Over three consecutive nights at the end of July 1981, the auditorium in Palma became a temple for jazz. The names didn’t get much bigger. With their quartets were Dexter Gordon, Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz. This was the first Festival of Jazz.
Over the following years, the festival was to welcome other great international jazz and blues artists - the B. B. King Blues Band (1982); Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald (1983); The Duke Ellington Orchestra, director Mercer Ellington, and John Coltrane: A Love Supreme Memorial Concert with McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Freddie Hubbard and others (1987); Chick Corea (1988); the Carla Bley Big Band, with Steve Swallow and Lew Soloff numbered amongst them (1990).
The festival ceased to be for what was an extraordinary reason. In 1991, the PSOE socialist administration under mayor Ramón Aguiló was ousted. The Partido Popular won the municipal election. Joan Fageda became mayor, and the festival was deemed to be politically incorrect in PP, conservative terms. Jazz was music for socialists; this, at any rate, is how the explanation goes.
The festival has recently been revived, but its eventual high-summer inheritor was the Sa Pobla festival. Covid has unfortunately deprived Sa Pobla of the type of international artist it has attracted in previous years, one of whom was among those listed above - pianist McCoy Tyner, who I interviewed when he appeared ten years ago.
Tyner was one of a whole host of artists and groups who, from the 1970s onwards, had started to broaden the horizons of jazz and its audience. Others included Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny and Weather Report. But the artist who stood out among all of them was Miles Davis, who in effect had mentored many of those who were part of this new movement.
In 1986, Miles Davis performed at the Palma festival. He and his band showcased the album “Tutu”. Dedicated to Desmond Tutu, the album represented yet more innovation - this time into electronics - for a jazz musician who had long ceased to worry about offending jazz purists. Crossing over into rock and emphasising electric instruments, it was Davis who had laid the groundwork for what happened in the 1970s.
The festival had in fact moved from its high-summer slot. The date of the eighth of November 1986 has been firmly etched into the annals of music in Majorca, and not just those of jazz. The concert at the auditorium was retrospectively defined as “the event of the decade”. Another source has observed that it is no exaggeration to say that in the history of jazz in Palma (and by extension Majorca), there was “a before and an after” the eighth of November.
The before is, however, well worthy of mention. Those concerts for the first Palma festival were by great names, and just over a month before, pianist Keith Jarrett had appeared at the auditorium. Going back further in time, in the 1960s the likes of Louis Armstrong and Lionel Hampton played in Palma. This was in the days before the concert hall at the auditorium; they performed at the city’s clubs.
The before, naturally enough, can’t be divorced from the politics. These were seemingly to re-emerge in 1991, but much earlier there had been different political takes on jazz - those of the Franco regime. It was to be a mark of how the regime’s attitude was to moderate that Louis Armstrong and Lionel Hampton were in Majorca in the mid-sixties.
The rejection of jazz was overtly racist. In 1942, the Falange-controlled vice-secretariat of popular education banned the broadcasting of “so-called black music”. The following year, the Falange circulated all radio stations. This “black music” was symptomatic of “the arbitrary, anti-musical and anti-human wave with which America has invaded Europe for years”. “Nothing further from our virile racial characteristics than those dead, cloying, decadent and monotonous melodies which, like a cry of impotence, soften and feminise the soul, stupefying it in a sickly lassitude.”
Swing music, especially because of the dancing associated with it, which “masculinised” women, was frowned upon. This does make it all the more remarkable that Majorca’s first genuine contributor to jazz - Pere Bonet Mir aka Bonet de San Pedro - was able to thrive in the 1940s, even if one of his best-known songs, “Raska-yú”, was banned in 1943. It was thought to refer to El Caudillo; despite the ban, it was a success.
It was pianist Tete Montoliu, originally from Barcelona but intimately associated with the development of jazz in Majorca, who was to create an acceptance of “modern jazz”. He became famous in the 1950s, and his music was considered to be “authentic” and “intellectual”. Tete Montoliu was the true “before” for jazz in Majorca, and in his own way, he was to be the guiding force who ultimately led to that “event of the decade”.