Claudia Rostey: The Life of an 18-year-old Barcelona Jazz Trombonist

First things first: One of the best kept secrets in today’s jazz world is not a very well-kept secret anymore. Nor should it be. In fact, the Sant Andreu Jazz Band, which has been celebrating its 15th year in 2021, has become known among European jazz fans (and those in the rest of the world, thanks to YouTube) for its past, present, and most likely future roster of brilliant young jazz musicians, whose ages have ranged from as young as 6 to 21. They’ve enthralled audiences with a seemingly impossible ability to play an array of classic big band, bebop, and bossa nova standards — dating back nearly a century — with the skill and polish of musicians decades older than the most senior members of the SAJB.

This is due to the SAJB’s founder and director, Joan Chamorro, who has honed a teaching method that has produced such stellar musicians and singers as Andrea Motis, Rita Payes, Eva Fernandez, Magali Datzira, Joan Mar Sauque, Marcal Perramon, Alba Armengou, and many others — over 60 in all — since 2006. In addition to having the top jazz musicians from Spain and elsewhere in Europe as guests of the band for concerts and recordings, such respected American jazz veterans as Wynton Marsalis, Scott Hamilton, Joe Magnarelli, and Joel Frahm have praised Chamorro and the SAJB for their accomplishments.

You can read more about the band’s fascinating and joyful history via the links to my previous articles, below. Today, however, we focus on one current member of the band, the bright and articulate trombonist/singer Claudia Rostey, who has kindly given us considerable insight into her own training and growth as a musician and singer, as well as a peek at Joan Chamorro’s methods for getting the very best out of his band.

Claudia has been immersed in music all of her life, being the daughter of musicians and music educators. Her mother, Montserrat Cristau, is an experienced singer, and director of the Escola de Música de Girona. Her father, Rafel Rostey Garcia, is also a musician and teacher at the school.

“My parents always liked jazz,” she says. “I remember my dad showing me records and CD’s, or hearing my mom singing both opera and jazz, so I’ve kind of liked this style though I was very little, and not really encouraged in music, apart from singing every now and then with my sister.”

But isn’t it unusual for a young girl to take up jazz trombone? Not anymore — not when you have the legendary SAJB alumnus Rita Payes as a role model.

“It’s actually ironic but my parents suggested me the trombone after hearing Rita Payés in one of Joan’s workshops,” Claudia recalls. “They rushed home and brought me one of the trombones their music school had, a Pbone for starter students. I was 12 then, and I immediately made it sound so my parents put me in the music school. At first, I wasn’t really invested, but 4 years ago I took it seriously. I realized that music was what truly made me happy.” She also realized that she didn’t see herself working in anything that wasn’t related to music. “And here I am.”

In Spain, she explains, music isn’t taught in high school classes, so it has to be pursued on an extracurricular basis. Her music education at Escola de Musica de Girona was remarkably extensive. “Before joining SAJB, I did other things there like: 6 years of a Musical Theatre course, where I took group dance, voice and drama lessons, and at the end of the year we made a musical production; 4 years of musical theory and harmony; 6 of trombone; and 2 of particular voice lessons with my mom, before we did it at home not as a mandatory thing. All that while in high school where I did my normal classes from 8:15 to 14:45.”

She joined the SAJB two years ago, but was well aware of it long before then. “Since I was very little I’ve known about SAJB, and even went to a concert, and I did listen to the CDs or watch videos of the whole band.”

A convergence of fortunate circumstances eventually led to Claudia becoming a member. “My mom and Joan knew each other and were talking about work, and somehow my mom told him about me, and Joan at the time ‘needed’ new trombone members because Joan Codina and Arnau Sanchez were leaving the band. When I heard of it I was super-excited, and I started talking with Joan and preparing some things he told me he wanted to hear. And a month later we went to his house and talked, played, and got to know each other.”

After another hour or so, Chamorro told Claudia that if she was willing to come to Barcelona (nearly two hours from her home), then she could join the band. “Of course, I said yes, and even started crying of emotion (I’m a pretty sensible person). Since then, I’ve learned A LOT and improved my playing and music knowledge. I graduated from high school after my senior year and I left my music school at the end of the course, because I now live with two friends in a flat in Barcelona, and we all study there at our university [the ESMUC], where I will take a four-year degree in the specialty of jazz trombone interpretation. I didn’t plan to enter this year, but I studied hard all summer to take my chance, and I got in.”

