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

Chamorro as guest soloist, with Rudnick conducting (photo: Carmen Lawrence-Bille).

In the sixteen years since Joan Chamorro created the Sant Andreu Jazz Band in Barcelona, countless observers who have discovered the project agree that this is not your average kids band; the young musicans learn and perform, on a regular basis, classic jazz standards made famous by the legends, and play with a level of skill and professionalism not often seen — if at all —among kids in the jazz world.

From 2006 onward, as word of the SAJB began to spread beyond its home in Barcelona, and videos of the band on YouTube caught the notice of both professional musicians and average jazz fans, music educators across the globe became eager to learn of Chamorro’s way of teaching his students — “The Chamorro Method,” as it has come to be known.

Just what is The Chamorro Method?

As he explains, “For a very young musician, it is super important to listen. What do we do with a 6-or 7-year old who doesn’t know what they want? Have them listen to the music. Have them begin to learn their instruments. First you hear, then you play. Johnny Hodges, for example — I’d say ‘Let’s try to play him.’ They could say, ‘That’s really difficult, we’re just beginning.’ It’s not difficult with practice, little by little, every day.”

Singing is also essential to the process. Chamorro instructs his students, when listening to a solo by a jazz legend, “Sing what you’ve been hearing, internalize it. Then you pass it to the instrument. The instrument is an extension of your voice. When we work like this, especially with youngsters, they fall in love with the whole thing. A 7- to 14-year-old will be willing to practice every day, and it finally becomes part of their daily lives.”

While his teaching method and its stunning results have gained the attention of music teachers and jazz band directors around the world, his longtime friend and frequent collaborator with the SAJB, guitarist Josep Traver, sees the idea behind it as rather matter-of-fact, and offers another way to consider the concept:

Chamorro and Josep Traver in The Jazz House.

“Listen, imitate, copy,” Traver says, as if reciting a mantra. “You can analyze after. It’s like when you learn to talk, You say ‘mama’ and ‘papa’ and ‘chair’ and ‘I want water.’ But you don’t know if water is a verb or — you don’t know anything, or the grammar. You only say the phrase. It’s the same thing in music. You must learn, but not with much analyzing, and having a good reference, and then if you listen to the people that play…it’s a very good background for you. And after, you can do your own thing, of course. You must investigate and create new things. But at first it’s a super interesting way of learning — imitate, transcribing, and take all the things — dynamics, experiencing a lot of things.”

Even as the Covid pandemic threatened the very existence of the SAJB (which relies heavily on concert ticket and CD sales for its budget, as it does not charge the students or their families for the education, and is not government funded), Chamorro has been able at times to travel at the invitation of jazz band directors and teachers who are as fascinated with his method as they are with his musicianship.

Some examples from just the past few years include: A visit to Mexico in January of 2020, invited by saxophonist/educator Gerry Lopez, “to explain my methodology, workshops, direct a big band of young people (‘The Guadalajara Bigband’), a couple of concerts, etc.” Chamorro added at the time, “I am very happy and proud that the work done during these 14 years with the Sant Andreu Jazz Band generates interest worldwide, on a pedagogical level (apart from the interest in musical outcomes that can be seen in concerts live and in my youtube channel). It was really wonderful to me to see how they knew my work from so far and how interested they were in it.”

A lengthy class he led there included videos, advice, and, of course, music.

Chamorro in Mexico.

As the periodical El Pais published, “The naturalness with which Chamorro approaches young people to this minority musical style is one of the reasons for the success in his methodology. No books, no exams, no pressure of any kind. A technique far from the traditional system that has caused the apprentices to throw in the towel after years of dedication.”

He has explained his teaching method in Colombia, France, the U.S., Sweden, Poland, Italy, and elsewhere.

He has also welcomed guest music educators to his own turf, i.e. The Jazz House, his home rehearsal/recording studio for the SAJB, located on a quiet street in the Sant Andreu district of the city. In March of 2020, through Erasmus — a European youth educational program for culture and sports — Chamorro hosted twenty teachers from Iceland for three days, to immerse them in the SAJB and how he has been teaching his students to learn and play jazz classics.

