The Malta Jazz Festival launched in 1990 would not have been possible without my dear friend Charles ‘ic-City’ Gatt, whose life dedicated to music we celebrate albeit with sadness at his loss.

The jazz festival formed part of my plan to create a series of cultural and sport events on the annual cultural calendar of Malta.

I remember first speaking to Charles about the idea of a jazz festival at my office as parliamentary secretary for the arts in Floriana, having been introduced to him by Kevin Drake, a valued member from my private secretariat and a jazz enthusiast himself.

Charles was quite incredulous that we were determined to set up a jazz festival – he must have been let down many times before.  Thankfully, he came on board and set out to carry the task to perfection.

He asked, and I agreed, to visit New York to engage the artists – and did an incredible achievement in that visit.

The first edition of the Malta Jazz Festival had top names in the international world of jazz – Elvin Jones, Michel Petrucciani and Chick Corea. Who could have attracted these great artists to Malta were it not for ic-City with his special knowledge, infectious laughter and enthusiasm, and genuine love for the genre?

Because of Charles, the festival took off with success at the first edition and then, as director of the festival, he maintained the standard and impetus with more top names without fail each year.

In his mission to New York, Charles, with his long-standing contacts, managed to get these top names by contracting directly with their principal agent – even not with them directly – saving significant sums in the process.

The three of us, Charles, Kevin and myself, grappled with the name of the festival. Was it going to be the Valletta Jazz Festival or the Malta Jazz Festival? In the end we settled for the ‘Malta Jazz Festival − Ta’ Liesse Valletta’.

Then we had to decide a date which allowed the festival to become an annual event in the international jazz calendar. Charles pointed out that there was a gap between the last festival in Europe at the time and the beginning of the season in the US: and the third week of July was to become a fixture. The festival is still held around that date.

It was indeed a great privilege to have known, and worked, so closely with Charles, in giving birth and sustaining the first years of a festival which is a major contributor not only to Malta’s but also to the global jazz scene.

I remember the look of joy on Charles’s face when Chick Corea came on stage for the first time in the last act of the festival in 1990 and, from that perspective, seeing the floodlit bastions and the Grand Harbour spontaneously expressed his astonishment at that setting.

The magic of Ta’ Liesse was only matched by Charles’s magic at making the festival happen so successfully. A magic born out of expertise, humaneness, humility and a great sense of humour!

Thank you Charles for establishing the Malta Jazz Festival on a platform of excellence that no one else but you could have achieved.

Rest in peace, dear friend.

Michael Frendo served as parliamentary secretary for youth and the arts between 1990 and 1992 and then as minister for the arts from 1992 to 1994.

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