Without a doubt one of the more prolific artists on the island, Dominic Galea is also rather versatile, but it is perhaps for his deep involvement in the world of jazz that he is best known for. His latest album Jozetta, essentially dedicated to his partner Josette and released under the name of Dominic Galea’s London Quintet, is possibly one of the closest to his heart. It is an album with a special meaning that transcends music. Michael Bugeja speaks to Dominic Galea ahead of his upcoming performance at this year’s Malta Jazz Festival, where he will be accompanied by the London Quintet.
There’s a story linking music and friendship that resulted in the making of this new album, isn’t there?
Yes, it is a connection that actually dates back to the 1950s, when my father Sammy (Galea) had gone to London to study jazz piano with Stan Tracey, one of the Godfathers of British jazz. The two struck up a friendship that has remained strong, connecting our two families ever since. Around three years ago, my partner Josette and I went to the Herts Jazz Festival in the UK, where Stan was performing his legendary Under Milkwood Jazz Suite with his quartet. Unfortunately this was the last time I would see Stan as he passed away soon after, just days short of his 87th birthday.
Stan’s son Clark features on the new album….
Yes, Clark and I go back a long way too. He is a top drummer and percussionist who, along with his wife Sylvia Rae, organizes various jazz events in the UK. We spent some time with them during one of their recent holidays in Malta, where we discussed several ideas and I played them some of my work, which they clearly liked, as last September I was invited to perform with Clark’s band at the Herts Jazz Festival myself. This was a dream come true for me, as I would never have dared ask Clark to be given such a wonderful opportunity. Knowing that the festival has a very high standard, and that Clark, who is the director, is rather selective about who he plays with, I obviously felt very privileged. It was also during this occasion that I got to meet the three amazing musicians, trumpet player Martin Shaw, Brandon Allen (tenor sax) and Mark Lewandowski (double bass) who, together with Clark Tracey and myself form the London Quintet.
When did you first think of this project, and how important was its realization?
It was after my Herts Jazz Festival experience; I think it was actually Sylvia Rae who suggested we should record an album featuring my compositions. Clark took care of putting the band together and last March I went up to London to record it. To work with and be appreciated and acknowledged by musicians of such a high calibre was, and still is very important and rewarding to me. It proves that my work has a certain value, and I’m especially proud of the fact that the album was released on Clark’s own record label, TenToTen. The official launch will take place in London later this year, but we’ll be giving it a soft launch when we perform at this year’s Malta Jazz Festival.
Apart from your own compositions, the album features Ten Past Eleven, a track written by your father Sammy. Was there a particular reason for its inclusion?
Whenever it is possible, I always try to feature something from my father’s works alongside mine. He has so many tracks written in the 1960s and 1970s, when he was at the peak of his career, that I truly love, some of them even more than I love my own compositions. They were written at a time when there were far fewer opportunities and facilities. Ten Past Eleven has always been one of my favourites, primarily because it's in the bebop style that I love. It was also the theme for a show of the same name that used to be go out live on Rediffusion from the Sheraton Hotel (now the Westin Dragonara). The show started at 11.10pm and featured live performances by the Sammy Galea Quartet and the hotel's resident vocalists. Of course, it also made sense to include a track by my father on this album because he was after all the link that first connected our family and the Tracey's.
How did you go about choosing which tracks to include on the album?
The tracks on Jozetta were written at different times in my life, mainly between 2003 and 2009. They were never really intended to feature on the same project, but I chose them specifically as they are all very special to me. I had never recorded them before as they're not quite straightforward compositions, and I wanted to be sure that whoever performed them would do them justice. I'm very pleased at the way they turned out on the album.
Did you have a specific direction in mind or was it more of a free approach?
The album features 8 tracks, four of which are based on traditional harmonies in the bebop style, while the other four have a more modern post-bop progressive harmony. The idea and form is clearly portrayed in each track, which makes it easier for the listener to follow. I'd been wanting to record a bebop album with a quintet for quite some time, so I'm very pleased now that the album is ready. This quintet actually has two names, linked to Malta and the UK. The name on the album is Dominic Galea's London Quintet, but when we perform the album here during the Malta Jazz Festival, we'll be performing as the UK Connection. There are very bright prospects ahead for this project, details of which I'll be divulging later. For the time being, we're look forward to playing at the Malta Jazz Festival.
An edited version of this article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta's ESCAPE magazine (17 July 2016)