Fondazione Siena Jazz Summer Workshop 2013
July 24-August 7, 2013
While there are those who continue to suggest that the death knell for jazz has been soundedand loudlythey're clearly not looking at the vast number of young musicians studying the music, both privately and, increasingly, in university programs. It's hard to imagine that only fifty years ago there were no university jazz programs; in fact, most schools that offered music studies steadfastly resisted adding jazz to their curriculum because it was not the "serious music" that so defined their classical programs.
How things have changed. It would be a significant task to empirically quantify the number of universities now offering jazz programs around the world, but with this proliferation of jazz studies, a new challenge has emerged: how to provide students with the necessary technical tools to play the music, while engendering the creative spark that's so necessary in a music that, for the most part, is predicated on interaction and interplay. Jazz, more than many other genres, is a truly social music, but if the emphasis is on learning all of its building blocks without taking its symbiotic nature into account, then the result is a gaggle of musicians emerging with all the necessary tools but no experience using them to actually create.
Fortunately, there are now world-renowned short-term programs like the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music, nestled in the Rocky Mountains in Canada, and more complete degree programs like those offered at universities like the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in Trondheim, Norwaywhich has absorbed the heralded Trondheim Conservatorythat are going beyond the classic jazz repertoire and its attendant techniques, to help aspiring musicians learn how to speak with their own voices. But none of them has the kind of organic history that created the Fondazione Siena Jazz, which only last year became accredited to offer a Bachelor's Degree in music, but which has been training working jazz musicians for over 35 years, offering a more extensive winter program and a two- week Summer Workshop that has become known the world over for its ability to so efficiently leverage the jazz stars of today to mentor the aspiring jazz legends of tomorrow.
And it couldn't be in a more beautiful location than Siena, Italy. A town of about 40,000 people (add 50% more when the Siena University is in session), it's broken up into 17 neighborhoods that, even to this day, remain both remarkably competitivethe annual Palio di Siena, an annual horse race taking place in the Piazza del Campo, being so contentious that fights can literally break out between neighborhoodsand incredibly self-supporting and encouraging. Each neighborhood has its own social club, a garden where people can get together for meals and entertainment, engendering the kind of close personal connections that are increasingly rare in larger cities around the world.
The city is built on top of a hill that facilitated defense in centuries past. But what remains today are the beautiful, ancient buildings and fortresses, the narrow cobblestone streets and open- spaced piazzas, and the incredible Duomo di Siena, a massive cathedral which dominates the city. Located in the heart of the Tuscany region about 70 kilometers south of Florence, the food and wine are superb; from locally made sheep cheese to a very special pasta (pici), the challenge, in Siena, is not to find a good restaurant, it's to find a bad one.
Many jazz study programs have historical ties to universities, but Fondazione Siena Jazz is something else entirely: a grassroots foundation that grew, very organically, out of the needs of the city's inhabitants. "It started out because, basically, there were a bunch of young musicians in the '60s," says Francesco Martinelli, Director of the Jazz Studies Centre for the Siena Jazz Foundation and de facto press officer when the Fondazione invites foreign journalists to cover the Summer Workshop. "They heard about this jazz music when they were into what we used to call prog rockrock with complication. Perigeo was a very famous Weather Report- like group, mixing jazz with rock, with people who were already known in the jazz world, especially the pianist, Franco D'Andrea. The bassist Giovanni Tommaso was also extremely influential.
"Anyway, they [Siena musicians] asked these peoplesaxophonist Claudio Fasoli, Franco D'Andrea, Giovanni Tommaso'would you teach us, because we have nobody,'" Martinelli continues. "It started on a very small scale, but word got around quickly; if they had 12 students the first year, by the second year they had 36."
And so, a jazz workshop emerged...and continued to grow, year after year. "It served a need because, the year before it began, [pianist] Giorgio Gaslini was invited to teach jazz in the Rome conservatory for one year, but then he was kicked out because his classes were so successful that he had 120 students, while the viola da gamba teacher had threeand Gaslini had unimpeachable credentials, academia-wise," Martinelli continues. " Initially, Siena used elementary school classrooms, but the musicians were all living in each others' houses, so they saw a big need, and said, 'Ok, we'll do it again next year. They got more teachers for all the instruments and that's how it started. All of this was within what we call the cultural organization of the left, so the cultural branch of the Communist Party, which was and still isthough we don't call it that anymorethe ruling party in Siena. They provided the framework for it."
