A late December “freddo polare” (“polar cold” – which for Italy means anything below freezing temperature) – did not deter jazz appassionati from heading to hill town gem Orvieto for the twenty-second edition of Umbria Jazz Winter. Of Etruscan origin and perched on a tufo rock plateau, medieval Orvieto rocked for six days with 120 concerts performed by 160 musicians in the 14th-c. city hall, 18th-c frescoed theater, former Franciscan monastery refectory and even the stunning black-and-white-striped 13th -c.Duomo (cathedral).
And those bundled up against the “polar cold” enthusiastically followed the brass band Funk Off – all the musicians in monogrammed black parkas, hats pulled down tight over the ears, gloved hands playing trumpets, clashing cymbals, banging the drums – through the medieval alleyways from Palazzo del Popolo to the Duomo.
Highlights of our two days at Umbria Jazz?
The jazz dinner in the former 14th – c Franciscan monastery now a restaurant, Ristorante San Francesco, where New Orleans jazz musician Patrick Williams and his band had the italians up rocking between courses.
And the next day, jazz lunch in the same spot where Cynthia Blant from New Orleans crooned the blues during lunch, signed autographs for fans after – and posed for a photo with Pino, too.
The Joe Lovano/Chris Potter saxophone duel in the vaulted 14th-century Palazzo del Popolo was a winner, too and as at every venue, the enthusiasm of the Italian public was a large slice of the pleasure.
And the public went wild wild over another captivating performance in the medieval city hall: Fabrizio Bossi on the trumpet and Luciano Biondini on the accordion in a dramatic musical duel.
In the splendid frescoed Teatro Mancinelli, Brazilian Omar Sosa turned the piano into a cacophonous voice responding to the blaring attacks of Sardinian Paolo Fresu’s trumpet. At other moments during their sell-out concert, the two instruments coddled each other in gentle harmony.
And one of our favorite concerts? The Four Vegas, young Roman musicians who took off with Elvis revival music (singer Al still wears his hair in pompadour style and pelvic twitches are still in the act) but now play everything from Otis Redding to the Beach Boys to Chuck Berry, peppering their act with playful conversation and bantering jokes that take the spectator from clapping and stomping to laughing. We first saw them at Umbria Jazz in Perugia, summer edition and we’re affirmed fans now.
Another favorite part of our days at Umbria Jazz Winter is our stay with widowed Signora Liliana, eighty-five years old, who has welcomed us into her home for years now during the jazz festival. She has two grown children who let her rent a room to us but not to others (hotels are sold out during the festival, B&B’s fill up): “Mamma, you shouldn’t be having strangers stay in your apartment now. Times have changed….” As always, we had a long chats over morning espresso about her past life as orphaned daughter of poor farmers, her two children, her work as a seamstress. She told us with a smile, “My daughter wants me to set aside my work, telling me, ‘Mamma, we’ve only ever known you with a needle in your hands,’ but my work keeps my mind active and I love having people coming and going.”
The morning we left, she had just made the pasta for lasagne for New Year’s dinner for a group of eight friends and for New Year’s day for another eight or so. She’d then clean our room and change the bed. Her apartment is pristinely clean but she does have help, now and then: every two weeks, a woman comes to wash the windows. She told us with her impish grin, “My children don’t want me climbing step ladders anymore.”
As we left, we booked our room for next year’s Umbria Jazz Winter festival. After all, who can imagine being anywhere else at the end of December?
Click here to read about Funk Off at Umbria Jazz Winter, 2017
Click here to read more about Umbria Jazz memorable moments
Read more about Funk Off and Umbria Jazz
Read about why Umbria Jazz can’t be missed
Read about a young Sicilian jazz wonder
Click here for more on why Umbria Jazz Winter entices
Read more on that Italian jazz enthusiasm
Enjoy Funk Off on YouTube