Daniel Negro, owner of the Harlem Jazz Club
Read our interview with Harlem Jazz Club Owner and MPB festival organiser, Daniel Negro
M: The Harlem Jazz Club is an institution in Barcelona. How and when did it begin?
DN: This year marks the 25th year of the Harlem. It opened in 1987. Back then, Barcelona and El Barrio Gótico was very different. The neighborhood was very marginalized, very problematic, even dangerous. We thought that besides that, it was also one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the city.
M: Were there other clubs offering live music back then?
DN: There were almost none. When we opened, there was El Cova del Drac...there was an after-hours jazz club, L'Eixample where all the musicians went after playing. There was the old Bikini and the old Celeste. There were clubs but small places like this one, there were just a few.
M: What has changed in recent years?
DN: Obviously, the city has changed. From the perpective of music, the biggest change came when we began seeing people coming in from outside of the country. Musicians that came here from other places brought with them many musical traditions that didn't exist here.
M: Was it difficult to get support from the local authorities to set up a jazz club back then?
DN: It's still as difficult now. In my opinion, there remains this Francoist idea that a place that's opened at night where musicians congregate, isn't completely acceptable. There are so many regulations, some of them valid, but the problem is, even if you respect all of these rules every district of Barcelona has their own restrictions.
M. Can a musician in Barcelona make a living here?
DN: Yes and no. It depends a lot on the style and the instrument. If you want to live by just playing jazz, it's difficult. There's not much work and there are a lot of musicians.
M: Are most of the musicians you book coming from other places?
DN: No the majority are from here. Others are here on tour. For a long time, Barcelona has been an attractive place for musicians to come and play.
M: How has the current economic situation effected the club and the local music scene?
DN: As in other sectors, in the last two or three years there isn't any public money, people go out less, drink less. In the Harlem, the amount of public hasn't really gone down, but people are spending less. We don't charge a high door charge and many of our concerts include a drink with admission.
M: Is there a particular night in the history of the Harlem that for you is most special?
DN: There are two anecdotes...one was in 1992, when the Dream Team played basketball in the Olympics. Among the fans was the saxaphonist, Brandford Marsalis and he came to the club with his saxaphone, dressed as a tourist, and asked if he could play with the group that was booked that night. So the waiter went to the group and said, "Listen, Brandford Marsalis is here and wants to know if he can jam with you." And they looked at him and someone said, "Right, and after that Miles Davis!" And so one of the most famous stars in the world played here, and for free.
M: And the other memory?
The other is a little sad. There was a musician named Sean Levitt, a guitarist from New York. In the history of Be-bop, if you name twenty of the best guitarists, Sean Levitt would be among them. He was very, very good. The son of musicians, at thirteen years old he played at Woodstock. He was addicted to heroin and so nobody would let him play practically anywhere in Barcelona, except here. People came one night to see two well known performers, and Sean Levitt joined them. When the two musicians finished, Sean Levitt continued playing for almost another half-hour. In all the years I've been here, I never saw anything like it. The public was fascinated, it gave you goosebumps because it was something marvellous. And when he stopped, there was a half-minute of silence because it was like everyone was coming back from a dream.
M: In this years MPB festival, there is a tribute to Sean Levitt. Tell us about it?
DN: This year marks ten years since Sean Levitt's death. There will be a performance by a group of young musicians, music students who contacted me to say they are followers of Sean Levitt's music. And just at the tenth anniversary of his death. They didn't know anything about Sean Levitt's connection to the Harlem.
Its a festival that has various components. For one, it offers a chance to hear the various styles of music available in the city. People ask what the Barcelona sound is. In Barcelona there isn't one sound but many sounds. We want to offer the most iinteresting music being made in the city as well as presenting one or two groups from other places. Another objective is to present new spaces where you can listen to musi. We think good music can be performed in many places, not just in a music club. (For example, check out Aforament 7 and Òpera als balcons). We also do a concert in solidarity with el Banco de Alimentos. For this concert, people don't pay with money; the entance is a donation of five kilos of food.
M: What is the combination that makes the Harlem special?
I put the club together but protagonists are the artists. And the ones who make it possible for the musicians to play and for me to present them is the public. The combination of these three make for the experience. The public that comes to the Harlem is a public with criteria.
In a city like Barcelona, small clubs like the Harlem offer quality music 365 days a year.