Fabian Demicoli

The Malta Jazz Festival 2006

The Malta Jazz Festival 2006 will be organised by NnG promotions, a private company known for organising pop concerts of renowned singers like Elton John, Eros Ramazzotti and Claudio Baglioni. An agreement signed on the 31 January 2006 between the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts and NnG promotions saw the end to what ‘is-City’ had started 16 years ago. Philip Fenech and Sandro Zerafa give their views about the privatisation of the festival and its impending mainstreaming

The Malta Jazz Festival 2006 will be organised by NnG promotions, a private company known for organising pop concerts of renowned singers like Elton John, Eros Ramazzotti and Claudio Baglioni. An agreement signed on the 31 January 2006 between the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts and NnG promotions saw the end to what ‘is-City’ had started 16 years ago. Philip Fenech and Sandro Zerafa give their views about the privatisation of the festival and its impending mainstreaming

For:
Philip Fenech, owner of BJ’s Live Music Venue Manager/Director and BJ’s Live Music Venue Manger/Director. He is also President of the leisure and entertainment section at the Malta Chamber of SMEs (GRTU).

The Malta Jazz Festival was held for 16 consecutive years and the credit goes to all those who have been involved in one way or another with the running of the Festival. If it were not for such a Festival and the hard work of these people, we would never have been able to witness some of the greats of contemporary music gracing a Maltese stage, nor would local musicians have had the opportunity to join these artists on stage or play with them in informal jam sessions after the festival was over, through the night at BJ’s.
Unfortunately one cannot but add that the last few years have seen a steep and steady decline in the number of people attending the Jazz Festival. This does not seem to have been just a local phenomenon but rather a global one with most, if not all major Jazz Festivals having to radically overhaul their modus operandi or risk closure. Even Jazz Festivals such as those held in Umbria and Montreux and the North Sea Jazz Festival have had to drastically change their approach and embrace a more popular attitude. Of course the jazz element still remains an integral part of their festivals, yet they have incorporated other more popular forms of music to make their Festivals economically feasible. This is what has been proposed in Malta and I cannot but fully agree that it is the only way the Malta Jazz Festival, which is dependant on both gate money and sponsors who want maximum exposure through the Festival to as many people as possible, can survive.
Maybe one of the questions that one should ask is “Was the Jazz Festival becoming too high-brow?” The attendance figures speak for themselves. This is where the Jazz Festival seemed to be losing its battle locally. The general public does not seem to have remained as attracted by the Jazz Festival as it was in the past and this is because the majority of attendees are not jazz purists. It follows that broadening the musical base of the festival in an attempt to recover a larger audience is the only way forward. The jazz purist might not be happy with this concept, however, from a cultural and educational point of view it makes perfect sense. Bringing in the numbers would also expose more people to the other artists on the bill who fit within the jazz niche, with the result being that jazz gains more fans.
I believe that this is the only option for the Malta Jazz Festival. Instead of criticising NnG Promotions, one should laud them for taking on the financial responsibility of the Malta Jazz Festival in their bid to revive it and keep it going. They have stepped in to regenerate a festival that seemed to be slowly, but surely, winding down with the risk of being wiped off our cultural calendar altogether.

AGAINST:
Sandro Zerafa is a jazz guitarist working in Paris. He holds a BA (Hons) in Music (Malta) and a Medaille d’Or in Jazz guitar from the Lyon conservatory. He placed third at the French National Jazz 2004 contest and the prestigious ‘mention speciale de jury’ for composition at the 2005 edition.

Curiosity is what started it all. 15 years ago my musical tastes did not venture beyond Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth. Down at Ta’ Liesse, jazz changed all this.
It was different, it was not love at first sight but I got hooked.
Since then, every third week of July, a 2,000 strong audience and I would go down beneath St Barbara bastions to get our annual fix of great jazz. Brian Blade, Dave Douglas, Wayne Shorter, Paul Motian …………… – well, … thanks and forever good bye.
The Jazz festival has been murdered.
“Is-City” (Charles Gatt) who made all the magic happen, “thanks and bye”; NnG
Promotions, promoters of top pop musicians will now commercialise the festival. As organisers of pop events they are great but it stops there. Pop makes money, jazz doesn’t.
Jazz has a lower audience appeal and the strength of the Malta Jazz Festival was that it offered an alternative to those who are not into the Song for Europe festival and similar run of the mill musical styles.
Mass entertainment, frivolous as it may be, seems to be high on the authorities’ agenda. Culture has no monetary value – scrap it. Is this really what we’ve come to? How can the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts (MCCA) sign-off culture for so cheap?
It is a well-known fact that jazz is not very lucrative, but jazz festivals are never done for profit. The festival was above all an educational experience. After the Jazz festival I used to be bombarded by young guitar enthusiasts asking for jazz guitar classes. My point is that the festival was getting people to appreciate a different musical idiom which otherwise was absolutely not available on the island during the rest of the year.
We should promote diversity and creativity, culture should stimulate new contrasting ideas, debates and help people be inquisitive. Creative non-lucrative art should be subsidized or else it would be doomed to elitist insularity.
It seems that the new organizers of the Malta Jazz Festival are following the lines of Montreux and Nice jazz festivals, whose line-ups are mainly mainstream and pop acts, but what the MCCA and NnG have not understood is that these festivals happen in countries where there is a healthy jazz scene and hundreds of other jazz clubs and festivals throughout the year. And Montreux and Nice are definitely not representative of the European festival circuit.
In Malta there is nothing which resembles a jazz scene, there is no jazz concert season and the festival was a point of reference on the cultural accretion calendar which greatly contributed to putting Malta on the international musical circuit.

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