Malta Jazz Festival
20 - 22 JULY 2017
Under the artistic direction of Sandro Zerafa
One of the most awaited events in Malta's cultural calendar, the Malta Jazz Festival is also one of the most important summer European jazz festivals. In its mission to combine wide audience appeal with quality and artistic integrity, the Malta Jazz Festival has hosted the most important jazz icons over the past 27 years. Running over 6 days in Valletta's historical setting, it has also raised the profile of jazz locally through the 'Jazz on the Fringe' events.
One of the main aims of the festival is to combine wide audience appeal with artistic integrity and quality. It presents the myriad of styles which constitute the contemporary jazz world, without surrendering to the complacency of a line–up featuring pop/non-jazz acts, which unfortunately seems to be the norm in several major jazz festivals nowadays. This vision is reflected in the eclectic line-up of the festival. It is a festival of contrasts and coherence, featuring the cutting-edge /avant-garde (Soweto Kinch, Vijay Iyer, The Bad Plus, Greg Osby, Don Byron), the mainstream (Esperanza Spalding, Michel Camilo, John Scofield, Mike Stern) and also historical jazz icons (Betty Carter, Elvin Jones, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea) without deviating from the “jazz “element. By combining contrasting styles on the same night, the festival has a strong “educational” element. A typical night at the festival features double-bills with a mainstream group and a cutting-edge act. The layman attending the “mainstream” concert will also discover the other cutting-edge/avant-garde band. This is of crucial importance in a country where the general public is poorly exposed to jazz and where the jazz club scene is virtually non-existent. The Malta Jazz Festival has played an important role in nurturing interest in this art-form in the Maltese islands, and since its creation many local artists have emerged on the local scene, pursuing an international professional career (one can cite Carlo Muscat, Oliver Degabriele, Sandro Zerafa…) Another important aim of the festival is to nurture collaborations/partnerships with other festivals/music colleges/jazz communities in Europe. Over the past years the festival has produced/ commissioned/ financed artistic collaborations between local and foreign musicians in an ongoing mission to stimulate the local scene and create networks and exchanges with other European jazz scenes. Every year the festival features at least two concerts featuring such collaborations. One can cite local saxophone player Carlo Muscat presenting a collaboration with musicians from France and Hungary (which eventually led to a recording of a CD), local pianist Joe Debono invited to perform with an international line-up led by Serbian trumpet player Stjepko Gut amongst others. In 2015, the Malta Jazz Festival created The Fringe Youth Jazz Ensemble, a yearly collaboration/exchange scheme between the Festival and international music establishments. The 2015 edition featured an exchange with the CDPM jazz school in Bergamo, in which 4 Italian students were invited to Malta to team up with 4 young Maltese musicians to work on a project led by the renowned Italian arranger Gabriele Comeglio. The ensemble was then invited to perform in the festival ‘Notti di Luce’ in Bergamo. The 2016 edition featured a similar collaboration with the EDIM school in Paris, under the direction of arranger Vincent Jacqz.
The ‘local dimension’ is an important aspect of the Malta Jazz Festival. Apart from the ‘creations’ commissioned by the Jazz Festival (as described in section 1) featuring collaborations between local and foreign musicians, The Malta Jazz Festival also features ‘Jazz on the Fringe’, a series of peripheral activities in the weeks preceding the main event, created with the support of the V18 Foundations (the foundation administering the Valletta 2018 ECOC title) and the Malta International Airport. In the light of the upcoming Valletta 2018 ECOC title many festival events have been transferred to Valletta Centre. The whole city resonates to the sounds of jazz during the festival week, as opposed to previous years when the festival was mainly limited to the harbor area. The main aims of the ‘Jazz on the Fringe’ are: - to stimulate the local jazz scene – create networks between the jazz scenes in Malta and abroad through various collaborations – fill in a much needed gap in jazz education in Malta. – provide a showcase for young Maltese jazz talent. The three main events of the Jazz on the Fringe are – various concerts/ jam sessions in Valletta and other localities – the Malta Jazz Contest (next edition will be in 2018) – the Malta Summer Jazz Camp. The contest is open to young Maltese talent and features and international jury. Winners get the opportunity to showcase their talents abroad. The Malta Summer Jazz camp is a series of free masterclasses with renowned jazz educators from Europe and elsewhere (Italy, France, UK, USA, Canada, Hungary). In the past years the Jazz Camp offered classes in arranging, saxophone, guitar, piano, jazz harmony, drums and double bass. Two new features were introduced in 2016 – the jam sessions hosted by festival musicians in Valletta and a series of mid-day concerts highlighting local talent. Jam sessions are a very important element in the jazz world, as they allow young inexperienced musicians to ‘sit in’ in an informal context with professional established musicians. It is the best form of education for young jazz students. This feature will be spread over several days in 2017. The Malta Jazz Festival also endorses/commissions jazz related exhibitions by local artists. Examples include the commission of an installation by local artist and jazz festival founder Charles ‘City’ Gatt, the 20th anniversary Malta Jazz Festival book ‘Portraits in Jazz’ featuring works by local photographers, and the exhibitions by Jeni Caruana, Joe Smith and Sergio Muscat. Ticket prices at the festival are kept relatively low (compared to other major European jazz festivals) in the interest of providing broad access to high quality music. The Malta Jazz Festival also collaborates with the Malta Tourism Authority and the Malta International Airport to engage the tourism sector. (For example, some of the Jazz on the Fringe activities include concerts in the arrivals and departure lounges of the airport).
European and International Engagement
Jazz is the product of years of cross-pollination between different cultures. And this is aptly reflected in the elastic line-up and vision of the Malta Jazz Festival. Over the years the festival has provided a panoramic view of the multitude of genre crossing styles which constitute the jazz world today – latin jazz, swing, be-pop, electro jazz, hard bop, vocal jazz, avant-grande/free jazz, afro-jazz, ethio-jazz etc. Jazz was often considered a quintessential American music, however in the past 50 years or so, jazz has become increasingly internationalized, and for example, one cannot ignore the European jazz scene today (the European scene is well represented in the Malta Jazz Festival programme and the Jazz on the Fringe activities). In the past years and as described in Section 1 and 2, the Malta Jazz Festival has been nurturing collaborations between the local and international scenes: - Through the Malta Jazz Contest, young musicians have represented Malta abroad and were given the opportunity to perform with other jazz musicians from the European jazz scene (in France and Italy) in festivals abroad (Les Sons d’Une Ile, Bergamo Jazz). Every year the Malta Jazz Festival commissions at least two productions featuring a local musician as a leader and international musicians, including also the musicians teaching at the Summer Jazz Camp. These projects are presented on the main stage at Ta’ Liesse. – The Fringe Youth Jazz Ensemble (initiated in 2015) features a creation / exchange scheme between the Malta Jazz Festival and international education establishments, thus permitting young Maltese musicians to perform abroad and collaborated with their international counterparts. –The Valletta jam sessions initiated in 2016 allow interaction with international festival musicians in an informal ‘street’ context.