36 years later, the Summer Workshop held by the not-for-profit Fondazione Siena Jazzalso a member of the global International Association of Schools of Jazz, initiated by Dave Liebman in 1989 and now including schools from over 40 countries around the globehas grown to 110 students, a number that could easily be more but is limited in order to ensure the students receive the proper training and personal attention. A faculty of 28 teachersperforming jazz musicians allincludes Italian names like Claudio Fasoli, Stefano Battaglia, Achille Succi and Roberto Gatto, together with musicians from abroad including John Taylor, Larry Grenadier, Jeff Ballard, Ambrose Akinmusire, Miguel Zenon and Steven Bernstein. It's an impressive roster, to be sure, but what differentiates it from other jazz workshops held throughout the world?
"The difference between this and all the rest of the schools is that this is just built for jazz," says Martinelli. "This is not about the structure of music teaching adapted for jazz. The structure of the teaching here is based on the needs of the jazz musician and always has been. All the teachers are always jazz musicians. The proportion of instrumental lessons versus theoretical lessons is not what you get in normal universities; not only do we have group classes, for example, we have something that we call 'interplay practice.' So these are classes where you have to learn how to play in a group, to exist within a group of musicians, improvising within a structure.
"Another thing that distinguishes us is that the musicians play with the students. So, for example you have a group practicing with Jeff Ballard. Jeff Ballard comes here for a week and he's a member of the band, doing whatever music he wantshis own music, standards, whatever. So we get all the students together piano, contrabass, guitar, horns...but no drums; the teacher, the drummer, plays together with them and they play a concert together after a week [mostly to faculty and students]."
"Also, [Fondazione Siena Jazz Director] Franco Caroni has always been very careful to give as wide a representation of jazz as possible," Martinelli continues. "Inviting people from 'outside' players to 'inside' players, big band people to small group people, solo performers, avant-garde, old school...we try to teach the students that all of these things have to go together. That they have to approach all of these things with an open mind."
"We now have two levels of schooling; two different layers. We have the bachelor program, which runs all winter, and we still have the summer workshop, which was the original course," Martinelli concludes. "Last year we were accredited by the Minister of Education, so we are now actually a diploma-giving jazz university. The conservatories were not happy that we applied for accreditation, because it's the first time that anything in music education has been operated by a private institution. Even though we are supported by the local government, we are not state-operated. We get funds from the federal government, but more from the city council. It's a complex system where we have different sources for finance, but public money is also flowing in."
The Fondazione's home, situated in the Medicean Fortress in the heart of Siena, consists of over 1,000 square meters that, in addition to its offices and archives, includes 20 classrooms equipped for teaching and combos, with pianos, double basses, amplifiers, drum kits...everything needed to allow its winter program and summer workshop to function at the highest possible level. "All the American musicians who come here tell us that they have never seen the kind of equipment we have," says Martinelli.
The tuition for the Fondazione's Bachelor program is enough to want to make American students cry out in anguishor take the next plane for Italy. Instead of the roughly $200,000 cost for a four-year degree program in the U.S., the annual tuition for Siena's winter program is a paltry 600 Euros, compared, Martinelli reveals, "to the 2,000 Euros that you pay in the best universities in Italy. And the students don't have to actually move to Siena; what we do is have five days of intensive sessions twice a month, so we gather the 60 students from all over Italy and some from abroad and they stay in Siena five days at a time twice a month to have 12 hours a day of lessons. Then they go home with a lot of material to chew on and come back again in two weeks. We have an arrangement with local student housing that goes on all winter, from October to June. "
The Bachelor's program utilizes strictly Italian musicians as teachers, as opposed to the two-week Summer Workshop, where the faculty is split, almost 50-50, between Italian teachers and musicians from abroad. Consequently, it's not unusual to find students in the winter program returning for the Summer Workshop, but even though there's room for twice as many applicants, acceptance into the program is not easy. The students may range in age from 14 to 60, but this is not a workshop for beginners. "In the beginning, because there was no jazz education in Siena, the Fondazione had to start with the basics, sometimes teaching very basic instrumental skills, improvisation on a very basic level, and teaching a repertoire" Martinelli explains. "Now we don't need to do that; now we serve a more restricted number of students, with a workshop geared to young professionals, to people who have completed their first cycle of study. So it's more a finishing school than a basic school."
