This Thursday sees drummer Ġużè Camilleri delve into the fascinating history of jazz in Malta in a unique concert fusing film and live performance.

Taking place at the Malta Society of Arts in Valletta, Anecdotes of Maltese Early Jazz features a programme of compositions penned by Maltese jazz pioneers interspersed with video interviews that formed the basis for Camilleri’s upcoming documentary film Strait Street to Abbey Road.

The concert will also feature a premiere of the trailer for the upcoming documentary, which will be released on the Sugu.tv website – a new platform aimed at presenting films about Maltese history and culture.

The documentary is the culmination of months of research by Camilleri and explores the life of the legendary Maltese drummer George Caruana, better known by his performing name Tony Carr. Carr made important contributions to Malta’s music scene and later found fame abroad playing with some of the biggest names in musical history. But according to Camilleri, like many of Carr’s contemporaries, his legacy has been forgotten. 

“We have what I like to call a broken history of what really happened in jazz in Malta. Its history is interesting but for some reason is lost and not given the recognition it deserves,” he said. 

“In general, in Malta I feel that we tend to conceal the origin of things – either due to lack of documentation or for fear of not being the first at doing something.

“I hope that this will make the story whole with a better understanding of local popular music for future generations,” said Camilleri.

Carr was a Valletta-born percussionist who learned his trade in the bars and music halls of Strait Street, at the time bustling with Allied troops during  World War II.

In 1953, he emigrated to the UK, there becoming a regular fixture on London’s thriving jazz scene and quickly developing a respected reputation as a skilled and engaging performer.

Carr would go on to perform as a session musician for artists including Ella Fitzgerald, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones of Led Zepplin, Robert Plant, Madness, The Alan Parsons Project, Donovan and Bryan Ferry, among others.

Earlier this month, he celebrated his 96th birthday.

Camilleri researched Carr’s life while studying for a master’s degree in ethnomusicology, with his thesis focusing on the life and work of the successful Maltese drummer whom he stresses was an “important figure” in the British jazz scene of the 1950s and 1960s. 

Carr made important contributions to Malta’s music scene and later found fame abroad playing with some of the biggest names in musical history

He subsequently received funding from Arts Council Malta to bring his research to life and turn it into a documentary. The research was adapted for screen by Cedric Vella, who also directed the film.

The result, Strait Street to Abbey Road, is the first of its kind and promises to introduce viewers to a previously unexplored slice of Malta’s rich cultural past.

In addition to Carr, the film covers a wealth of prominent musicians who made significant impacts on the local scene.

American multi-instrumentalist Juice Wilson settled in Malta in the 1940s after years touring Europe.American multi-instrumentalist Juice Wilson settled in Malta in the 1940s after years touring Europe.

They include local legend saxophonist Sammy Murgo and the skilled American multi-instrumentalist Juice Wilson, who settled in Malta in the 1940s after years touring Europe.

Thursday’s concert promises to be a fitting behind-the-scenes look at the work which went into the film, with pieces written and performed by Maltese musicians providing an appropriate partner for this rare glimpse into the country’s musical past.

While the programme focuses on pieces written for the country’s first jazz trio, these works have been arranged for quintet by the band’s pianist, Dominic Galea.

Joining Galea and Camilleri onstage will be saxophonist and flautist Walter Vella, trumpeter Alex Bezzina and bassist Anthony Saliba.

In all, Thursday’s concert promises to be a true original in the country’s burgeoning jazz scene. Not only does it feature performances by some of the country’s most accomplished and active jazz musicians, but it also shines a light on an area of Malta’s past that deserves recognition.

While it is vital to recognise the work of those active in the country’s jazz scene today, it is important to not forget the efforts of those who came before.

Malta’s early jazz pioneers did more than perform to audiences; they helped stimulate the growth of an entire music scene in the country and developed and inspired the next generation of musicians.

In documenting these players and their work, Camilleri is helping to preserve an important part of Malta’s history while bringing it to life for new audiences.

I have no hesitation in recommending Thursday’s performance, which promises to be both an engaging concert and a tribute to these early pioneers of jazz in Malta.

 

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