The last echoes of a solo trumpet drift across the Straits of Messina towards the dying sun. The sky changes colours like the textures of diminishing chords. The final performance of Ecojazz 2017 was about to begin. On a hilltop behind Reggio Calabria the 26th annual jazz-fest closed with the day, to the massed rhythms of Luca Scorziello’s 17 piece ensemble, “I Tamburi”.
Summer in the South of Italy means two things, full beaches and live music and more often than not… together. Everywhere and every night there’s a festival or a show, at the lidos or open air theatres, in roadside bars or on the hilltop….Like the Edinburgh Fringe in August, only hotter. Much hotter. There’s such a choice of entertainment that selecting your evening’s venue can become extremely difficult….from Ethnic folk to rock, blues to pop, original artists and the usual plethora of tribute bands compete for your attention and attendance. But it’s not just local talent that’s on display, this is when we’re drooling at the ears for the visiting international performers. This season really got under way with a terrific performance from a regular visitor and favourite, Sarah Jane Morris and her amazing group, who performed under the ancient floodlit walls of the 15th century Castello Aragonese… and the signs for the summer were looking good. Every seat was filled, the low walls of the piazza were packed.
This has been a concern of mine over the last few years, particularly for what I consider the highlight festival , Ecojazz! It brings some of the most incredible musicians in the world to our door but recently the audiences have looked scant, a smattering of aficionados and true fans whose tickets (max 15 euros) can hardly have paid for the stage and sound engineer’s refreshments. A niggling fear that this quarter century old festival will have to cut its cloth and deny us the stars, the new jazz as well as the classics. But I was underestimating the sheer bloody-minded determination of its organiser, musical director, promoter, agent and founder, Giovanni Laganà. This year, whether it’s because the line-up was so well crafted or because maybe there was a little more money around or just Giovanni’s refusal to let go of a dream…the audiences were back! Start times were delayed to allow the crowds to find their seats and settle down in the stepped semi circle at the old fort, Parco Ecolandia! (note, delays are not unusual in Calabria, more out of hope than expectation, as when a show is advertised to start at 9.00pm that’s the time most folk get into the shower and then dress before making their way to the venue) This time though, it was about the numbers who arrived. Due to the week’s extreme temperatures, believe me, all the seats were hot seats.
The festival is almost spiritual in its conception and, like all births, it found its way into the world with some pain. In 1991 judge Antonino Scopelliti was gunned down in Calabria, the same year as another judge from Palermo, Paolo Borsellino, also met with a similar fate. As a reaction to the Mafia violence a group of young men, including Giovanni Laganà started a “resistance” movement the following year….using Jazz as its medium. EcoJazz! Running over 7 days, it starts at 4.30am on the first day with a performance on the Lungomare (often referred to as the most beautiful Kilometre in Italy) to greet the rising sun, a reveille to the coming treats at the Fort. And what treats! This year brought Richard Bona and Diane Schuur over from The States, Toquinho and Selma Hernandez from Brazil and strong contingent of Italian acts who did much more than fill in! IT was hard to choose how many shows we could see but each that we did was brilliant. However, the cream on top for me this year, was the closing performance on the final day. Since its inception, Ecojazz week has closed where it all began 26 years ago, in Pellaro, a hilltop adieu to the festival and the setting sun. Luca Scorziello, a nationally famous percussionist gave us his usual and unforgettable blends of latin and jazz. 4 Drummers, 4 percussionists, 2 keyboards, guitar, bass, xylophone, 2 vocalists, a trumpet and Luca. If you’re ever coming to Calabria….make sure it’s during EcoJazz Week!