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Fondazione Siena Jazz Summer Workshop 2013

Fondazione Siena Jazz Summer Workshop 2013
John Kelman By

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Fondazione Siena Jazz Summer Workshop
Siena, Italy
July 24-August 7, 2013
While there are those who continue to suggest that the death knell for jazz has been sounded—and loudly—they're clearly not looking at the vast number of young musicians studying the music, both privately and, increasingly, in university programs. It's hard to imagine that only fifty years ago there were no university jazz programs; in fact, most schools that offered music studies steadfastly resisted adding jazz to their curriculum because it was not the "serious music" that so defined their classical programs.

How things have changed. It would be a significant task to empirically quantify the number of universities now offering jazz programs around the world, but with this proliferation of jazz studies, a new challenge has emerged: how to provide students with the necessary technical tools to play the music, while engendering the creative spark that's so necessary in a music that, for the most part, is predicated on interaction and interplay. Jazz, more than many other genres, is a truly social music, but if the emphasis is on learning all of its building blocks without taking its symbiotic nature into account, then the result is a gaggle of musicians emerging with all the necessary tools but no experience using them to actually create.

Fortunately, there are now world-renowned short-term programs like the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music, nestled in the Rocky Mountains in Canada, and more complete degree programs like those offered at universities like the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in Trondheim, Norway—which has absorbed the heralded Trondheim Conservatory—that are going beyond the classic jazz repertoire and its attendant techniques, to help aspiring musicians learn how to speak with their own voices. But none of them has the kind of organic history that created the Fondazione Siena Jazz, which only last year became accredited to offer a Bachelor's Degree in music, but which has been training working jazz musicians for over 35 years, offering a more extensive winter program and a two- week Summer Workshop that has become known the world over for its ability to so efficiently leverage the jazz stars of today to mentor the aspiring jazz legends of tomorrow.

And it couldn't be in a more beautiful location than Siena, Italy. A town of about 40,000 people (add 50% more when the Siena University is in session), it's broken up into 17 neighborhoods that, even to this day, remain both remarkably competitive—the annual Palio di Siena, an annual horse race taking place in the Piazza del Campo, being so contentious that fights can literally break out between neighborhoods—and incredibly self-supporting and encouraging. Each neighborhood has its own social club, a garden where people can get together for meals and entertainment, engendering the kind of close personal connections that are increasingly rare in larger cities around the world.

The city is built on top of a hill that facilitated defense in centuries past. But what remains today are the beautiful, ancient buildings and fortresses, the narrow cobblestone streets and open- spaced piazzas, and the incredible Duomo di Siena, a massive cathedral which dominates the city. Located in the heart of the Tuscany region about 70 kilometers south of Florence, the food and wine are superb; from locally made sheep cheese to a very special pasta (pici), the challenge, in Siena, is not to find a good restaurant, it's to find a bad one.

Many jazz study programs have historical ties to universities, but Fondazione Siena Jazz is something else entirely: a grassroots foundation that grew, very organically, out of the needs of the city's inhabitants. "It started out because, basically, there were a bunch of young musicians in the '60s," says Francesco Martinelli, Director of the Jazz Studies Centre for the Siena Jazz Foundation and de facto press officer when the Fondazione invites foreign journalists to cover the Summer Workshop. "They heard about this jazz music when they were into what we used to call prog rock—rock with complication. Perigeo was a very famous Weather Report- like group, mixing jazz with rock, with people who were already known in the jazz world, especially the pianist, Franco D'Andrea. The bassist Giovanni Tommaso was also extremely influential.

"Anyway, they [Siena musicians] asked these people—saxophonist Claudio Fasoli, Franco D'Andrea, Giovanni Tommaso—'would you teach us, because we have nobody,'" Martinelli continues. "It started on a very small scale, but word got around quickly; if they had 12 students the first year, by the second year they had 36."


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