Martinelli is also emphatic that Fondazione Siena Jazz Summer Workshop is not a master class. "It's not a master class, because we don't like the concept of a master class, where it's mostly an individual, like a guitarist, teaching to 225 guitarists. We like more the idea of group interaction, so many, many hours are devoted to learning how to play with others; listening to others; learning to be tolerant of different concepts of music."
Wandering the halls of the Fondazione Siena Jazz during the workshop provided an opportunity to experience just how differently each faculty member approached both instruction and combo classes. Stefano Battaglia was more of a generalist, for example, encouraging his class with comments like "You are always free; you must die free," as he had them work together in a freely improvised context where "The solo is the question; the ensemble is the answer." And so, with each member of the class beginning an improvisation a cappella, it was enlightening to see how, gradually, the students began to get it, with the ensemble responses becoming increasingly attuned to the soloist's opening statement.
Nir Felder, on the other hand, was as pragmatic as they come, telling his students that they need to internalize scales to the point that they no longer have to think about them. Getting the group of nine guitarists to, for example, play an E altered scale but starting on the A string of their instruments and playing it solely on that string made clear that, while everyone was at a certain level to qualify for the Summer Workshop, some had more work ahead of them than others when it came to achieving Felder's stated objective. Felder's absolute commitment to his music was made clear when he talked of not needing an instrument to do the work, and how he would spend time on subways in New York working on scales on paper and in his head. With a goal of "Less thinking, more music," it was clear that considerable thinking had to be done first, in order to be able to focus more on the music. Felder's class also made clear that the standards of years past are not necessarily those of today, citing groups like Mars Volta as much as he did more traditional sources.
The combo classes were a different storypurely practical, but working on anything from covers like Ron Carter's dark "Mood," from Miles Davis' E.S.P. (Columbia, 1965)(in Gatto's class), to an early Blue Note tune from Wayne Shorter (with Claudio Fasoli's group) helped reinforce the lessons being learned in the instruction classes in more practical terms, and got everyone playing togetherand, more importantly, listening together.
But the value of the Summer Workshop goes beyond the actual class work. "For many students, this is a very good chance for networking," Martinelli says. "There always has been, but now with its international quality what I've seen in the past four-or-five years is a constant increase of international students. This year it's more than 45%almost half the studentscoming from five different continents. So it's a great chance for musicians to start networking, especially within Europe, where the possibility of travel has become much easier because of the European Unionpossibilities that musicians like Enrico Rava, Claudio Fasoli and musicians of that generation could only dream of. Taking a train to Paris and playing with somebody and not having to change the money and not needing a passport. So it's a great chance for networking and people seem to be very happy with it; many are coming for a second or third time, so they are gathering a lot of musical information, a lot of contacts; they are in touch with the people who are making music today, which is most important.
"It's fantastic to see all these young musicians, passionate about the music, yet they are still kids," Martinelli continues. "But they love this music and will find a way to play it in a way which is good for peers of their age. Whatever they do here is part of it. They will not necessarily play 'Evidence' or 'All the Things You Are'; maybe they will play their own music. But this is an important part of their formation as musicians."
Students must pass a rigorous set of standards in order to be accepted into the workshop. This includes being either jazz graduate students from Italian conservatories or equivalent foreign institutions; classical music graduates with documented performance activities in jazz (live and/or on record); or musicians without a formal degree but with at least three years of documented performance activities, live and/or in the studio. "They have to submit a CD," Martinelli explains. "They have a set of standards that they have to play; you need this because some people might be very good at improvising but not over structure. They can also present an original composition, but they have to choose two pieces from a set of different styles, like modal or bebop."
