Live reviews

Bergamo Jazz 2023. Part 1.

Sebastian writes: This is the first of two reports from my first visit to the Bergamo Jazz Festival, going from the specific to the more general. This part is motivated by one simple wish: to praise the outgoing Artistic Director, vocalist Maria Pia De Vito. She will make way for the new Director, starting next year, Joe Lovano.


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Maria Pia De Vito. Photo Gianfranco Rota / Bergamo Jazz

The artistic director of the festival since being appointed in 2019 has been the Naples-born singer Maria Pia De Vito. The festival has a strong team and access to some quite wonderful locations, but her imprint on the programming feels worth drawing attention to. It’s really not for me to write job references… but I sincerely hope she gets another festival to run.

This year the festival broke attendance records. All the concerts in the magnificent Teatro Donizetti were sold out, and at the wrap-up press conference, the board praised Maria Pia for this – and for the quality and breadth of her programming.

At the wrap-up session, she explained her priorities in the role:

– to show a “variety of expression”.

– to respect the production team and help ensure that the events are well organised

– to look after the artists well

– to be in a good partnership ( “un abbraccio” she called it) with the city and sponsors, supporters, venues…

I particularly appreciated the individual stamp she has put on the line-up. Even without fluent Italian, it was palpable to me quite how personal, how knowledgeable, how straight-from-the heart her on-stage introductions of all of the artists appearing were. They seemed an absolute model of how well such things can be done, showing a deep understanding of the music, of what constitutes the individuality of the artists, of the proper context… I don’t believe I have ever seen it done better. Festivals that do this less well (the 2022 EFG London Jazz Festival showed a marked deterioration in standards) could learn a lot…

I also interviewed her and she explained to me that this year’s festival has the benefit of Bergamo and Brescia jointly being Italy’s cities of culture. There is something very right about this initiative: the two cities were the epicentres of the first wave of the Covid pandemic, the first places in Europe where the death toll suddenly mounted, where hospital doctors were struggling to deal with the first wave of deaths from the then unknown disease.


It was announced at the wrap-up festival press conference that the next Artistic Director will be Joe Lovano. He will give a concert in October in his duo with Jakob Bro, and outline the 2024 programme.


As a singer, a conservatoire teacher and as a innovator herself in vocal jazz, the three singers whom she had invited to give concerts gave a fascinating account of where each as an individual is taking the art form. There are many others worldwide who could have been included, but these three concerts gave a strong sense of how each of these vocalist has developed his or her individual craft. The juxtaposition of the three was fascinating.


Cecile McLorin Salvant in Bergamo. Photo credit: Luciano Rossetti

When I interviewed Maria Pia de Vito, her enthusiasm for Cecile McLorin Salvant was palpable:

“I love Cecile. She is such a complete artist: singer… artist… composer… painter… poet… she works on the animations… she designs her own dresses… she has no boundaries…”

Cecile McLorin Salvant was one of the headliners, appearing on the main stage of the splendid Teatro Donizetti on the Friday of the Festival, with a band comprised of pianist Glenn Zaleski, guitarist Marvin Sewell, bassist Yasushi Nakamura and percussionist Keita Ogawa. The range of the set was remarkable – apparently they have done a different set for every gig on their current tour. This band has a fabulous ability to inhabit an incredibly wide range stylistically. The jazz heritage is there in songs like “Devil May Care”, but the dramatic command (and the pindrop audience silence) in Brecht/Weill’s “Pirate Jenny” and the beautiful ease of expression in “Ghost” song were unbelievable.

Set list with thanks to Roberto Valentino


Leonardo Montana and David Linx. Photo courtesy of Bergamo Jazz

David Linx was in a duo with the superb pianist Leonardo Montana whom I last heard in very different company in Paris (REVIEW) , his “LeNo” duo with drum sensation Arnaud Dolmen. Montana has a broad Caribbean/ South American background (and an English mother) and has lived in Paris for two decades. Linx is a true original. His languorously slow and thoughtful “To the End of an Idea” was as uncompromisingly bold an opener as one can imagine. But Linx can hold a phrase and keep a shape going forever. If anyone finds “too musical” an insult, they probably would need to stay away, but for the rest of us, he’s a uniquely enjoyable singer.


Leila Martial and Oliphantre. Photo courtesy of Bergamo Jazz

I had listened to the album Oliphantre with Leïla Martial, Francesco Diodati and Stefano Tamborrino after being wowed by Martial at the 20 years of Jazz Migration celebrations in Paris (REPORT). It is an impressive album with a great range, and lots of switchbacks and surprises. Heard live, however, with heaps of additional energy, it all somehow makes much more sense. There is a real edge, an attitude to it. Martial is palpably driven, inspired, encouraged by the guitarist and drummer to absolutely go for it, Experimentation in music can sometimes be uncertain, disorienting, underwhelming… you wonder what the musicians are going to find. No such doubts here: this group heard live knows exactly where it is going and performs with total unforgettable conviction.


Maria Pia De Vito’s next album project is entitled “This Woman’s Work.” It is based around “women’s strategies and techniques for survival in a world that is not easy,” and Maria Pia told me that the original spark had come from reading Rebecca Solnit’s memoir “Recollections of My Nonexistence”. The premiere is in Rome in June and the band is Matteo Bortone (bass/composer), Giacomo Ancillotto (guitar), Mirco Rubegni (trumpet) and Evita Polidoro (drums). The repertoire includes re-workings of songs by Elvis Costello and Fiona Apple.


Django Bates and Maria Pia De Vito. Phone snap

Django Bates had a smart idea. He invited Maria Pia De Vito to join him onstage for the song “Horses in Rain” at his solo piano recital. It is a song with its own particular contours, based around an underlying melancholy and the constant reversion to a monotone, but harmonically going to unfailingly interesting places.

Sebastian was the guest of Bergamo Jazz and the Fondazione Teatro Donizetti

LINK: Bergamo Jazz website

Categories: Live reviews, Reviews

4 replies »

  1. What a wonderful summation of a beautifully and thoughtfully programmed festival (Brava, Maria!). I look forward to seeing/hearing where Joe Lovano takes things but I’d think vocal acts of this calibre and range would be hard to top…

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