Umbria Jazz Festival – Perugia, Italy 2014

This is cool. Well it’s better than that. It’s Monday afternoon and the troops and I are on a bus riding from Perugia to Pescara. The drive’s about four hours and it’s raining good with the windshield wipers waving and I love it. It’s the Italian countryside today, but this rolling through of almost any countryside can set you free. I look forward to it, and if it’s a little drizzly rain, all the better for atmosphere.


Umbria Jazz is a 10-day annual Jazz Festival—now 30 years old—held in Perugia, Italy. Old Italy! 160,000 people live in the city in a valley with Roman ruins and roads that slowly and lazily ascend to the festival town and what must have been castles where centurions stood watch. This is right out of a renaissance fair. Everything here is about the Jazz festival and people have come from every corner of this region. It’s like the 4th of July…almost hot dogs and cotton candy!


I slept real hard and so I’m up early because we have a long day and I find myself taking a good look around and diving into my gratitude list. Oh yeah, for my life, for my wife, for my son, my work is fun, and, oh yes, that little heart flutter that made me make some serious changes in my life. People do this work real good in a bar with an out-of-tune upright piano and spilled beer on the floor. I’m a lucky so-and-so.


And guess what, about me all the way over here. Take 6 was with me last night. Oh Yea! You should have seen the hugging and jumping up and down and outright rejoicing at seeing each other and just about to share the stage. It’s hard to describe. I love these guys since the middle 80s when they were students at 7th Day Adventist denominational school in Huntsville, AL (Oakwood College) where they had made a demonstration tape under the name of Alliance. When I mentioned that last night, they shouted. They are the height and breadth of ensemble vocal singing using the most sophisticated and Avant-garde chord structures in the Count Bassi-ish sound and tradition. Now quickly add that they have several individual voices that have stretched their “traditional roots” to adding R&B gospel vocal runs that push Stevie and Aretha to the limit. This is an amazing extra. I wish I could do that. They claim me as an influence, but I can’t do that!


I feel conspicuous in this moment here because there is so much more important stuff to say about this amazing connection with “The Six”. Right now, let’s stay with this wonderful at the Umbria Jazz Festival.


I have to think that it was on purpose that the promoters made this a “voices” day. Mario Biondi is also on the bill. Sammy says we should call him “Italian Thunder”. He has this big Barry White kind of voice that rarely gets any attention in contemporary pop R&B music. He can bring it. So yes, this is a singer’s day and it’s probably just as well that they didn’t announce it that way. They simply listed us in succession on their calendar. But to be sure these people heard some sangin’.

Mario’s approach really touched me. Quite jazzy with a great band and good soloists. We hit it at 9:00pm and took it to ‘em…old familiar things and new ballads and Brazilian syncopations and some George Duke/Al Jarreau funky dance. And you should have seen their eyes when Mario strolled onto stage and sang “Teach Me Tonight” with me…of all things. Some 25-year-old youngsters scampered down front to move, groove, and dance and pressed against the metal fence of the stage. I think I shouted, “Finally!!” That was a great way to end the night. Lots of notions satisfied (including an almost “Caruso”).


Thank you to Carlo and Alberto for a wonderful night in central Italy. Can’t wait to come back again!





PS: Still driving in the rain!

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