Suedtirol/Alto Adige Jazz Festival 30 June–9 July 2023

“A festival should be an experience,” says Stefan Festini Cucco, new Festival president. With 55 concerts in over 30 stunning venues and locations among the mountains of Suedtirol/Alto Adige, incredible experiences at this 41st festival are guaranteed. It’s centred in the beautiful old Italian city of Bolzano/Bozen and nearby towns. The province is in Italy, all places have both Italian and German names, and both languages are spoken. How does a Festival stay successful for 40 years? Preview by Alison Bentley:

Jazzrausch Bigband at Suedtirol/Alto Adige Festival
Jazzrausch Bigband at Suedtirol/Alto Adige Festival. Photo credit: Alison Bentley

LondonJazz News: Tell us about the Festival.

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Stefan Festini Cucco: Klaus Widmann ran the Festival for 18 years – he transformed it and expanded it; not only into the whole provincial territory, but also the number of concerts increased quite a lot. He developed what our concept still is today, which is not to invite the big stars of jazz but to focus on younger musicians and try to create some new projects. The festival should still be a point of encounter for young musicians – it’s common nowadays in the young scene to mix jazz with a bit of rock, pop and electronic music.

LJN: Some established musicians you bring back frequently. This year, for example, you have (Austrian bassist) Lukas Kranzelbinder, (Italy-based US-born saxophonist) Dan Kinzelman, (Italian guitarist) Francesco Diodati and (London-based, Suedtirol-born bassist/vocalist) Ruth Goller

SFC: We try to combine them with other musicians we haven’t brought before and to introduce them to new projects. On the opening night, (French vocalist) Leila Martial will be with KID BE KID, a piano and beatbox artist based in Berlin. Lukas Kranzelbinder we called because he is going to perform a new concept – a kind of ritual of music. Several months ago I read a book by the philosopher Byung-Chul Han about the disappearance of rituals in the present time. They’re going to play for five hours continuously and there will be some dancers to transform the basement cellar in Bolzano’s Batzen Sudwerk Ca’ de Bezzi. Lukas was the right person in our opinion because he did some musical research in Morocco about the Gnawa people, and he’s really into these trance rituals.

LJN: The festival’s always made a point of nurturing new talent.

SFC: That’s an idea that we bring to the Euregio Jazz Collective and the Jazz Labs that we have in Suedtirol, to bring together emerging musicians from the local regions. We want to include the new generation – not just presenting music but also trying to play an active part in the evolution of music.

LJN: In the past you’ve had themes relating to particular countries.

SFC: This year we wanted to be completely free – we still focus on a certain kind of music, but the programme is broad. On the opening night, for example, we have Juan Sais from Spain, then Leila Martial; then we go to a Berlin-based band Simularia, which is heavily into electronics. We end that night with a big electronic music event almost like a rave, till 5am, which for Bolzano is really exceptional! We had the chance to do something for the local youth, because a festival is about music, but it also has some cultural, political and social duties.

LJN: You’re well-known for matching music to venues, some of which are spectacular.

SFC: We’ve lost some but gained some new ones. We have a concert in the mountains which is actually the place where my family is from. It’s really lovely and a bit less touristic, because the Dolomites these days are really crowded! In recent years we’ve had the “base camp” (in Bolzano’s Parco Cappuccini Park). People who come for the festival, journalists and other organisers can meet local people. It’s there for the whole period, which creates more of a festival atmosphere.

LJN: The Parco Semirurali has an amazing mountain backdrop.

SFC: We have German speakers and Italian speakers in the region, and more concerts take place in the German-speaking areas. The Parco Semirurali has a good audience in the Italian-speaking area, and local people come. We think it’s important to bring the music to the people and not only the people to the music. That’s why we play in a lot of different places, in quite remote towns or in the mountains and not just in the city.

LJN: Another interesting venue is the Fortezza Fortress.

SFC: It’s a big fortress from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then the Italian Ministry of Defence, and then it became a museum. We’re developing a new concept – we’ll do an acoustic guide to the structure. The usual guided tour is more about the history of the place. The sextet Ghost Horse will stay there three days and guide the audience through the spaces of the fortress.

LJN: Now there are three of you in charge of the Festival – what do you bring to it?

SFC: Max von Pretz carries over his role as manager, so he deals with the business side, as he has always done. Roberto Tubaro is the man for aesthetics – he does the graphics and also the design of the locations. All three of us together do the music programme. It was really a good experience actually, because we’ve grown a lot together over the last 10 years. When we make our selection, we listen together to the music and most of the time we have nearly the same opinion.

LJN: It’s your 41st festival – what’s the secret of your success?

SFC: A few years ago when we brought in more experimental stuff, sometimes the audience was quite small. We get public funding and private sponsors so if there’s no audience it’s not good. But in recent years even the more experimental side of the festival has been really well attended, and so that means people trust the programming.

Some people ask, do you want to grow? But we don’t want to increase the number of concerts, which is between 50 and 60. There’s also the ecological thing – we want to make everything really sustainable.

We always try to combine the international with the local, and always try to fit the music to the location. We have many different locations and I think researching special places and combining them with a certain kind of music is good. You not only enjoy the music, but also the place and the atmosphere. A festival should be an experience.

Some gigs are free, or offer concessions, and there are always helpful people around to get you where you want to be. Take a train or fly to Verona, then a train to Bolzano.

LINK: Festival website

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