There is something compelling about the way 26-year-old Barcelona jazz guitarist Carla Motis plays. She presents a sort of quiet stillness onstage as she works her way through a jazz standard, whether she’s providing rhythm or taking a solo, either in a small combo or powerful big band. It is this very serene way of contributing her part to any ensemble that captures the attention of audiences.
Carla took the time for an interview with me at the recent Jazzing Fest, created and hosted by Joan Chamorro and the Sant Andreu Jazz Band since 2014. This year, Carla — who was with the SAJB for over a decade — performed onstage as the newest member of the Halli Galli Quartet (more about that shortly).
Her versatility perhaps comes as no surprise considering that she started on guitar at the tender age of four. A few years later, she began at the Escola Municipal de Música Sant Andreu, where many members of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band began their musical education — including her sister, world renown jazz trumpeter and singer Andrea Motis.
“At 7 years old, I moved to the music school where my sister was, and where everything started. My sister played trumpet with her teacher, I played guitar with my teacher, and then Joan started the combo, and my sister joined the combo.”
Chamorro, a teacher at the school, created what would later become known as the Sant Andreu Jazz Band in 2006. At first, he began teaching the small group traditional Dixieland music.
Carla recalled how she entered the world of the SAJB in 2008.
“One day I was with my father waiting for Andrea’s rehearsal to end, and Joan Chamorro met me and told me, “If you buy a banjo, you can join the group,” and I said, “No, I don’t want to play the banjo, because I don’t like it.”
Chamorro didn’t give up on his suggestion, but Carla still refused, preferring to stay with guitar (she had been studying classical guitar at the school) and not switch over to banjo, which Chamorro needed for the Dixieland music he was teaching the band. But her parents, convinced she would have fun in the group, encouraged her to accept the banjo — which she did, reluctantly at first. Lo and behold, her attitude went through a major shift. “I fell in love with the banjo and Dixieland music,” she says.
While it’s never a guarantee that a young music student will take to jazz, she offers an observation that many current and former members of the SAJB have made about Chamorro as a teacher: “Joan has a talent for making you love this music,” she says. “He makes it fun for the children. He’s a funny person. You absorb his energy, and then, as you grow up, you start listening by yourself, and start to investigate it on your own.”
She recalls Chamorro making mp3s for the students to download and listen to. He has always guided his young musicians through jazz history via the recordings of Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and countless other legends. “At the beginning, I remember Joan gave us albums on mp3 — classics and ‘easy’ ones, very melodic and easy jazz for the children…And then you’re discovering Miles Davis and Charlie Parker…”
As the SAJB grew in size, it became necessary for Chamorro to adapt, and make a transition to big band swing. At this point, he felt Carla needed to learn jazz guitar properly, and recommended a new teacher for her, Josep Traver.
“Carla was the one and only guitar player with the SAJB,” Traver recalled last year. “She learned guitar at the school in Sant Andreu, then she came with me to the school at Badalona, maybe when she was 13, and I was her teacher for 8 years” (Carla recalls the time span covered her ages between 10–18).
Her guitar-playing role models were primarily Charlie Christian, whose solos she worked to learn, “and I love it,” she adds. Other important guitar influences have included Barney Kessel, Grant Green, and Kenny Burrell.
She has always been a favorite among SAJB enthusiasts, while still being known for her quiet demeanor, precise playing, and rather intense concentration. Traver explains that it’s simply an extension of her personality.
“Yeah, she’s a very quiet girl, she’s super cool, I think she plays in a quiet manner. I have a very good relationship with Carla — I’d help her with more difficult music of the SAJB sometimes, or when Joan and I were trying to improvise. She was a little shy at the beginning, she didn’t want to improvise, and Joan was telling her, ‘Carla, improvise!’ and she would say ‘No.’ ”
She confirms this, and says she was happy to play rhythm guitar in the SAJB big band without taking frequent solos. “I thought my role was to be like Freddie Green [Count Basie’s guitarist for 50 years, who rarely played a solo]. I enjoy it a lot, because I feel the rhythm, I was very comfortable, developing the tempo, and it never seemed boring to me.” She admits that her enjoyment wasn’t always reflected on her face. “I’m serious,” she says with a little laugh, “I have fun, but you don’t see it. I’m concentrating.”
“I was very, very shy to play solos. I’m afraid to make mistakes, or play the wrong notes in public. But it was a process. And I started playing easy tunes and transcribing some solos with Josep.”
Aside from the big band recordings and concerts, one of the SAJB side projects included The New Quartet, which Chamorro created in 2018 with Carla, Alba Armengou, and Elia Bastida. Their live CD boasts special guest Scott Hamilton, who lends prestige to any gig in which he takes part.
The quartet took their music on the road (and in the air) to play locales such as London.
