La Banda del Ángel Caído started by joining several musicians who dance swing, with a repertoire specially chosen for lindy hoppers and, above all, for street dancing. Today, they tell us their concerns, their likings and illusions. As part of the Madrid scene, we are very happy to have them in this edition.
It is difficult to know all the members of a band, so we’d like you to introduce yourself briefly.
La Banda del Ángel Caído are five people, although sometimes we play in quartet or trio. The line-up consists of two guitarists: Fernando Berná «Nano» and Jorge Estévez; a double bass player, Christian Pérez, a percussionist, Jesús García; and a wind, a saxophonist, Pau SanMartín. Except for Christian, the rest are musicians as well as swing dancers.
Where did your interest in jazz music come from and in particular, by the swing?
(Jorge) As for myself, I had already made some approach to jazz with the guitar, but it wasn’t at all in what I was most interested. This changed when I got into world of swing dancing, because I enjoyed listening to the songs I danced and wanted to know more, do some research … and finally play those songs. From that moment on, I started playing swing music, mainly jazz manouche, but opening up to other influences soon.
(Pau) I started playing the saxophone with 14/15 years old and, In the beginning, I didn’t like jazz. In fact, I must admit that the first jazz records that I heard seemed an insufferable gibberish. I remember that my uncle passed me “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane with this message «listen to this record, as sax player you’ll like it» and it didn’t work. However, my saxophone teacher organized saxophone ensembles with his students and made us play many big band arrangements, which I did like. After that, I became fond of improvisation and started to listen to jazz records in which the songs that I used to improvise were played. That’s when my interest in jazz came up. While in France, I bought a book that was titled “the 100 best jazz albums in history” or something like that, and I listened to them slowly, buying many of them. I went from listening mainly rock to listen nothing but jazz. My passion for swing came later, when participating in events organized by the Madrid swing community, playing in a big band, etc.
(Jesus) In my case, however, I had always been struck by jazz, mainly because I didn’t know how to decipher what was happening there musically. I’d always played in rock, garage and pop bands, and only a few years ago I started to study jazz, which allowed me to understand it a bit more. Swing is a period of time of jazz that I was less familiar with, but it is as a result of discovering the dance when I started to enjoy it from both sides, as a dancer and drummer, both of them very satisfying.
Who are your idols?
(Pau) My referents are more in jazz than in swing. I started listening to a lot of jazz from the 50s (especially the quintet of Miles Davis of these years) that, along with the decade of the 60s, is my favorite period, although I also like many musicians from earlier and later times. As a saxophonist, I like Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, etc. From the swing style I like especially Lester Young and Frank Foster, since the band of Count Basie is the one that I like the most in this genre.
(Jesus) From the Swing Era I admire Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Julia Lee, Count Basie, Papa Joe Jones .. Although my referents are from a later period. As drummers I highlight Art Blakey, Max Roach, Elvin Jones. Other instrumentalists that are referents for me are Cannonball Adderley, Art Pepper, Wayne Shorter, Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery …
(Jorge) My clear referents are Django Reindhart and Stephan Grapelli, as well as other greats of the manouche style, such as Bireli. Other guitarists that I like are also Jim Hall or Charlie Christian. In the world of jazz in general, I like Chet Baker, Stan Getz or Sara Vaughan.
What songs are always a must in your repertoire?
(Pau) I would say that, unlike other Madrid street swing bands, in our repertoire there are more swing themes and classical jazz standards, than themes from older styles, such as Chicago or New Orleans. One of the differences, rhythmically, is that there may be more tracks with a 4/4 beat and a very clear walking bass, instead of fast tracks with a double bass that marks whites and a pulse closer to 2/4, like It happens with Dixie music.
(Jorge) We do many Duke Ellington songs, undoubtedly one of the best composers of the 20th century, but also other Count Basie classics. I believe our repertoire is based on big band themes adapted to a small format. If I had to say a song among all in our repertoire, I think I would say “Broadway” and “Out of Nowhere”. In general, when I think about what songs to incorporate into the repertoire I do it from my perspective as a dancer, I think, what would I like to dance to?
What’s the difference between playing for dancers and just for regular audiences?
(Pau) Mainly the differences come from the speed and duration of the themes. When you play for dance events, in general, you can’t play very fast or very long songs, in order not to exhaust dancers. This determines, for example, the duration of the solos, which is less than when you play for an audience that only listens. Also, in the solos it’s better to use simple and rhythmic resources than to get lost in many flourishes, more complicated perhaps to translate into dancing.
(Jesus) Yes, the tempo is always important, playing for a dancing public is great; not only that it is stable in the same theme, but also taking into account in the repertoire a variety of different tempos and the order of these in order not to become boring or strenuous. In terms of interaction with the public, although it can happen in all kinds of events, in dance events, the visual interaction facilitates and makes more interesting the connection between musicians and dancers.
When you see the dancefloor from the stage, what crosses your mind? What does it make you feel?
(Jesus) Being part of the musicians group that makes people dance is something very special. It feels a responsibility that what is offered musically generates that energy necessary to make people dance; when that atmosphere of connection between musicians and dancers is generated, the enjoyment comes!
(Pau) Being honest, this factor doesn’t influence me too much when it comes to playing. Musicians that I play with make me think, feel, etc., more things than the people I play for. The only thing that comes into my mind is the feedback that the public gives you when they get carried away with the music, it happens more among the dancers than among a listener audience.
(Jorge) I love to see the happy faces in dancing people, when they really listen to music and get carried away, I believe this is the best reward dancer can do to a musician, beyond the applause.
What do you think dance schools and associations such as MAD for Swing can do to help people understand the value of live music? We know that many a time, when a song is finished, dancers don’t even applaud…
(Jesus) As a dancer, attending lindy classes, sometimes I have missed the need to emphasize the connection with music. Sometimes the teaching is focused in a series of more or less acrobatic exercises disconnected from the music. The best class I remember was when they made us all sit on the floor and we just listened to a song trying to feel it and moving the body trunk and the head. This is how you learn to feel music, that is the basis … acrobatic resources come later. Enhance musicality, explain the basic structures of swing themes, recommend and put as duties the active listening of certain songs and / or jazz records, should be an essential part of teaching lindy hop. And in that way you would also learn to value live music.
(Pau) Maybe we should always make a brief presentation of the band before playing, highlighting the work of the musicians and their contribution to the dance. Nevertheless, I have to say that, while there are people who talk and almost don’t listen to the music, there are always some people attentive and who applaud.
You have surely played at numerous festivals, so can you tell us any anecdote that you remember dearly?
(Jorge) More than at festivals, where more funny things happen to you is playing on the street, in our case in the Retiro Park. One of the most beautiful things that has happened to us is that many people have started dancing swing because they listened to us there and they remind that to us often … I started dancing thanks to you!
What are your expectations for the 6th Madrid Lindy Exchange?
(Pau) Little policeman and lots of fun! Hehehe [Translator’s note – this sentence makes reference to a Spanish popular song “Mucha policía, poca diversion – Eskorbuto]
(Jesus) I hope to enjoy this edition as much as the previous ones. As a musician, this is the first time that I participate in the exchange, so I hope to enjoy the experience and contribute to make the attendees dance as craziest.
(Jorge) I particularly hope it is an unforgettable party. I am very excited to open the Conde Duque space playing.
As Jorge says, the place where we can dance their music is going to be at the Conde Duque Cultural Center and the day, Sunday. You can’t miss this!