Fondazione Siena Jazz Summer Workshop
July 24-August 7, 2013
While there are those who continue to suggest that the death knell for jazz has been soundedand loudlythey'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, Norwaywhich has absorbed the heralded Trondheim Conservatorythat 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 competitivethe 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 neighborhoodsand
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
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 rockrock 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 peoplesaxophonist 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."
And so, a jazz workshop emerged...and continued to grow, year after year. "It served a need because, the year before it began, [pianist] Giorgio Gaslini
was invited to teach jazz in the Rome conservatory for one year, but then he was kicked out because his classes were so successful that he had 120 students, while the viola da gamba teacher had threeand Gaslini had unimpeachable credentials, academia-wise," Martinelli continues. " Initially, Siena used elementary school classrooms, but the musicians were all living in each others' houses, so they saw a big need, and said, 'Ok, we'll do it again next year. They got more teachers for all the instruments and that's how it started. All of this was within what we call the cultural organization of the left, so the cultural branch of the Communist Party, which was and still isthough we don't call it that anymorethe ruling party in Siena. They provided the framework for it."
36 years later, the Summer Workshop held by the not-for-profit Fondazione Siena Jazzalso a member of the global International Association of Schools of Jazz
, initiated by Dave Liebman
in 1989 and now including schools from over 40 countries around the globehas grown to 110 students, a number that could easily be more but is limited in order to ensure the students receive the proper training and personal attention. A faculty of 28 teachersperforming jazz musicians allincludes Italian names like Claudio Fasoli, Stefano Battaglia
, Achille Succi
and Roberto Gatto
, together with musicians from abroad including John Taylor
, Larry Grenadier
, Jeff Ballard
, Ambrose Akinmusire
, Miguel Zenon
and Steven Bernstein
. It's an impressive roster, to be sure, but what differentiates it from other jazz workshops held throughout the world?
"The difference between this and all the rest of the schools is that this is just built for jazz," says Martinelli. "This is not about the structure of music teaching adapted for jazz. The structure of the teaching here is based on the needs of the jazz musician and always has been. All the teachers are always jazz musicians. The proportion of instrumental lessons versus theoretical lessons is not what you get in normal universities; not only do we have group classes, for example, we have something that we call 'interplay practice.' So these are classes where you have to learn how to play in a group, to exist within a group of musicians, improvising within a structure.
"Another thing that distinguishes us is that the musicians play with
the students. So, for example you have a group practicing with Jeff Ballard. Jeff Ballard comes here for a week and he's a member of the band, doing whatever music he wantshis own music, standards, whatever. So we get all the students together piano, contrabass, guitar, horns...but no drums; the teacher, the drummer, plays together with them and they play a concert together after a week [mostly to faculty and students]."
"Also, [Fondazione Siena Jazz Director] Franco Caroni has always been very careful to give as wide a representation of jazz as possible," Martinelli continues. "Inviting people from 'outside' players to 'inside' players, big band people to small group people, solo performers, avant-garde, old school...we try to teach the students that all of these things have
to go together. That they have to approach all of these things with an open mind."
"We now have two levels of schooling; two different layers. We have the bachelor program, which runs all winter, and we still have the summer workshop, which was the original course," Martinelli concludes. "Last year we were accredited by the Minister of Education, so we are now actually a diploma-giving jazz university. The conservatories were not happy that we applied for accreditation, because it's the first time that anything in music education has been operated by a private institution. Even though we are supported by the local government, we are not state-operated. We get funds from the federal government, but more from the city council. It's a complex system where we have different sources for finance, but public money is also flowing in."
The Fondazione's home, situated in the Medicean Fortress in the heart of Siena, consists of over 1,000 square meters that, in addition to its offices and archives, includes 20 classrooms equipped for teaching and combos, with pianos, double basses, amplifiers, drum kits...everything needed to allow its winter program and summer workshop to function at the highest possible level. "All the American musicians who come here tell us that they have never seen the kind of equipment we have," says Martinelli.
The tuition for the Fondazione's Bachelor program is enough to want to make American students cry out in anguishor take the next plane for Italy. Instead of the roughly $200,000 cost for a four-year degree program in the U.S., the annual tuition for Siena's winter program is a paltry 600 Euros, compared, Martinelli reveals, "to the 2,000 Euros that you pay in the best universities in Italy. And the students don't have to actually move to Siena; what we do is have five days of intensive sessions twice a month, so we gather the 60 students from all over Italy and some from abroad and they stay in Siena five days at a time twice a month to have 12 hours a day of lessons. Then they go home with a lot of material to chew on and come back again in two weeks. We have an arrangement with local student housing that goes on all winter, from October to June. "
The Bachelor's program utilizes strictly Italian musicians as teachers, as opposed to the two-week Summer Workshop, where the faculty is split, almost 50-50, between Italian teachers and musicians from abroad. Consequently, it's not unusual to find students in the winter program returning for the Summer Workshop, but even though there's room for twice as many applicants, acceptance into the program is not easy. The students may range in age from 14 to 60, but this is not a workshop for beginners. "In the beginning, because there was no jazz education in Siena, the Fondazione had to start with the basics, sometimes teaching very basic instrumental skills, improvisation on a very basic level, and teaching a repertoire" Martinelli explains. "Now we don't need to do that; now we serve a more restricted number of students, with a workshop geared to young professionals, to people who have completed their first cycle of study. So it's more a finishing school than a basic school."