Good things happen slowly | Joseph Camilleri, Blue Tangerine

Drummer for the nine-piece jazz ensemble Blue Tangerine, Joseph Camilleri, speaks to TEODOR RELJIC about their freshly launched self-titled debut album

Blue Tangerine are: Vincent Jacqz (piano, arrangements, musical direction), Angela Vella Zarb (voice), Karl Galea (guitar), Dean Montanaro (bass), Joseph Camilleri (drums), Florent Hinschberger (trumpet, flugelhorn), Philippe Lopes de Sa (tenor sax, soprano sax), Benoit Crauste (alto sax), Michel Berelowitch (trombone) and Nils Wekstein (percussion). Photo by Ory Minie
Blue Tangerine are: Vincent Jacqz (piano, arrangements, musical direction), Angela Vella Zarb (voice), Karl Galea (guitar), Dean Montanaro (bass), Joseph Camilleri (drums), Florent Hinschberger (trumpet, flugelhorn), Philippe Lopes de Sa (tenor sax, soprano sax), Benoit Crauste (alto sax), Michel Berelowitch (trombone) and Nils Wekstein (percussion). Photo by Ory Minie

Could you tell us a little bit about the Blue Tangerine project? How did it first come about, and what was the driving philosophy behind it?

In 2015, I was awarded first prize at the Malta Jazz contest. The prize was to play several concerts in Bergamo, which I performed in April 2016. In addition to this, I had the opportunity to play on the main stage at the Malta Jazz Festival in July 2016. For the latter event, Sandro Zerafa, the artistic director of the festival, got an idea for a collaboration between Maltese and French musicians.

Sandro contacted me to discuss the rhythm section following which he established a connection between the Edim School in Paris
and ourselves.

The Fringe Youth Jazz Orchestra was born. We rehearsed together for three days and played in the concert. Having received very positive comments on the performance and since we all felt that we connected well with each other we were eager to develop this project further. Since then we played at Sunset Jazz Club (Paris) and we were once again invited to play at the Malta Jazz Festival in 2018, this time as Blue Tangerine.

This led us to further our collaboration by documenting some of the music we play and record them in a professional album which was recorded last March at Studio De Meudon in Paris.

A nine-piece band sounds like quite a challenge of coordination, even more so when musicians from two countries are involved. With this in mind, what is the dynamic between the band members like, and what motivates you to remain on the same wavelength?

It is a challenge, especially since we do not meet often to rehearse. We always rehearse for a few days before the performances. In a way, that’s the beauty of it because we manage to communicate and to create something with limited time and can be spontaneous. The music is great, with original compositions and arrangements by Vincent Jacqz. Beautiful melodies, yet challenging for us to give our best interpretation for the arrangements.

The motivation to work together and create this synergy in performance is high and helps us to grow as a band and also as individual musicians.

I personally feel it has helped me grow as a person above all. We get along together well since we all have a passion for this music and it’s a rare occasion to have a project like this, so it’s something I always look forward to.

How does the mix of both Maltese and French musicians contribute to the sound of the band?

Since we all have a passion for this music, we can relate to each other. We all give our contribution in our own individual ways. For example, Vincent [piano, arrangements, musical direction] shares his arrangements and when we then meet for rehearsals we encourage each other to give our personal interpretation or suggestions on what can be done on specific parts of the pieces to achieve a great result.

Most of us are enthusiastic and compose our own tunes. For example one of the tunes from the album entitled ‘Indi Gogo’ is composed by our trombone player, Michel Berelowitch. Also the lyrics for ‘April’, an original by Vincent, are written by our singer Angela Vella Zarb. I myself composed a drum solo as an introduction for an original tune composed by Vincent. Hence this synergy in working as a team, but also with our own individual contributions to the compositions, based on our backgrounds and cultures, gives Blue Tangerine a character of its own.

Joseph Camilleri. Photo by Steve Delia
Joseph Camilleri. Photo by Steve Delia

What can you tell us about this upcoming album? What are some of the key influences in it, and how would you say it builds on your previous work?

Traditional styles of music fused with modern elements. This project involves styles that I researched, studied and practised throughout my years of being a student of music. One small anecdote I recall is how Vincent did arrangements of some tunes by Hermeto Pascaol, a great Brazilian composer. Coincidentally, years ago when I was in Brazil I took some lessons from a Brazilian drummer called Zé Eduardo Nazario. Only recently I found out he was one of the drummers for Hermeto Pascoal, something I didn’t know at the time.

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

The local music scene is getting better and better. We’ve finally got two main clubs that host good music on a weekly basis, and this is really good for the local musicians who want to exhibit their work for the serious listener.

The Malta Jazz Festival is also a very important platform, one of the best in Europe in my opinion, which not only brings in high level musicians but also great masterclasses for music students. It also creates the opportunity for locals to open up for international artists.

“We need to educate and teach our children to listen to the right kind of music from a very young age”

More local musicians are taking music studies very seriously and I also feel good local music is being produced. We are opening up as musicians, and should keep striving to support each other’s projects. However I feel that tradition is being lost. And tradition, for me, is the root of all music. I honestly think we need to educate and teach our children to listen to the right kind of music from a very young age. I believe it makes an impact and a difference in our society, it makes it a better one and it makes us more sensitive to certain things in life. Sensitivity, a feeling which is being lost unfortunately.

What’s next for you?

I try to take things at a slow pace with whatever I do in my life. At the moment I am focusing mostly on this project and I am looking forward to the launch of the album in Paris which is going to be held on September 12 at Sunset Jazz Club.

Apart from that, are booked for two other concerts in October, also in Paris. After that, I’ll be open to any opportunities that come by. I have a dream to tour with this band, it would surely be an enriching experience.

Last year I read an autobiography by a Jazz pianist, Fred Hersch, ‘Good Things Happen Slowly’. I believe they truly do.

Meanwhile another passion of mine is music education and I am at the moment very happy teaching drums and percussion at the Malta School Of Music, I look forward for the next scholastic year to share my new experiences with my students.

Blue Tangerine’s self-titled debut album was supported by the Malta Arts Fund.

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