Still, while there is a certain level of expertise assumed across the entire group of accepted applicants, the first two days of the workshop are reserved for individual assessments, the result of which is assignment to specific combo classes. Obviously bass players want (and receive) education from bass players on the facultythis year, in addition to Grenadier, also including Ben Street, Pietro Leveratto and Furio DiCastribut equally important, they are placed in combo classes led by other instrumentalists who will actually play as part of the combo, so while 14 year-old drummer Luca Caruso took lessons from fellow stickmen Roberto Gatto and Ferenc Nemeth, he played in combo classes with Stefano Battaglia and expat Canadian saxophonist Michael Blake.
As a part of the two-week workshop, a series of free concerts were programmed around the city, as well as evenings sponsored by some of Siena's neighborhoods, where an inexpensive (but excellent) meal was followed with short sets delivered by some of the workshop's students. Over the first three evenings live performances by faculty members also gave studentsand the rest of Siena, these concerts held in the beautiful Piazza Duomo and Cortile del Rettorato Universitario (a courtyard belonging to the Siena University)the chance to hear just what they'd be working towards.
The Claudio Fasoli "Four," at Piazza Duomo on the first night featuring, in addition to the saxophonist, drummer Gianni Bertoncini, and brothers Michele Calgaro and Lorenzo Calgaro, on guitar and double bass, respectively delivered a set of contemporary, original music that blended the drummer's electronics with powerful grooves and particularly impressive playing from Fasoli and Michele Calgaro. The Siena Jazz University Orchestra followed, under the leadership of Roberto Spadoni and featuring two of the Summer Workshop's faculty membersbass clarinetist Achille Succi and guitarist Pietro Condorelliin a set that weighed heavily on contemporary arrangements of jazz standards from Charles Mingus, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk.
The second evening, two impromptu groups delivered sets at the Piazza Duomo that capitalized on mainstream swing, but in a most modern fashion. The first quintet featured trumpeter Steven Bernstein, saxophonist Pietro Tonolo, pianist Alessandro Lanzoni, bassist Ben Street and drummer Jeff Ballard, in a set that, in addition to potent quintet performances, broke the group down into various trios, with Bernstein, Lanzoni and Tonolo all getting real opportunities to shine. Lanzoni was particularly impressivea 21 year-old pianist who first attended the Summer Workshop when he was 13 but now, eight years later, is a professional musician whose Dark Flavour (Cam Jazz, 2013), is a masterful debut from an artist well worth keeping an eye on.
Lanzoni and Ballard returned for the second set, this time with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, saxophonist Miguel Zenón and bassist Larry Grenadier. Some of the players may have still been suffering the ravages of jetlag, but you'd have never known it, as the quintet delivered a powerhouse set that mixed cover material like Benny Golson's "Stablemates" with originals including Lanzoni's title track to Dark Flavour, Zenón's "Calle Calma," from Esta Plena (Marsalis Music, 2009), Akinmusire's "Henya," from his 2011 Blue Note debut, When the Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note, 2011), and Grenadier's "JJ," from Fly (Savoy Jazz, 2004), with the Fly trio that, also featuring Ballard and saxophonist Mark Turner, has since gone on to record two albums for ECM, most recently 2012's Year of the Snake.
For the third evening, the festivities moved to the smaller Cortile del Rettorato Universitario courtyard, where the air was thick and the sound, sadly, nowhere near as good as the shows at the Piazza Duomo the previous two nights. And it was a shame, because the two groups that performed that evening were both equally stunning. First, Wide Q with saxophonist Michael Blakethe only group, other than Fasoli's "Four," that was not a throw-together, but one that has already spent some time on the roaddelivered a set that juxtaposed dark impressionism, largely from pianist Alessandro Giachero, with the fiery power of bassist Franco Fabbrini and the intensely visual drummer Francesco Petreni, who pushed the already incendiary Blake to even greater heights.
Still drenched in sweat, Blake came back for a second set that featured guitarist Nir Felder, bassist Ben Street and drummer Roberto Gatto. The set may have suffered from difficult sound and too little rehearsal time, but was more than made up for with everyone's energy and total commitment to the music. Felder proved, in particular, someone to watch, a young guitarist who has completely avoided the overt influence of Kurt Rosenwinkel and whose command of his instrument is already something to which many aspire but few attain. Gatto, an alum of groups with Enrico Rava but a leader in his own right with fine albums like Traps (Cam Jazz, 2007), is a drummer capable of working in just about any context, and here he was tested as the quartet worked its way through material by Dewey Redman, Dave Brubeck and, one of the set's highlights, an original composition from Felder.
