Struck by (musical) Lightning

Andrea Motis, the source of the lightning strike.

It was exactly one year ago today when I was struck by musical lightning — perhaps the most powerful bolt I’ve felt in a long time. I’m certain most of us have had the experience: while going about your business, you hear, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, a song or piece of music that makes you stop what you’re doing and just listen, captivated, even enthralled by the sound. It has happened to me only a handful of times in my life, and it goes far beyond simply buying an album by a favorite or new artist, and enjoying it with the first listen. That kind of moment is much more common, because there is a degree of anticipation involved. What I’m referring to here is that unmistakable musical lightning bolt that comes out of the blue and causes you to sit slack-jawed and say, “Wow!” — and then changes everything. With me, it usually leads me to look up the artist or band in question, and try to find out everything I can, in order to put that particular song or piece of music into some kind of context. And, of course, it also leads to repeated visits to whatever music retail outlets that still sell the music itself, so that I could hold the creative work in my hand, and bring it home to immerse myself still further into the new discovery (at least that was how it was done in the old days).

The lightning bolt that struck me one year ago today came as I was on YouTube, casually scrolling down a column of screen grabs for videos by the great Brazilian jazz singer and pianist Eliane Elias. But mixed in with that column of her videos was an image of a young girl, playing a trumpet. The image accompanied her video of Jobim’s “Mediation” (“Meditacao” in the original Portuguese). Intrigued, I clicked on the image, and the video began. The girl was Andrea Motis. She looked so young, sang so beautifully and with such quiet confidence for her age, and was backed by a fine group of musicians, one of whom I recognized immediately as the great tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton. The lightning bolt had struck. After watching that video, I found another video of Andrea, and another…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mN5iLTA_tkA

Without knowing anything about her, except for I had scrambled to find online in a mad search of about twenty minutes, I posted the following in my excitement on my Facebook page that morning — word for word, in reaction to that lightning bolt:

For the past half-hour (so far), I’ve been absolutely gobsmacked by a number of videos featuring this mesmerizing girl, named Andrea Motis. She is a jazz/bossa nova singer from Spain, multi-lingual (sings in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and who knows what else), plays saxophone, and is especially brilliant on trumpet. She’s only 24 years old, and wasn’t even 20 at the time of this performance — Jobim’s classic “Meditation” (performed alongside LEGENDARY saxophonist Scott Hamilton). I’ve yet to pick up my jaw from the floor. This girl was/is a true prodigy (she recorded her first album of jazz standards when she was 15), has a loyal following, and should be an international star right now! How could I have not known about her before this morning? Thankfully, I do now. I’ve been almost too flustered to know which of her amazing performances to post…”

The next day, after viewing dozens of more videos of Andrea’s performances, I posted this:

“Oct. 12: Yep, still smitten with Andrea. I’m just trying to catch up with the jazz fans in Europe who’ve already known of her remarkable talents for years, and I’m making some small effort to spread the word among those who love jazz and might occasionally check out my Facebook page.”

Two days later, this post:

“Oct. 14: Okay, it’s Monday morning, and I’ve watched about 50 or 60 videos of Andrea Motis and the other amazing musicians/singers from Joan Chomorro’s music school in Barcelóna, and I’m not even done. I’ve been watching a new generation of jazz musicians growing up on YouTube…”

The Sant Andreu Jazz Band, c. 2016.

I’m not a musician, but I am a writer, and a lifelong jazz fan, so before long I found myself piecing together my own online article about the SAJB. In addition to Andrea, I found myself particlularly astonished by the talents of a number of her bandmates, including trombonist Rita Payes, saxophonist Eva Fernandez, and bassist Magali Datzira, each of whom could command the stage and mesmerize an audience on her own. In the videos of them performing together, they are sublime. Their remarkable talents, stage presence, and charisma as singers cannot be denied, and the four of them will forever be linked together in my mind (it’s nice to know that they’ve not only remained friends since leaving the band, but continue perform together on occasion in various combinations).

