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The second edition of the Sicilia Jazz Festival organized by The Brass Group Fondazione and supported by the Conservatories of Music Antonio Scontrino, Arcangelo Corelli, Alessandro Scarlatti, the Municipality of Palermo, the Institutes of Musical Studies, Vincenzo Bellini, A. Toscanini and the Department of Culture of the Region of Sicily mobilizes all the energies and the good wills so that the jazz party time is in full swing in the city of Palermo.

Sicily, an island steeped in history, full of magnificent monuments, courtyards and palaces, is the ideal place for modern jazz to resound in the respect of tradition. We can talk about a jazz festival from 6 p.m. to midnight every single day of the festival.

In the historic center of Palermo, the streets and the sky are dressed with the figures of jazz, artists who came last year as well as the stars who made the history of this music barely a century old, on canvases stretched between the buildings, as on the walls. In fact, all the famous jazzmen and jazzwomen have come to play in Palermo one day.

An invitation that cannot be refused…

Every evening the “Marching Brass Street Band” performs here, a great show that puts you in the mood right away. It is regrettable that the shopkeepers and other bars continue to play, while the jazz festival is at their doorstep, repetitive electro rhythms with saturated basses, with their sound systems equipments, without any interest. The same musical soup that we find absolutely everywhere… Why don’t they take advantage of the opportunity to “try jazz”, to get in tune with this music which can be very festive?

… Even if only for 15 days, the time the Festival lasts.

Go figure, Arthur… These are mysteries to which I have no answer. The phenomenon is not localized in Palermo. It is planetary. 

 

But let’s not deny ourselves the pleasure and let’s go back to the center of Palermo. The Teatro Santa Cecilia, is an air-conditioned hall, with a bar and tables where the spectators always have a clear view on the large stage on the background of high stone wall.  Three small groups perform every day of the festival at 6 pm, 8 pm and 10 pm. Gypsy jazz, jazz standards, avant-garde jazz. The temperature in these days of heat wave is ideal, the sound just perfect. Sometimes it’s hard to leave the place because you feel so good.

However, just a few minutes walking by, it is easy to get to another beautiful place: La Chiesa dello Spasimo. A spectacular site that also includes a jazz school in a jazz club, with a room with a stage on which a big band can come to rehearse, perform…

Moreover, on a beautiful Saturday morning of Mediterranean summer, at 11 am, I have the chance to attend a master class by the Concertgebouw Jazz Orchestra of Amsterdam as a special guest, in front of curious spectators and students from different conservatories of the island. Several Sicilian conductors took turns at the baton and alternated with Rob Horsting, the titular conductor of the big band. We can also listen to the chorus of a Sicilian musician, Vito Giordano who emits a bewitching sound. I learn then, that he is also conductor and arranger of the Sicilian Big Band.

Students of classical music conservatories ask how to learn jazz…

The pianist, Peter Beets answers them that they have to listen to jazz… That it is not written in the books. Then he starts to play classical pieces by Ravel, Bach or Chopin in jazz… The demonstration is brilliant… The smiles are displayed among the young students. May this masterclass awaken vocations.

At the end of the square courtyard, adorned with a magnificent fountain, a porch leads to the church of a monastery whose walls and nave are well preserved but completely open, since the monks never finished the work. Should we regret it? The unusual reigns here and the jazz also resounds there every evening from 6:30 pm, 8:30 pm and 10:30 pm.

No masses, but jazz… Freedom in the open air rather than dogma!

Finally, the third place of festivities in the center of Palermo, at less than 10′ walking distance, the Palazzo Chiaramonte Steri. A palace that was built in the fourteenth century and whose courtyard welcomes a large audience and dedicated during the festival to larger groups.  

The concerts start at about 7:30 pm every evening.

Then, outside of the city center, the highlight of every evening is the Teatro di Verdura from 9:30 pm.

This open-air theater with 2,200 seats is used during the summer for the performances of the Teatro Massimo. It is located in the garden of Villa Castelnuovo, near the Parco della Favorita in Palermo. The entrance to the theater is through an ancient door on either side of which are two stone sphinxes. Beyond the door is a pavilion with a pronaos on the sides of which two telamons support the architrave.

The choice this year is to privilege meetings between the Orchestra Jazz Siciliana (which has the capacity to double all the positions of the big band according to the arrangements and the different conductors that lead it) and the prestigious guests that follow one another every night: Sardinian trumpeter Paolo Fresu, the English soul-jazz singer, Sarah Jane Morris, the very popular variety singer and pianist Raphaël Gualazzi (the man participated in the Eurovision…), The vocal jazz quartet, of the New York Voices: constituted – parity obliges – of two women, Kim Nazarian and Lauren Kinhan and two men, Peter Eldridge and Darmon Meader who have been touring the world since 1987.

Later in the week -we had unfortunately already left the island- the Festival was able to welcome other stars as the double bass player Christian McBride.

Two evenings also took place at the Teatro di Verdura, without the Sicilian Big Band, they were Dianne Reeves with her quintet and the Brooklyn group, well known to us, Snarky Puppy.

All in all, we will retain several outstanding elements of this Sicilia Jazz Festival that we would like to find more often in summer jazz festivals everywhere: an impeccable organization, an extremely warm welcome, superb historical places, and on each stage a remarkable work of sound engineers.

