It’s all about the jazz
Sandro Zerafa has been involved in music for what seems like forever, perhaps more so since moving to Paris 12 years ago. Yet even from a distance, the talented guitarist and composer has maintained a close connection with his homeland.
He visits regularly, on occasion also accompanied by musicians from the bands he plays with in the City of Light. In 2009, he was appointed artistic director of the Malta Jazz Festival.
Zerafa’s move to Paris came after the completion of studies at the Conservatoire de Lyon; a move that would enable him to pursue his passion further by immersing himself in the Paris jazz scene and beyond.Winner of several awards, Zerafa is a founding member of the Paris Jazz Underground collective and – apart from collaborating with several artists on various albums – he has also released two internationally-acclaimed CD albums, the latest of which, Urban Poetics, was premiered at the Manoel Theatre earlier this year.
When you were first asked to direct the Malta Jazz Festival, were there any particular issues or points you wanted to focus on once you had accepted the job?
My first and foremost concern was to provide a line-up which finds the perfect equilibrium between jazz of a wide public appeal and cutting-edge jazz. I always try to present an artistically coherent panorama of contemporary jazz in all its different mutations. I also consecrate a special place to contemporary jazz from New York, which for me represents the leading edge.
Three editions down the line and a fourth about to start soon, what significant changes do you feel have been implemented, and how were they received and what impact on the festival have they had?
I think that in the past three editions I have managed to prove that a jazz festival can be successful without succumbing to the complacency of a line-up dominated by pop/watered-down jazz acts which seem to pollute many jazz festivals nowadays.
I also think that the artistic director of a festival has an important role to stimulate the local scene and integrate the local jazz community in the festival’s line-up. Through the festival I have the opportunity to create collaborations between Maltese and foreign musicians, which have proved to be very fruitful.
This year’s edition has been labelled a ‘cocktail of styles’. What are you seeking to bring together this time that maybe stands out next to previous editions?
Eclecticism has always been the keyword at the Malta Jazz Festival.
This year it’s going to be yet another celebration of jazz in all its different forms. We have Latin-infused jazz with Al di Meola and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, vocal jazz with Dianne Reeves and Terri Lyne Carrington, cutting-edge jazz from New York with Will Vinson.
There is also Jeremy Pelt, guardian of the jazz tradition and one of the leading purveyors of adventurous post-bop.
We are also proud to be hosting the great Chano Dominguez who will be closing the festival with his unique combination of flamenco and jazz, featuring a flamenco dancer and vocalist.
Virtuoso pianist Tigran Hamasyan will also be one of the highlights of this year’s festival, with his lyrical and rhythmically adventurous style, drawing inspiration from the folk melodies of his native Armenia.
The 2012 line-up is quite impressive, ranging from the return of a legend, Al di Meola, to the acclaimed young talent of Tigran Hamasyan…
Throughout its 22 years of existence the Malta Jazz Festival has hosted major jazz icons and also up-and-coming talent. I intend to continue that tradition.
Jazz goes through constant change all the time and it is important for a festival to present jazz in its cutting-edge forms too, not just stick to the great crowd pullers.
Al di Meola, Chano Dominguez and Terri Lyne Carrington with Dianne Reeves are the big crowd pullers this year. Tigran, Jeremy Pelt and Will Vinson may be less familiar with Maltese audiences, however they are big on the international jazz scene and I am happy that the Maltese audience will discover these great artists who are shaping the future of jazz at Ta’ Liesse.
This year’s edition is accompanied by the Off fringe festival…
Last year we introduced the first edition of the Off festival. This year we will be presenting an expanded version of this ‘sidekick’ festival. The Off festival is supported by MIA and will help create a buzz around the main event by bringing jazz to various nightspots and venues around Malta.
It will also include jazz master-classes/workshops by festival musicians, and this year we’re also inaugurating a partnership with the Sergio Amato jazz festival in Canicattini Bagni in Sicily.
Your most memorable Malta Jazz Festival moment since becoming its director is...
Without a doubt it was the opening night of the 2009 edition, which was the first one I directed.
There was a lot of anticipation surrounding the event, and the Brad Mehldau performance was sacred.
An update on your ongoing musical projects…
I’m planning a new recording of my music for 2013, but I’ve actually just recorded an album with the Paris Jazz Underground sextet.
The album features some of my new compositions and will be out in September or October on our PJU label. I’ve listened to the master, which has been beautifully mixed and mastered by Katsuhiko Naito in Avatar Studios in New York, and it sounds great. We’ll be performing at Radio France in September.
There is also a new CD with the Italian clarinet player Nico Gori scheduled for release at the end of this year; otherwise I am quite busy performing in Paris and elsewhere as a sideman with different projects.
The Malta Jazz Festival runs between Thursday and Sunday at Ta’ Liesse Waterfront, Valletta. It is supported by the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts and the Culture Ministry, Go, MSV Life, Switch Cyberpass, and Phoenicia Hotel.