The Umbria Jazz Festival, in the atmospheric medieval city of Perugia, is one of the undoubted highlights of the jazz year. Every July, jazz lovers from around the world congregate in Perugia, knowing that they will have ten days of the most wonderful music, in the most wonderful of settings.
Established in 1973, the Umbria Jazz Festival has, over the years, not only attracted some of jazz music’s greatest names but it has also introduced many previously less well-known artists to the international stage. Evidence of the ability of this festival to seduce major musicians can be seen by the astonishing fact that the 2009 programme featured no fewer than 66 Grammy winning performers.
Not only has the Umbria Festival played host to the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, however, it has also been able to stray outside of mainstream modern jazz to entice artists of the calibre of Steely Dan, James Brown, Simply Red, James Taylor, George Benson, BB King and Burt Bacharach. But then, who wouldn’t want to perform in a city like Perugia?
The Festival stretches over 10 days during the middle of July each year and is especially well-known for the quantity, and quality, of its free events. Almost daily in the Giardini Carducci in the Centro Storico of this charming town or in the Piazza IV Novembre, visitors will find fabulous free concerts. As well as these fantastic open-air venues, however, the stages at the Arena santa Giuliana, the theatres and in other squares and restaurants dotted around the city also host musical events all worthy of such a prestigious celebration of the best in jazz.
Umbria is perhaps a little less popular with visitors than Tuscany to the north, but the region has just as much to recommend it in terms of its natural beauty and the distinctiveness of its major cities. Perugia, the region’s capital, has long been considered one of the artistic centres of Italy – making it the ideal location for one of the world’s leading music festivals.
The city itself absolutely oozes historical significance and charm. The lovely cathedral (Duomo), a Roman aqueduct, the Etruscan city wall with the Porta Augusta, and the small, sloping cobbled streets that simply beguile the traveller – Perugia has everything you would look for in a classic medieval Italian city, surrounded by the rightly celebrated Umbrian hills. Perugia is a city seemingly made for summertime jazz!
Perugia is near the main motorway connecting Milan and Rome, the A1 Autostrada. Consequently, by road it is about two and half hours from the capital city and four hours from Milan. There is a small regional airport, San Egidio, just about 7 miles outside the city, which, at the time of writing, has Ryanair flights from London. The airport at Florence is also only about one hour away from the city. Arriving by train is very straightforward, with regular services from Rome and the north of Italy.
If you are driving into Perugia, be prepared to park outside the city centre as access is severely restricted. There are, however, good quality escalators which run from the car parks up into the historic centre of the city. As with the whole of Italy in the summer – especially at Jazz Festival time – accommodation needs to be reserved well in advance but there are some amazing holiday apartments outside of the city as well as a good number of hotels and hostels in the town itself. The city’s official tourist website is a good source of information.
The Umbria Jazz festival generally takes place in July. For exact details of this incredible event, go to http://www.umbriajazz.com/ .