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Grooving Through Time

34 Years of The Malta Jazz Festival - a brief history

The Malta Jazz Festival, an annual musical extravaganza held each July in Malta, is organized by Festivals Malta, previously a part of Arts Council Malta and the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts. The festival takes place outdoors, adjacent to Our Lady of Liesse Church, on the picturesque Valletta waterfront.

Established in 1990 by Charles 'City' Gatt, the Malta Jazz Festival has welcomed a plethora of world-renowned jazz artists over the years, including Wayne Shorter, John Patitucci, Diana Krall, Chick Corea, Al Di Meola, Natalie Cole, Betty Carter, Michel Petrucciani, Richard Bona, and Mike Stern.

In 2006, the festival faced controversy when it was removed from Charles Gatt's artistic direction, a pioneer of Maltese jazz, and handed over to a private promotion company. This move aimed to transform the festival into a more mainstream 'Rock and Jazz' event. However, subsequent line-ups, lacking contemporary jazz content, led to a decline in the festival's popularity.

In 2009, under the leadership of Maltese musician Sandro Zerafa, the festival returned to its jazz roots, presenting a lineup of internationally acclaimed jazz musicians. This rejuvenation saw performances by esteemed artists such as Bill Stewart, Ari Hoenig, Greg Hutchinson, Dave Weckl, Dave King, Mike Stern, and Richard Bona.

In the following years, the festival continued to attract top-tier talent. The 2011 edition featured Lionel Loueke, Joao Bosco, Monty Alexander, and Avishai Cohen, while the 2012 lineup included Al Di Meola, Terri Lyne Carrington, Chano Dominguez, Tigran Hamasyan, Dianne Reeves, Jeremy Pelt, and Will Vinson

The festival's 2013 edition showcased acts like the Robert Glasper Experiment, Vijay Iyer Trio, Gregory Porter, Michel Camilo Trio, and Gilad Hekselman Quartet, among others. Similarly, subsequent years featured renowned artists such as Warren Wolf, Tom Harrell, Kneebody, Brecker Brothers Band Reunion, Ada Rovatti, Barry Finnerty, Brad Mehldau, and Mark Guiliana.

In 2016, the festival expanded its venue to include Valletta's City Gate for its opening night, featuring acts like Mike Stern, Snarky Puppy, and Marcus Roberts' trio. Over the years, the festival has continued to attract stellar performers, including Mark Guiliana, Al Di Meola, Chick Corea, John Patitucci, and Dave Weckl.

The 2019 festival showcased talents like Jazzmeia Horn, Kenny Garrett, Ozmosys, and Chucho Valdés, alongside local acts such as the William Smith Trio and Dominic Galea. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 and 2021 editions were held in reduced formats, featuring virtual components.

The 2022 edition paid homage to the festival's founder, Charles 'City' Gatt, who passed away in February 2022, and featured performances by Clark Tracey & Dominic Galea Legacy Quintet, Richard Bona & Alfredo Rodriguez, and Daniele Cordisco quintet, among others.

The 2023 festival, held between July 11 and 15, boasted a lineup headlined by Samara Joy, Kurt Rosenwinkel Quartet, Kurt Elling featuring Charlie Hunter, Immanuel Wilkins, The New York Blue Note Quintet, and Raynald Colom Quintet.

Sandro Zerafa, the artistic director, expressed that the Malta Jazz Festival stands as one of the most enduring events on the island, widely acknowledged for its commitment to artistic distinction. This year's rendition pays homage to two recently departed jazz luminaries, Ahmad Jamal and Wayne Shorter. Throughout the festival, jazz enthusiasts, newcomers, and leading figures in the jazz realm converge in an intimate setting amidst the enchanting Mediterranean backdrop.

The festival is scheduled to take place from July 8th to July 13th and features The New York Blue Note Quintet, Rob Clearfield, Yoni Zelnik, Francesco Ciniglio, Laurent Coq Trio, Reynald Colom Quintet, Daniel Sant, Dean Montanaro, William Smith, Paul Giordimania Trio - SFERA, Immanuel Wilkins Quartet, Samara Joy, Carlo Muscat Kyiv Quartet, Kurt Rosenwinkel Quartet, and Superblue: Kurt Elling ft. Charlie Hunter.

In 2022, The Malta Jazz Festival bid farewell to its founder Charles ‘City’ Gatt, whose legacy was immortalized on the poster for that year’s edition.

All photographs showcased here were captured by Silvano Mangiafico over the span of these 34 years of the festival.

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