2009-04-18

Benny Carter and the QHCF in Barcelona (Jan. 29&31, 1936) [ENG]

After two minor festivals in the summer and the autumn of 1935, the Hot Club of Barcelona went to town signing Benny Carter and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France including Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli for the III Festival de Jazz (January 1936).



Quintet of the Hot Club of France bandmembers were playing in a variety of ensembles and regrouped for the Spanish tour; telegrams were sent to Stéphane in Monte Carlo, and he flew to Barcelona to join the ensemble.

Benny Carter had arrived in Paris in 1935 to play with the Willie Lewis orchestra and would stay in Europe until 1938, as an arranger for the BBC orchestra (at Leonard Feather’s suggestion) and travelling all over Europe, playing and recording with the top-notch British, French and Scandinavian jazz musicians, as well as with other American expatriates such as Coleman Hawkins.



The two Barcelona concerts took place on January 29 and 31, 1936, at the Cine Coliseum and the Palau de la Música Catalana, respectively. On both concerts, Benny Carter played accompanied by the Hot Club of Barcelona Orchestra, conducted by pianist Antonio Matas and made up of outstanding jazzmen from the best orchestras in town, such as Sebastián Albalat (tenor sax), Magín Munill (trumpet) and José Bellés (drums) from the Napoleon’s Band, Francisco Gabarró (trombone) from the Miuras de Sobré, José Domínguez (alto sax) and Fernando Carriedo (trombone) from the Matas Band, José Ribalta (trumpet) and Steve Ericsson (guitar) from the Demon’s Jazz, Antonio Russell (bass) from the Casanovas Orchestra and José Masó (trumpet) from the 16 Artistas Unidos.


Both concerts were a great success and reviews on newspapers were unstinting in their praise, except for JLL from La Veu De Catalunya, who called Benny Carter “an authentic black man playing the most ignoble of the musical instruments” and described the Quintet of the Hot Club of France as “five white men mimicking black men’s primitivism”. [1]. In return, Benny Carter praised the Spanish musicians’ musicality and their outstanding ability to improvise, stating that “I’m amazed by your jazz professionals” [2]. This dedication was published on the cover of Jazz Magazine (official magazine of the Hot Club of Barcelona), #5, February 1936:

“In as few words as possible I should like to thank the members of the Hot Club and also the general public of Barcelona for the enthusiasm shown at my concert. I may truly say that I have enjoyed playing for you much more than you enjoyed listening. Nevertheless, thanks for listening.

Musically Yours,
Benny Carter”


Grappelli recalls that “we had a magnificent reception marked by all the warmth and enthusiasm the Spaniards are capable of. After each concert, hats rained down onto the stage as though it were a bullfight. It was marvellous!”



I’ve found two mentions of additional concerts, but my research to find any document brought no results:

-José María García Martínez, in his book Del Fox-Trot Al Jazz Flamenco. El Jazz En España 1919-1996 (Alianza Editorial, 1996), mentions an extra concert at the Teatro Olimpia, with Jaume Vila sitting in for Stéphane Grappelli, who refused to play.

-Michel Dregni, in Django: The Life And Music Of A Gipsy Legend (Oxford University Press, 2004), states that “the tour began at the Cinema Coliseum on January 29 and 30 and continued at Musica Catalana (sic) on January 31 and February 1 (…). In the end, the Spanish tour was a resounding success (…) and the Quintette played double the concerts scheduled”. In my opinion, according to advertisements and reviews published in La Vanguardia (see images), this possibility is nearly ruled out.



Coda: Dregni also tells this story, not mentioned neither in Chema García’s book nor in Jazz En Barcelona 1920-1965 by Jordi Pujol Baulenas (Almendra Music, 2005) and for which I have found no evidence in the archives of the newspapers from this period. According to Dregni, “when the applause ended, a surprise awaited the musicians. The concert organizer had departed with the proceeds. The band was paid an advance of 3.000 francs before leaving Paris, but now the balance of 4.000 francs plus their travel expenses were gone. Django, Carter, and the bandmates pooled the money in their pockets to afford train tickets home, with one lone Catalonian sausage to slice up between them to quell their stomachs on the long journey to Paris”. You can smell a faint whiff of literature –call it fable or legend- in this passage.

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[1] Quoted by N. Suris in “Así se hace la crítica”, Jazz Magazine, March 1936
[2] N. Suris: “Benny Carter nos hace confidencias”, Jazz Magazine, February 1936

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