Memories of My Visit to Jazzing Fest in Barcelona, 2022

To whom it may concern…

I write a lot about the Sant Andreu Jazz Band in Barcelona — as of today, over a dozen articles and counting — in addition to my daily co-managing of the Facebook group page Friends of Sant Andreu Jazz Band (FOSAJB), which has over 8,500 members worldwide so far.

But why do I do this?

The answer isn’t a simple one. What became a casual and totally unexpected discovery of a video on YouTube one day about three years ago (I guess most discoveries are, by definition, unexpected), became an obsession of sorts, but a happy, and I’d like to think harmless one, involving great jazz music as performed by a band of kids who somehow sound like seasoned professionals.

The more involved I became with the project, the more it became obvious — and also frustrating — that my involvement would be severely limited by being an ocean away from where all the action is, despite the Internet’s ability to shrink the planet and allow for instantaneous communication. With all of the interviews and research I’ve conducted, including viewing hundreds of videos, and learning a great deal of information from numerous sources, I could still never really feel a part of it. Sometimes, geographical distance prevents a sense of involvement that not even the Internet — with its e-mail, social media, and video chats — can overcome.

So, I had succumbed to the conclusion that I would never really feel a part of the SAJB world. And, for reasons I can’t articulate satisfactorily, I felt bad about it, even depressed.

But as 2022 progressed, I found myself taking seriously the notion of actually visiting Barcelona and the SAJB in person, for their annual jazz festival, called Jazzing Fest (the theme for this year was Brazilian music, mainly bossa nova — my favorite). It would be a budget-buster for me, in addition to my concerns about Covid restrictions, the chaos at international airports throughout the summer, and other logistical matters.

I also knew how miserable I would feel if the festivities came and went with me still at home, limited to reading the reports and seeing the photos and videos taken by those actually attending.

Screw it, I decided. I’m gonna do it. It would probably be a stupid, even reckless decision, but I just couldn’t stay home. I asked The Syncopated Times, the jazz magazine to which I’ve submitted a few past articles, if they’d be interested in an on-the-scene report from Jazzing, and they said sure.

My wife Karen — never a jazz fan — decided it would be better for each of us if I went alone, treating it as a business trip, rather than as a vacation. My journey was to become a little of both.

So, here’s most of what happened on my first trip anywhere by plane in twenty years, and my first overseas journey in twenty-five…

Much to my relief, there was no chaos, and no long lines at Philadelphia International Airport. So far, so good. No problems with proof of Covid vaccinations. Even better. The only delay in taking off was due to a half-hour rain storm, which wandered over Philadelphia as we were in the plane on the tarmac.

Eight hours later, my friend Bo from Denmark (and my co-administrator of the FOSAJB page) met me at the airport in Barcelona. He has made many visits there to see the SAJB and to attend Jazzing — so he knows his way around, and showed me to the train for the city’s Sant Andreu stop.

Where it all began — the home of the Escola Municipal de Musica Sant Andreu, where music teacher Joan Chamorro created the Sant Andreu Jazz Band in 2006.

With my small suitcase wheeling along behind me, he gave me a walking tour of the SAJB points of interest in the Sant Andreu district of the city, including the venue for the festival, Fabria i Coats (a former textile factory, now a civic cultural center), before we finally circled back and arrived at the hotel, so I could check in.

No time to rest though — not that I wanted to rest yet, anyway. It was on to The Jazz House, i.e. the home of Joan Chamorro, who converted part of the space into a rehearsal/recording studio, where we had an appointment to sit in on a rehearsal.

We arrived early, and noticed many of the current SAJB members mingling outside the entrance for the big band rehearsal, waiting for Elia Bastida to arrive and unlock the door. We felt sort of like “Apple scruffs”, those Beatles fans who would hang out by the group’s recording studio in London, awaiting to see who would arrive next. Alas, the space inside proved too small to accomodate both the big band and ourselves, so we returned a few hours later for another rehearsal, with a smaller group of the SAJB “veteran” musicians.

Before long, we were sitting among the likes of people no one but SAJB fans would appreciate: Alba Armengou, her sister Elsa, Joan Marti, Koldo Munne, Lola and Gerard Penaranda, and others — including Joan Chamorro himself. Wow.

