia and Europe.”
“Somehow The Silent Trumpet is a continuation of Kids and Music,” Tort says. “In the film, the SAJB is present, directly or indirectly, throughout the film, as it is and will be present in Andrea’s life.
“I think that although they are very different films, the way of looking at films is similar, and the shooting was also very similar. With Andrea I spent almost three years following her around the world and learning a lot from her, from her way of moving through music and life. For me, both projects are important because I have surrounded myself with stories that have made me grow on a personal level.”
At the Girona Film Festival, the film won the prize for the Best Documentary, as well as taking the Xavier Cugat Award for Best Music.
Before going any further, another name briefly mentioned before, but deserving of special mention in relation to Kids and Music and other SAJB film and recording projects, is that of audio engineer David Casamitjana, who has been responsible for the crisp sound recordings and audio mixes that have greatly enhanced the band’s professional presentation since the gig at the Hotel Casa Fuster.
Here he talks about witnessing the meteoric rise of trombonist/singer Rita Payes, who joined the SAJB after the release of Kids and Music, but who, like so many other SAJB musicians, made an unforgettable first impression:
Casamitjana continues to work not only with Tort on the concert videos and studio recordings by the band, but also as engineer on many solo albums by former SAJB members, including Eva Fernandez, Joan Mar Sauque, Elia Bastida, Joan Marti, Carla Motis, Joana Casanova, and Alba Esteban.
Now that ten years have passed since the release of Kids and Music, the question arises: could a new version, featuring the current crop of young SAJB musicians, be on the horizon — possibly with the help of a crowdfunding campaign?
Both Chamorro and Tort have entertained the idea of filming a new version, now that the SAJB has an entirely new generation of kids working to maintain the project’s famously high musical standards.
“I would like them to make another movie about us,” Chamorro says. “I think it would be very different. In any case, I am very happy because of all these years the musical part has remained a record — about the evolution of all of them, in an exhaustive way, about how they grew as musicians and as people.”
Tort agrees. “I think that sooner or later a new revision of the project will have to be made, with the perspective of the years, and with an eye focused more exclusively on Joan Chamorro. I don’t know when the moment will be, but surely it will come, and when the moment arrives, surely the fans of the band will be happy to help make it possible.”
Where Are They Now?
For those who are curious about which SAJB musicians seen in the film have continued on that musical path in the past decade, it might be comforting to know that not only have virtually all of them remained involved in music, but most have also made return appearances as guests at SAJB concerts and events (and many have collaborated as professionals with each other in recordings and live gigs). Just a few examples:
Andrea Motis exuded star power as a musician/singer even as she was just entering her teens. In addition to her numerous performances and recordings with the SAJB until her departure in 2016, she has released a total of ten albums in her name, dating back to her CD in the Joan Chamorro presenta… series), and has been touring the world regularly, all while keeping in close touch with the SAJB, and making occasional stops as a special guest at SAJB concerts.
Alba and Elsa Armengou both continued with the band since Kids and Music; Alba recently played in her final concert with the SAJB as a member, and has already begun the next phase of her career, recording and performing with her quartet. At this writing, she is awaiting the release of her new EP. Elsa — the only member seen in the film who is still with the band today — has assumed the lead trumpet position vacated by her elder sister.
Alba Esteban, who joined the SAJB at age 10, also played her final concert with the band as a member, and will continue her musical studies at the conservatory in Basel, Switzerland.
Eva Fernandez keeps a busy schedule of live performances, leading small groups throughout Spain and elsewhere in Europe, sometimes collaborating with her former SAJB bandmates, including Magali Datzira and Rita Payes. Eva has returned to appear as guest musician at major SAJB events, including Jazzing in 2021, and the SAJB 15th anniversary reunion concert later that year.
Magali Datzira continues playing live gigs, composing, and producing her own music videos (many of which veer towards the avant-garde). She began a tour of Mexico in December, beginning with the Polanco Jazz Festival, followed by gigs in several clubs and music cafes across the country.
Joan Mar Sauque grew as a powerhouse of talent on trumpet in the SAJB, leaving in 2019 to play and record with small groups, and occasionally returning as a guest on SAJB-related recordings and performances. He released his first solo album, Gone With the Wind, in February of 2021.
Marc Martin has returned frequently in recent years to lend his talents on piano for the SAJB, including for “La Magia de la Veu” ensemble tour.
Arnau Julia, the original drummer for the SAJB until 2013, and who has played with various musicians and bands in the Barcelona area, agreed to to provide much-appreciated support for the SAJB, and for “La Magia de la Veu” gigs and other side projects with the band’s alumni, as the younger generation of SAJB drummers continue to learn “on the job.”
