Joana Casanova Finds Her New Musical Direction

Garry Berman
12 min readJan 26, 2024

At the age of 25, Barcelona’s Joana Casanova is already an experienced and superbly talented jazz musician and singer, with a smooth and distinctive voice. And, having spent four years with the world-renown Sant Andreu Jazz Band, she is embarking on a new direction for her music, with a new digital EP of six of her own compositions, taking its title from the first single, “I’ve Been All Wrong (About a Thing or Two).”

In a video call, she recounted her musical journey thus far, from her childhood to the new album.

“I started when I was 7 with the piano, but I wasn’t a great student. My father wanted to buy a saxophone, I don’t know why, maybe for curiosity…at that time, at the music school I was going to [the Sant Pere de Vilamajor music school] they showed us some videos of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band, so those two things — I saw people my age playing really cool music in a very cool way, and I had the saxophone, so it happened that way. After I was playing for about for months, I remember going to a SAJB concert, and talking to Joan about getting into the band, and he tell me to transcribe Johnny Hodges, and I became his student for about three years, and then I got in the band.

Joana on the beach in 2013.

Joan Chamorro, founder and director of the SAJB, has said of Joana, “I met Joana Casanova when she was 14 years old, when she started to be my saxophone student. After a couple of years, I proposed that she join the Sant Andreu Jazz Band, knowing that it would be a great motivation for her, and that as a vocalist and saxophonist she would enrich the sound of the band, as it has been.”

Singing with the Marti Corrasco Quartet in August, 2014. “It was a bar or restaurant near the beach. Marti is my second cousin, and he invited me to sing four songs. That was when I was Joan’s student and he was already sending me some papers [music sheets] to learn for joining the band.”

Joana’s ease with which she has sung the classic jazz standards with the SAJB is something to behold for viewers of her videos with the band on YouTube.

“At the time I had a lot of fun with it. It was really nice to be able to do it, and I always really try to copy the words and pronunciation meticulously,” she says.

SAJB girl power in 2015 — a line-up of remarkably talented young musicians and singers, all of whom have continued their music careers. Front row (l. to r.): Elsa Armengou, Alba Esteban, Alba Armengou, Andrea Motis. Second row: Joana Casanova, Miranda Fernandez, Elia Bastida, Abril Sauri, Rita Payes, Magali Datzira.

Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to hear an accent as she takes on a swing number.

Crooning “My Blue Heaven” with the SAJB in 2017.

Surprisingly, however, she has never felt entirely confident with her talents as a saxophonist.

“I’ve never felt super comfortable as a musician. [Playing sax] doesn’t feel as personal, but there is definitely something about the melodies, and just the sound of it, that inspires me a lot. Maybe it’s also the fact that to play saxophone, you really have to study the language and improvise a lot. For some reason, I was just thinking more of the lyrics, and when I discovered the craft of writing a song and lyrics, it became more of that for me. And improvising — I can love it, but I don’t know if it’s for me.”

Recording “Walkin’ Shoes with the SAJB in the Jazz house with guest Joe Magnarelli, whose solo she appears to enjoy more than her own. “You see that’s how comfortable I am improvising!” she says with a laugh.

For some time, she attended the Liceu Conservatory of Music while also playing in the SAJB. “I began at the Liceu at 19; it’s the Bachelor of Music and I majored in sax performance — jazz and modern music.”

Joana as part of the SAJB sax section, 2018 — with Elia Bastida and Koldo Munné.

As for her dual education with the SAJB and the conservatory, “One thing nourished the other. I was studying in saxophone class what I was playing with Joan. It was a lot of work, but the same kind of work. The Liceu was four years of studies, which was really five for me — I repeated. When I was in the second and third year, I was recording the Joan Chamorro presenta Joana Casanova album. At the 3rd and fourth year I was starting to play guitar, and by the last year I was starting to think about recording [my songs] already.”

Chamorro is not sparing in his praise for Joana as a person as well as a musician. “Joana is a person with a good heart,” he wrote for her CD, “sincere, committed to nature, to animals. Her being a vegan goes even further than my being a vegetarian, and somehow makes me feel sympathy and admiration for her commitment and consistency. All this is reflected in her music, nothing pretentious, without unnecessary adornments, but authentic and strong, both with her saxophones and with her voice, with a strong personality, impregnated with soul, with a lot of swing and many nuances…”

Joana says of her vegan lifestyle, stemming from her love of animals, “At the beginning of being a vegetarian/vegan, I felt strongly about it and talked to people who are active about it.” But she isn’t one to preach. “As long as you know where your food comes from and what was the process of it, it takes a lot of courage to understand and confront it. So as long as you know, it’s in your hands, whether it’s going one day eating less meat, that’s a lot of it…but I can’t complain.”