Earlier this year, I interviewed guitarist Josep Traver (seen here standing in black t-shirt) via video chat, but I doubted he would remember anything about it six months later. When I saw he was present to take part in the rehearsal, prepared to re-introduce myself to jog his memory. But when he entered and saw me, he shook my hand with a big “Hello, Garry!” I was caught unawares, but pleasantly so!

We sat in the back and tried to be unobtrusive, but were as giddy as school kids, having learned every square foot of the room from seeing hundreds of photos and YouTube videos of recording sessions and rehearsals there.

Everyone present was quite relaxed, and they all have a great personal rapport with each other — after all, they’ve all known each other for years — but they also paid great attention to the musical details.

Alba A. and Joan Marti browse through the Jazzing program.

We actually had to leave the rehearsal early (for all I know, they may have been relieved to see us groupies go), to return to the hotel, and get ready for a visit to the Jamboree Club. Like the Jazz House, we had seen countless videos of SAJB performances at the Jamboree dating back nearly a decade (which, in the SAJB universe, was quite a long time ago). The singer this night was a local girl, Estela Julia, who offered a very entertaining set of American standards, and even a bossa nova or two. I think I knew every song she sang.

I spotted Alba Armengou in the audience, and when the set in the club was over, we tracked her down outside with her collaborator, guitarist Vicente Lopez, and gathered the nerve to say hello and introduce ourselves. We chatted for a good ten minutes or so before moving on.

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Bo then took me on a walking tour of the brightly-lit Las Ramblas (a pretty and busy pedestrian walkway with many shops and stalls, but a notorious tourist trap) and other points of interest in that part of the city. But it was getting late and we were a bit hungry; we found a Burger King and indulged — which, in hindsight, may have been a mistake. We walked some more, took a metro train to a stop near the hotel, and — second mistake — partook in water from pitchers at the check-in desk. I knew intellectually not to do it, but we were thirsty!

Bo admired my stamina for having done so much on only my first day. We certainly crammed a lot into 24 hours — or, for me, nearly double the time since I awoke at home that morning.

I felt fine in the hotel room the next morning, preparing to attend the press conference before the official start of the jazz festival…but then it hit me. Franco’s Revenge, perhaps? I had to stay in bed all day, feeling awful, missing the press conference.

Our unofficial host and interpreter, Antonio, took care of us “international guests” during our stay. A former surgeon, he kept a close eye on my health, arranged interviews for me, and proved invaluable — and great company — to all of us.

I recovered enough by that evening to join the other visitors in our group for dinner. Note that while they all indulged in the local cuisine, I played it safe with a solitary bread roll. But the company was good!

A veritable U.N. of SAJB fans (left to right): Pertti Haikonen from Finland, Peter and Isabel from the Netherlands, Alberto from France, Antonio from Spain, Bill Hyde from the U.S. , me, and Bo from Denmark).

The hotel happened to be adjacent to a beautiful, huge, outdoor, 3-level shopping mall, which was a joy to experience. But my tight budget allowed only for window shopping and strolling (and a meal at Five Guys with Bo and Pertti).

Back to the business at hand:

The first official day of the festival included this workshop with Joan Chamorro, leading guest kids of the CPS Elementary Jazz Band from Cincinnati, directed by Dr. Isidore Rudnick.

Later, amateur musician guests, who applied to take part in the Education Stage, rehearsed with Joan C. in the main auditorum for a concert.

I passed Elia Bastida, jazz violin virtuoso, on the grounds of the venue more than once, as she scurried to fix various problems and questions that needed answers, in order to keep the fesitval running smoothly. “Looks like a busy week for you,” I said, “but then, every week is busy for you.”

“Yes,” she replied, “but for this I organize and play. It’s more complicated!”

Elia answering another call from someone who needs attention.

I sat in on this sound check for the SAJB septet that was to play with guest saxophonist Dmitry Baevsky that night. All bossa nova, all the time. I was in heaven!

The concert that first evening was fabulous.

Here are a few excerpts of songs as performed by the septet, featuring singers Joan Marti, Alba Armengou, Elia Bastida, and Koldo Munne.

