By Brad Stone
We’re blessed to live in an area of wonderful festivals. Beyond our famous Garlic Festival, music buffs might look no further than the recently held San Jose Jazz Summer Fest or the upcoming Monterey Jazz Festival (September 16-17). But if you’re looking for something a bit more far afield, and if the pocketbook allows—I highly recommend an excursion to Spain in July for the Heineken Jazzaldia in San Sebastían, Spain. I recently returned from attending this Festival, for the fifth year straight. A friend and colleague who has been going for 20 years recommended it to me, and warned me: “once you go, you’ll want to go every year”, and it seems that he was prophetic.
The year was the 52nd Annual Jazzaldia, and they certainly have the formula right. The setting is wonderful, in the parte vieja of the Basque city of San Sebastían, on the north coast of Spain, near the border to France. The concerts are presented on a variety of stages—on the beach, in the Kursaal (beautiful modern auditorium), the Eugenia Theater (older, elegant, great acoustics), the Plaza de la Trinidad (outdoor venue) and at a modern museum—all great venues. The programming is top notch, the people wonderful, the Basque cuisine one of the world’s finest. All combine to give a fantastic experience – even for people like me who are “not big festival-type people”!
Musical highlights include Charles Lloyd (California resident!) receiving the annual Jazzaldia award for lifetime achievement, the Wayne Shorter Quartet, Santa Cruz native Donny McCaslin and his Quartet, Gregory Porter, Abdullah Ibrahim (doing a breathtakingly beautiful set, featuring an incredible horn section featuring Terence Blanchard), Japanese piano sensation Hiromi with Venezuelan harpist Edmar Castañeda, Herbie Hancock, Ernie Watts Quartet and many others. Pop acts on the big stages included The Pretenders and Bryan Ferry (both did impressive shows!).
Yes, being on the Atlantic Coast, it does rain sporadically, and often. One wears a poncho with a hood—and just goes with it, as the musicians play on. Hard to imagine a better setting. Will I return next year? Already planning on it—and continuing to work on improving my Spanish!
Hear Brad Stone’s regular jazz program “The Creative Source” (produced here in Gilroy), featuring new jazz releases, every week on the UK’s Soulandjazz.com. The program streams on demand.