by Ian Mann
December 12, 2020
Lynne Gornall pays tribute to jazz / flamenco singer Celia Mur, who died in 2019, and recalls Celia's performance at the 2013 Brecon Jazz Festival, footage of which has recently become available.
This article was first published in the Brecon & Radnor Express on November 13th 2020.
The photograph depicts, left to right Arturo Serra (vibraphone), Celia Mur (vocals), Juan Galiardo (piano) and Xavi Hinojosa (drums) relaxing in Brecon.
A TRIBUTE TO CELIA MUR, JAZZ/FLAMENCO SINGER FROM SPAIN
We’ve been digging back into the archives recently. Not deep history but fairly recent history. In this case, looking at the year 2013. We wanted to put onto our online Festival platform with Vialma a special concert performed in 2013.
It featured the late singer Celia Mur; the idea, to celebrate her music through re-playing recordings from a much loved event that was held in the Brecon Guildhall that year.
The jazz vocalist Celia Mur was originally from Granada in Spain and the daughter of an esteemed Flamenco guitarist and composer, Antonio Fernández de Moya. Her training as a singer (in Granada, Barcelona and New York) encompassed flamenco and classical forms, which “endowed
her with a powerful technique of her own” (newspaper tribute).
She travelled widely, teaching, running workshops, collaborating with other musicians to develop her art and explore new ideas. She created many CD recordings along the way.
Celia was a regular performer with the Granada Big Band, and appeared at Jazz Festivals throughout Europe, as well as performing in the USA.
People often ask us how we find or know about the musicians that we book to come to Wales and Brecon to play. The answer is that we attend things, we contact contacts of contacts, we listen, watch, make friends, network and travel.
Arturo Serra, a highly acclaimed jazz vibraphone player on the European scene and based near Malaga in Spain, had originally contacted us via Facebook - as many do. We exchanged message introductions and Arturo said he’d send us a CD to listen to, in case we should be able to offer a booking one day. He did and we liked the instrumental quartet album he sent us.
Months later, we were on holiday in Spain with other friends, staying in the mountains above Ronda in Andalucia and in the west around Cadiz. Realising we were heading back via the coast, we thought “perhaps we should give Arturo a call and see if he is around”.
He was, and we met for coffees and a long, animated talk at a port café in the town of Estepona in Southern Spain, Arturo driving from Malaga, some 45 miles away and we from Jerez, a similar distance. We also found out that Arturo was employed professionally as a musician (the percussionist) in the Malaga Philharmonic orchestra, with jazz his ‘second’ career, and fitting everything all into one very busy life!
During that warm, extended conversation in Spain, the idea of Arturo and his quartet coming to Wales to play a feature concert started to take shape. We were not very experienced, in 2012/3, in ‘importing’ jazz names into UK, so there was a lot to think about and to plan! We were very particular about the line up too, knowing how many tickets we would have to sell to pay for all these artists to appear in the UK and their travel there!
So we discussed who would play. Arturo listed his key talents – Juan Galiardo, the jazz pianist and his closest musical associate, and Xavi Hinojosa, their mutual friend, and the very best of drummers – la batteria (drums) in Spanish.
Their homes and lives were a story of Spain: Arturo living near Malaga but originally from Valencia where his family had fruit farms, Juan born in Seville, graduating from Cadiz and living in San Roque not far from the border between Spain and Gibraltar, and Xavi, whose name shows his Catalan origins, and was based in Barcelona. The bass player for the group, we all agreed, could be appointed in UK. They would approach an Irishman Mike Coady, living in London, who they’d played with before and knew their musical style.
It was all beginning to sound amazing. The quartet of star players was coming together; still, we asked Arturo, is there someone else, special, that our audience would really love, someone you know who blends well with this group? “Celia Mur”, came the reply, a truly wonderful singer,
influenced by flamenco, who was now living and working in Valencia, teaching music and jazz at the Spanish campus of the famous Berklee College of Boston.
The musicians would often travel many miles to play together. Arturo would see if she was free. We could hardly believe it – such an exciting moment. We knew it would be an incredible experience for our Festival audience, to be able to see and hear this hugely talented group of musicians in Brecon. We also needed to give them a ‘double billing’, with both Celia and Arturo being high profile names in their own right.
Typically it was ‘no problem’ and Arturo suggested using ‘Arturo Serra Quartet meets Celia Mur’ which was perfect and such a lovely form of expression, signifying a really special musical ‘encounter’ – something for everyone to look forward to, and for us to promote.
Celia and the musicians arrived in UK from Spain that August -unforgettably arriving from the airport in a chilly British summer without any coats! To us, the weather was warm and pleasant, but it bore no relation to what one could expect from the heat of that month in Andalucia!
The fifth member, Mike Coady would travel to Brecon on the morning of the concert. Thus, the Spanish musicians embarked on an adventure that would intensely affect us all.
Two of the band members, Celia and Arturo, stayed with us, with Juan and Xavi in local guest houses, this was for several days both before and after the concert. It gave a unique opportunity to spend time together and also to listen in on the musicians’ preparations for the concert. In our kitchen, three - Celia, Arturo, Juan - sat debating their proposed ‘set list’, and what would be included in the programme, how they’d do them, the order and so on. It was punctuated with laughter, scribbling and the humming of tunes.