I wrote a note to myself as Elia sang the song, “De Conversa Em Conversa”: “Elia’s singing is fantastic! So confident, creative.” It’s evident in the clip below. But everyone else in the group also played and performed with their familiar high level of excellence — and, in this case, their appreciation of Brazilian music.

Alba Armengou’s voice is so soothing, yet strong when it needs to be, and perfectly suited for bossa nova. Her love of the style is obvious here, as she sings “Pra Machucar Meu Coracao,” which she included on her first CD release when she was 17, Joan Chamorro presenta Alba Armengou.

The next morning, Josep Traver led a workshop on bossa nova guitar, complete with video examples of the great Joao Gilberto. “Even though I play many kinds of music,” he said, “Brazilian music is a special thing, since its been played so much by the SAJB.”

Then, Elia conducted her own workshop on jazz violin. Almost off-handedly, she said at one point, “When I joined the SAJB, everyone accepted me as an equal, so it didn’t matter that I was the only violinist in the band.” I liked that. And then she played a number that included a fantastic violin solo, in case anyone needed a reminder of her talents (excerpted here):

After her workshop, as I perused a table along the side of the room offering t-shirts and Elia’s CDs for sale, her father Enric approached me and introduced himself. There I was, thousands of miles from home in a foreign country, yet people were recognizing me and saying hello (it was to happen several times in the next few days, mostly from the parents of other SAJB kids. And it blew my mind each time).

Elia and I finally had a chance to chat briefly, at which time I bought one of her CDs, asking her to sign it for my wife Karen (who, as I mentioned, doesn’t like jazz, but loves the violin, and Elia’s playing).

Then I had a chance to interview Koldo Munne, who is, as they say, “a fine young man,” not yet 17, and an excellent example of how the SAJB kids grow into exceptionally talented, mature musicians and terrific representatives of the new generation of jazz artists.

With Pertti and Bo, taking one of our many 20-minute walks through the park between the hotel and the venue.

At one point, Joan C. took a moment to chat, asked how I was feeling (having noticed my absence at the press conference), and if everyone was taking good care of me, including the arranging of interviews. I said I had already spoken with Koldo, and was anticipating an interview with Alba Esteban. “Do you have her new CD?” he asked. “Not yet,” I replied. “I’ll get you one.” It was a thoughtful gesture, but I assumed he would forget to do so, considering everything else he had on his mind.

Me and the maestro.

After the performance by the Jazzing Big Band — consisting of the amateur musicians who had signed up to take part in the Educational Stage, the Cincinnati kids band, and some members of the SAJB — everyone then posed for this group shot (yes, the pillars are an unwelcome presence, but removing them would probably not be a good idea).

I’m in the blue t-shirt in the front row. Bo is at extreme right, almost hidden by a saxophone.

I had the chance earlier to say a quick hello to Claudia Rostey, an excellent trombonist and perhaps an even better singer, whom I interviewed via e-mail last year for a profile piece I wrote about her. This was the first chance I had to say hi in person. I also met her mom Montserrat, who seems to happily approve of each photo and/or video I post of Claudia on FOSAJB.

Here’s SAJB legend Rita Payes with her daughter Juna at the playground next to the entrance of the main building. Rita was playing as a guest for that evening’s concert. It’s difficult to believe from this picture that she is, at 23, one of the most famous and sought-after jazz musicians in Europe.

The crowd lines up to fill the lobby before a concert…

Joan C. always has a few words to say before and during each concert — unfortunately, the words are usually not in English, so some of us had to make educated guesses.

The one and only Rita.

At one point in the evening, I saw Rita briefly standing by herself in the lobby, having a small snack. I don’t remember whether it was before her time onstage, in between appearances, or whenever. I wanted to say hello and introduce myself — very badly — but I just couldn’t pull the trigger. I don’t usually get so star-struck, but indeed I was, and I’ll always regret not taking the chance. I had my notebook with me, and maybe I was concerned that she might see it as I introduced myself as a guy who writes about the SAJB, and conclude that I was trying for some kind of ambush interview.

(The same happened when Andrea Motis walked past me the following night).

Rita and guest singer Carme Canela. By the way, the auditorium was HOT, even for the evening concerts, with no air conditioning and just a few fans to keep the air circulating.

