Memories of my Visit to Jazzing Fest, 2023

Garry Berman
15 min readSep 15, 2023

Last year at this time, I had just returned from my first Jazzing Fest, the music celebration hosted by and featuring the world-renowned Sant Andreu Jazz Band. As a fan/journalist and new visitor (writing my own independent article as well as for The Syncopated Times), I could not have had a better time, thanks in large part to Bo Sybrandt Hansen, my friend and co-administrator of the Facebook group Friends of Sant Andreu Jazz Band. He took me on a walking tour of the Sant Andreu district the first day, and introduced me to many members of the extended SAJB “family.”

One year later…Bo is gone, having passed away suddenly not long after last year’s Jazzing. But I sensed how special the 10th anniversary celebration of the festival would be (with the help of hints by SAJB director Joan Chamorro himself). So, after much indecision and more than a little mental anguish, I finally decided just a month ahead of time to make the repeat journey from Pennsylvania, USA, back to Barcelona, thus defying all sense, logic, and a bank account that should have convinced me to stay home. But I had made too many friends and acquaintances last year (alternately known as the “superfans” or “international guests”) and heard so much great music that I could not pass the opportunity to make a return trip. Plus, the guest musicians this year, Scott Hamilton and Joel Frahm, were simply not to be missed.

With one Jazzing behind me, and with a more familiar feel for the Sant Andreu area, this year it was my turn to take Bo’s generosity and “pay it forward” by giving American SAJB superfan and first-time visitor, Don Parks, a walking tour of the district — that is, as much as I could without getting myself lost — while making sure he would learn the route between the La Maquinista Hotel, where nearly all of the international guests stay, and Fabra i Coats, the venue where the action takes place.

The day before the official start of Jazzing begins with a press conference, held for local journalists (and not-so-local journalists, like me) by Joan Chamorro and SAJB manager Blanca Gallo. As is also the custom, music is part of the event, as the SAJB Dixieland Band played a few numbers to get everyone in the mood.

Have a bit of patience, and you’ll see how the number gets lively at around the 1:00 mark!

A small group of us arrived at the lobby of the main building to be greeted by Joan and Elia, who surprised us with the announcement that they are expecting a baby! There were heartfelt congratulations all around.

Next it was lunch for Don and me at the Five Guys burger restaurant in the beautiful, open-air Maquinista mall right next to the hotel (ironically owned by the American company Westfield). I fell in love with this mall last year and was happy to stroll through it again — several times. It is absolutely huge, in all directions, gorgeous, and immaculate throughout. It is nearly always a bustling place!

Later, I enjoyed the evening’s dinner out with the gang— Peter, Isabel, Bill, Don, Alberto, Lars, Pertti, and FOSAJB co-founder Bengt-Ove and his wife Margareta. Same restaurant as last year, Versalles. We comprised a veritable United Nations of SAJB fans.

A group of the nicest people I’ve ever known, brought together again by our devotion to the SAJB (left to right): Isabel van der Ven, myself, Peter ter Haar, Bengt-Ove Bostrom, his wife Margareta, Lars Hansen, Don Parks, Bill Hyde, Jr., Pertti Haikonen, Alberto Batista.

Afterward, I spent time with Peter, Isabel, and Alberto at Isabel’s favorite coffee bar, with outdoor tables for enjoying a beautiful night like that one, complete with a rare supermoon.

The next day began with Education Stage master class. It’s always fascinating, even for an English-speaking non-musician like me, to watch Joan demonstrate his teaching method as the band rehearsed numbers like “I’m Confessin’” and “Moanin.”

Isabel, with Lola Penaranda working out their solos for “I’m Confessin.”

Joel Frahm joined the class later in the session and spoke about his first experiences hearing jazz as a teenager, and feeling inspired to become a musician. He learned from Charlie Parker records, one line at a time. “We have our musical heroes, and we put or feet into their footsteps they made.”

Isabel, at far left, and Lola trade solos under Joel’s watchful eye.
Visiting with Koldo Munné — such a great guy!

I was happy to chat once again with SAJB saxophonist/vocalist Koldo Munné, whom I’ve interviewed twice before — but those were more like conversations between friends than formal interviews. That’s what happens with Koldo. He’s always glad to have a chat when time permits.

