Each year, among the many summer concerts, San Sebastián offers its residents (and the huge amount of tourists that come) a special treat - an entire festival just for jazz music! Since 1966, over 1,500 artists have come from around the world to play to delighted fans right here. Since I was in the States last summer, I didn't get to attend, but you better be sure this year I am taking advantage and soaking it up!
The festival opened on Thursday night with...drumroll please...Patti Smith. If it doesn't ring a bell, think of Because of the Night her most famous song and you will know who I am talking about. With some friends, we headed out to the beach, where the concert was being offered for free! That's one of the things I have grown to love about Jazzaldia - SOOO many of the concerts don't require any money, they just want you to enjoy the music!
Singing to thousands of people that endured the rain, Patti sang her punky/pop/rock soul out on a huge stage right next to the beach. Watching Patti playing on what is called the Escenario Verde (Green Scene or Green Stage), we happily sat on towels and cardboard boxes on the wet sand. At some point it started to rain hard and what more could we do but hold our umbrellas overhead and stay to enjoy the music? It was an amazing scene, to see thousands of people raise their umbrellas, without the thought of leaving the concert. After two hours, Patti as well as the rain were finished, and I headed home, still kind of amazed that this city just gave me a concert that normally people would pay quite a good amount to enter! Thanks Donostia!
My next taste of Jazzaldia was Friday night - and this time it was a double dose. Joseba and I headed towards the beach and were disappointed to find out that the Escenario Verde was empty because the free beach concert had just ended. After only about 5 seconds of frowns, we were happy to stumble upon the Espacio Frigo (Frigo Space - which was sponsered by Frigo - an ice cream brand here), where Lakuntza Brothers were just getting ready to play.
A group of 6 guys (only two of whom were brothers), played their hearts (and trombones, saxaphones, drums, pianos, basses and trumpets) out with traditional 50s and 60s jazz music. Each song was upbeat and toe-tapping and gave each musician the chance to show his skills on his instrument with impressive solos. This group was one of the many local groups that Jazzaldia features to encourage local musicians as well. These 6 guys met at the Centro Superior de Música del Pais Vasco and formed a group that set out to revive the music of Horace Silver, Art Blakely and Herbie Hancock. While some of you jazz afficionados might recognize these names, they don't ring a bell at all for me, however I thoroughly enjoyed the concert.
Forty-five minutes into the concert, we had to leave our white plastic chairs and head to the Victoria Eugenia Theater for yet another concert (this one we actually paid for). Since I have moved here, I have always wanted to enter this gorgeous theater, mainly because I figure if it is so beautiful outside that it will probably be equally stunning inside. I was right.
A cultural hotspot in San Sebastián life since 1912, this theater was part of a project team that formed in 1902. The project goal, in this early 20th century splendor of San Sebastián, was to build a luxury hotel and a theater to match it. At this time Donostia was famous for being a picturesque spa town and a vacation favorite of Spanish royalty. Today, the building is known as one of the most important theaters in Spain, not only being host to Jazzaldia concerts but also the famous San Sebastián Film Festival (think Cannes, Sundance, etc) and a wealth of other shows.
When we entered the sandstone building, we were greeted with a lush red carpet leading us up to our box seat that offered not only a great view of the stage but a panoramic view of the theater. On the ceiling hung the largest crystal chandilier I had ever seen in my life, surrounded by detailed frescos. Not soon after we arrived in the 900-seat theater, Portico Quartet casually walked onto stage and started one of the most impressive concerts I have ever seen.
A 4-piece modern jazz band, they offered an instrumental concert that would blow your mind. One musician played the saxaphone and the alto sax, another the drums and electronic sounds machine, a double bass player and last but most impressive a guy who played an instrument I had never seen before - the hang drum. Made up of 3 drums that look more like flying saucers with dents in them, this 'drum' really makes sounds that are more similar to a piano/xylophone mix. A much different sound than the group we had just seen outdoors, this group played not only their instruments but also with electronic sounds that gave the music a different dimension and a new idea to jazz. Each song was followed by thunderous applause and after an encore two hours after starting, we headed back to the car, somewhat speechless of what we just saw.
The rest of Jazzaldia was sadly rainy and I didn't make it to any more concerts, but jazz was in the air and kind of inspired me to maybe start listening to some more jazz music. Give it a try!