With such a full-time immersion in music, Claudia is justifiably proud of how much she has learned and has come to appreciate the wealth of creativity and history of jazz. What then, is it like to be an SAJB member? “I think my music taste has grown for the better the last few years, especially with Joan and with my bandmates, because we were always talking about musicians and interesting records or varieties in the genre. One of my virtues is that I have a very good memory and my brain is now like library of records, dates and names which I like to expand because it’s fun, and I love listening to music and learning about the authors, the time and its curiosities. We talk about these things with my friends at the band or at the university, and of course with Joan. I also [talk about]it with my father. We are always singing in the car, or send each other new things we find in Spotify, we could say we have a special bond when it comes to music. With my mom too, but it’s a bit different.”

Claudia’s superb singing also caught the attention of both Chamorro and SAJB audiences. When she was younger, singing in public wasn’t so easy. But having an experienced singer as a mother went a long way in helping her confidence. “At first, I always sang on my own, I was very shy and I’ve always been self-conscious, and now, even though I have overcome this issue I still struggle sometimes with self-criticism. It wasn’t till my mom encouraged me to start musical theatre that I began to share my voice outside my home. First it was group lessons, and for the last two years I’ve done voice lessons with my mom irregularly. I practice on my own and she helps me with technique. Now it’s more like coaching; she’s helping me improve my vibrato and to control the voice, still making it flow freely. There are a lot of things about my voice that need improvement, and sometimes when I feel useless about it my mom always helps me understand that somethings come with age and we need to let our voice mature and change for the better.”

Now, with a more structured environment to further explore her singing possibilities, she is happy to follow Chamorro’s lead, while also offering suggestions of her own. Her most recent performances have included renditions of standards such as “From This Moment On” and “I Only Have Eyes For You,” with more to come. “Joan always proposes songs, and you get to choose from some options he gives you, and sometimes you propose what you want to sing or play as a soloist. In these cases, he asked me to do these songs and I really loved them. In other things, like the song I recorded as the trombone lead this year, JJ Johnson’s ‘Riviera’, I proposed it to the trombone section, and now after the 15th anniversary celebration, I hope Joan and I will start working on a new song to sing or play, though I love playing in section.”

What’s in store for Claudia’s SAJB work in the coming year? “Joan does plan making me sing more songs, but all at the right time, and I’m very excited about it. I don’t know the songs but both Joan and I would like to challenge myself. I know I have potential singing and playing, so let’s see where it goes.”

Like many of the young female musicians in the band who have also won praise for their jazz vocal stylings, Claudia — with her fellow SAJB singer Alba Armengou (and baritone saxophonist Alba Esteban)— has been careful and precise in learning the English lyrics and diction for songs from the Great American Songbook and other sources of inspiration. “I loved English a child. My parents found it very important for my sister and I to learn languages, and we both went to an academy since we were very young. She speaks French and Italian too — I don’t, but I would like to learn sometime. I have my Cambridge exams (I plan on taking my C2 when I have time) and I always watch everything in VO [voiceover translation] because I hate bad translations, and of course bad SONG translations, which sometimes include bad singers — just my opinion. That helps my brain think in English and be fast about it, also with pronunciation and vocabulary. As a child I used to translate songs to know the meaning, I think that helped me a lot. I also did two weeks of a musical theatre course in London; it was very fun.”

Alba Armengou, an SAJB member since she was 8 years old (she’s now 20), has been busy not only playing lead trumpet and singing in the band, but has also been performing with her quartet, which includes SAJB saxophonist Marcal Perramon. She will eventually leave the band to carve out her own career full-time. Will that provide still further singing opportunities for Claudia? “We haven’t talked about Alba leaving. I wouldn’t dare — she is a great singer, and I hope she sticks with the band for some time. Joan only told me that he wants me to sing more because he wants me to work on my voice the same way I do with the trombone.”

When asked about Claudia, Chamorro has this to say: “Claudia has evolved a lot in recent months, as a trombonist and also as a vocalist, and she is doing it very quickly. She is looking forward to getting more and more into the world of jazz. The challenge of making new songs where she is the lead trombone of the SAJB trombone section has made her work hard both technically and musically. She has a beautiful voice that, working well, can be very personal. I am convinced that very soon we will have a very good improviser and a very good singer …with a lot of personality in both things.”

If all factors continue to work in her favor, she plans to stay with the band for quite some time to come. “Yes! of course!” she says. “It’s a great opportunity and I love working with Joan and my bandmates. I still have a lot to learn. Music is a huge part in my life, and being with this band brings me a lot of joy. People tend to leave when they are 21 or 22; I just turned 18, so I have plenty of time. You will be hearing from me for a few more years, I promise.”

You are welcome to read these additional SAJB-related articles. In chronological order:

“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

Pop Culture historian, Freelance Writer, Author, specializing in American comedy history in films, radio, and TV. Beatles and jazz enthusiast, animal lover.