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Fondazione Siena Jazz Summer Workshop 2013

John Kelman By

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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 three—and 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 is—though we don't call it that anymore—the ruling party in Siena. They provided the framework for it."



36 years later, the Summer Workshop held by the not-for-profit Fondazione Siena Jazz—also 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 globe—has 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 teachers—performing jazz musicians all—includes 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 wants—his 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.

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