International Jazz Day
Last Thursday, 30th April, was International Jazz day. Jazz is such an interesting genre of music – it’s a love/hate thing. I know that I really didn’t appreciate it at all until I started trying to paint the musicians at the Malta Jazz Festival over 20 years ago. Back then, I was married to a piano player who loved to play jazz but made his living trotting out pop tunes in tourist bars. He and his equally frustrated friends would get together and improvise (usually in our house) for hours. As I said, I didn’t ‘get’ it at all at the time.
One of those musicians was Charles ‘City’ Gatt, a well known Maltese drummer and percussionist. He set up the Malta Jazz Festival 25 years ago this year and started to bring over leading and up and coming jazz musicians from all over the world to play for three or four evenings every July. It began quite informally, with cushions on the ground in front of a stage set up below the imposing bastions of Grand Harbour in Valletta. City poured his heart into those few days and the Jazz Festival grew to be a popular part of the annual Malta Arts Festival. It now has proper seating, food and drink stalls and a state of the art sound stage. There are also many Jazz Fringe events, the Malta Jazz Contest, and masterclasses held by some of the visiting musicians.
City also paints, and when I asked him if I could try working on the spot back in 1993, he didn’t seem at all surprised. I turned up with my paraphernalia and two young daughters and we all had a great time. After that, artist friends often joined me; Ebba von Fersen Balzan and Olaug Vethal were my companions for many years. We had several jazz exhibitions of the works we produced.
I paint with acrylics on black gesso-covered paper. I usually manage to capture most of the image I am after within about ten minutes. Sometimes I need to work on the painting a little afterwards, but I have to be very wary about ‘fiddling’ too much with them, as they lose their vibrancy quite easily. They are not photographic, they are impressions of how I am experiencing the music, the lights, the physical shapes and the general buzz. I may produce around 20 images in one evening, but probably discard most of them afterwards. This takes an awful lot of energy and focus. I could take photographs and/or make sketches to work on afterwards, but there’s nothing quite like dancing around and reacting to the music as I feel it.
Over the years of painting it, I have come to appreciate jazz in a deep and passionate way. I heard an interview on BBC radio this morning, celebrating International Jazz Day. Musicians were being asked what they thought made jazz so unique. I am paraphrasing, but they said that jazz is all about being able to improvise. Humans improvise their way through life, acting and reacting to what happens around them. Jazz is like a conversation, where everyone has the freedom to express themselves and a contribution to make, but also a responsibility to the collective whole. There can be no mistakes, as an out-of-place note can be elaborated on to create something beyond the intended result. Obviously, this takes years of practice and study – it goes much further than simply learning to play an instrument and reciting music. The same kind of active problem solving is very useful in life. If you practice this approach in music –or painting – you will find it easier to apply the same principles to solving problems in more creative ways.
SO – to celebrate International Jazz Day I am offering all my jazz paintings at less than half price for a week! That’s 180 euro each until next Friday 8th May.Contact me through my website http://www.jenicaruana.com or call (0356) 21575712 to reserve any paintings. P&P depends on the country but is usually quite reasonable from Malta as the paintings can easily be rolled into tubes. Make the most of this; I am feeling generous!
This year the Malta Jazz Festival is on four nights; 16th – 19th July. To see the line up and to book tickets go to http://www.maltajazzfestival.org