I spent the past five days in Barcelona. It was my first visit to the city and the famed Barcelona Voll-Damm Jazz Festival. I was there with my wife to deliver three jazz talks—one on why jazz shifted from dance music to listening music in the mid-1940s; another on jazz and the American frontier; and the third on why jazz styles changed so often between 1942 and 1972. In each case, audiences took to my audio-visual presentation and dramatic analysis. There's something exciting about motivating curious students and adults, especially when you're abroad. You feel as though you're passing along a secret recipe after years of enjoying it and, in the case of Barcelona, I felt at one with the city's long history of hosting jazz and the U.S. State Department's tradition of sending jazz around the world. I'm bleary-eyed from jet lag, but here goes a re-cap of my five-day stay...
Sunday. Our American Airlines flight was delayed five hours due to a faulty right-engine valve, so we arrived in late in the morning and somewhat sleepless. Joan Anton Cararach, the festival's tireless director, met us at our hotel—the Gran Havana in the center of town. A great hotel, I might add. Joan (Catalan for John) nudged me to drop our things upstairs and race back down to see trumpeter-singer Andrea Motis [pictured above] and the Sant Andreu Jazz Band, led by Joan Chamorro. Which I did and told you about earlier this week. After the gig, my wife and I joined Joan and his wife Doan for a late lunch at the hotel—sliced Iberian ham, mushroom croquettes, Manchego cheese, toasted baguette strips rubbed with fresh tomato and mushroom risotto, which was cooked perfectly—leaving the rice fragrant and crunchy. After a short walk, we crashed too early and woke up at 2 a.m. fully rested. A struggle to get back to sleep.
Monday. After an early breakfast, we left the hotel for a walk, making it to the Sagrada Família, a spectacular Roman Catholic church started by Antoni Gaudí in 1883 and still being completed. We doubled back and walked up to the Carrer Gran de Gràcia, a wide boulevard about five blocks from our hotel. Many of the city's institutions are closed on Mondays, so as jet lag set in, we grabbed a nap. That evening, we ate at Costa Gallega Moncho's [above] on Passeig de Gracia, 71. Terrific sweet-leathery Iberian ham—the pigs are fed only acorns—and a glorious seafood paella.
Tuesday. The day started at 9 a.m. when Elena Pujol picked me up at the hotel. Elena is head of the U.S. Consulate General's Public Affairs division in Barcelona. We drove to the Museu de la Música (Museum of Music) [pictured above], where I delivered the first of my back-to-back presentations. It was the first time a talk was given in the hushed space—a room with crimson carpeting, wood paneling and historic instruments on display. I spoke slowly, the 100 students from three high schools caught it all, and at the end swarmed me with questions about jazz and the different artists I had exposed them to in my talk.
Next up in the early afternoon was the class of Professor Pere Gifra at the Pompeu Fabra University [above].The campus buildings include two former military barracks. The architects kept the red brick exterior and interior facades but updated it with sheets of glass, steel and other bold modern touches. These spaces are spectacular and make you feel connected to the past while in a place that is directed toward the future. Professor Gifra's class is studying the impact of the Western frontier on the American psyche, so I spoke on how jazz ties in to this theme—the triumph of the fearless solo explorer and how he or she embraces improvisation along the way. Again, at the end of my hour-long lecture, students peppered me with terrific questions.
That evening, I spoke to about 50 people at the Vallcarca I Els Penitents Public Library. Elena provided simultaneous translation into Catalan as I spoke, and at the end of my talk, questions about jazz and jazz trends in Barcelona went on for about a half hour. Back at the hotel, room service was followed by a good night's sleep.
Wednesday. My wife and I were able to take a long walk around the core of the city. What makes Barcelona so fascinating is how many cities it seems to be at once. Barcelona sits on the Mediterranean Sea, so the neighborhood toward the port is similar to Venice—ancient narrow streets, lots of small shops and restaurants, and steep medieval church walls. We met Joan and Doan for lunch in the area at Restaurant 7 Portes [a paella pictured above]. We started with a range of dishes, including sliced ham; spinach, pine nuts and raisins; cooked wild mushrooms; small fried Padron peppers; and potato croquettes. Two paellas followed—one vegetarian and the other seafood. Barcelonians love to pour local olive oil onto a plate and add a pinch of flavored salt and run fresh bread through it. The salt is important to the experience.
The afternoon ended with a long walk and hopes of getting to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavillion (a rebuilt replica of the original, which was torn down in 1930) and the Miró Museum [pictured above].
