Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Jazz Sketches

Last Saturday afternoon my friends and I prepared ourselves a little. We listened to a tape of Miles Davis and various jazz pianists in the car on the way to one of Perugia's largest success stories to date--the Umbria Jazz Festival.

The festival, one of the most prominent in Europe, took the idea of "jazz in your own backyard" and unleashed it on the once virtually-unknown province of Umbria in central Italy. It has done wonders for Umbria in terms of tourism, and for Italy it has made jazz something easily obtainable. Names like Bill Evans, Sarah Vaughan, Herbie Hancock, and Stan Getz have graced the line-up, and this year's 30th anniversary proved no exception--with a Keith Jarrett concert to inaugurate, and plenty of well-established jazz artists, including Chick Corea, Sonny Rollins, Brad Meldhau, and Ornette Coleman, to keep the music going.

We arrived to fresh rain (but just a little) and then sunlight and music. Perugia, a beautiful medieval town and the capital city of the Umbria region, was packed with people in its old center. My friends and I were happy to be a part of it, and we were happy to all be together. Our friends Antonello and Alessandro exchanged funny stories while Corrie and I laughed and talked in a sort of giddy-rhythm, content in the feeling of all that was going on around us, and content in the feeling that we were here, among great artists, in a great fortress-like city--the kind of old-and-new mix that is still rare in Italy.

My uncle played trumpet with a jazz group here some three or four years back, and I recognized bits and pieces of the Festival from pictures he showed us and the rich stories he told. I was comfortable in the city, hearing every once in a while bits of English spoken (which I have not heard around in so long, being in this country) by a passing American tourist, or wandering aimlessly into tall streets of old brick and cobblestone, suddenly away from the festival, from the crowds, entirely. We ate an early dinner at a student-hangout pizza joint, and the atmosphere was all at once that of a weekday in a college town--a mix of lively and laid back--without a hint of jazz.

We heard Ornette Coleman play that night under a full moon.

My friends and I left Perugia around midnight, a two hour drive back to Macerata ahead of us. We played the same jazz tape in the car--Miles Davis on one side, Bill Evans and Chick Corea on the other. And Italy felt different in the darkness, with the music surrounding us. It was a rich, happy feeling. It reminded me of home.



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