Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Malcolm de Zilva

The song is ended...

No more will the saxophone soar with lyricism, passion and sincerity as it did in the hands of Malcolm de Zilva, the song is ended... and the music scene in our country lost another veteran and acknowledged musician two weeks ago.

It came as a surprise to all, musicians and music lovers, who gathered to say "Farewell" to a saxophonist, clarinettist and vocalist too who was a friend to many and much sought after on the scene since his repertoire of standards and evergreens was extremely elastic. He enjoyed blowing his sax, even if it meant that he had to stand and play for many hours. But what irked him now and a again, was when his supporting musicians were unable to play a melody on the key he was blowing the tune, but he was quick to forget the lapse.

Malcolm de Zilva belonged to an era when dance bands were a major force in our country. He never wanted to wear the mantle of the leader of a band, but instead was happy to be a member of a band, and always gave of his best. His first gig in his career goes back to 1958 when he played with Don Daniel's Ballroom Hornets at the 'Flying Angel Mission to Seamen Club' at the Colombo Fort.

Friday night, was the all important night weekly, and the seamen were amazed at the band's wealth of English, Irish and American songs, he once recalled. As a point of interest Don Daniel played drums, Blind John was the pianist, Refaai Miskin blew the trumpet and Malcolm was on sax.

In his eagerness and enthusiasm to forge ahead in his music, Malcolm, and whilst holding a 9-5 job at Aitken Spence, decided to free lance.

In 1960 he played with Papa Menezes led by Papa bass and violin and played alongside greats like Helen Lucas - piano, Miki Menezes - tenor sax/drums, Tom Menezes - trumpet and Malcolm blew the alto sax. The Morton Cole Combo a popular name band on the scene then, sought Malcolm's artistry and he played with them for dances, variety shows and functions enjoying himself for a period of five years; before he decided to join the Raddy Ferreira Combo.
The year was 1965 and Malcolm as he once confessed enjoyed every minute of playing time with this Combo, with its new and fresh sound which soon saw the band sitting on the top rung of popularity. The members were highly professional - there was Raddy the leader on piano, Malcolm on tenor sax, Stanley Ranasinghe - alto sax, Errol Joachim and Upali Fernando - drums, Ralph Menezes - acoustic bass, Dallas Achilles - trumpet and Claude Selvaratnam - vocals.
There were many highlights in Malcolm's early career, too many to record here, but of importance was when he played with pianist Jimmy Manuel and his band for long years at the Mt. Lavinia Hotel; then with singer Marie Rosairo and her band at the Taj Samudra, and more recently on popular demand when he went back to play at the Mount Lavinia Hotel weekly with pianist Dharshika Perera in a duo scene, and at the Lanka Princess Beruwala with Lazer. He also was a familiar figure with Friends in Harmony.

Marie Rosairo recalls that "Malcolm was the easiest musician to work with. He was so professional in every aspect, he could just pick up his sax or clarinet and play and the enhance the sound of the band.

What's more he knew just how to back a singer..." Dharshika Perera of the younger generation recalls "he was a musician who knew all the standards and I learnt so much from him. When he was playing with us we were extremely confident, he made us confident, we miss him a lot..." Farewell Malcolm - you were a stalwart at all jazz sessions....!

Sunday Observer May 30 2004

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