While the classroom work is intensiveeach day for two weeks, with just one day off in the middle (an Italian holiday on August 1), with every student taking one instrumental class and one combo session every morning and afternoonthe Fondazione Siena Jazz offers even more, with an extensive archive that includes thousands of scores, books and magazines, as well as music in every media, ranging from wax cylinders and eight-tracks to vinyl, DAT, CD, cassette tape and reel- to-reel tape. "When you see somebody entering the archives and getting all excited about the recordings and the chance of doing research, it becomes clear that the future of music is also in knowing its past," Martinelli asserts.
But there are challenges facing the workshop each year, tooone of them being the simple question of language. Lectures by this writer and fellow journalist Thomas Conrad were presented in English, but also translated into Italian by Martinelli, in real-time. That said, Martinelli is clear in asserting that "you have to deal with the fact that English is the lingua franca of jazz, so young musicians have to learn to speak Englishto practice their English until they are comfortablebecause if they want to network with people from Russia, Germany or Australia, English is going to be spoken. And then there's the repertoire and the idea that if you don't know the words, if you don't know the story; if you don't know the relevance, then you can't really play the song. Even the way that you present the melody of a song, it's kind of empty inside if you don't know what the melody is about."
Of course, a modern-day jazz workshop would be remiss if its only focus was on the classic jazz repertoire. Director Franco Caroni reaffirms Martinelli: "Our studies are based mostly on playing music, so students have to play a lot and with different repertoiresnot only the classic jazz repertoire, but also modern jazz. Also, the teachers are very different; we have Americans and we have Europeans. In the past year we've had John Taylor, Anders Jormin and Stefano Battaglia, for example. Stefano teaches a 32-hour course about improvisation techniques [during the winter program], and no conservatory has such a course.
"The aim is that students who graduate have a practical knowledge of the classic repertoire, but also of contemporary jazz," Caroni continues. "We do less classic repertoire than contemporary because music is changing. So, in the first year there's a lot of basic knowledge; in the second year, the contemporary repertoire rises. We take away some theory and replace it with more time for practice and combo classes. We should have a two-year Master's course; we did do an interim sort of thing, with 60 teachers, changing the faculty every two months. We had 42 students, but we were not recognized by the minister so it was more of a private thing."
While, over the years, the Fondazione has built a program that was finally recognized and accredited as a Bachelor's program in 2012, the Summer Workshop remains, in some ways, its flagshipthe program that has really placed the Fondazione on the international map. "In the summer program, about twenty percent of the students are from outside of Italy, Germany, France and Denmark" says Martinelli. Some people come from very far away. Last year we had musicians from Australia and Argentina. Of course, some of them are not just coming for Siena; some of them are coming for a summer in Europegoing to festivals and other courses as well."
But in order to really work, there needs to be some degree of parity with the Fondazione's offerings and those of other institutions, both inside and outside of Italy. "It's getting there, because Franco is very active in this field," explains Martinelli. "Franco is very active in the coordination of European jazz schools and the global coordination of jazz schools in order to get as even a curriculum as possible. It's getting to be so that you could do one year in Denmark and then come and do a second year in Siena. Several times we've had an exchange of scholarships with Berklee [College of Music, in Boston], where we send two students there and they send two students to us."
It may have had grassroots beginningsand is still run on a tight budget, with just five administrative staff in addition to the professorsbut Fondazione Siena Jazz's impact on the Italian jazz scene, in particular, is immeasurable. "Most, if not all Italian jazz musicians under 40maybe even under 50have been to Siena," Martinelli says. "Enrico Rava's Electric Five group, with two electric guitars? They were all in the same workshop, the same year. Paolo Fresu's QuintetRoberto Cipelli, Ettore Fioravanti , Tino Tracanna, Attilio Zanchi was born in Siena."
What's more impressive is how the Fondazione's reputation has been built. "Word of mouth largely drives the workshop," Martinelli continues. "But it's very well-known, not just in Italy, but around the world. Where else can you learn one week with John Taylor and the next with Kenny Wheeler or Palle Danielsson? With people like that behind you, it can really raise your game. On top of the combos, they have instrumental teachers and instrumental lessonsone-to-one, though not necessarily with the same person. It's extremely intense, because they [the students] never go to bed [laughs]. I mean, you're here with 100 other young guys and girls from all over the world who share your passion for music. Who goes to bed? They get together and play until all hours of the morning.
