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Reviews and dispatches from the SienaJazz International Summer Workshop (1): The Opening Concert in the Piazza Provenzano

Siena Jazz University Orchestra, Dir. Roberto Spadoni with guest soloists Miguel Zenón and Francesco Fratini

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(Piazza Provenzano. 24 July 2022. Opening concert of Siena Jazz International Summer Workshop. Report by Sebastian Scotney)

The Siena Jazz International Summer Workshop Opening Concert. Photo courtesy of Siena Jazz

We who sit in audiences are the lucky ones. We can wait as darkness descends over an historic square, a-tingle with anticipation for astonishing music to emerge from silence, freshly created. And yet what is abundantly clear is that an event like the fortnight-long, 52nd (!) Siena Jazz International Jazz Seminar doesn’t happen without, dedication, teamwork, organisation, single-mindedness and mind-blowing amounts of hard work. This concert, a big band celebration of Mingus in the square in front of a seventeenth century church, was the opening event of the seminar.

I would like to hold one particular moment in mind, it is because it sets the remarkable context. Vocalist Gaia Angiolini had just sung “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love” and Miguel Zenón – the only musician to spend the whole evening without referring to a single sheet of written music – was launching into a solo which was astonishingly gentle yet full of detail, balance and shape. But what was visible from the other side of the stage was the big band’s entire saxophone section: all five members were completely a-gawp in admiration and awe. Their masterclass from the Puerto Rico-born alto genius was happening before us in real time. Their totally transfixed eyes (picture below) tell the story better than words.

The saxophone section transfixed by Miguel Zenón

Zenón was indeed astonishing throughout. A complete star. His range of moods, styles, sounds and musical vocabulary seemed inexhaustible. And yet he was also, clearly and generously, giving back to the students. There was one astonishing moment when the gods of the Piazza Provenzano seemed to want to smile on this concert and make sure one of its high-points could be enjoyed to the full. Whereas, earlier, one of the bars at the side of the square had been a source of loud chatter, we were blessed with silence when it really mattered. (How do these things happen?!). Arezzo-born pianist Santiago Fernandez had a completely solo feature in “Fables of Faubus”. He took it brilliantly, and Zenón made sure he was the first to walk round and congratulate him.

The musical mastermind behind the Mingus programme was director/arranger Roberto Spadoni, who set the human context of the Mingus story for the audience, reminding us of the great bassist/composer’s unbelievable emotional range, tune by tune. Spadoni also seemed to be presiding over a student band without a single weak link, with some strong soloists, and all driven by the right kind of professional ethos where total collegial reliability and mutual support are assumed and expected. Sound and lighting were superb too.

“È una gioia”, Roberto Spadoni said at one point. It would be impossible disagree.

Applause for Roberto Spadoni after the concert

Siena Jazz University Orchestra

Trumpets: Iacopo Teolis, Valerio Apuzzo, Francesco Assini, Francesco Pesaturo
Trombones: Andrea Glockner, Luca Tapino, Juan Pablo Lonzano
Saxophones: Franceco Bottardi, Gerardo Pizza, Luca Pinelli, Luca Savoldelli, Alessandro La Neve
Rhythm: Paolo Augenti, Giulio Sgarella, Santiago Fernandez, Lorenzo Gagna, Federico Giolito, Lorenzo Fabbri, Stefano Riccio
Vocal: Gaia Angiolini, Alessandra Diodati
Guest soloists: Miguel Zenon, Franceco Fratini

Direction/ Arrangements: Roberto Spadoni


This is the first of four daily pieces about Siena, just a few musings about the city and the seminar.

One of the very first duties on the evening of the new (since 2021) president of the SienaJazz organisation, which runs the seminar (and the year-round University and music school… and its archive…) Giannetto Marchettini, was to “thank the Giraffe (la giraffa) and the municipality”. Most of the historic districts or “contrade” of this astonishing fortified town are named after animals, and it is clear that the maintenance of goodwill to put on concerts in public spaces needs an involvement in year-round politics and manoeuvring and money and winning people over to the cause in what must be complex and arcane municipal structures.

Siena is often described in Italian as a “un saliscendi”, literally ‘an up-and-down’. More or less wherever you are walking in the city you are likely to be walking uphill or downhill. And if you happen to be walking on the flat, there always seems to be another level above or below. You feel the history at every turn here. The Jazz Seminar is held in the Fortezza Medicea from the 1560s, and yet looks fantastically equipped… and the quality of the international faculty assembled here for the fortnight does look amazing.

Sebastian is in Siena as a guest of Siena Jazz

LINK: Siena Jazz Summer Workshop

Categories: Live reviews

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