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Fondazione Siena Jazz Summer Workshop 2013

John Kelman By

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The tuition for the Fondazione's Bachelor program is enough to want to make American students cry out in anguish—or 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."

Martinelli is also emphatic that Fondazione Siena Jazz Summer Workshop is not a master class. "It's not a master class, because we don't like the concept of a master class, where it's mostly an individual, like a guitarist, teaching to 225 guitarists. We like more the idea of group interaction, so many, many hours are devoted to learning how to play with others; listening to others; learning to be tolerant of different concepts of music."

Wandering the halls of the Fondazione Siena Jazz during the workshop provided an opportunity to experience just how differently each faculty member approached both instruction and combo classes. Stefano Battaglia was more of a generalist, for example, encouraging his class with comments like "You are always free; you must die free," as he had them work together in a freely improvised context where "The solo is the question; the ensemble is the answer." And so, with each member of the class beginning an improvisation a cappella, it was enlightening to see how, gradually, the students began to get it, with the ensemble responses becoming increasingly attuned to the soloist's opening statement.

Nir Felder, on the other hand, was as pragmatic as they come, telling his students that they need to internalize scales to the point that they no longer have to think about them. Getting the group of nine guitarists to, for example, play an E altered scale but starting on the A string of their instruments and playing it solely on that string made clear that, while everyone was at a certain level to qualify for the Summer Workshop, some had more work ahead of them than others when it came to achieving Felder's stated objective. Felder's absolute commitment to his music was made clear when he talked of not needing an instrument to do the work, and how he would spend time on subways in New York working on scales on paper and in his head. With a goal of "Less thinking, more music," it was clear that considerable thinking had to be done first, in order to be able to focus more on the music. Felder's class also made clear that the standards of years past are not necessarily those of today, citing groups like Mars Volta as much as he did more traditional sources.



The combo classes were a different story—purely practical, but working on anything from covers like Ron Carter's dark "Mood," from Miles Davis' E.S.P. (Columbia, 1965)(in Gatto's class), to an early Blue Note tune from Wayne Shorter (with Claudio Fasoli's group) helped reinforce the lessons being learned in the instruction classes in more practical terms, and got everyone playing together—and, more importantly, listening together.

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