At the time, I was surfing YouTube for saxophonists and street performers. So, it was no surprise when my menu presented me a cute, dark-haired little girl holding a soprano sax in what looked to be a mall setting. That this little flower was to play “Le Petit Fleur” seemed apt. Thus, I encountered a 16-year-old Andrea Motis, accompanied by Joan Chamorro on double bass and Josep Travers on guitar. She was really good.

          There’s a bit of irony here in that, though Andrea still shows legitimate chops any time she picks up a saxophone, her first love and constant companion is the trumpet, which she often wears off her left elbow as super bling while singing.

          For once, my algorithms served me well.

          Because I read Michael Sean Winters at the National Catholic Reporter and check out the live music scene nightly, YouTube can clog up my menu with live church services.

          But, this time, I was directed to even younger Andrea videos and then the well-spring of her ability, Chamorro’s Sant Andreu Jazz Band. I was steered into a chronological recap of one of the most amazing developments on the music scene this century.

          Imagine attending your local middle school’s year-end band concert, where a few older ringers fill in vacant instrumentation. How cute. They sound pretty good. Well, a little better than that. Then, fast forward 15 years and see that nearly everyone of these dozen or so kids has become a professional musician — most of them with at least a couple albums to their credit along with engagements throughout the world.

          This is what happened in Barcelona after Chamorro arrived to teach at the music magnet school in Sant Andreu de Paloma, one of the city’s nine districts, with a population of about 55,000.

           “Each individual embodies an adventure of existence. The art of life is the guidance of this adventure.” Thus, observed Alfred North Whitehead, who taught the philosopher who taught the philosopher who taught me.

          Chamorro –  multi-instrumentalist musician, educator and maestro of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band – is one of those who has guided adventurous students with great success.

          “It’s not just what you teach,” Chamorro said during an El Punt Avui interview, “but how you teach it….You need to believe in (the students) and treat them individually.”

          One of the techniques highlighted in a 2011 documentary shows Chamorro teaching young instrumentalists to “sing” their instruments.

          Results prove it works, as he explained, “…more than 70 young people have passed through, and most, when they leave, have continued their careers and are working professionally.”

          Most of them showed up in 2021 for the 15th anniversary concert, videos from which now appear on YouTube along with new recordings from an album released this year featuring an SAJB Big Band composed of most of the top players – a super group of young jazz musicians.

          And, as has been the case since its inception, these videos show another key to SAJB’s success: the mutual respect among band members. Andrea and Rita Payés have won the Enderrock award for listeners’ choice Catalonian jazz album of the year the past two years.

          Sure, they can front this band – or any other as they often do – with their singing and playing (trumpet and trombone, respectively).  But, if it is someone else’s turn in the spotlight, you will find them in their folding chairs, playing along with the rest of their sections.

          Who else? It might have been marketing genius, but early on Chamorro drafted Andrea and Eva Fernández as singers. Then Magalí Datzira began singing, sometimes while playing her double bass, and Rita joined the group shortly after the documentary. And lurking in the shadows early on – but, not for long – was Alba Armengou – who, at 8 at the time of the documentary, could sit on the floor in her home’s hall with her back to one wall and her feet flat against the other.

          (Journalistically, one would refer to Andrea as “Motis,” but that neighborhood school band included four pairs of siblings. Andrea’s sister Carla is a jazz guitarist. Eva’s brother Pablo is a trumpeter. She is the queen of the soprano sax, but, of course, plays them all. Magalí’s brother Iscle is a saxophonist and keyboardist and might be the most adventurous of all of the Barcelona jazzers – a yet-to-be-discovered Thelonious Monk.

          (The other early siblings are the reed-playing Ferrer brothers, who left the group early, but were on hand for the reunions, Jaime adding a cool sax solo and Edu having developed the stage presence and voice of a French cabaret singer – think Georges Guétary from An American in Paris. Even young Alba has a younger sister, Elsa, an accomplished trumpeter who does not sing. Rita’s brother, Eduald, a trumpeter, did not play with SAJB, but has since composed songs for her.)

          The practice room in the documentary looks to be a concrete basement with paint peeling off the walls – reminiscent of the Westfield school boiler room in a building that was 50 years old when I attended 60 years ago.

          SAJB has since become an unaffiliated academy free to any who qualify based on “who really wants to work,” Chamorro says. “More than the result, I am interested in perseverance, the desire to learn. I give no importance to them being more or less good.”

          While there are truly more accomplished SAJB alumni than space permits, saxophonist Irene Reig, pianists Marc Martín and Jan Domènech and trumpeter Joan Mar Sauqué have also displayed cool jazz compositional skills.

          And, from the start, SAJB has been a coed band. I watched the year-end concerts from the University of North Texas jazz machine, probably the premier jazz educators in the country. It featured, over about six hours with a different group each hour, fewer total women (one horn player) than are likely to appear in a typical SAJB video.

          In 2021, the Valparaiso Foundation and Clasijazz TV put together the all woman Clasijazz Valparaiso Big Band to perform jazz arrangements by women composers. Eight of the 17 musicians had SAJB connections, including Irene Reig, who served as the director and contributed an original number.

          How many young bright eyes have you seen dimmed by institutionalized education, where fitting in becomes the desired end? I watched that happen to many friend’s kids half a lifetime ago.

          Somehow, Chamorro’s method keeps that spark of wonder that all young children display banked and burning in his alumni.

          If this year’s schedule follows the norm, next month, Chamorro and his coterie will be hosting their tenth annual Jazzing Festival, followed by the sixth edition of the Jazz Education Stage, where music teachers from around the world come to pick up pointers.

          Prior to last year’s sessions, Guillem Vidal of Barcelona’s El Punt Avui said those other educators would be arriving “to verify the effectiveness of the Chamorro method, a way of teaching music that has been a shock to jazz in Catalonia and which continues, on the one hand, to attract teachers from all over the world and, on the other hand, to produce magnificent talents. Jazz is once again experiencing a golden age in our house and Chamorro and his young cats from Sant Andreu are undoubtedly among those who have made it possible.”


          (Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party.)

Music educator makes an impact

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