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2001 Vitoria-Gasteiz and San Sebastian Jazz Festivals

Richard Bona

A trip to the Basque country in the last half of July confirms at least three self-evident truths. 1) In the annual scheme of European jazz festivals, the back-to-back festivals in Vitoria-Gasteiz and San Sebastian make this a small region rich in notable jazz for two weeks of the year. 2) The Basque country-aka Euskal Herria, in the ancient native Basque tongue-is one of those undeniably beautiful corners of the world, recently enhanced by the arrival of architect Frank O. Gehry’s wild yet elegant beautiful senses-altering Guggenheim museum, which has effectively put Bilbao on the map of architectural wonders. 3) There is unrest brewing here, resulting from a long, complex struggle for Basque autonomy, which led to the formation of the terrorist group ETA during the tail end of Franco’s notoriously repressive regime.

Drive an hour outside of San Sebastian, winding amidst the lush green terrain, and you arrive at the spiritual center of Euskal Herria, Gernika. It was here in 1937 that Franco unleashed a notorious Basque-targeted bombing raid, with arsenal borrowed from Hitler. Picasso’s epic painting “Guernica” immortalized the event in a powerful antiwar statement.

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