Perugia’s Unforgettable Umbrian Jazz Festival
Every July, Perugia hosts the Umbria Jazz Festival, one of the most popular jazz events in Europe. And every year since 1973, this beautiful medieval hill city has drawn thousands of music lovers, young and old, from all over the world, to play and hear all styles of jazz. Local performers get a chance to jam with the experts and the streets are filled with people carrying instruments to concerts and music sessions.
Along with the indoor paid-entrance venues, the festival offers many outdoor concerts free to the public – a generous offer that makes a visit to this festival much less expensive that it might otherwise be. From the middle of the day until late at night, you’ll be entertained by top quality musical performances. These can be found along the Corso Vannucci and in the Piazza IV Novembre – the city’s historic main square – as well as the public gardens, known as the Giardini Carducci. The streets are still crowded well after midnight, with appreciative music fans enjoying impromptu concerts and singing, dancing, eating and drinking.
The best jazz can be heard in two magnificent opera houses, the 18th-century Teatro Morlacchi, and Teatro Pavone, dating from the 19th-century. These wonderfully elegant spaces with their domed ceilings and several storeys of box seats, make your musical experience all the more memorable. In contrast, you can also hear big name performers play in the sports stadium, the Santa Guiliana Arena, that holds up to 5,000 people, but you will have to book early for good seats. Tickets are required for most performances, but since prices can be as little as 10 euro, concerts are very affordable.
You will also find jazz being played in smaller, more intimate venues, such as the Rocca Paolina (the small Cannon Room of a half-ruined 16th-century fortress), and many restaurants, cafes and hotels. Here you can hear jazz at its intimate best, while you savour delicious regional specialities, made with fresh local produce. Be sure to sample the excellent local wines, including vernino, grechetto, trebbiano, arco del sovrano, and fratte. The many pastry shops offer special goodies in the shape of guitars and saxophones, and the museums feature jazz though paintings, photography and exhibitions – you’ll find jazz everywhere.
But even when there are no jazz concerts scheduled, shops, cafes, bars, museums and public spaces resound with popular music of all kinds – soul R&B, blues, gospel, pop and rock – as well as jazz. Everywhere you go, it’s a veritable feast of music and families, workers, and musicians of all ages stop to watch, listen and join in.
And if you feel the need of a few quiet moments, you could take a trip out into the beautiful countryside, where rolling hills are dotted with castles, fortresses and monasteries, and quality handmade ceramics are produced in enchanting medieval towns. Umbria is every bit as interesting as Tuscany, but lots less touristic.
The excellent festival website (www.umbriajazz.com) publishes details of the current year’s programme as soon as performances are confirmed in May. Some of the jazz greats scheduled for 2007 include: George Benson, Solomon Burke, Dave Douglas, Keb’ Mo’, Sonny Rollins, Keith Jarrett, Ornette Coleman, Pat Methany, Gary Peacock, Brad Mehldau, Joe Lovano, Al Jarreau, and Jack Dejohnette – all very popular jazz artists, so be sure to book early. Top off your visit with an unforgettable closing night performance at the Santa Guiliana Arena.
You can take the bus or train from all major cities to Perugia. The main train station is about 3 km from the centre of the city, so take a bus from outside the entrance to the train station. You can get cheap flights from Rome and Florence and other domestic connections, plus some international flights, but be sure to book well in advance for this immensely popular festival.