The release of her first album in 2019, Joan Chamorro presenta Carla Motis, already seems like a long time ago for her, and she intends for any future recording she does on her own to feel less rushed than Chamorro’s quick working pace.
“I think I’d work in a very different way, with more patience. That CD was very fast to do. I understand, because Joan makes five CDs a year, and mine was one of the five that year, and I like it, but it’s not the way I would do my own.”
She says she would take more time with each song and arrangement, getting every note just right. “I was trying to do that with Joan, but he doesn’t have time,” she says with a laugh.
As Chamorro wrote for the album, “Carla is, for me, and I say it with a lot of satisfaction, the realization that work, perseverance, patience and believing in something have their reward. Carla, discreetly but in a continuous evolution, began to emerge with her improvisations, slowly, timidly, with a coherent discourse, beyond her rhythmic function. A speech based on the bebop, with references to Charlie Christian, Grant Green, or Wes Montgomery, and all this with a supervised work with great success with her professor and collaborator in many of my projects, Josep Traver…I am convinced that Carla has a lot to tell us with her voice, with the voice of her guitar, because both are the same, and melt, as it can’t be otherwise in her, a wonderful artist.”
She has good memories of her time with the SAJB, but also enjoys her freedom as a musician now. “It’s like a learning process when you’re in the band, like school, and now I feel free to do whatever I want, and it’s very different.”
She joined the SAJB’s 15th anniversary celebration concerts in late 2021, in which over 70 former members of the band took part. Here she is featured on “Long Yellow Road”:
We turned our talk to the many times she and Andrea played together during their years with the SAJB, and even during the Covid lockdown, during which they performed a concert from home for housebound online viewers. Would she like to work with Andrea again?
“Yes, I would love to. I enjoy playing with her a lot. Every time we can, we do something. But she’s busy with a lot of things, and I am, too.”
Despite this, the two perform together occasionally, such as for private concerts, and she’s happy to announce that they will be playing together in March of 2024, as part of a series of concerts with the theme of family, in which each group will consist of members of the same family — such as Carla and Andrea.
Until that happens, Carla will be busy. Having recently completed her studies for her degree in Jazz Guitar at the Liceu Conservatory, she lists five different groups she’s playing with now, ranging in size from duos to swing bands: the Vignesh Melwani & Carla Motis Dúo, Belén Bandera & Carla Motis Dúo (featuring Horacio Fumero/ Masa Kamaguchi), the Halli Galli Quartet, Swing Engine Group, Àvalon Trio, the Valparaíso Big Band, and the Micaela Chalmeta Big Band. “I’m doing it because it’s like my training in different styles and situations.”
She’s carefully considering the next possible major step in her career. “Now I’m thinking of doing my own thing,” which, she hints, might involve leading a small group, where she would determine the music selection and direction. “This concert with Andrea maybe will be the beginning of this, because they called me and told me I could do whatever I want, so it’s a big window of opportunity for me.”
Speaking of family, we returned to the subject of the Halli Galli Quartet, for which Carla was the obvious choice to replace the group’s guitarist, Pablo Lopez, when he moved to France this year. As SAJB devotees are aware, the quartet is comprised of Elia Bastida and Christoph Mallinger on violin, Marta Roma on cello, and now Carla on guitar. She and Elia captured the hearts of SAJB fans throughout their years together in the band and its related side projects; Christoph and Andrea have been together for several years, and welcomed their second child to their family earlier this year.
“Because I’m family,” she says, “and I play the kind of music they play, and we get along very well, with Marta and Elia, and Chris, I’m so happy to join. But you need a lot of concentration because there are constant changes in the music, and the arrangements are very crazy.”
The group kept the audience happy throughout their set at Jazzing, which opened the festival’s series of concerts.
Also at Jazzing, she and current SAJB guitarist Asier Vázquez, who joined the band earlier this year, finally met for the first time.
After Jazzing concluded and I returned home, Carla sent an e-mail with some big news concerning her involvement with the Àvalon trio: “Something that I forgot to tell you and that is important for me is that this 1st of October I’ll travel to South Korea until the 11th, playing with the group Àvalon!”
Best wishes and safe travels to Carla, who by all appearances is reaching a new level of recognition in jazz for her superb guitar skills, versatility, and dedication.
Until next time…
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Read my previous articles related to the Sant Andreu Jazz Band at the links below, or at the “Garry’s Blog” page on the website www.GarryBerman.com, and feel free to visit or join the Facebook group Friends of Sant Andreu Jazz Band (of which I am co-founder and administrator).
“A Film About Kids and Music: Ten Years Later” https://medium.com/@garryberman/a-film-about-kids-and-music-ten-years-later-50d5bf96f53b
“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
“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.