As he described afterward, he and the group had several discussions for a total of about 20 hours, “talking about pedagogy, methodology, philosophy, listening to our music and watching, through videos, the evolution of young musicians (some of them with more than 10 years in the orchestra), listening and playing direct to some of them and to understand how, without any kind of institutional help, we are about to complete 15 years of life, with a production of more than 40 CD’s related to the project, the film A Film About Kids and Music, hundreds of concerts inside and outside the country.”

At the Jazz House, getting into the details with fellow music educators from Iceland.

He added, “I have liked the experience of these days so much that, together with our Project Manager, Blanca Gallo, we have thought of the possibility to repeat it with all those who are interested.”

In May of 2022, he visited Cincinnati at the invitation of Dr. Isidore Rudnick, founder and director of the CPS (Cincinnati Public Schools) Jazz Academy.

Dr. Isidore Rudnick.

He explains, “I had been wanting to start a jazz academy at the Cincinnati public schools — an after-school jazz academy — for pretty much the last six years, since I’ve been in this new position there as Fine Arts Curriculum Manager. I had seen [Chamorro’s] work on YouTube, and this was maybe five years ago, when I was becoming aware of exactly what he was doing. And so I reached out to him and we started communicating, and I told him I was starting a jazz academy in Cincinnati, and told him I very, very much liked what he was doing. And I’ve taught jazz education for forty years, and it was really refreshing to see his way of teaching. I tried to get him to come over and do some workshops and a concert, and three years ago I got my jazz academy up and running, but we ran into the beginning of Covid, so we had to wait, and wait. And I kept on reaching out to him.

“And last May, we had a big festival in Cincinnati with all four of our jazz orchestra groups that are in the jazz academy, and he was our guest soloist. So he came over to Cincinnati, played with the groups, did a workshop, and we had a chance to meet in person and hang out, and it was wonderful.

“As a result of that, he graciously invited me to bring one of our young groups over to the [Jazzing] festival to participate.”

Chamorro says of the band’s visit, “It was a really beautiful experience, and I loved his work with these guys with jazz music. It was nice to meet him

Demonstrating, with the Chamorro Method, how playing begins with singing.

one more time in Barcelona, and to have his band at my festival. They played together with the youngest ones of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band.”

Rudnick has no shortage of praise for the SAJB, and for how it has become a shining example of tapping into the potential of even the youngest aspiring musicians. “One of the things that impresses me so much about Mr. Chamorro’s program is that he’s teaching these kids the classic jazz repertoire, harmonic language, rhythmic style, articulation…he’s doing it with great arrangements that are not overly complicated, and a lot of his students — like what I try to do with our smaller Cincinnati public groups — when we perform, we perform without sheet music, because that’s what the early part of the tradition is. Now, of course with a jazz big band you’ve got a lot of people, and more complicated arrangements, so of course you need sheet music. But the foundation of music is learning the repertoire and being able to internalize it, and perform it without having to have the sheet music as a crutch. So it was marvelous for me to hear all of those groups at Jazzing, but especially his younger Dixieland group. Because I really think that getting to students at a very early age — and I’m talking 8 years old, 9 years old — is incredibly important.”

The Sant Andreu Dixieland Jazz Band: (l.to r.): Anna Ndiaye, (piano), Jordi Herrera (bass), Elian Sabogal (tenor sax), Pere Company (clarinet, sax, banjo), Sander Theuns (alto, soprano sax), Luc Martin (trombone), Marti Costalago (trumpet), Maestro Chamorro. Front — Neils Theuns (drums).

“Another thing that Joan does so well, is that he places such an important emphasis with his younger players on listening to the great classic jazz musicians. Listening, and studying. So, you’re not just listening to a piece of music once or twice, you’re listening to it over and over, and you’re replicating the things that these great artists are doing.”

Rudnick conducts his students at rehearsal.
Members of the two bands join forces (photo by Isabel van der Ven).

The Chamorro Method did not miraculously come overnight. As he detailed in his master class at Jazzing Fest, “When I created the SAJB sixteen years ago, we began paying attention to American jazz music of the ’20s and ‘30s. It came with my way of changing my teaching. I realized that learning music should be adaptive, not difficult. As a teacher, I’ve always tried to improve my teaching so young people can learn better. It’s more powerful to pass along what I feel than what I know. That’s very important with young people.

