Saint Louis - Tale of the music to come


Saint louis jazz schoolSince its inauguration in 1976, the Saint Louis has seen a succession of spaces initially used for jazz club and later at music school numerous international and Italian jazz musicians. The long history of Saint Louis over the decades intersects with that of others jazz club and educational centers of the capital, tracing the coordinates of a new way of enjoying live concerts and at the same time of assimilating and implementing progressively optimized jazz teaching methodologies adapted to the evolving needs and expectations of students, teachers and the public. But let's start from the beginning, in the mid-seventies a group of young visitors to the Franco Fayenz and Enrico Cogno di Pepito Pignatelli take into consideration the idea of ​​going into partnership in order to find a space to open a jazz club intended for an audience of their age. The research focuses on a theater abandoned following a fire in Via Del Cardello in the Rione Monti, for the restructuring of which the group relies on the skills of a young architect, Mario Ciampà, also a jazz enthusiast. The physiognomy of the place after the works is that of a large cellar complete with an adjoining bar, no different in terms of characteristics from the few jazz club popped up in the alleys of Rome, starting with the Music Inn, with its proverbial humidity and discomfort of the seats reserved for the public. Due to disagreements on how to manage the live events - the group of young jazzophiles is divided between traditionalists and followers of be-bop - the place is closed for several months until Mario Ciampà himself, to recover the costs of the works prepared in the as an architect, he did not make the decision to purchase the entire shares of the company. We are in the years of large gatherings of young people who have come to Perugia from all over Italy to attend the concerts on the bill for the nascent Umbria Jazz Festival; what attracts them are the free entrance and the common 1968 ideology of shared, free and anti-authoritarian community. There is no shortage of public order problems (some foreign guests such as Dizzy Gillespie due to the traffic jams created by the crowd of spectators they will not be able to reach the place of the concert to perform) and protests by the more politicized wing of the public towards those jazz musicians considered "bourgeois". It hangs over form of mind of an egalitarian and free world evoked by the youth counterculture the shadow of the utopia shattered against the years of lead, of the Red Brigades, of the demonstrations marked by violent clashes between antagonists and the forces of order in the streets of central Rome, of the breakthroughs perpetrated to the detriment of tent theaters and private venues - including Saint Louis itself - in the name of free music for all. In short, hard and controversial years, marked by a climate of opinion exacerbated by the gravity of the contingent events, in which we witness conversely - or precisely because of this extreme political-social context - an artistic ferment bearer of free initiatives and bold and courageous position aimed at cultural diffusion, in this case concerning the various jazz currents. In this ever-changing context, Mario Ciampà aims at a proposal conceived without placing limits on genres or artistic derivations belonging to traditional jazz, be-bop or free jazz, a practice which in the following years became common to all festival events. Following this, the Saint Louis jazz club quickly became one of the most important venues in the capital with concerts by internationally renowned musicians: trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, drummers, among the most important in the history of jazz, Elvin Jones - member of the John Coltrane – Max Roach quartet, Kenny Clarke – initiator of the be-bop style at Minton's Playhouse in New York together with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Christian- pianist Richard Muhal Abrams – founder in 1965 in Chicago the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Music) – the trumpeter Lester Bowie of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and again Lee Konitz, Archie Sheep, John Pass, Steve Lacy, Freddy Hubbard, Charles Tolliver, David Murray. To these are added Italian jazz musicians such as Massimo Urbani, Enrico Rava, Paolo Fresu, Paolo Damiani, Bruno Tommaso, the "Great List of Musicians" directed by Tommaso Vittorini and other. Apart from this mode of operation implemented by Mario Ciampà to create a network of contacts and establish a bond of trust with foreign musicians, two elements of rupture with the general vision of the "cellars" present in Rome at the time were foreshadowed: the comfort offered to spectators (armchairs were installed theatre) and the opening of a music school with courses held in the afternoon; the teachers are the same musicians who perform in the evening at the jazz club, obtained by removing the panels useful for dividing the rooms of the club. In addition to this, in the following years several students at the end of the courses themselves became teachers, thus fueling a virtuous circuit of musical diffusion and learning. A year before the opening of the Saint Louis, the “Popular School of Music of Testaccio“, following the occupation by a group of young musicians – including the double bass player and teacher Bruno Tommaso who will support Mario Ciampà in organizing the Saint Louis – of an old abandoned building in the homonymous Roman district. The latter scholastic institution arises, in its intent and purpose, in continuity with the previous experience of the jazz course held by the pianist and composer Giorgio Gaslini (in the two-year period 1972-73) at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome, regarding the free managerial autonomy of a group of musicians-teachers with free courses open to all. A basic conception that differs from the Saint Louis one centered around an "organizer", Mario Ciampa, responsible for the management of the courses held by paid teachers and, even more importantly, with a privileged attention to quality and continuous updating , as mentioned before, of the profuse teaching. In fact, in the years that followed, the Saint Louis, in addition to organizing seminars held by jazz masters such as Dizzy Gillespie, Paul Motian, Marc Johnson, Bob Stoloff, Giovanni Tommaso, Fabrizio Bosso, Robben Ford, Peter Erskine, has seen among the group of teachers prominent names of Italian jazz such as Enrico Pieranunzi, Roberto Gatto, Maurizio Giammarco, Danilo Rea, Marcello Rosa, Umberto Fiorentino, Amedeo Tommasi, Rosario Giuliani and many others. In 1996 the artistic "adventure" of the jazz club, he Saint Louis divine in toto a multipurpose space dedicated to the School of Music, with courses aimed not only at jazz but also at other genres such as rock, pop and electronic music. Finally, with the direction of Stefano Mastruzzi,, since 1998 the Saint Louis has established itself as one of the most prestigious musical universities at an international level also by virtue of an ever-increasing number of students enrolled in the academic years. Against the backdrop of the ten-year history of Saint Louis remains the need to look carefully at the preparation of the generation of musicians to come and at their advancement towards the near future, in order to imagine the music of tomorrow. A programmatic manifesto legible in the same nomen omen of the jazz club first and later of the music school, for some associated with the name of Luigi Toth, one of the founders together with Mario Ciampà of jazz club "Saint Louis", and later another jazz club in the capital, "Mississippi”, in which many established Italian jazz musicians took their first steps in the 1970s, for others instead a veiled homage to the young trumpeter Louis Armstrong, who grew up musically in the 1920s in New Orleans, the city where it all began.

Paolo Marra


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