Paolo Fresu & the Orchestra Jazz Siciliana

The Big Band, Orchestra Jazz Siciliana has a number of high level conductors and arrangers (Giuseppe Vasapolli, Vito Giordano -already mentioned- and Domenico Riina) leading sections of trombones, saxophones and trumpets of excellent level.

The large audience of the Teatro di Verdura, not necessarily accustomed to this musical genre, the good society of Palermo, came in large numbers, dressed in beautiful clothes, to listen to jazz.

This work of better knowledge of the classical music of our century, for a long time occulted by the Sicilian mafia, according to some eminent members of the Brass Group foundation, is a formidable movement that we hope will continue for many years to come, despite the changes in political leadership that are always possible. A tribute must be paid to them.

Let’s go back to two outstanding concerts we were able to attend: that of this young talent, Federico Termini Trio at the Chiesa dello Spasimo. A resolutely modern jazz in this classical formation, piano, bass, drums. But a lot of ideas that avoid the cloning too often seen in this type of young formations. The rhythm section is perfectly in place.

Federico nous confie : « L’objectif de ce projet est de rechercher les mécanismes compositionnels qui ont marqué une grande partie de la musique classique et de les combiner avec une esthétique musicale plus proche de la musique de jazz.

Le programme contient donc des remaniements et des compositions originales, qui sont construits à partir de l’analyse, de l’approfondissement et de la pratique d’une sélection étroite de pièces et de compositeurs classiques, en utilisant ne serait-ce que quelques-unes des techniques de composition qui les caractérisent : une progression harmonique, une exposition thématique ou un type d’accompagnement… »

Federico tells us: “The objective of this project is to research the compositional mechanisms that have marked much of classical music and to combine them with a musical aesthetic closer to jazz music.

The program therefore contains reworkings and original compositions, which are built from the analysis, deepening and practice of a narrow selection of classical pieces and composers, using even some of the compositional techniques that characterize them: a harmonic progression, a thematic exposition or a type of accompaniment…”

Compositions/arrangements:

All the things you are – Jerome Kerne 

Sun – Federico Termini

Sonatine – Federico Termini

Fearless – Federico Termini

Semplice – Federico Termini

Odds, I Hope – Federico Termini

Line up:

Federico Termini (piano/composer)

Ruggero Caruso (drums)

Stefano India (bass)

Then the concert which seems to have made the unanimity among the public present and the whole of the journalists come for 4 evenings of Poland, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, United Kingdom, and your servant of France thus, it is the trio of the local saxophonist, the Gianni Gebbia Magnetic Trio which had as guest, Mederic Collignon, the godfather of Couleurs Jazz Radio.

The idea of this incredible concert was to pay tribute to Sidney Bechet, one of the 5 sacred monsters of jazz history.

The Gianni Gebbia Magnetic trio has already been playing for a dozen years and the interplay between the men can be felt from the very first piece. It also seems that Médéric Collignon is an integral part of the band. They were able to play together for the French Institute the night before. And Médéric was already invited 7 years ago in Palermo with the help of the French Institute of Italy.

In this music, the improvised sections play an essential role. It is there that Mederic and Gianni feel most at ease and let their overflowing creativity express itself.

 Mederic then tells us that perhaps an album is in preparation, because they were able, in addition, to record between the concert of the day before and this one. “There are some cuts to be made but I think there are beautiful materials with a lot of freshness in the subject. It’s a generous and rich music. We’ll see how it goes after the mixing and mastering… I would like to play this open repertoire again to dig even deeper and find other ideas.

The theme Petite Fleur is a pretext. It allows the group to play with speeds, shifts, space-time bubbles, tears and returns to the object. The desire to play it comes from Gianni, he plays the soprano sax with a crystal mouthpiece, it gives him a powerful sound like…Béchet!

In general, we play our own compositions. I thought that playing this well-known theme was a beautiful proposal because it is to let the world hear a part of appropriation and that’s what jazz is all about !

The stage is a space of freedom and creation. I can switch between the piano and the microphone-voice, tap on an object or blow towards infinity…

We continued the evening in the square next to the theater. During the meal, a band from New Orleans came to play, I took out my cornet and played… and forgot my pasta! Yeah!”

NB : these remarks were addressed to our colleague AJ-Dehany who is the author of a very beautiful paper about this concert and that I invite you to read.

Line up :

Gianni Gebbia soprano saxophone

Médéric Collignon cornet/voice

Gabrio Bevilacqua double bass

Carmelo Graceffa drums

Also noteworthy: two nostalgic sequences full of emotions at Teatro Santa Cecilia:

  • A tribute in music with a superb projection of archival photos of Charles Mingus for his centennial by Giammichele Taormina and his student musicians from the Conservatorio di Musica A. Toscanini di Ribera.

  • And a nice tribute to the eternal Italian cinema… By the quintet of the excellent violinist Francesco Nicolosi. Was it jazz? No, but it was beautiful.

A festival that is as welcoming as it is endearing and that has all the ingredients to bring in the greatest jazz musicians of today. We predict as much as we wish it a radiant future and an international recognition. Everything will depend of course on the upcoming program…

©Photos Jacques Pauper pour Couleurs Jazz

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