Wednesday, August 03, 2011

My Italian Escape

Just back from a great 10 days at Italy's Siena Jazz Workshop, and beginning to put together my notes for a feature I'm writing for an upcoming issue of DownBeat.

A few brief impressions: Siena is an endlessly fascinating city with gorgeous Medieval architecture and more good restaurants than any small city normally has. Even at small bars, I never had a disappointing meal. And then, there's the wine. I could go on.

The music program that Franco Caroni and his colleagues have put together through their organization, Siena Jazz, also punches well above its weight. I can't recall the last time I met music faculty as enthusiastic as these guys are, and the facilities—housed within an old Spanish fortress—blow away those at most of the university schools of music I've visited. Caroni has built the program of study during the past 40 years based on strong principles of instrument-specific concentration and what he calls (using one of the few English words I heard him say) "interplay". The ability to communicate selflessly in a combo is key to his vision of jazz, and many of the visiting faculty members at the summer workshop I observed—John Taylor, Dave Douglas, Eric Harland, Franco D'Andrea—personify that, as well.

Even if the school wasn't situated in one of Europe's most interesting small cities it would be something special. But it is in Siena, which makes it almost too good to be true.