Wanting to trace a geography of the historic jazz clubs of Rome we must walk with the imagination through the alleys of its neighborhoods, to go back to the seventies and eighties and be witnesses, together with the Eternal City, of an extraordinary story.
Our journey can only start from the Music Inn, by virtue of the fact that it was the first venue in Rome to have covered the difficult yet essential role of "incubator" of the Roman jazz ferment of those years marked by the encounter between great names American jazz landed in Italy and the nascent movement made up of young Italian jazz musicians. The club was inaugurated in 1973 by the "Prince" Pepito Pignatelli (descendant of a noble family, drummer and jazz enthusiast) following the closure of another restaurant he opened, the Blue Note, located in a basement of Via Delle Zoccolette between Ponte Garibaldi and Ponte Sisto near the Lungotevere. In the following years there will be many jazz musicians who will tread the narrow stage of the damp cave located in Largo dei Fiorentini in the Ponte district, behind Via Giulia: Ornette Coleman, McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans, Dexter Gordon, Woody Shaw, Jackie McLean, Max Roach, Chet Baker, Carmen McRae, Charles Mingus, to name just a few, often accompanied by young local talents, including Enrico Pieranunzi, Roberto Gatto, Giovanni Tommaso, Maurizio Giammarco, Enzo Pietropaoli, Danilo Rea, Massimo Urbani, Fabrizio Sferra. After Pepito Pignatelli's death in 1981, the jazz club was managed throughout the 1980s by his wife Picchi; it will close in 1993 due to her death in tragic circumstances of the latter.
On the opposite bank of the Tiber, in the Borgo Pio area, near the church of Sant'Anna, another venue enlivened the Roman nights of that unrepeatable jazz season, the Mississippi founded in 1978 by Luigi Toth, Dixieland trumpeter, leader of the Old Time Jazz Band (Inside the club, the RAI journalist Raffaele Cascone carried out an interview with the American trumpeter Chet Baker in 1980 entitled "No to drugs yes to Jazz"). Moving to one of the most representative districts of the capital, Trastevere, we find in those years, the Murales cooperative in Via dei Fienaroli, opened in 1976 by Amedeo Fiorentino (also organizer of the important summer music festival set up in the Eur area), the Billy Holiday and, finally, the Folkstudio, born in 1960 in a cellar in Via Garibaldi and whose headquarters were later transferred to Via Sacchi, still in the Trastevere district, and finally, in the last years of activity, to Via Frangipane , near the Colosseum. Managed since 1967 by Giancarlo Cesaroni (chemist in an analysis laboratory with a passion for the blues), the Folkstudio rises to the headlines of the seventies as a reference venue for the turbulent and creative Roman music scene, in particular underground and deliberately transversal, from gospel to "committed" songwriting (Antonello Venditti, Francesco De Gregori, Rino Gaetano take their first steps at the Fokstudio) to South American music to jazz, with concerts by Massimo Urbani, Tommaso Vittorini, Enzo Pietropaoli, Enrico Pieranunzi, Franco D'Andrea, Mario Schiano, Maurizio Giammarco, Carla Marcotulli, Franco Cerri, Steve Lacy and many others, as well as the experimental orchestras of Giancarlo Schiaffini, Roberto Laneri, Giancarlo Gazzani and Antenore Tecardi.
Il Purgatorio needs a separate mention: a jazz club opened in 1959 in an underground room of the well-known Trastevere restaurant "Meo Patacca", in the first half of the Sixties it became the usual meeting place for the group composed by Gato Barbieri (Argentine saxophonist who arrived in Rome in those years), Enrico Rava, Gianni Foccià, Giovanni Tommaso, Bruno Tommaso, Gegè Munari but also for Pepito Pignatelli himself and the American clarinetist Bill Smith. Another meeting point in the mid-seventies for enthusiasts or just curious people, attracted by the lure of a genre that emerged from anonymity and became the prerogative of a pleiad of boy-musicians, was the Saint Louis, in Via del Cardello in the Rione Monti. Founded by a handful of young musicians”who play in a cellar and frequent the Music Inn” (including Mario Ciampà, who a few months after the opening becomes the sole owner) differs from the other venues for its more refined and refined style, we could say "fashionable", and, moreover, for being in the first years of activity both a club in the evening, with a rich program of concerts, and a music school with lessons held in the morning.
In the same year, 1976, another social gathering space was inaugurated, immersed in the multifaceted popular-bourgeois physiognomy of Rome, the Tent Theater in Piazza Mancini: a red and blue circus tent with about two thousand two hundred seats between bleachers and chairs in the stalls. The "tent" (so renamed by the Roman citizenry) is an artistic laboratory in the heart of the capital animated by an audience made up of ordinary people, actors, intellectuals, directors, politicians; comedies, musicals, ballets, shows with traditional and avant-garde repertoires are staged. In 1977 the actor Gigi Proietti performed at the Teatro Tenda with the "One Man Show'' by title "My eyes please” enjoying a great, as unexpected, success with the public. The owner of the Music Inn, Pepito Pignatelli, always full of ideas and initiatives, sets up the exhibition "The Monday of the Music Inn”, a series of jazz concerts scheduled on the day when the Roman actor's show is not staged, which will also continue in the following years. A few years later, in 1982, the American trumpeter arrives in Rome Miles Davis, returning from a seven-year stop of concert activity. The city is in turmoil, a vibration is in the air in the spasmodic wait that heralds the unrepeatable event. The concert is held under another marquee, that of the Teatro Tenda Pianeta (located where the Auditorium Parco della Musica currently stands). To accompany him the band formed by Bill Evans on saxophone, Mike Stern on guitar, Marcus Miller on bass, Al Foster on drums and Mino Cinelu on percussion.
Over the years, other places dedicated to the encounter between musicians and audiences of all ages, in the emotional ritual of the concert, will emerge in the capital, indelibly writing the fundamental role of jazz in the musical and cultural awareness of entire generations of listeners and participants.
In the picture (contribution shared by Enzo Pietroapoli), from left, Enzo Pietropaoli, Tommaso Vittorini and Roberto Gatto in concert at the Folkstudio in Rome