"For many of them it's their first experience networking, actually meeting people from so many places, getting in touch and planning some ideas. 40 years ago, there was no Euro and you needed a passport to get to France; now you can move across borders using the same money, and you can network with people in the flesh. I mean, things like Facebook are all well and good; but to meet people and play together with them is a different story."
Speaking to various students at the 2013 Fondazione Siena Jazz Summer Workshop revealed a remarkable cross-section of aspiring artists who were connected by a common desire to raise their game through study, the chance to play with members of its world-class faculty and to network with a group of 110 like-minded musicians. 16 year-old drummer Marcello Cardillo was attending the Workshop for his first time. "A friend of mine in Naples told me about the Academy," Cardillo says. "I've been studying with Roberto Gatto and Claudio Fasoli. [At home] I study music in the conservatory and with two private teachers. I've been playing jazz since I was six years old, because my father listened to jazz. I'm hoping to learn something [laughs] and meet other people from other places. That's the first thing, in fact: I want to meet people from other places and to play with these other people. "
Tilman Oberbeck, from Hamburg, Germany, found his way to Siena in a completely different way. "I finished school with a friend who plays saxophone, and we started a band, together with a drummer and pianist," the 21 year-old bassist explains. "We started to jam and to play and we were thinking in the same direction; we wanted to play music that was more energetic, like Kenny Garrett's group and Branford Marsalis' quartet. We were having a lot of fun and we wrote some songs. After three months, there was competition called Future Sound in Leverkusen, at the Jazz Days Festival, for musicians under 35. We didn't think they would call us when we sent them our stuff; I think there were something like 153 bands that had sent in records for this prize and they called six. Each band had to play on one of the festival days and there was a jury that selected two of the bands for the finals on the last day of the festival. Each of those bands had to play a 10-minute concert and the audience had to decide which one they liked more. And we won. It was our first concert ever; we hadn't even played before. We just practiced in a room and worked hard. We just wanted to play.
"It was amazing. The prize was a bit of money (1,000 Euros); not that important. But the real prize was to get a main stage gig this year at the festival in November. So at this year's Leverkusen Festival we will be able to play a whole set of our own music, opening for Steve Gadd and David Sanborn, and Cindy Blackman. This is my first time at Siena. I'm studying at the Hamburg music school and there came an email and our teacher said that it's a great opportunity. I love Larry Grenadier, and he's my bass instructor this week."
Mateja Dolsak hails from Slovenia. "The place where I come from in Slovenia is really just a village, and I started with classical education," says the 27 year-old saxophonist. "I didn't know anything about jazz because it wasn't really an environment where I'd hear about it. And then I started playing in different bands and orchestras and I wanted to learn how to improvise because I didn't know how to do that. I was transcribing from piano, but I wanted to go to school and learn about it. So I asked my teacher, 'What is jazz,' and he gave me Glenn Miller [laughter] and I thought, 'Oh my God is this is jazz? [laughter]. So, that's how I started to become interested, because I wanted to know how these people play without written notes.
"I don't remember the moment when I realized I was improvising," Dolsak continues. "I was playing with a teacher and he'd say, 'Okay, now improvise!' My first solo was on Miles Davis' ' 'So What,' so I began playing a bit around the solo and grew from there. Then, at the school where I study, I saw the posters for Siena Jazz, and I have some friends who are here and they recommended itthey were really enthusiastic about it. This is my first time. This week I have one lesson with Miguel Zenón, and I also have classes with Pietro Tonolo, Nir Felder and Franco D'Andrea.
"I studied in the Netherlands and there is a specific way to how they improvise," Dolsak concludes. "It's connected only with traditional jazz, but I was always interested in listening to guys from New York and the States in general. I really like the way they play, and I thought, 'You have to come here to get the chance to actually see it and hear it.' And maybe play with them, because also, I see them in concerts and they touch me in a very different way. I very much like Eric Harland and Reuben Rogers; I think Walter Smith III is fantastic. And, of course there are trios like Brad Mehldau and Branford Marsalis' quartet. I really like drummers a lot. I play in many groups at home and I also write, so I think the goal here is to get motivated and inspired; to see what they [the teachers] have to say about their playing, get some advice and just a plain meet people and get exposed to some different influences."
