Valamar Jazz in Poreč/ Croatia – Day 1

Poreč is such a pretty town, whether it is viewed (as above) from the little island of Sveti Nicolau, where the Valamar Jazz Festival’s main stage –  for later in the week –  was today in the process of being assembled, or from within the narrow cobbled and marbled streets of the tiny peninsula on which the main town with its Roman grid of roads sits.

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I’m told that the time Poreč gets completely rammed with tourists -Italians especially – is in August, and that it’s particularly mad around Feragosto in the middle of the month. At the moment, it feels relaxing. The cars around the smart hotels are from small German towns, the main language used to keep kids safe in the pool this afternoon was Viennese dialect. And as for what the locals are thinking, I’m told we’re headed for a double bank holiday weekend, with Anti-Fascist Struggle Day (Dan antifašističke borbe) on June 22 and Statehood Day (Dan državnosti) on June 25, and that these two bank holidays will definitely change the mood for the better…. in the aftermath of the Croatian national football team being knocked out of the European Championships.

There have been a couple of Festival warming-up events today. I went to the official opening of an exhibition of jazz photography in the main square by sensitive, passionate music photographer Željko Jelenski (see shots of Enrico Rava), which also served as the official opening of the festival. Portuguese singer Amalia Baraona and guitarist/ singer Dinko Stipanicev sang sweetly, gently through some bossa novas. It caught the mood of picking up gently, as this weekend is bound to do.

The first proper gig was in the courtyard of the town’s museum, an 18th century Palazzo originally called Palači Sinčić. It’s a beautiful outdoor space. The air prior to the concert was completely alive with the sound of swallows.

The featured singer was Marko Tolja. Born in 1984, he already has three albums to his name, and has collected several national awards. (website only in Croatian). Unlike his older band colleagues, he doesn’t care for sheet music, he just puts his iPad down on the music stand, and off we go. He was singing standards and ratpack songs very convincingly, particularly on frequent excursions into falsetto. Musical, plenty of legato, and keeping the local audience highly amused with his jokes. (My Croatian doesn’t reach beyond “thank you” and “where’s the station?”, I wasn’t getting any of it). The core of his band calls itself the Fingersnap Trio (caught here on video) . I certainly expect to be checking out further the piano playing of Zvjezdan Ružić, always alive in the moment, shifting textures and great lines.

And here is energetic Festival Director Tamara Obrovac introducing Marko Tolja tonight. It’s not often one gets to meet people so central to their national culture that they get listed in their country’s Lonely Planet guide (Ref: page 315/ Arts in Croatia/ March 2011 Edition.) I’d call that a privilege.

Tamara Obrovac – Valamar Jazz Director

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