I also finally met British SAJB superfan Paul Mason and his girlfriend Sarah, who didn’t arrive in time to join the rest of us for dinner the night before. Aside from being an extremely knowledgeable fan, Paul designed Elia’s website and helped establish the SAJB CD sales page on eBay.

That first day’s string of concerts began with the Halli Galli Quartet, now consisting of Elia Bastida and Christoph Mallinger on violin, Marta Roma on cello, and newest member Carla Motis on guitar. The group has carved a unique niche for themselves with quirky, humorous arrangements of well-known swing numbers, with frequent European touches recalling the classic recordings of Stephane Grappelli (one of Elia’s musical heroes) and Django Rhinehart.

This is a special ensemble among SAJB aficionados; Elia and Carla were, of course, longtime SAJB members, and fans hold a special place in their hearts for both of them. When this quartet’s original guitarist Pablo Lopez moved to France, Carla was the natural choice to replace him, being as she’s already “family.” And Christoph Mallinger is the partner of Andrea Motis, so, it’s indeed very much a family affair.

Their set list included, among other tunes, “Minor Swing,” “Smile,” “Love for Sale,” and “Caravan,” with the group having enormous fun throughout. Elia, as always, blew the audience away with her skills on violin, as well as playing sax, singing, and even did a bit of dancing. She has been looking increasingly relaxed onstage with each passing year. Throughout the set, there was lots of smiling and laughter among them.

Their set was followed by the Cedros Big Band (from Mexico), Barelona trombonist Alba Pujals, accompanied by SAJB alumnus Joan Mar Sauque.

I, however, could not attend much of that, due to my interview with Carla, which we had pre-arranged in the weeks before Jazzing. We sat outside the main entrance to talk. It was a pleasure to speak with one of the legendary musicians in SAJB’s history (our interview was for a separate online article, to be posted soon).

At one point, I asked her if she had met the band’s new guitarist, Asier Vázquez, who joined the SAJB earlier this year. She had not. Asier had told me the same thing in Cincinnati, in the spring. So, after the interview with Carla was over, and seeing that Asier was inside, hanging out in the lobby, I took the liberty to introduce them. I felt it should be done! They exchanged contact information and will hopefully chat sometime about their common passion for jazz guitar. I considered it my good deed for the day.

At one break between concerts, I also exchanged a happy greeting with Carolina Alabau, Elia’s frequent collaborator and best friend. I met Carolina at last year’s Jazzing and spoke with them together via video chat in late 2022, so it was nice to share a hug in person that night. Elia joined us for a quick pic, bathed in the reddish glow of the stage lights.

The Scott Hamilton Quartet followed, including the invaluable SAJB arranger Joan Monné on piano. The group provided another highlight of the evening, swinging on numbers like “Cherokee,” and offering a surprising selection, Antionio Carlos Jobim’s beautiful ballad, “Looks Like December.” It was a thrill to see Scott onstage again. I’ve been following his career since seeing him in Benny Goodman’s band in the late 1970s, when Scott was only in his early twenties, and I was about 16.

He mentioned more than once throughout the festival how happy he was to take part in Jazzing again; his last appearance was in 2021, when he shared the stage with the likes of Dena DeRose and Anastasia Ivanova.

Joel Frahm’s Quartet (retaining Joan Monné on piano) was next, with Joel showing off why his fellow musicians have referred to him as “The Beast,” due to his almost acrobatic skills on tenor sax. This set led to the “Tenor Summit,” with Joel, Scott, and former SAJB sax section stalwarts Joan Marti and Marcal Perramon. As the crowded expected, it was a swinging set, largely improvised.

I briefly talked with Scott and Joel afterward. They were both very approachable, friendly, and gracious guys. I don’t know why I was just a little surprised by this; perhaps knowing that they were probably a bit tired after a long evening, and surrounded on all sides by well-wishers and fans, but they were easy to talk to. Joel and I made plans for an interview the following day.

With Joel Frahm and Alberto, co-administrator of the Facebook group page Amis Du Sant Andreu Jazz Band (photo courtesy of Peter ter Haar/Isable van der Ven).

Once the evening of music was over, I walked with friends Isabel and Pertti to the coffee bar. Her husband Peter joined us after he drove Scott and Joel back to the hotel.

I awoke the next morning to see Spain’s Got Talent on TV. How very true: Spain’s got talent, and I had been watching it on the Jazzing Stage.

