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Messina Sea Jazz Festival 2013

Messina Sea Jazz Festival 2013
Francesco Martinelli By

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Messina Sea Jazz Festival 2013

Messina, Italy

July 17-21, 2013

Messina, the city on the Sicilian side of the Straits connecting the Thyrrenian and the Ionian seas—for the geographically challenged, that bit of sea on the point of the Italian boot—is not on the list of the most famous Italian or even Sicilian touristic locations. Overshadowed, in its own province, by Taormina—and by the cultural as well as environmental riches of other cities—it serves mainly as the point of entry, its harbor busy with ferries for visitors coming by train or car.

The Straits area is prone to earthquakes, and in 1908 a disastrous tremor destroyed the city—with over 70.000 dead, one of the most terrible seismic events of the modern era, wrecking most of the historical buildings. Messina was rebuilt on a modern plan, and its pleasant center, with big regular avenues, lacks the exotic charms of the narrow street and alleys of other Italian cities. But the savvy visitor can find plenty to enjoy here: the view of the straits is unique; the sea crystal clean due to the strong permanent currents; the swordfish and tuna fresh; and the granitas to die for. Even other Sicilians will concede that Messina is the capital of the grainy iced lemon juice or cream-topped coffee.

Founded by Greeks on the site of its harbor—a sickle-shaped peninsula offering natural repair to ships, and using a crescent-shaped city as logo, Messina has more than this mythic connection to jazz. The area was infamous for the two giants, Scilla and Cariddi, who stood guard on the straits' narrowest point, sinking the ships trying to pass by—a myth born from the currents that can reach eight or nine knots, truly a river running into the sea, that would deviate ships on its rocky coast. In modern times, the same names were given to the first steamboats used to cross from the Island to the Continent, as Sicilians say; pretty much the same sort of ships used on the Mississippi. And after the earthquake, among the many emigrants to the USA was a boy from Messina who made his name in music: Pete Rugolo, arranger for Stan Kenton and producer of Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool (1957) sides for Capitol. Messina gave his good share of musicians to jazz: other greats with roots on the Sicilian side of the straits include Joe Pass (Passalacqua), Chick Corea (mother's side), and Joe Lovano—not a bad crop!

Enters pianist Giovanni Mazzarino, one of the major players in Sicilian jazz today. A worldwide career as both a leader and appreciated accompanist for vocalists did not diminish his love for the island, and for the past few years he's organized a festival-cum-summer workshop in the city where he now resides, Piazza Armerina, on a hill in the center of Sicily. Due to local political uncertainties, the festival was not bound to happen this year, so he swiftly moved his operation to Messina, aided by longtime friends and followers of his music, so that with the sponsorship of the town, the university and the port authority, a last-minute program of high quality was put together and took place from July 17-23 in fabulous locations all along the sea.

A full program ran in these locations. In the morning and afternoon, workshops and seminars, dozens of students worked with some of the best Italian musicians—vocal instructors Loredana Spata and Flora Faja; drummer/vibraphonist Mimmo Cafiero (who, with Spata, runs the Open Jazz Lab school in Palermo); sax wiz Francesco Cafiso; bassists Riccardo Fioravanti and Nello Toscano; drummer Stefano Bagnoli; guitarist Giuseppe Mirabella; and pianist/trumpeter Enrico Rava, Maria Pia De Vito and Fabrizio Bosso. In addition, late-night jams took place on the charming marina, lead by other musicians including pianist/arranger/big band leader Cettina Donato, whose first CD on the Jazzy label, 2013's Crescendo, drew a lot of attention.

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