All that jazz

Cool sounds abound

Jennifer Sgro
June 4, 2009

Are your feet tired of the discoteca, the endless fight for survival amidst herds of sticky stiletto-wearing stumbellinas swaying to the beat of techno remixes, courtesy of last year's most overplayed rappers? Have you seen enough ambitious renditions of Rigoletto, not even counting the countless pop-culture references from vintage Loony Tunes to overpriced car commercials? Have no fear: there is life after Verdi beyond 50 Cent that may even surpass the sublime disco experience of our beloved Florence. I offer a musical journey into the jazz scene of the city, to be found in the seemingly sleepier sides of town, apart from all the tourist madness.    

Let's begin on Borgo Pinti. Just a hop and a skip away from the Four Seasons Hotel you will find the Jazz Club tucked away on the corner of via Nuova de' Caccini. Get past the low-budget neon sign and crawl down the stairs into a lair-turned-piano-bar that seems fixed in another era. No, this is not  Harlem in the roaring 20s: you are still in the historic heart of Florence, but the feel of the place is charming enough to whisk you away for a while. The crowd is a mix of all ages; the atmosphere is classy but casual. Your hosts are absolutely fabulous and friendly, offering you fresh hot popcorn glistening like gold in the light. You can order your cocktail with ease because there are no mobs pawing at the bartender as there are in most places you have encountered on a Friday night near the Duomo. The stage is small, but the seating is close to the action. A band comes on stage, glowing, as if under a blue moon. The music starts. A sultry voice purrs ‘It had to be you...'

The Jazz Club hosts blues, bebop, Brazilian, Cuban, funk and swing bands every evening except Sunday and Monday. The doors open at 9 and the live show, which usually starts between 10:30 and 11, lasts until 1 or 2 in the morning. Weekly jam sessions with locals Stay Free Band from Pistoia happen on Tuesdays. Wednesday nights are exclusively blues. The mike is open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, welcoming amateur performers. You'll learn about the membership-only policy when you first arrive, but don't be scared off: it is just 8 euro for the year. Drink prices range from 3.50 to 6 euro. Snacks are in steady supply. If you are looking for an art show to complement your jazz experience, head to Caruso Jazz Cafe on via Lambertesca. Here you will find a pristinely white vaulted space filled with art and good times. Live bands play every Thursday and Friday evening. Art exhibits change monthly.     

As for the summer months to come, Florence is all bread and circuses, as music festivals take over the piazzas by night. Every evening from June 21 until September, jazz concerts will be staged at Piazza Santissima Annunziata, courtesy of the Comune di Firenze, Quartiere Centro Storico and Firenze Estate. The scheduled program ranges from tributes to the classic Miles Davis and Billie Holiday to Cuban-inspired tango-jazz to Afro-Brazilian pop. You can even expect to catch some folk, funk and Philadelphia sounds. Cafe tables for wining and dining will be scattered throughout the piazza, set for magical evenings of music (maybe even dancing) under the stars. Dinner or aperitivo is offered at 7, provided by the nonprofit, ecogastronomic Slow Food International. For those unaware of Slow Food, think of it as a kind of organic osteria that supplies the festival with only the best of traditional Italian cuisine, made from fresh, natural, and local ingredients at a moderate price. Table reservations can be made with ease online (see box).      

The Sant'Ambrogio Summer Festival is yet another option brought to you by the Comune di Firenze. From June 8 to July 31, between Borgo La Croce and Piazza Beccaria, events dedicated to art, dance, theater, and (yes, of course) jazz will take place in the streets nearly every day of the week. Stores will remain open until 11 p.m. every Friday and restaurants in the Sant'Ambrogio zone are offering discounts. Florentine talent will be featured, from pianist Alessandro Galati to the Florence Dance Company. To give you a hint of how diverse the performances will be: on July 1 a top high school wind ensemble from Seattle will be playing American folk and Broadway jazz.     

To catch a glimpse of some VIP musicians, head uphill to Fiesole. From July 12 through the 18, the Vivere Jazz Festival will take place at the Teatro Romano. Be prepared for another enchanting evening under the stars, only this time in the revived ruins of the roman theater. The American trio Medeski Martin & Wood, known for their electric jazz, will play the first night. Another night, Italian jazz pianist Stefano Bollani will serenade with Brazilian-inspired numbers from his new album Carioca. Talking Heads fans be aware: the final festivity features David Byrne performing songs from his most recent Brian Eno collaboration, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, which got a rave reviews in Rolling Stone.     

A last spot, to be remembered come winter, is the Pinocchio Live Jazz in the Oltrarno district of Florence, near Piazza Gavinana. Not a tourist in sight. Here you will experience the local contemporary jazz scene in a classic, candle-lit cafe-theater. The Pinocchio concert series is committed to featuring native Italian artists and runs from November through March. Shows start around 10 and it is a good idea to call for a table reservation on weekends. Tickets are usually 10 euro, cocktails 5 euro. Reduced admission for students of 5 euro.    

After all that jazz, if you still want something more, check for upcoming concert events by Musicus Concentus, a top Florentine programmer dedicated to electronic, alternative and world music on the fringe of jazz. Newly emerging Italian talent and well-known internationals are featured. Past acts include jazz greats like Herbie Hancock and Elvis Costello. Concerts are hosted at various locales in and around Florence, from Stazione Leopolda to Teatro della Pergola. CARUSO JAZZ CAFE Via Lambertesca  14/16r 055/2670207 www.carusojazzcafe.comJAZZ CLUBpia Nuova de' Caccini,3055/2479700 JAZZ FESTIVALpiazza SS Annunziata www.santissima.itMUSICUS CONCENTUS piazza del Carmine, 19 055/287347 PINOCCHIO LIVE JAZZ viale D.Giannotti, 13055/683388 www.pinocchiojazz.itS.AMBROGIO SUMMER FESTIVAL

www.firenzejazz.itVIVERE JAZZ FESTIVAL Teatro romano Via Portigiani,1 Fiesole 055/5961293



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