The next morning began at the Jazz Education Stage rehearsal with its makeshift super big band, as the guest students ran through the numbers they had been learning. Elsa was MIA for a while, until Joan sent for her. She and Sander were to play solos. Elsa arrived late, but after the band began one of the numbers, she took her seat, and two beats later launched into her solo at the proper point — no preparation, no warm-up — she just let her natural abilities take over. Amazing. The ensemble work by everyone else was impressive, too!

Sander takes advantage of a quiet moment to check his phone.

I returned to the hotel for my interview with Joel in the dining room. Unfortunately, he overslept, so I needed to ring his room and wake him. I felt bad for doing that. We spent the first five minutes of the interview apologizing to each other! I like to think our conversation went well.

Lunch followed back at Fabra i Coats, then a pleasant chat with Asier. He is not one to take his new position as the SAJB’s guitarist for granted. He’s talented but humble, knows his jazz history, and, at one point, said, “I like Jazzing’s ambience. I don’t know if that’s the right word…” But I replied that it certainly is! Jazzing does have an ambience — casual, friendly — and, as always, the music is the reason for all of us being there.

The lobby of the main building was busy in preparation for that evening’s schedule of concerts, with several parents of the SAJB musicians helping out.

Left to right: Tere Gonzalez (mother of Lola and Gerard Penaranda), Claudia Rostey, Nat Cobano Gil (mother of Sander and Neils Theuns), and Claudia Rostey’s parents Montserrat Cristau and Rafel Rostey. Speaking for the parent volunteers, Montserrat declared, ”We are the soul of Jazzing!”

The first evening concert, “Elia Batista Meets Scott Hamilton,” was well worth the anticipation. Their collaborations onstage and in recordings have been enormously popular with SAJB fans, who were not disappointed by this latest appearance:

Video courtesy of Paul Mason.

As I sat watching and listening to their brilliance, especially on the standard, “My One and Only Love,” I scribbled in my notebook, “Elia is inspired. Her playing is extraordinary, and creative.”

I also looked forward to the set by the Sant Andreu Reunion Band, a mix of current and former SAJB members. Edu Ferrer roused the crowed with his rendition of “That’s Life,” while Koldo and Perot brought the house down with their rapid-fire version of the kids song “Old MacDonald.”

Claudia Rostey and Perot Rigau duet with Lola providing an impressive solo. She has become a major talent in the superb SAJB sax section.

A jam session followed, with some of the younger members of the band playing side-by-side with the pros, who were clearly impressed by the SAJB’s new generation.

After Marti shows off his chops, notice how a helpful Koldo guides a nervous Bernat Benavente on the stage for his baritone sax solo. It’s typical of how SAJB “elders” help their younger bandmates.

Sunday morning began with the Education Stage rehearsals. Joan walked over to say hello to me, and asked if I enjoyed last night. He agreed with my observation that Elia is much more comfortable on stage these days than she was just a few years ago.

The rehearsal for “Moanin’” continued, even though Joan was losing his voice. He related a bit of wisdom, through an interpreter (Tobias Theuns, father of Sander and Neils), “Build a repertoire of songs you learn. When you go to a jam session, you’ll be able to say, ‘I want to play this song’ When asked what song you want to play, never say, ‘I don’t know.’ This is your moment.”

Later, the rehearsal work by the master class came to fruition at the Jazzing Big Band concert. It was a crowded stage, with some musicians from the SAJB, Imagination Orchestra, the student Cedros-UP Big Band from Mexico, the Gerry Lopez Big Band, and the other amateur guests.

Pertti, Bill and I ran into Cati Chamorro, who was the driving force behind Joan’s fabulous web site, www.Joanchamorro.com.

Then it was time for Jazzing’s traditional Paella Lunch, outdoors in the Fabra i Coats courtyard.

Photo courtesy of Peter ter Haar/Isabel van der Ven.

A concert by the Imagination Jazz Orchestra pleasantly surprised me. The IJO was founded two years ago by Joan Chamorro as part of the non-profit Mayeusis Foundation in Galicia, Spain, which promotes the education of art, music, dance and theatre as means of personal expression. While his day-to-day overseeing of the SAJB does not allow Joan to devote as much time to the Imagine orchestra, he employs the same teaching method that has earned him his widespread reputation.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the concert to have a sit-down talk outside with Scott Hamilton.