From Poland, 21 year-old pianist Sebastian Zawadzki could normally be found sitting somewhere with a set of headphones, a laptop and a small keyboard. "I became interested in jazz when I was 16 and my father told me about these workshops that were in Poland. I was already playing piano at that time, coming up with classical studies; I actually began playing piano at age seven, but I started to play jazz when I attended this workshop. I can't say that there was any one moment when I started to improvise. I was already composing and that's really improvising anywayit's just a different style of improvising. This is my first time at Siena jazz Academy. I was in a jazz competition called the European Jazz Contest last year with my band and we won it. I got the usual prize, which is this workshop."
On Sunday, July 28, two of the Workshop's youngest performersdrummer Luca Caruso and alto saxophonist Lorenzo Simone, both 14 demonstrated remarkable breadth and maturity, playing with musicians twice their ages or more at a neighborhood dinner, and holding their own without any difficulty. "I started out playing pots and pans when I was a baby, and I started taking drum lessons when I was almost seven years old," says Caruso, "and it was always jazz. The first song I ever learned was "Ain't She Sweet," with just a snare drum and a cymbal."
Born in Italy but now living and going to school in London, Caruso says that he plays "all sorts of music because of the school I'm in. It's a bigger rock scene and it's good because it helps my jazz playing. Playing with older musicians here has helped me a lot, it's a really good push to play, living with and being around more experienced musicians. My instruction classes this week are with Roberto Gatto in the morning and Jeff Ballard in the afternoon and the next week I've got Ferenc Nemeth. For combos this week, I've got Michael Blake and Stefano Battaglia. I'm looking for as much experience I can get out of it; they're so well organized; it's such a good experienceI'd love to come back again. I've only been here three days and I already love it."
He may be only 14, but Caruso already has some well-reasoned thoughts about some of the drummers who have influenced him the most. "The ones I listen to the most are Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette, Antonio SanchezI listen to him a lotand Elvin Jones. When I first heard Jack I didn't really like him, because it sounded sort of messy, but then I listened to more of his stuff with Keith Jarrettand I saw his band live as well [with George Colligan and David Fiuczynski]and that changed things a lot for me, even though it was just a year ago. Tony? I could just listen to his [sings] 'ding-ding-a-ding-ding-a-ding'; I really like his darker cymbals."
The diminutive Simone played with a surprisingly rich tone, equally unexpected soul and, while he had no shortage of chops on displayand the intensity and fire of youth to back them uphe also knew when to back off and let silence work to his advantage. All the more remarkable, then, that he's only been playing saxophone for four years. "I live in Tuscany, about 100 km from Siena," he says. "I started in a band and so I chose the saxophone for jazz music, but I also study classical music at the conservatory. So, while I study jazz more for fun I'm starting to study harmony and so I decided to come here. I like Italian saxophonist Stefano di Battista, but also Phil Woods , Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Playing jazz is interesting and fun; it's a very natural thing for me. It's difficult to do something you don't like; it's not so good if you feel obligated to do something. This is my first year in Siena and I would love to come back."
Coming back is a sentiment that seemed to be shared by students and faculty alike. And why wouldn't they? With a well-outfitted, extraordinarily well-organized music program based, as Martinelli referred, "on the needs of the jazz musician," the workshop was a rare opportunity for aspiring jazz musicians to eat, drink, sleep, breath and in any and all other ways live in a jazz bubble for two weeks.
Playing with world-class jazz musicians and peers, and being exposed to instruction that allowed them to move to the next level in their growth as jazz musiciansregardless of the level on which they currently residedit became clear that few (if any) contemporaries exist to match the Fondazione Siena Jazz. As the Summer Workshop celebrated the 43rd program in the Fondazione's 36 years, despite the changing landscape of the music industryand naysayers notwithstandingthe future of jazz, indeed, looks absolutely bright and secure.
Page 8 (bottom): Francesco Martinelli
All Other Photos: John Kelman