Joan Marti, since leaving as a regular SAJB member, has also continued as musician/vocalist with “La Magia de la Veu” and other projects with the SAJB, including the 2022 Jazzing Fest, and the band’s “Passing the Torch” concert as part of November’s Barcelona Jazz Festival.
Edu Ferrer, saxophonist and the first male vocalist in the SAJB, continues to perform and record, and, like Joan Marti, has treated SAJB audiences to his singing at the 2022 Jazzing Fest, and the “Passing the Torch” concert. He ended the year performing again with Joan Chamorro, Marc Martin, and Arnau Julia at the Barcelona Jazz Festival on December 27.
Today, as the 17th year of the band has begun, Joan Chamorro remains as devoted as ever to recruiting new musicians into the project, teaching them classic jazz, and directing the big band ensemble and its smaller side groups, while also producing their vast catalogue of CDs. He tours much of Europe and beyond with various line-ups and combinations of his current and former student musicians.
“All the young musicians who are now part of the SAJB know what they are getting into,” he says. “It is a consolidated project, in which you have to commit yourself to the studio, to the concerts, to the rehearsals…every year at Sant Andreu is very intense. We do concerts, record new albums, play with wonderful world-class musicians, etc.
“That’s why the movie is so far away for me. Because during these almost 17 years a lot has happened, a lot of musicians who left the project years ago, families I haven’t seen again…”
But the positive effects of this passage of time far outweigh all else. “We talk about a different way of doing things; of an inspiring proposal for many people, for many young people, for many schools. That makes me proud and makes me feel very happy.”
In closing, it is perhaps most appropriate to recall Jesse Davis and his words of appreciation (and his prediction) for Chamorro in Kids and Music:
His words hold true to this day.
Until next time…
A Film About Kids and Music, The Silent Trumpet, and other SAJB videos on DVD are available at https://jazztojazz.com/en/shop/category/dvds-en/
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Read my previous articles related to the Sant Andreu Jazz Band at the links below, and at the “Garry’s Blog” page on my website, www.GarryBerman.com. :
“Kindred Spirits: How Joan Chamorro and Isidore Rudnick Teach Jazz to Kids” https://medium.com/@garryberman/kindred-spirits-how-joan-chamorro-and-isidore-rudnick-teach-jazz-to-kids-2d0cb80bed77
“Marching to a Different Bassist: The Music of Magali Datzira” https://medium.com/@garryberman/marching-to-a-different-bassist-the-music-of-magali-datzira-ef778cf239b7
“The Compelling Music of Elia Bastida and Carolina Alabau” https://medium.com/@garryberman/the-compelling-music-of-%C3%A8lia-bastida-and-carolina-alabau-65da74f07804
“The SAJB’s Koldo Munne Steps into the Jazz Spotlight” https://garryberman.medium.com/the-sajbs-koldo-munn%C3%A9-steps-into-the-jazz-spotlight-238b3231626f
“A Tale of Two Albas” https://garryberman.medium.com/a-tale-of-two-albas-904849a5e697
“How a Kids Band in Barcelona Rekindled My Love of Jazz” https://garryberman.medium.com/how-a-kids-band-in-barcelona-rekindled-my-love-of-jazz-a20ea8873670
“Jan Domenech’s New Chapter as a Jazz Musician” https://garryberman.medium.com/jan-domenechs-new-chapter-as-a-jazz-musician-e1f0da8b19b9
“Joan Chamorro and the SAJB: Past, Present, and Future” https://medium.com/@garryberman/joan-chamorro-and-the-sajb-past-present-and-future-573eedcbff76
“Josep Traver: Guitarist of All Trades” https://garryberman.medium.com/josep-traver-guitarist-of-all-trades-608296f9d00a
“When American Jazz Pros Meet Spanish Jazz Kids” https://garryberman.medium.com/when-american-jazz-pros-meet-spanish-jazz-kids-25c7f5023571
“Claudia Rostey: The Life of an 18-year-old Bacelona Jazz Trombonist” https://garryberman.medium.com/claudia-rostey-the-life-of-an-18-year-old-barcelona-jazz-trombonist-d13b82c770a3
“The Magic of the Voice: The Singers of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band” https://garryberman.medium.com/the-magic-of-the-voice-the-singers-of-the-sant-andreu-jazz-band-208dfb629221
“Jobim is Alive and Well in Barcelona” https://garryberman.medium.com/jobim-is-alive-and-well-in-barcelona-d384b40d8c2e
“Did Someone Say Anastasia Ivanova?” https://garryberman.medium.com/did-someone-say-anastasia-ivanova-dd6f67277c64
“Struck by (musical) Lightning” https://garryberman.medium.com/struck-by-musical-lightning-6583ecb0de13
Sant Andreu Jazz Band CDs and DVDs are available at: https://jazztojazz.com, eBay, and Amazon.com.