Roccella Jonica: Jazz As an Intellectual Feast

Roccella Jonica
Jazz As an Intellectual Feast

by Virgil Mihaiu

copyright © 2006 Virgil Mihaiu

Situated right on the sole of the Italian boot, the ancient town of Roccella Jonica hosted its 25th jazz festival in 2005. Under the guidance of Paolo Damiani, the event has evolved into one of Europe's landmarks, defining jazz's opening up and interchange with assorted artistic expressions.

The grand overture belonged to the Wayne Shorter Quartet, a constant presence among the best acoustic groups in the latest DownBeat polls. For eight nights the 4,000-strong audience filling the open-air auditorium at the feet of a mediaeval fortress witnessed a variety of recitals: the highly inventive duo of Louis Sclavis, bass clarinet, and Enrico Pieranunzi, piano; the post-modern meanderings of England's Michael Nyman Band; pianist John Taylor's group featuring flugelhornist Kenny Wheeler and singer Diana Torto; young Italian lions with a knack for melodic invention, such as pianists Stefano Bollani and Danilo Rea, singer Ada Montellanico, saxophonist Pietro Tonolo, bassist Enzo Pietropaoli; Israeli singer Noa scoring a great public success, especially with her versions of traditional Hebrew songs in the company of Napoli's dynamic Solis String Quartet; the John Greaves Project entitled RoXsongs; and a dream-like jazzification of the Scheherazade myth by cellist/composer/arranger Paolo Damiani.

Other locations hosted such audacious experiments as Enrico Rava creating bittersweet trumpet atmospherics for video sequences conceived by two Sicilian filmmakers — Cipri and Maresco; Sclavis's improvised jazz-choreographies together with Virgilio Sieni; Prokofiev's tale Peter and the Wolf spoken in the Romagnolo dialect by Ivano Marescotti against Bollani's piano paraphrases of the original score; Lisa Natoli's version of Rilke's poetry, accompanied by Gabriele Coen, soprano saxophone and clarinet, Andrea Pandolfo, trumpet, Lutte Berg, guitar, and Ada Montellanico, vocals. The mastermind behind these aesthetic interplays was writer Stefano Benni.

Seminars dedicated to connections between jazz and other fields — such as poetry, dance, theatre, cinema, photography, musical therapy, improvisation techniques, etc. — were attended by more than 150 students proceeding from all parts of Italy. After a quarter-century, Roccella's intellectual feast truly deserves respect and further support.

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