That night, we went to see Daniel Humair and his group—Vincent Peirani (accordion), Émile Parisien (soprano sax) and Jérôme Regard (bass)—in concert at the French Institute. After the free-jazz concert, the director, Yannick Rascouet, invited us to join about a dozen others including Joan, Doan, Daniel and the band at dinner at Chéri, a French restaurant [pictured above]. Dinner began at 11:30 and ended at 2 a.m. I spent most of the time talking to Daniel about jazz in Paris in the late '50s and early '60s. Daniel has played with virtually all of the American and French greats. Champagne accompanied a wide range of small plates, including octopus and potatoes, whipped yam and marinated anchovies on toast, a range of salads, figs and ham, and so much more. A generous delight and a true Barcelona evening. Another joy of the city: you never have to wait more than a minute before a vacant cab pulls up.
Thursday. I thought we'd make it to the Mies Pavilion and Miró Museum in the morning but woke up too late and had breakfast with Joan. After a walk, we met Elena for lunch at Cañete [pictured above], a flavorful and bustling tapas bar hidden away on Carrer de la Unió, 17. We ordered about six small plates—including fresh roasted shrimp with salt, roasted artichoke, sliced ham, a squid and bean stew, and grilled monk fish and mushrooms. When we finished at 3 p.m., it was too late to travel off to see Mies and Miró. The sunlight would soon be fading, so the visits would have to wait until next time. Sigh.
That night we caught Kat Edmonson [above], who opened for Jamie Cullum. Kat was terrific. She made only one innocent error—mentioning Madrid when talking to the audience. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, and Catalonians don't view themselves as part of Spain. So poor Kat was a bit taken aback and confused after saying she had just performed in Madrid and her friendly remarks were met with polite groans by the mostly young crowd. Cullum's physical approach to jazz-pop went over well with the 1,500-member crowd.
Joan invited us to an 11:30 dinner and then drinks after at a famed martini bar. We had to pass. A cab was picking us up Friday morning at 7, and I had to write on the plane coming home. Next time, next time.
A big thanks to Joan, Doan, Elena, Astrid (Elena's assistant) and Yannick for showing us Barcelona as most visitors rarely experience it. I can't wait to return. [Photo above of Joan with George Wein]
One last note: Barcelona hosts one of Europe's most famed jazz festivals. The festival dates back to 1966, when Spain was under fascist rule. Every jazz great has appeared at different venues there—from Duke Ellington and Sonny Rollins to Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt and Benny Carter. It was an honor for me to be a part of this long-running tradition and for sharing what I love most with those eager to learn more. The next time you're thinking of a European visit with a jazz twist, consider Barcelona during the International Jazz Festival. We were treated beautifully by everyone we met and the food was consistently exciting. [Pictured above: Duke Ellington in Barcelona with concert promoter Jordi Suño]
The Wall Street Journal. In the Mansion section of yesterday's paper, I interviewed pop artist Peter Max on the many homes he grew up in as a child (go here). For the Arena section, I wrote about a spectacular new blues album recorded in 1968—Magic Sam: Live at the Avant Garde (go here). In WSJ Weekend today, I interview Rachael Ray on her favorite Tom Jones song (go here). [Photo above of Peter Max in his studio by Brad Trent for The Wall Street Journal]
Ronnie Cuber. Here's baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber in Belgium over the summer, courtesy of Roberta Arnold...
Why Jazz Happened radio. On Sunday, radio host Bob Craig will be rebroadcasting our interview on my book, Why Jazz Happened. The rebroadcast can be heard on Sunday, from 5 to 6 p.m. on Bob's Voices in Jazz show on WRTI (go here). Click the "Listen Jazz" link at the top of the home page.
Marty Sheller on JFK. Trumpeter and Mongo Santamaria arranger Marty Sheller [above] emailed after reading my post on the assassination of President Kennedy...
"Your post about Horace Silver and The First Floor Club reminded me that on that fateful day, I was in Philadelphia getting ready to play at Pep's with Mongo's band when we heard the news about President Kennedy. We all met in Mongo's hotel room and told him that we didn't want to play that night. Mongo felt the same way but said that he had a contract and we should go to the club on time ready to play but that he would
let the owner know how we felt. The owner felt the same way and decided to close for the night. But as he spoke with Mongo, two couples came into the darkened club ready to party and tried to convince us to at least play Watermelon Man for them before we left! I can only imagine how the cats in Horace's band felt having to blow the blues away that night."
Quartet San Francisco. If you're in New York on December 18, Quartet San Francisco [pictured above] will be at Symphony Space. The group will be showcasing its new album—Pacific Premieres: New Works by California Composers, which I reviewed earlier this year. For more information on the Symphony Space concert (it starts at 8 p.m.), go here.
Oddball album cover of the week.
It's obvious from this cover that buying a car "Ukrainian Style" will yield a deep discount every time, particularly if you wear that Tiffany-blue sports jacket. Hard to imagine why you'd need the polkas on this album to help you along, but here they are. Beep-beep, indeed.