Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Jazz from New York to Perugia

I’m neither a musician nor critic, just a lifelong jazz enthusiast who has had the extreme good fortune to be in the right place at the right time to hear the best of this wonderful music; New York City in the 60’s, early 70’s and again at the end of the century; Rome in the 70’s and 80’s, and in Umbria from the second edition of Umbria Jazz, in 1974, to the present. My good fortune could be compared with that of a classical music devotee who lived in Vienna between 1770 and 1820 to see Mozart and Beethoven perform. I’ve been able to see Miles and Monk and Trane, and almost everyone else I’ve wanted to hear, perform live, on many occasions.

I’ve also seen a lot of changes over three and a half decades in Italy. Years ago the jazz festivals almost exclusively featured big name American musicians. Most of those jazz legends are no longer with us, but while new musicians have developed to replace them, after all the years of exposure to the top US musicians at festivals and clinics, a new wave of extremely talented Italian musicians has come to the fore. In recent years Americans have increasingly been a minority of the musicians at any given festival. The wave of Italian musicians seemed to start with pianists and bass players, who often got to accompany the great horn players traveling alone.

I went to only a couple of concerts at the 2008 edition of Umbria Jazz but the most fascinating music I heard from there was on a RAI radio rebroadcast of a concert by the Ramberto Ciammarughi Trio, which included Miroslav Vitous and Fabrizio Sferra. Ciammarughi is no young upstart. He’s been recording and playing concerts for about 25 years, often, as described above, with well known musicians visiting from the US. However, while teaching and composing for the theater, he hasn’t played the festivals for a few years, and his name is hardly a household word in Italy. Last year he showed up again in Perugia, first at the Jazz Hotel in the winter, and then at Umbria Jazz. Being from nearby Assisi, he’s a “local” musician, but nobody I’ve heard recently is more deserving of national and international recognition. Go hear him if you get the chance.

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