Imagine traveling by car for hours in the summer heat of Italy's July 2010. At last it is early evening, and you reach the borders of a breathtaking medieval town. A soft breeze blows around you while you walk through the steep slopes which lead you to the centre. You follow the sounds you so eagerly waited for; they are as welcoming as you had imagined them. The elegant, sharp notes of Sonny Rollins
' sax fill the atmosphere, Arena Santa Giuliana is packed with jazz enthusiasts, and you know, for sure, that it is going to be a memorable night. Since 1973, its foundational year, Umbria Jazz has given to its aficionados an endless series of similar astonishing moments, always distinguished by the desire of creating brand new collaborations among jazz musicians from all over the world. This year, for example, the last of the six concerts belonging to the special ECM concert series was led by Enrico Rava
; an original quintet designed by label head/producer Manfred Eicher, who personally discussed the history of his award-winning record label with Gary Giddings on 12th July 2010. Another original ensemble was organized for the free Brazilian event which closed the festival. On 18th July, Arena Santa Giuliana was the stage of Sons e Movimentos do Deseo, a dance and capoeira performance of former meniños de rua, rescued by the charity association Projeto Axé, with music by Hamilton de Holanda
Besides the quality and number of its concerts, another peculiarity which makes of Umbria Jazz such a unique jazz festival, is the educational and historical approach to jazz music. For twenty-five years the Berklee College of Music has been holding a Summer School at Umbria Jazz. To celebrate such a special occasion, the college of music awarded its honorary degree in jazz music to musician, composer and jazz historian Renzo Arbore, jazz pianist Stefano Bollani, and Cuban drummer Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez, during a special event on 15th July.
The following day Renzo Arbore introduced a documentary dedicated to Italian American jazz legend Nick LaRocca
, entitled Da Palermo a New Orleans e fu subito jazz ("From Palermo to New Orleans. Jazz: There It Was"), which seemed to dialogue with the other documentary released this year, My Main ManAppunti per un film sul jazz a Bologna, which focused on Festival Internazionale del Jazz di Bologna.
Giovanni Guidi & The Unknown Rebel Band w/ Gianluca Petrella
The festival was also a good occasion to meet Ashley Kahn and discover his analysis of Miles Davis
' Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970) ("Bitches Brew at 40: Fusion or Confusion?") and get hold of the second volume of Adriano Mazzoletti's Il Jazz in Italia, the most impressively detailed historical text of the evolution of jazz in Italy to date.
For those who, on top of the normal concert sets and educational events of Umbria Jazz, wished to fill their days with improvisation even at lunch and dinnertime, a special series entitled "Musica e cucina" followed the traditional jazz club combination of music plus tasty food, in this case a variety of Umbrian delicacies at Bottega del Vino, Ristorante La Taverna and Hotel Brufani. The artists involved in this year's culinary experience were Italian pianist Renato Sellani, a regular performer and iconic figure of the festival, with Massimo Moriconi on double-bass, Kim Prevost
, who enchanted his audience with his smooth versions of the major 1950s ballads.
Now let's go back to your 24 hours of Umbria Jazz. If you are not an early bird, and you prefer your oneiric state to dwell a little longer on the unique Colossus experience of the night before, you could wake up late and reach the city centre around 11. You would be just in time to join the New Orleans Coolbone Brass Band, marching together with a crowd of bouncy fans along the notes of "Down By the Riverside." All of a sudden they bump into a couple of newlyweds, and they switch to a slow, romantic version of "You Are So Beautiful to Me." The groom and bride start dancing, people clapping hands around them, and the general atmosphere takes an unexpected romantic turn.