After more than four decades, one of Spain’s most prestigious music venues, the San Juan Evangelista Music and Jazz Club — “El Johnny” to the cognoscenti — looks set to close its doors unless a dispute with the organization tasked with running it can be found.
Set up in 1971 by students at the San Juan Evangelista hall of residence, this unprepossessing venue has attracted the best musicians from the world of rock, flamenco and jazz, many of whom agreed that it was among their favorite places to play.
The San Juan Evangelista Foundation, a support group set up by friends of the institution, is accusing the Unicaja savings bank, which has the concession to run the venue, of allowing it to fall into disrepair with the intention of developing the site at a later date.
Madrid City Hall inspected the building, in the capital’s university district, in 2001, and found it severely wanting, and withdrew its license to stage concerts – despite which it has continued hosting events up to the present day.
A second inspection in 2011 confirmed that the building had continued to deteriorate. José Joaquín Caerols, a spokesman for the university’s halls of residence association, blames Unicaja: “It has always had the intention of converting San Juan into a luxury university residence, taking advantage of the college’s prestige, which is a complete distortion of its role.” Unicaja turned down a 25-year concession in 2012, saying it was looking for another way to continue running the venue.
“These are difficult times, says Juan Costa of the San Juan Evangelista Foundation. “But we have a new and exciting project for the Johnny. Now we need the university authorities to force Unicaja to meet its obligations; if it won’t, then the state should step in, and if it wont, then future students at San Juan will have to.”
An international brand
Its walls have resounded to many of the greatest musicians in jazz, rock and flamenco over the last 42 years, all of whom have highlighted the special qualities of San Juan Evangelista. Miles Davis said it was one of his favorite venues, while Steve Lacy described it as “a legend”. Camerón gave his last performance here, while veteran Spanish jazzer Tete Monteliú, who died in 1997, said it was unique: “I always felt at home here, like in no other place.”
In 2011, to coincide with its 40th anniversary, the Socialist government of José Luis Zapatero bestowed on the institution the countrie's highest arts award, the Bellas Artes Gold Medal, citing San Juan Evangelista as a "major brand of Spanish culture."