The big band sounded great for each and every performance.

Just a snippet of Elia and the band, doing what they do best.

The next day…

We tried a little experiment:

Before leaving home, I had the idea to write “Hello” messages on cards for a number of people we had come to know through the SAJB and our Facebook page (like the brilliant Russian musician/singer and honorary SAJB member, Anastasia Ivanova), and hold them up for photos, to show we really were thinking about them at the time, and not just saying so afterward, to be polite.

Bo, Pertti and I took a walk to see another SAJB landmark, the Bar Colombia, site of the famous sidewalk (or doorway) concerts by SAJB members though the years.

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It became a tradition of sorts for the participants to sing “The Sunny Side of the Street” for the crowds out front, whether they were on the sunny or shady side of the street. It didn’t matter. There are a few versions on YouTube, including these: The one directly below is from 2017, with most of the girls in the band at the time; the next is from 2019, with guest Anastasia Ivanova on trombone. Take your pick — or take them both!

On our return walk from Bar Colombia, we enjoyed some refreshments. I’m never one to pass up a frozen mocha drink.

Back at the venue, I met and spoke with a number of people each day — thus breaking my intention to remain an unnoticed fly on the wall — including a chat with pianist/singer Carolina Alabau before one of the concerts (she collaborates with Elia on their own musical side projects), and another “hello” to Josep Traver in the lobby. “Thanks for remembering me at the Jazz House,” I said. He replied that he has read the article from our video chat interview a couple of times since I posted it, and he still enjoys it.

As I stood at the sales table, trying to choose which CDs to buy, Joan C. appeared and handed me Alba Esteban’s new album as a gift. He remembered after all. I thanked him more than once.

Then…

I finally interviewed the elusive Alba Esteban, after trying for nearly the entire year, with a number of requests going unanswered. She apologized, but was a good sport to put up with me face-to-face. I had to scribble down her answers instead of recording them because I was concerned about having enough room on the cell phone to video portions of all the concerts.

And, of course, she kindly signed my newly acquired CD Joan Chamorro presenta Alba Esteban.

The next day…

Not the prettiest venue for a jazz festival, and still undergoing renovations, but it becomes everyone’s home away from home for the duration of Jazzing.

We enjoyed a paella lunch in the courtyard among the SAJB members, their families and other guests. My stargazing continued.

The Armengou and Esteban families having lunch.

We sat at Joan Chamorro’s table, with Elia, her parents, and from our group, Bill and Pertti.

We were regaled with stories about the SAJB, straight from the leader himself.

Bo and I had decided earlier — before we left for Barcelona in fact — to present Joan C. with some sort of token expressing our appreciation for his hospitality and hard work making the SAJB a success. The idea evolved into a printed document signed by as many of the band’s hardcore fans that we could find. We didn’t have to look very far.

For the big finale concert, Andrea Motis, the first true star to emerge from the band, played as a guest. Here she is at rehearsal.

Below is an excerpt from the same rehearsal. Note that the band sounded great (again, take a look at their ages), as did Andrea, playing flugelhorn instead of her usual trumpet.

In performance later that evening, with Andrea singing as well as playing:

After the finale concert, Joan C. asked me if I’d like to do an interview. I believe Antonio had told him earlier that day — or even the day before — that I would like to do it, but I don’t remember saying so directly. So, caught somewhat ill-prepared in the afterglow of the concert, I agreed, of course.

Afterwards, I said my goodbyes to whomever I could find, before heading out into the Barcelona night.

The next day was pretty much all travel, as Pertti, Bill and I shared a taxi from the hotel to the airport. Their respective flights were to depart far earlier than my own, but I was happy to wait a few extra hours, giving me a better chance of being at the right gate at the right time.

I was. Once on the plane, my intention was to begin writing my story for The Syncopated Times (which would be due in three days, if I wanted it to get into the October issue), but concentrating on the plane proved too difficult. It would have to wait until I got home. I watched some TV shows, and Citizen Kane, on the seatback video screen instead.

So, after the events of that week, did I feel more a part of the SAJB world? I did — for that week. Now I guess I’m back to being “that American guy who’s always bothering us for interviews.”

But I made the deadline!

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.