Baltasar Samper and Early Jazz in Barcelona

In the early 2000’s, pianist and scholar Joan Moll gave Antoni Pizà a clump of yellowish loose old quartos in a modest supermarket plastic bag containing some autograph manuscripts by composer and scholar Baltasar Samper (Palma de Mallorca 1888 – Mexico, DF 1966).  The collection included three lectures on jazz presented in Barcelona in 1935.  There was also the text of a pre-concert lecture from the 1920’s on Ravel, some notes in French pertaining to his ethnographic fieldwork, and some handwritten copies of Shakespeare sonnets translated into Catalan by Magí Morera i Galícia in 1912.  Moll, a Samper pioneer performer and scholar, hoped Pizà would edit and publish these materials.  Quite a few years passed and in 2019 Pizà and musicologist Francesc Vicens finally prepared these papers for publication.

Modeling his talks on the ideas of French critic Hugues Panassié, in his lectures, Samper discusses the jazz canon up to 1935.  His track selection might or might not surprise you.  Armstrong, of course, has a prominent role, but Valaida Snow is without a doubt undeservedly underappreciated nowadays and she might surprise some present-day jazz aficionados.  You might want to check out the book’s soundtrack on this YouTube playlist and judge for yourself.

This volume, published by Lleonard Muntaner, has received an enormous amount of attention and it has been reviewed in many publications both in print and online and both for the general reader as well as for a scholarly readership on both sides of the Atlantic. The reviews include:  Serra d’Or, FelanitxLa LectoraCent per cent, Sonograma, Doce Notas, Diagonal, Codalario, Ultima Hora, Bellver / Diario de Mallorca, and a couple of radio programs in Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca.

With beautiful cover art by famous photographer, guitarist, and true early-jazz insider Charles Peterson, and permission kindly granted by his son, eminent jazz critic and writer Don Peterson, the latest addition to this list of reviews is by Benjamin R. Fraser,  Professor of Iberian and Latin American Cultural Studies at the University of Arizona, a Tete Montoliu’s scholar, and author of many books on Iberian culture.  He writes in Catalan Review that “the consequences of this book extend beyond a purely biographical interest” and that the introduction is “a dense essay of clear transnational and transatlantic applicability.”

Although Samper lived the peripatetic, difficult existence of many exiles, finally settling in Mexico, where he died, his artistic reputation and intellectual standing seems to grow nonstop from the foundational, pioneer studies by Josep Massot i Muntaner, the early recordings of Joan Moll, to this pertinent contribution on jazz, as well as the initiatives and studies by younger scholars such as Amadeu Corbera.  We’re grateful Samper is getting all this attention.  He deserves it.