Sunday evening culminated with the big finale concert by the SAJB big band. A full house enjoyed numbers including the kick-off “Four Brothers,” followed by recent SAJB addition, saxophonist Noa Bazuaye, who sang a curious song choice, “Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails,” but endeared herself to the crowd nonetheless.

Claudia Rostey, destined to become a major singing star (and a superb trombonist) glided through “Just One of Those Things” in her usual effortless way.

Claudia with Asier Vazquez on guitar, Jordi Herrera on bass, Neils Theuns on drums (photo courtesy of Peter ter Haar/Isabel van der Ven).

Gerry Lopez lent his talents for “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” with Perot Rigau supplying the vocals (in Spanish or Catalan).

Scott Hamilton and Joel Frahm collaborated on a duet with the band, after which Claudia returned to center stage to sing “I Cried for You.”

Others who shared the spotlight at various points for the remainder of the concert included Koldo (singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade”), Elia, Elsa, Marti Costalago, and Lola Penaranda.

Photo courtesy of Peter ter Haar/Isable van der Ven.

Joan handed out awards of appreciation for audio engineer David Casamitjanas, SAJB manager Blanca Gallo, photographer Lili Bonmati, Joel Frahm…I lost track after that! Joan himself was then presented with a cake and candles commemorating ten years of Jazzing.

With all guests onstage, the concert concluded with Count Basie’s “Fantail.”

And then Jazzing was over, except for a great deal of picture-taking, congratulations, and good-byes.

As we walked back to the hotel, and Isabel’s horror, her favorite coffee bar was closed at that hour, so we sat with Peter and Don (who had been in bed with a cold all day) in the hotel lobby, talking until the wee hours.

Early the next morning, it was time to leave Barcelona.

Pertti and I shared a taxi to the airport, and all that had transpired for the previous few days was now just a memory — but one I’ll carry with me for as long as I’m on planet Earth.

P.S. — Despite the steady stream of music and joy that can so easily envelop a visitor at Jazzing, there is also a deep concern for its future. The festival — indeed the SAJB itself — is struggling to survive. Since its inception in 2006, the project has been a non-profit entity, without government funding, and Chamorro has never charged the students nor their families for the endless hours of rehearsals, touring, recording sessions, or for the dozens of CDs they have recorded. Funding has come from concert ticket sales, CD sales, and YouTube views of the band’s 1,000+ videos. The 2020 pandemic necessitated virtually all SAJB activities to cease, striking a harmful blow from which the project is still recovering.

Joan explains, “This is why we feel the need to open the door to possible collaborations, both personal and institutional, through donations.”

Brainstorming has been ongoing to help find further ways to keep this astonishing musical project alive and thriving. Any individual who appreciates and enjoys the top-notch classic jazz the SAJB’s young musicians play is welcome to send a contribution of any amount to the band’s PayPal account.

Joan adds, “I have always believed that it has been a miracle to be able to do what we have been doing for 17 years, without any kind of help, except for the contributions of some passionate fans of our project and the various calls for crowdfunding via Verkami. In the text of our first CD, Jazzing 1, I wrote that the Sant Andreu Jazz Band was a miracle. Now, a few years later, I still think so, and with even more reason…”

A link for making a contribution — large or small — to the SAJB’s PayPal account can be found (with English translation available) on Chamorro’s sprawling web site, Sant Andreu Jazz Band (joanchamorro.com).

Will Jazzing return next year? Will the SAJB continue its work? With enough supporters around the globe who truly appreciate the staggering accomplishments of the project and of Joan as its founder and leader, their contributions — whether they be donations to PayPal, purchasing SAJB CDs, viewing their videos on YouTube, or securing tickets to their concerts — can help immensely.

Here’s to next year, and many more, for the SAJB.

Until next time…

Please click the “follow” button and follow me on Medium (no charge) for more articles on popular culture, music, films, television, entertainment history, and just plain old history.

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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).

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

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

“Koldo Munné’s Musical Journey.” This has been a busy but satisfying… | by Garry Berman | Jun, 2023 | Medium

“Claudia Rostey’s Rising Star”. It’s always satisfying to see creative… | by Garry Berman | Jun, 2023 | Medium

“A Film About Kids and Music: Ten Years Later” https://medium.com/@garryberman/a-film-about-kids-and-music-ten-years-later-50d5bf96f53b

“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” 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.

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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.