Despite a last minute, enforced change of venue, the Cairo Jazz Mania Festival managed to get under way more or less on schedule. The new venue was one of Cairo's most interesting tourist sites, the Citadel, a 16th century Mamluk castle set high above Cairo and it provided an incredible backdrop for live jazz performances. Lack of sufficient publicity meant that crowds were relatively small but what they lacked in size they made up for in enthusiasm. High spots were the Jazzex Band, an a capella, close harmony vocal sextet from the Ukraine, French melodian player, Richard Galliano, jazz diva from Fiji, Michelle Rounds, an unknown but incredibly talented piano player, Alejandro Falcon from Cuba whose speed and intricate improvisations left one breathless and the joint German/Egyptian collaborative band led by Matthias Frey with Rudi Siebert on saxes.
For next year's festival, I have been invited to join the festival board, a dubious accolade as it means a year of shear hard and unpaid work ahead. I am planning to take a leaf out of Norman Granz' book and invite a couple of rhythm sections and a bevvy of top soloists who will be invited to "battle" and jam on stage. So, far, the response from one famous and indredibly talented bebop trumpeter, who was my first invitee, was extremely enthusiastic. Let's see how things pan out during the the rest of the year. Watch this space for ongoing reports.