Excellent artistic standards and public response define a fabulous 54th Heineken Jazzaldia.

Maria Schneider & Ensemble Denada (Photo: Lolo Vasco).
Maria Schneider & Ensemble Denada (Photo: Lolo Vasco).

The total number of spectators came to 168,000

From the artistic point of view, the 54th Heineken Jazzaldia was extraordinary. All of the concerts were a hit with the audience and, generally speaking, with the critics. While it’s not easy to choose the best among them, if we had to establish a podium, the highest step would probably be occupied by Maria Schneider, Atomic and John Zorn with his Bagatelles Marathon.

Maria Schneider is prodigious as a composer, as an arranger and as a conductor. She needs an orchestra capable of rendering her work’s range of hues and intensity. A powerful yet subtle orchestra. Ensemble Denada, composed of extraordinary Norwegian instrumentalists, is that very orchestra. The concert they gave in the Plaza de la Trinidad has already gone down in the history of the Festival as one of its most memorable.

John Zorn’s Bagatelles Marathon too will be remembered for a long time to come. The entirety of Zorn’s wide-ranging and complex musical universe condensed into two concerts of almost three hours with the participation of nineteen musicians grouped into different formations.

John Zorn received this year’s Donostiako Jazzaldia Award, with which the Festival recognises the musicians who have had a special influence on the history, development and transmission of jazz.Atomic is, in itself, an innovative, inquisitive group overflowing with musical ideas. And if a quintet of this calibre surrounds itself with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, a group of seven first-rate Norwegian musicians, it’s easy to imagine that their concert in the Kursaal Auditorium was bound to be memorable.Also on the imaginary podium of the 54th Heineken Jazzaldia would be two illustrious veteran sax players, Houston Person and Charlies McPherson, representatives of a generation we’ll greatly miss when it disappears. The way they perform ballads is unique. These are musicians who exude wisdom and elegance, who instantly put the audience under their spell.

Completing the perfect line-up of this 54th Heineken Jazzaldia were the big names topping the bill, whose spirit and popularity drew huge crowds. None of them let us down, and all continue to climb the steps of their career: Jamie Cullum, Joe Jackson, Diana Krall, Sílvia Pérez Cruz with Toquinho and Javier Colina. Joan Baez gave an especially moving concert before a packed Zurriola Beach on the penultimate gig of her “Fare Thee Well” tour, one of the last chances to applaud a legend.

The Japanese cycle too was highly interesting. It was a huge surprise for the audience, who were generally unaware of the high level of jazz produced in Japan and the excellence of its performers. The recitals given by the pianists Chihiro Yamanaka and Ai Kuwabara were simply extraordinary, and the young guitarist Rei won over the spectators with her nerve and powerful stage presence.

On the subject of Basque groups, one aspect worthy of note is the increasing prominence of female artists, referring both to their numbers and to their quality, in jazz groups (Reunion Big Band, Lurpekariak, Juan José Cabillas with Strings, The Funk & Risketeers…), rock bands (Belako, Nøgen) and in solo projects (Ainhoa Larrañaga, Sara Zozaya).

The audience deserves a special mention too; we should probably even create an award to thank them for their loyalty and education. If the weather’s good, like on the first day, they gather en masse with exemplary civic behaviour. If it’s bad, they’re still there, undaunted, cloaked in the waterproof ponchos handed out by the organisation, encouraging the musicians to give their best.

It’s true that this year the rain and the wind were particularly inclement, causing a great deal of trouble and preventing us from hitting the record audience numbers intimated by the throngs at the opening Jazz Band Ball. In this context, the total of 168,000 spectators are a fine demonstration that the Heineken Jazzaldia continues to hold fast as a popular and participatory event.

Also worthy of mention and thanks is the Festival team. A combination of young and highly experienced stage managers (most of whom were in fact women) assisted by enthusiastic workers skilfully handled the problems caused by the bad weather.

Nothing and nobody stops this Festival and preparations are already underway for the 55th edition, with the exciting yet complicated challenge of topping one that has just ended.

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Poster 54 Jazzaldia 2019 (author: Pedro Párraga).

Poster 54 Jazzaldia 2019 (author: Pedro Párraga).

Poster 54 Jazzaldia 2019 Extra.

Poster 54 Jazzaldia 2019 Extra.