Stoking the lonely fire | Joseph Camilleri

The Dominic Galea Quartet will be performing at the Tribute to Miles Davis concert, taking place on April 22 at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, Valletta. We spoke to the quartet’s drummer, Joseph Camilleri ‘il-Bibi’ about the great man’s legacy and his own musical journey

Joseph Camilleri ‘il-Bibi’ • Photo by Sergio Muscat
Joseph Camilleri ‘il-Bibi’ • Photo by Sergio Muscat

Could you tell us a little bit about your trajectory as a musician?

I remember arriving at my grandparents’ house in Valletta and at their doorstep we would hear my grandfather, Frank ‘Bibi’ Camilleri, playing jazz standards on piano. He was a huge influence for me to start studying piano. Later on, my father, Joe – a percussionist himself, started teaching me drums and percussion.

I furthered my studies at The Institute, Contemporary Music College in London from where I graduated with a BMus (Hons) Degree. I also studied privately with drummers such as Rod Youngs, Asaf Sirkis and Ze Eduardo Nazario. Currently, I teach at the Johann Strauss, School of Music and work as a freelance musician. 

What are some of the most important things you’ve learnt over the years that have helped you grow in your music?

Being passionate, humble and self-disciplined. I also find it important to heed advice from accomplished musicians.  

How did your musical taste evolve over the years, and how did you incorporate this evolution in your sound?

Listening to the jazz greats was and still is a very important part, I am influenced by musicians like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and the list goes on. Then I became intrigued by Brazilian and Afro-Cuban music.
This motivated me to study various rhythms on hand percussion such as pandeiro and congas. The latter research helped me achieve a more organic sound on my playing. 

How would you describe the influence of Miles Davis in particular and on the jazz scene in general?

Miles Davis’ innovative style of playing was highly conducive to the developments of jazz music including bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, post-bop and jazz fusion. Jazz musicians of our generation are fusing different styles; this is something that Miles started doing in the jazz fusion movement when he fused rock with jazz with the Album Miles in the Sky (1968). 

Are you looking forward to this upcoming tribute concert? What can audiences expect from it?

Of course! We’ve included some of the most exquisite tunes from Miles’ repertoire in our programme. The audience are guaranteed to have an enjoyable evening.

What do you make of the local musical scene? What would you change about it?

There are quite a few opportunities available for artists who want to showcase their talent in Malta, which is very good. It is a pity that sometimes people attend events for all reasons apart from that to listen and appreciate live music.

On another note, I see budding talented musicians who are very enthusiastic – my advice to them is to respect and learn as much as they can from the older generation. Jazz clubs or venues where music equipment is always available for musicians would be ideal to encourage communication rather than competition.

What’s next for you?

One week after the concert I am flying to Bergamo where I shall be playing at three different venues – all celebrating International Jazz Day. Straight after that, I will be heading to Paris together with Joe Debono, Oliver De Gabriele and Carlo Muscat to record an upcoming album that consists of original compositions by the latter. 

The Tribute to Miles Davis concert will be taking place at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, Valletta on April 22 at 20:00. Tickets are at €10. Bookings:

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