Café Central

So far, culture-wise, this blog has been extremely food heavy. In fact, my growing obsession with food has left little room for anything else. Now, it being January and all, I’ve decided to attempt to shift my focus slightly onto other cultural happenings in Madrid. I can’t promise to abstain entirely from culinary-themed rants, but I’m going to try and put food at least partially on the backburner for a while, and give a more multi-dimensional view of the delights Spain has to offer.

SO. First up is an evening of live music – jazz to be specific – at Café Central.

The Stage at Cafe Central

Café Central is undoubtedly one of Madrid’s most famous (if not the most famous) live music venues. In fact, it is considered one of the world’s hotspots for jazz, and many big, international jazz musicians have played there since it was founded in 1982 (the venue has just celebrated its 30th birthday). However, Café Central has quite a different vibe to some of its European counterparts (Soho’s Ronnie Scott’s for example). Instead of dimmed lights, glamorous audiences and sky-high prices for both tickets and refreshments, Café Central initially appears to be an ordinary, art-deco themed bar, with pale marble tables and mahogany chairs dotted around a relatively small room. The only distinguishing feature is the stage in the far corner, which is barely large enough to contain the piano, drum kit and double bass that adorn it. Shows start at 9pm and finish at 11pm (in theory – this is Spain after all) and the artists usually play there for a week or so. My companion and I hadn’t booked a table and had no idea how busy it would get on a weeknight (this was a Wednesday evening), so we showed up at 8pm to gauge the situation. It was pretty much empty, except for a small party having dinner at a table in the corner and some men drinking at the bar, so we ordered beers and perched on some bar stalls. By 8.15pm however, it was filling up and a waiter came up to us to ask if we were staying for the show and if we’d booked. When we said yes and no respectively, he sold us tickets and informed us that we could either stay at the bar (which actually gives a very good view of the stage), or sit on some seats lined up just in front of the bar, or cram into some chairs squashed between two tables, about a metre from the stage. We chose the latter. Tickets were €13 (the standard price for most concerts there), and our beers were a mere €2, yet we were sat in relative comfort almost on top of the musicians, and – as my companion pointed out – in the exact spot where the sound from the speakers on either side of the stage met. Pretty peachy for a spontaneous evening out.

By 9pm, I was actually quite glad we hadn’t booked, as booking seemed to guarantee you a place at any table, rather than a particular one. This meant that latecomers were often forced to squash onto a table that was already occupied. The Spaniards in the audience seemed to have no problem with this (or even seemed to expect it), but I spotted a few disgruntled French tourists reluctantly cosying up with strangers before the show started. Café Central attracts a mixed crowd; as well as Spanish locals and French tourists, I saw a glamorous Russian couple, some old ladies who were clearly friends of the musicians and a kid who can’t have been much older than twelve (who texted the whole way through the show). We were all there to see José Luis Gutiérrez Iberjazz Quartet, a Spanish jazz group consisting of drums, guitar, double bass and saxophone (played by José Luis himself, who is apparently one of the leading young faces of the Spanish jazz scene).

Jose Luis Gutierrez

The concert itself was slightly bizarre, but very enjoyable. I had my doubts in the first two minutes, when the drummer pulled out a squeaky toy in the shape of a pig, and starting squeezing it whilst giving the audience meaningful glances, as José whispered into the microphone that he wanted to give us a ‘journey through sound’. However, I tried to keep an open-mind, and lucky that I did, as after about five minutes the squeaky toys were put to one side, and the real music began. The musicians were highly skilled and clearly very much in tune with one another, and as the evening went on, I began to see what José had meant by his ‘journey through sound’, as the music infused classic jazz with Latin, fusion and even African influences. Yes, the squeaky toys did make a few more bizarre appearances, but hidden as they were amongst the swathes of swung melodies, they didn’t seem quite as offensive, and actually gave the concert an amusing, memorable quality. The show ended with José’s husky voice whispering seductively into the microphone, asking us all to ‘respirad con nosotros’ (breathe with us). He held a little microphone over his chest, and his heartbeat pulsed through the speakers, as the rest of the group unrolled a banner, on which words were printed:

“Sólo la música que viene del corazón, llega al corazón”.

–       Only music which comes from the heart, arrives at the heart.

Café Central is that rare place where locals and tourists, young and old, experts and amateurs, gather and blend. An excellent place to experience a snippet of Spanish culture, for jazz aficionados and novices alike.


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