Umbria Jazz. This phrase includes two of the only words that can be understood by natives and tourists alike. These two words are all you need to say in the town of Perugia, in fact probably the entire Umbria region for that matter, and whichever way you pronounce it, every single person will know what you are talking about. Perfetto!
Umbria Jazz is a ten-day international music festival that was founded in 1973. It is known to be one of the most coveted and important events in Europe every summer. The festival features a jam-packed program of concertos or concerts, daily beginning at noon and ending at 1:30 am. This summer, the festival took place from 8 - 17 luglio (July 8th to July 17th) and certainly did not fail to impress.
The major jazz artists that attended the festival included Prince, Liza Minnelli, Santana, B.B, King, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Marcus Miller, and Sergio Mendes to name a few. For those artists, you needed to purchase a ticket (biglietti) to see their show, which ranged from 18 to 75 Euros depending on the artist. In an effort to save money, my friends and I attended only the concerti grati (free concerts) which were equally appeasing. Over the course of the ten day event, we were able to watch The Beale Street R&B Band from Memphis with special guest Toni Green, Funk Off, Rockin’ Dopsie & The Zydeco Twisters, Chick Rodgers featuring Foundaction, East Park Reggae Collective from London, the Perugia Jazz Orchestra, Dwiki Dharmawan World Peace Band and the Saint Louis Jazz Big Band.
My favorite performance came from a bunch of guys from New Orleans, Louisiana…Rockin’ Dopsie & The Zydeco Twisters. We went to watch their midnight show the last five days of the festival and each night the crowd grew larger and larger. The Perugians and tourists alike all loved this group mainly because of the lead singer Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. His performance was over the top, complete with splits, flips, twists, turns, jumping in to the crowd and audience participation to the max. Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. also plays a washboard as he sings, which only complements the intensity of this true southern music. Having never heard of zydeco music before I did a little research on it to share with all of you. Apparently, the word zydeco derives from the French word les haricots and when translated means string beans. Rumor has it that farmers in the south must have played music during the harvesting of the bean crop and the pronunciation of les haricots somehow turned into zydeco. The music itself is a combination of and derives from Cajun/Acadian music, Afro-Caribbean beats, blues and funk music. However one defines it, zydeco music is truly a showstopper with its big band, washboard player and loud accordion. This is also something that I plan on discovering more about once back in The States.
My five-day love affair with Rockin’ Dopsie and The Zydeco Twisters derived a few days prior when I was walking home from their show. En route to my dorm, I bumped into the lead guitarist and told him what a great show they put on. Once he recognized that I was a "true American" and spoke English, my new friend George invited me to the Elf Pub to have a drink with him and listen to a young Perugian jazz group. Since that night I have officially become a "groupie"…mi piace la musica zydeco!