I dared to contact Joan Chamorro directly — not really expecting a reply — but he was gracious enough to read through the rough draft of what I had written so far, offer more accurate information than what I had gathered on my own, and even admonished me for writing primarily about the girls in the band, and not as much about the guys — to which I pled guilty. In my defense, I was still stunned and growing accustomed to the very sight of teenage girls singing and playing trumpets, saxophones, and trombones on big band swing numbers from the 1930s and ‘40s — and doing it all so exceptionally well! I had never seen nor heard anything like it. As far as I knew, young girls just didn’t play jazz. I was ecstatic to be shown how mistaken I was.

Rita Payes, Eva Fernandez, Joan Chamorro, Andrea Motis, Magali Datzira.

I published that first article about the SAJB project on New Year’s Day, 2020. It received a tremendous response that I could not have anticipated, thanks in large part to Chamorro re-posting it on his several Facebook pages. Two fellow SAJB fans, Bo Sybrandt Hansen (from Denmark) and Bengt-Ove Bostrom (from Sweden), who had been following the band far longer than I had, messaged me with compliments for the article (Bengt-Ove has written several excellent pieces of his own about the band). I explained that it was my modest attempt to spread the word to Americans about Chamorro’s amazing accomplishments with these young musicians, who display talents way beyond their years.

Bengt-Ove Bostrom interviews Joan Chamorro, Carla Motis, and Elia Bastida.

The three of us began to brainstorm about how we might join forces to take things a step further, and reach more people. Should we try to write a book? Create a website? We finally hit upon the idea of forming a new, English-speaking Facebook group page dedicated to the band and its musical accomplishments, and incorporating the hundreds of SAJB videos posted on YouTube.

Bo Sybrandt Hansen

The page, Friends of Sant Andreu Jazz Band (FOSAJB), was launched on March 22, 2020, and grew to over 3,000 members around the world in just over six months. Bengt-Ove opted to leave his role of co-administrator, but he remains a valuable contributor, while Bo and I continue to keep a sharp eye on SAJB activities each day, posting news items, photos, videos, and other bits of information that we hope our group members would enjoy.

The New Quartet: Carla Motis, Joan Chamorro, frequent guest Scott Hamilton, Elia Bastida, Alba Armengou.

I’ve since written a number of follow-up articles about the SAJB project, enlisting the further help of Joan Chamorro, as well as that of the always helpful and wonderful Elia Bastida — former SAJB band member and jazz violinist extraordinaire (who formed The New Quartet with Chamorro and fellow current and past band members Alba Armengou and Carla Motis, and is now part of the New Quintet). Elia always finds time to answer a random question, or pass along information for upcoming SAJB events — and, to our delight, she’s a member of the FOSAJB group.

Anastasia Ivanova becomes one of the SAJB family, 2019.

I’ve also had the pleasure of “meeting” online, and writing an article about the band’s honorary member from Russia, the multi-talented and charming Anastasia Ivanova, who shares the same passion for jazz as the SAJB members, and who visited and played with them in Barcelona at Jazzing Fest in 2019. We’ve kept in touch since, which is an honor for me.

I had never dreamed, when stumbling upon that video of Andrea a year ago, that I would become so involved (albeit remotely) with such an enjoyable, satisfying, and rather addicting musical project to follow, write about, and simply marvel at the talents of these young musicians. It has dominated a good number of my waking hours each and every day and night for the past year, but I like to think that, in the process, I’ve made many new friends as well. In the beginning, just after discovering the band, I found it quite lonely posting SAJB videos on my own Facebook page, failing to get my friends as excited as I was (sadly, very few of them are jazz fans anyway). So, I humbly thank all involved who have helped me learn about and appreciate the world of the SAJB, and I wish Joan Chamorro and all of his young musicians — past, present, and future — good health and more wonderful, life-affirming music to come.

You can read find my SAJB articles (complete with embedded videos of selected performances), as well as those written by Bengt-Ove Bostrom, in the “Best Reads” section of the Friends of Sant Andreu Jazz Band page on Facebook.

Until next time…

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