Interpretation of the conjunction "a"

By | August 31, 2017

I realize that in the following passage, the conjunction a is interpretable as and. If I were translating this into Russian from English, I would have forgone the conjunction altogether and written two separate sentences. Otherwise, I would have naturally opted for и as my first choice to render and since it's the more logical and accessible form for me as a non-native Russian user. (In English we only have one "and" and и is the first form we're taught when we learn Russian, so it's my go-to conjunction.)

Are a and и perfectly interchangeable with the meaning and, or is there a distinguishing nuance at play that I don't know of? If so, does it apply to both the written and spoken form?

Как много талантливых и чудесных людей бывает у нас в гостях, а вчера к нам зашла фотограф Евгения, со своей очаровательной дочкой Алёной.