Her Presenta CD, released in November of 2020, boasts an eclectic selection of genres in its vocal and instrumental tracks — from “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan, to “I Gotta Get Drunk” by Willie Nelson, “Sweet Baby James” by James Taylor, to older standards including Cole Porter’s “Makin’ Whoopie,” and Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought of You.”

“When Joan talks about the Presenta albums,” she says, “he’s always trying to choose different genres also. Maybe I went too far! I had other musical sounds in my head, a little of everything. I know it was a great opportunity and I know I learned a lot from it, but as a result, once it’s out as a representation of yourself, it’s kind of scary. People only think of you from that.”

Also on the CD is one of her original compositions, “Birdsong,” which signaled her growing interest in writing songs inspired by American singer/songwriters. “That was really the beginning of it.”

She began playing guitar because it was more helpful in writing songs, “because I could accompany myself, and also I was involved with the sound of it.

“When I was studying saxophone, I realized that this part of folk singing was kind of missing from my world, I guess. It was always so natural for me because I’ve always listened to this kind of music. It came to a point where it was obvious what I really wanted to do was that, too. Maybe three or four years ago, right in the middle of my saxophone studies, (laughing) which was perfect for saxophone studies!”

Performing in August, 2021.

All the while, her interest in American traditional, folk, and pop music continued to strengthen its influence on her personal musical direction.

“Yeah, more than I thought,” she says. “There’s a record from Norah Jones called Feels Like Home, her second album. It has a lot of originals but also traditional folk, so actually I started there — playing country songs, traditional songs with the guitar, because it’s easy and very intuitive…and I’d add Gilian Welch, she’s great — very traditional but all original.

“I’ve never been to the U.S. but of course I’d love to visit someday and be able to listen to a lot of the musicians that inspire me or have influenced me in some ways.”

Joana takes center stage for Issac Hayes’ soulful “B-A-B-Y” at the SAJB “Presenta Big Band” concert in November, 2021.

She’s a Beatles fan, too, having recorded “In My Life” for fellow SAJB alumnus Jan Domenech’s own …Presenta album, as well as covering “Across the Universe” in her 2022 gig at Barcelona’s Jamboree club. “I still discover some albums that I still don’t know by heart, I’m always discovering and I’m always becoming more of a fan,” she says.

As for the upcoming I’ve Been All Wrong… digital EP, there’s still another single left to release on January 31, before the entire EP is released on February 7. “It will be on the same platforms as the first single was,” she says, “which I believe was in all digital platforms.”

Bringing the project to the finish line was no easy task, and a Verkami fundraising campaign to help her complete the work proved troublesome and did not go as smoothly as she expected.

“I wasn’t sure about the Verkami. I really thought that it would happen sooner, and for a while I didn’t know how it would be. It became really difficult to manage with the shipping costs…the people who did the shipping would get more money than me. It didn’t make much sense. I knew it was going to be released sometime, but I didn’t know when.” She decided to finish raising money on her own, and as an incentive for donations, made her own ceramic pottery for local contributors to the cause. “I didn’t do the Verkami, but it helped, and a lot with people around here bought [the pottery].”

Her ceramics is one way in which she continues to explore her creative potential, along with photography, and even constructing her own guitar. “I take a lot of photos, but I’ve never studied photography; the pottery I started when I ended my saxophone studies. As much as I wanted to do other music, I wanted to do other stuff that I hadn’t been able to do — like making my own guitar, and the ceramics.”

In February, 2023 Joana posted, “ I am very happy. A year ago I started making this guitar at the workshop of @lenoguitars , thanks David 🙏”

Now that the EP release date approaches, and after the work of writing and recording — plus delays — she reflects, “It’s been such a long journey. I’m excited, but at the same time, I’ve listened to the music a lot, so it doesn’t seem as fresh to me. I want to start doing something [new] again.”

She wrote and arranged the six new songs herself (out of a total of twelve she had written). Four of the songs with lyrics were all written in English. “For some reason, most of the music and movies in English become really natural for me,” she explains, “maybe not to speak it, but a lot of what I like is associated with English.”

She seems surprised by the suggestion that, as mentioned earlier, she has little or no discernable accent when she sings in English.

“Really? It’s funny because the saxophone player, Bill McHenry, is from Maine, and I think he catches some of kind of accent, but he says he thinks I’m secretly from America!”

