Wynton’s Blog

Perugia IS romance

On Tuesday we played the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italia. This music festival, which features musicians of all genres, just pours out of the city the way the city's medieval buildings unpredictably jut out of the mountain side. Perugia is perched above the shimmering moon- lit Valle di Assisi and, twisting and turning with the knotty terrain, has many hidden places eager to be discovered. Perugia IS romance. People all over the city holding hands and participating in the spring serenade will make you love sick or hungry. Great food—— made sure to get some tagliatelle with truffles and so on…..We have the morning off and cats go to check out the always swinging Joe Locke.

The genius conguero Giovanni Hidalgo is teaching a class with Cuban drummer Horacio 'El Negro' Hernandez and Ali is looking for it. Festivals give us a chance to see friends and colleagues. Bassist Richard Bona is playing with Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Richard Galliano and Clarence Penn. Carlos played in Gonzalo's trio some years ago. Our quintet played and recorded a concert in Marciac with Galliano last summer, and I taught Clarence in a class in Detroit when he was 15; had to be over 20 years ago. Ali is from Detroit but younger than Clarence. We talk about how laid back and lovable Clarence is and how much fun it is to play music with him. Galliano and I speak in broken English and French about the cd and when it will be released and so on… Clarence and Gonzalo and I talk about our kids and family. Seldom do musicians from different bands get together and argue about music.

We are happy to see each other and wish the best for each other on this road. I have come to Umbria Jazz intermittently for twenty-five years. Carlo Pagnotta has established and run this as one of the great music festivals. My oldest boys stayed with his family for a week in 2000. One especially memorable concert was a duet with the great John Lewis in 2000 which Carlo wants to release as a video. (I cannot tell you the depth of love I had for John and have for his widow Mirjana. I miss all the lessons he gave me and the depth of conversations we had on all subjects from DNA to playing melodies before improvising to bass motion in compositions). John hated too many bass vamps (I used to argue but actually agreed).

These festivals started with jazz but they are no longer jazz festivals. Anyway, Carlo does what he wants to do with his festival as all the festivals do. Jazz has never had a constituency that was ready to defend anything about it for any protracted period of time, (starting with the black Americans it came from), so it gets the 'whatever' treatment. In any case, jazz festivals have been moving slowly away from jazz for the last 20 years in imitation of what many of the musicians did. The name 'jazz' will probably remain for a little longer as a remembrance.

This is still a great festival in the truest sense of the word because the entire city comes alive with music, and the people here love what Carlo and his team have done, not to mention the richness of Umbria's version of Italian culture. Even with no time to see great Piero della Francesca's frescoes or any of the aesthetic treasures here, the atmosphere is enough to lift your soul. We play a swinging gig that is well received by a very enthusiastic audience. A special guest is Sicilian phenomena, alto saxophonist Francesco Cafiso. We first heard him 6 or 7 years ago when he was 13. He came on tour with our septet that summer (we all had kids out there that summer: I had 2, Sugar Rob had 2, Fernando had 1, Wes had 1, and Francesco). 7 kids from the ages of 7 to 14, touring 4 weeks through Europe on a bus with 8 men who are working every and all hours of the night. We shoulda made a movie. They drove us crazy playing video games on the bus, screaming and hollering and accusing each other of cheating and going to the bathroom every 5 minutes. We forever call it the 'nursery school' tour.

Jokes aside, Francesco was a sweet and laid back kid just oozing with talent. His parents let him come with us by himself, to my surprise, after we told them there was only room on the bus for one other person. He was and is a musician with great feeling and naturalness, and I'm always proud when I see him. I consider him to be part of my family. As a boy he would always say, "Italy number 1" about Italian girls. When he came to America he said, "America number 1." Tonight I meet his girlfriend, her friend, and his father and joke with him, "Italy number 1." He plays the hell out of the saxophone on 3 numbers of varying mood, tempo and harmonic sophistication.

I always think of deceased jazz promoter Alberto Alberti when I come to Italy. Alberto promoted a lot of jazz and especially Art Blakey in the late 70's and throughout 80's. He loved drummers, Max, Elvin, Philly Joe, Buddy Rich, Papa Jo, Roy Haynes. Once, when I was 18, I had the good fortune to hang all night with most of this roll call after something Alberto had put together for drummers. He was also a drummer and loved to sing a swinging ride pattern for you to scat sing on top of (then he would laugh after some hip drum fill he improvised to answer you, then pull out a cigarette and say something you could never understand in his sandpaper rasp of a voice). He loved to run you up and down the country on these raggedy buses. If you didn't drive a least 10 hrs between gigs, it wasn't real to him. It drove you crazy. But he was a character.

I wish I was staying tonight. The town is jumping. We have had some great jam sessions here through the years. The cats were playing tonight. Ted Nash and Ali on a section of my Abyssinian Mass; Sean Jones on Kenny Dorham's 'Stage West'; Sherman on all kinds of stuff; Marcus Printup on Monk's 'Light Blue'! Damn, and Walter too. Walter introduced us in Italian. Yeah, we have a lot of cats than can play. Don't sleep on Ryan Kisor playing lead and soloing, or Victor on Vincent Gardner's, 'Up from Down'. And we also played some New Orleans music. The 'Weary Blues'.

Carlos….Ali…..the Nim…… Fernando, Irene and I hit the road. It's 20 something hours to our next gig in San Javier, Spain, but only 14 to Irene's parents' home in Calafell……Ahh! Espana. We out. I'm waiting for a download of that Galliano cd from the Jedi. We are late, late, late. The Marciac Festival wants to release it in two weeks.

Jonathan Kelly and I are making steady progress on that symphony. I see a lot of sleepless nights in the next month and a half. JK copies the music. Oh, I have to show you what a score and sketches look like in my hand, and how I worked on those violin cadenzas on the plane over here. Before leaving Perugia, I remember here is where I met my brother from another mother, Luigi, 15 years ago, and he helped facilitate an important conversation I was attempting.
Forza Italia y Luigi. Ciao!


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