There was a trip too, down the A470 to Cardiff, to look around and take in the ‘big city’, which they all really enjoyed, with Celia posing as a tourist and paying homage to the venue ‘Cafe Jazz’, in St Mary Street, which they were delighted to see.
And so to the event we had all been waiting and preparing for. At that time, Orchard Media were running the Festival overall, and the Jazz Club programmed just a few keynote (we thought!) concerts within this.
This is how it was billed -
Sunday 11th August, 5.00 - 6.15pm Guildhall. BRECON JAZZ CLUB Presents: ‘ARTURO SERRA QUARTET meets CELIA MUR’, with Arturo Serra, Vibraphone / Juan Galiardo, Piano / Mick Coady, Bass / Xavi Hinojosa, Drums / Celia Mur, Guest Vocalist.
One of the best- established jazz ensembles on the Spanish jazz scene joins the team at Brecon. The quartet led by the Getxo Festival prize winner Arturo Serra, provides a brilliant musical partnership linking Andalucia, Catalonia and Wales. With exciting vocal contributions from Celia Mur span Gershwin, Flamenco Jazz, and Bobby Hutcherson inspired numbers.
In collaboration with Orchard, jazz friends, other Welsh clubs, media contacts and our networks, we’d done our promotion well and the concert sold out days before the event. And it was an incredible evening – of humour and fun, a band happy with itself and who loved each other and
the music of jazz, a warm, knowledgeable, Brecon audience and set in a classic venue.
One of many memorable moments that night was when the chimes of the Tower bells played the hour for 6pm. It was just as Celia was announcing their final number. The musicians stopped, frozen, then, in an instant, Arturo moved to pick out the notes of the chimes and played
them on the vibes, still quite bell-like. The audience loved it and everyone laughed together, it was a delightful, cherished moment. Complete togetherness, and an unplanned interruption made into something clever and fun, and beyond differences of language and cultures.
It is something that Celia and all the musicians brought to us, a positive creativity and where minor issues were just dissolved. In those few days, nothing troubled Celia and she brought people together constantly, a guiding, sensitive and life enhancing spirit in our midst.
Ever since that wonderful event, we kept in touch with the band, chatting and swapping news. The concert had meant a lot to them too, and to Celia especially.
We always planned for them to return to play in Brecon, and felt that a three year gap was about right. We’d spoken to Pizza Express in London, where the band also played before returning to Spain, and they said any opportunity to have these musicians again would definitely result in a booking there.
So it was a big shock when we heard from Arturo in 2017 and then Juan that Celia was ill. Then followed treatment and she was very unwell but slowly recovered and began playing again. We knew that this was not the time to suggest a European/UK tour. Instead, we followed their work and recordings, biding our time, admiring their collaborations and travels across Spain to play gigs and special concerts everywhere.
Then, planning for Brecon Jazz 2018, we had Arturo and Celia in mind, but they were busy that August and so we thought, maybe 2019. Sadly, Celia became very unwell and she died in August 2019.
Her loss is a great and significant one. Celia’s musician friends, as Juan Galiardo described it to us, “are all heartbroken”. As a teacher as well as a performer, Ceila had numerous students, was known to many, admired and beloved by friends, family and artists across the country. A great communicator, a wonderful singer and interpreter of lyrics, Celia was someone who brought together traditions, singing sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish, making the ‘American’ songbook sound uniquely her own.
In preparing at our home for her Brecon concert, Celia would play Ella Fitzgerald to warm up. She also skilfully fashioned a scarf from our wardrobe into a ‘flower’ for her hair, a truly ‘flamenco’ style signifier for us all to enjoy. You can see it in the video recordings of the concert set
at the time.
We are bringing some of these recordings back, and which our Festival partner VIALMA, will host. The first will be ‘La Puerta’, a song written by Celia’s father, Antonio Fernández de Moya. At the concert, Celia introduces it, and also speaks of the beauty of Brecon and surrounding area, which had wowed the band as they travelled to the town.
She also speaks of the “honour” they felt to be invited to perform at Brecon Jazz Festival. Her delightful personality and the camaraderie of the band are visible for all to appreciate.
What Celia has left us, and Arturo with this wonderful instrumental quartet, is a legacy of delights.
In February this year, when ‘Covid-19’ seemed to be a crisis story for a city called Wuhan in China, and some weeks before the whole world went into a pandemic ‘lockdown’, it was we who were honoured to be invited to attend an event for Celia.
This was a concert to be held in Seville, which had been planned and organized by students, friends and jazz colleagues from across Spain, led by Arturo, in tribute to Celia’s life, a celebration, and a way of honouring a beautiful person and artist, gone too soon. It was very life-affirming, and in true fashion, also gave a spotlight for new people, jazz performers, to shine. We made many new friends.
Our Festival partner Vialma will be presenting the first of these recordings this month. If you have already attended Brecon Jazz Festival 2020 online, you will receive their mailings. Otherwise, why not join now: only £1 for 3 months, or free for first month for new users, and you can view
all of the 37th Festival concerts and talks: http://www.vialma.com
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