“You can learn anything on the Internet,” he continued, “but one thing you can’t find is how we are learning. I believe teaching is something sacred. In our case, I see that in the evolution of the young people growing with us— but the key to progression is to find equilibrium between the discipline to learn, and enjoying it. To not make the kids bored. It’s importnat to make the work experience happy. I’ve been searching for this since I started teaching almost 40 years ago.”

He often repeats the essential idea behind his teaching: “The important thing is the journey, not the arrival.”

Responding to the suggestion that he and Chamorro are rather like kindred spirits as educators, Rudnick says, “You’re absolutely right, we are kindred spirits. And the other thing I love that he’s doing, that I try to do too, is that he presents the whole arrangement; so you’ve got introductions, you’ve got melodies, if it’s Dixieland you’ve got all the players doing the different roles, there’s impressive soloing, there’s out-choruses, the little hooks or coda on the end…So what you’re hearing is what you would hear if a professional group is playing that song. Now, he’s got it to a point more advanced than I do, so with my students, what I do is I go with all these standards, I adapt them, simplify some of the rhythms…for example, ‘Take the A-Train’…I simplified that a little bit, took out some of the notes, simplified the bridge, but what’s really impressive with Mr. Chamorro’s young Dixieland group is that they’re pretty much — there might be a few simplifications, but it’s like listening to a professional Dixieland group.”

The two bands collaborate at the workshop (video by Bill Hyde Jr).

Despite their shared philosophy and dedication to teaching jazz, Rudnick admits he cannot enjoy some of the freedoms that allow Chamorro to run the SAJB as he does.

“In our jazz academy, it’s after school, so we have basically three different levels: the elementary level, grades 4, 5, 6, we have the junior high or middle school level, which is 7 and 8, and the high school level, which is 9–12. There just isn’t any good way for me to combine those different groups. And remember, these kids all go to different Cincinnati public schools. They’re coming from about twenty schools from around the district. So they’re all on a certain schedule, and they all get out at a certain time, and their skill level, with some exceptions, are pretty comparable. So, that enables me to bring them all [from each group level] to the jazz academy at one time. Same thing with the junior high, and the same thing with the high school. But I can’t really mix the groups.

The CPS Middle School Jazz Combo playing their first number for the Jazzing audience.

“And the other thing is, in the large orchestra, and in the combos, I only get to rehearse with each of these groups once a week. Why is that? Because in America, I have to compete with — and I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I’m just being realistic — I have to compete with soccer, with basketball, volleyball, science clubs…these kids are doing a million things. There’s no way I can get them for three or four times a week. I couldn’t get them scheduled. So what we try to do, we have them come once a week, they get a private lesson once a week, and it doesn’t cost the student’s family anything, because we want to break down every single barrier here. Then if we have an upcoming event, I try to get in a few extra rehearsals on the weekends. But I’m incredibly jealous of just the focus, and the time, that Joan has with his students.”

Another advantage for Chamorro is that the SAJB can rehearse at The Jazz House. But such an arrangement would be a non-starter for Rudnick and his colleagues.

The SAJB in The Jazz House, 2019.

“We could never have rehearsals in one of our teachers’ residence,” he laments. “Our district would not allow it. So, kids going over to Joan’s house, hanging out, listening to music, practicing…we just have different sets of circumstances. It doesn’t take away at all from what he’s been able to accomplish, which is absolutely phenomenal. And the fact that he’s so proficient on several instruments — on bass, there could not be a better instrument for him to be playing with his students, because he can show them that harmonic and rhythmic foundation.

“And his passion for the music comes out 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. He just eats, sleeps, breathes this. The other unique thing about his program is that he takes the youngest kids and takes them all the way through graduating from high school, and then it’s the Joan Chamorro presents… CDs. So he’s able to actually help them launch their careers, which is super.”

For his part, Chamorro offered the surprise announcement, “Soon we will meet again in Cincinnati, because we’ll go there with the Sant Andreu Dixieland Jazz Band! I’m very happy about this new exchange of experiences and jazz! For me it’s a honor that my work with Sant Andreu Jazz Band of all these years got so far!”

It’s an honor for the rest of us, as well.

Until next time…

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Read my previous articles about the Sant Andreu Jazz Band at the links below, and at the “Garry’s Blog” page on my website, www.GarryBerman.com.

“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 are available at: https://jazztojazz.com/ , eBay, and Amazon.com.

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Garry Berman

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