The Café Berlin rescues the legendary 'big bands' from oblivion





The Café Berlin is a venue with tradition. The place has a welcoming atmosphere of days gone where musicians go because they know something is always happening. Life there goes on under dim lights and to the sound of live gigs and the records on which the jazz greats stamped their mark. The trumpeter Jerry Gonzalez might drop by any day of the week to play a number at four in the morning. Musicians of the stature of Joshua Edelman, Horacio Icasto, Jorge Pardo or Kelvis Ochoa don’t think twice about visiting. Or you can music that’s in danger of extinction, such as the big band led by American saxophonist Bob Sands. Café Berlin manager, Eric Sánchez, sums it up: «Marvelous things happen here. There’s a great love of music».
A jazz big band is a tad over the top by definition. A musical mammoth of nearly 20 musicians who play as one: five saxes, four trumpets, four trombones, a guitar, piano, bass, and drums. A complex formation that saw its peak in the 20s and 30s, during the so-called swing era, under the reign of the undisputed kings of swing; Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman.
Nowadays, their very size and high cost has turned big bands into a rare bird on the brink of extinction. But in the Café Berlin a fair number of concerned musicians are fighting a rearguard action.

Bob Sands
It was the saxophonist Bob Sands, a Madrid based New-Yorker, who came up with the idea of booking Monday nights at the Berlin to give us a rare chance to see these musical dinosaurs in action. Sands takes up the story:
«After a number of years leading the big band of the Madrid School of Creative Music, I wanted to try it with professional musicians. Last March, to celebrate my birthday, I put together a big band at the Café Berlín. I thought it was going to be just for that one day, but everyone wanted to carry on... and so here we are».
His style and sense of humor are totally Madrilenian. He has played with such illustrious names as Dizzy Gillespie, Paquito D'Rivera, Gerry Mulligan, J.J. Johnson, and Lionel Hampton, of whose big band he was a member. Bob Sands landed in Madrid one day and stayed: «I came to do a stand-in for three days and I never left». That was 11 years ago (he’s now 37). To sum up: «In New York maybe I’d play at a higher level and for sure I’d get plenty of work. But here I feel as if I’m doing something worthwhile».
His musical double-life – he has worked in the pop scene with people like Sabina, Miguel Ríos, Marta Sánchez, and Lolita, to name just a few - has led to this latest project which is starting to find a voice of its own and has already begun to arouse the interest of a number of jazz managers. And it helps to have played for the last four months with the same core players: Daniel García, on drums; Mariano Díaz, on piano; Israel Sandoval, on guitar; Tom Hornsby or Antonio Mesa, on sax; Chris Kase, on trumpet; and Norman Hogue on trombone, plus vocals from the French singer, Laika. «The hardest part of leading this kind of band is being able to get the same people to play on a regular basis», explains Sands. «But hey, when they pay us more we can put in more rehearsal time. But even so, the band is sounding really good because these concerts also serve as rehearsal sessions».

Bob Sands Big Band. At the Café Berlín (Jacometrezo, 4). At 23h. At the door price to be confirmed.






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