The lyrics of the first single, a wistful number with a soft but driving beat, sounds personal. “It’s all personal,” she says of the songs, “just several experiences put together. Composing for me is kind of a weird process.”

So, with this new collection of songs in a more contemporary, guitar-based vein, does this mean there won’t be much room for her saxophone in Joana’s future music?

“I don’t really play saxophone at all these days, but I’m not hating it. It can be really helpful for writing music and voices, like at the end of the single, the saxophones are me.”

McHenry plays sax on three tracks for the album. “He was teaching at Liceu and was my teacher during my last year. It was really good that we met because I always had in mind that saxophone was for jazz, separated from other music, and many people from jazz look down on other styles sometimes. What’s really nice was having a teacher who knew and loved Joni Mitchell, and all the things that I really value, so it was a good moment for me to combine one thing with the other…I just played on that first song, the other songs I just play guitar and sing, and Bill plays sax on three songs.”

It seems clear that Joana is drifting away from the classic jazz she sang and played so seemingly effortlessly with the SAJB, and which has won her countless fans. “There’s a little bit of it in the album, it’s kind of a mix of styles.”

She does point out that she still enjoys jazz as a listener these days, if not as a performer.

“I can really enjoy a jazz concert, but when I play, it doesn’t feel like myself…I do like standards, and Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday, and I listen to a lot of it regularly. But it feels as if I don’t know if it’s my place to sing it. I’ve learned a lot from it, but it feels like something from a long time ago and a very faraway place, so it seems like I’m imitating something. It’s a really good exercise, and I’m really glad I grew up studying it and trying to copy it, but when I started making something of my own for my own project, it didn’t feel right to keep going that way.”

And so, instead, Joana will continue to move forward with music that she feels helps her express herself in a more personal way. Judging from the talents that she has already demonstrated on recordings and in performance, her potential seems limitless.

Until next time…

You can read my 100+ articles at the “Garry’s Blog” page on my website, which also includes synopses and reviews of my books. You can order them via the links to

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You can click on my articles about the Sant Andreu Jazz Band at the links below:

“Andrea Motis: Europe’s Jazz Queen” | by Garry Berman | Jan, 2024 | Medium

Bossa Nova Returns to Barcelona” | by Garry Berman | Medium| by Garry Berman | Medium

“A Perfect Arrangement: Joan Monné and the Sant Andreu Jazz Band” | by Garry Berman | Dec, 2023 | Medium

“Carla Motis: A Quiet Force on Jazz Guitar” | by Garry Berman | Sep, 2023 | Medium

“Memories of my Visit to Jazzing Fest, 2023” | by Garry Berman | Sep, 2023 | Medium

“Meet Asier Vázquez, The SAJB’s Eager New Guitarist” | by Garry Berman | Medium

“Koldo Munné’s Musical Journey” | by Garry Berman | Jun, 2023 | Medium

“Claudia Rostey’s Rising Star” | by Garry Berman | Jun, 2023 | Medium

“A Film About Kids and Music: Ten Years Later”

“Marching to a Different Bassist: The Music of Magali Datzira” | by Garry Berman | Medium

“Kindred Spirits: How Joan Chamorro and Isidore Rudnick Teach Jazz to Kids”

“The Compelling Music of Elia Bastida and Carolina Alabau”

“The SAJB’s Koldo Munne Steps into the Jazz Spotlight”

“A Tale of Two Albas”

“How a Kids Band in Barcelona Rekindled My Love of Jazz”

“Jan Domenech’s New Chapter as a Jazz Musician”

“Joan Chamorro and the SAJB: Past, Present, and Future”

“Josep Traver: Guitarist of All Trades”

“When American Jazz Pros Meet Spanish Jazz Kids”

“Claudia Rostey: The Life of an 18-year-old Bacelona Jazz Trombonist”

“The Magic of the Voice: The Singers of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band”

“Jobim is Alive and Well in Barcelona”

“Did Someone Say Anastasia Ivanova?”

“Struck by (musical) Lightning”

The Sant Andreu Jazz Band is always grateful for donations large and small to help the project continue to record and release new albums, perform live concerts, and maintain a successful project and all that entails. Please see this link regarding the current GoFundMe campaign:

Fundraiser for Association Sant Andreu Jazz Band by Friends of SAJB Amis du SAJB : Sant Andreu Jazz Band JAZZING 14 (

Sant Andreu Jazz Band CDs and DVDs are available at:, eBay, and



Garry Berman

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