The Saint Louis College of Music. Interview with Stefano Mastruzzi

Active since 1976, banner of higher education in the musical field recognized by the M.U.R., it combines teaching and concert activity, creating a strong link between the classrooms and the world of work. We talk to the general manager about it.

Good morning Stefano, nice to see you again on the pages of Musica Jazz. You direct the Saint Louis College of Music in Rome, a historical high school of musical education in Italy, if one takes into account that it began its activity way back in 1976. At the same time, organizational activity is also very sustained, taking into account the numerous festivals that you promote and organize. Do you think this last activity is necessary for a music school?
Artistic production, whether concert or recording, represents the culmination of a path of advanced artistic training. The latter differs from basic and informative training precisely because of the professionalizing aspect it tends to and therefore one must measure oneself in the field with this profession. To this end, the Saint Louis produces every year jazz festivals, European-wide artistic residencies, dozens of concerts and record publications that testify to the artistic development path carried out by each graduate and at the same time already constitute important items for their respective curricula.

In practice, what is the benefit that students can derive from this activity?
Our talents find themselves several times during each academic year sharing the stage alongside internationally renowned artists, in trios, quartets, combos and large ensembles up to big bands. In recent years, the concerts of Aaron Goldberg, Paolo Fresu, Kurt Elling, Jonathan Kreisberg, Vince Mendoza, Richard De Rosa, Lage Lund, Gabriele Mirabassi, Enrico Pieranunzi, Rosario Giuliani, Gianluca Petrella, Javier Girotto, Gegé Telesforo, … The guys have actually shared the stage with these personalities, engaged in a professional activity of extraordinary artistic level and many of them are subsequently contacted by the same artists and managers with whom they have worked over the years at the Saint Louis; I constantly find some ex Saint Louis who, as if by magic, I find myself involved in the artistic projects of established national jazz musicians. This is the true mission of an institution, to train and really start the profession. The pattern of the international jazz musician popping in for a traditional lesson and then walking away is genuinely anachronistic.

What exhibitions are you organizing at the moment?
Jammin' is the annual review that we have held between Casa del Jazz and the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome for almost twenty years, bringing the best original projects of the academic year to the stage. European Jazz's Cool, on the other hand, is an artistic residency involving 15 Italian talents selected among the students of the two-year course at Saint Louis and some from Italian conservatories and 15 from the European partner conservatories of Saint Louis, an original production which in one week gives life to 6 unpublished projects, curated from time to time by different artists, in recent years Anais Drago, Ramberto Ciammarughi, Alex Sipiagin, Paolo Damiani, David Linx. Between Jazz Festival in Piazza Armerina, a production for the Region of Sicily which reviews original projects of linguistic contamination between jazz music and Mediterranean popular music

Jammin' seems to me to be the review that more than others sees the students of Saint Louis on the field. How did this idea come about and how do you choose the artists?
It was born in 2003-2004 in collaboration with the then newborn Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome. The artists are selected throughout the academic year, a talent scout's work that really takes place on the road, stealthily entering the rehearsal rooms of the Saint Louis, listening to the demo recordings of those who propose, experiencing live performances in Roman clubs such as the Alexanderplatz where our jazz ensembles perform all year round.

In practical terms, does this organizational activity have a positive impact on the training activity?
Certainly, as I explained before, it is a decisive part of it, I am not exaggerating when I say that preparation is 50% of the potential of a jazz musician, the rest is the ability to relate to the public, promoters and other musicians.

Stefano, due to your great experience. Has the situation created by Covid changed the world of music?
No, it led to a moment of objective difficulty for the musicians, which lasted for over two years. Certainly the compositions I've listened to (hundreds) in these two years are affected by a decidedly gloomy period, but that's normal, the artistic production reflects the social life of the moment, it would be worrying if it weren't. The world of music is evolving deeply and rapidly due to technological progress, but this too is the normal flow of life: with the birth of the gramophone, the world of music production was turned upside down, previously only for concerts and publishing, the compact disc seemed to have introduced the point of arrival of acoustic perfection, but it lasted less than twenty years, replaced by files and liquid music. The phenomenon cannot be stopped and it would not make sense to do so, it reflects the current times in which we exist and of which we represent the social fabric, but this phenomenon can be understood, ride it and try to tame it to lead you where you want to go and Not vice versa.

From an administrative, legal and fiscal point of view, do you think artistic Italy has reacted well and, above all, had the right tools to withstand a dramatic event like the past one?
It's easy to fall into the banal trap of "yes, but it still wasn't enough"; the story has mostly brought to the surface the inadequacy and at times the non-existence of a real and concrete working fabric on which legislative instruments could have positive effects distributed over the entire supply chain. It is difficult to be able to protect the lack of work of musicians who fiscally never existed before or almost. Is the fault of this attributable to that particular musician who prefers to play illegally because in this way he thinks he will apparently earn more? Is it the fault of that Club that prefers to save enpals contributions and withholding tax? Is it the responsibility of the State which, with the exception of large numbers of musicians, oppresses the category excessively? Is it the fault of SIAE that by not recognizing the right to improvisation instead of paying the jazz musician who plays a theme edited for 30 seconds and then improvises for 4 minutes (extemporaneous composition) only pays composers and publishers? Not being without sin I do not allow myself to cast the first stone.

Since you have bilateral experiences (both in the organization of teaching and events), how do you judge the Italian music festival management?
Very rich. There are Festivals in all the Municipalities of Italy, there are networks of Jazz Festivals such as Jip and I-Jazz which bring together dozens of them, a prolific activity and quality levels of the highest rank and international scope. I would only like to point out an endemic tendency to involve young talents as they "cost less" or, worse, because according to some brilliant artistic directors they should play for free in exchange for the showcase, I don't find it right not only ethically but also legally, especially from part of Festivals that benefit from public grants.

Is it difficult to find suitable venues for the festivals you are involved in?
There are perfectly suitable places such as the Auditorium and Casa del Jazz or certain summer festivals. On the other hand, it is very complex to be able to bring our jazz festivals to the suburbs.

How are the festivals organized by Saint Louis financed?
They are mainly financed with own funds intended for artistic production. Sometimes, as in the case of European Jazz's cool, there is co-financing from Europe and FUS which covers 60-70% of the costs, the rest is always borne by the institution. In an article published in Milano Finanza in 2015, they defined the Saint Louis as "an example of a healthy and competitive cultural enterprise on the international scene without affecting public resources by one euro, a model of cultural entrepreneurship with all-Italian know-how".

After so many years of musical and educational militancy, who are the stars (or rising stars) who have blossomed in the garden of Saint Louis College?
They come to mind Federica Michisanti (Top Jazz Award), Elisabetta Antonini (Top Jazz 2014), Caterina Palazzi (Top Jazz 2014) Leonardo Pruneti (first prize Barga Jazz 2021 and 2022), Urban Quartet (Conad Jazz Festival popular jury award at Umbria Jazz 2022), Vittorio Solimene (first prize Paolo Randazzo), Francesco Diodati (Enrico Rava ensemble), Anna Bielli e i Threetops (First Prize "Tomorrow's Jazz" Competition in Venice), Antonio Ottaviano (Massimo Urbani Award 2022) and then Nicola Di Tommaso, Mario Nappi, Andrea Saffirio, Gianluca Massetti, Claudio Jr De Rosa, Laura Lala

Are young people interested in jazz?
Much interest in current jazz, much less in that of the past, today the jazz of the early 2000s is already considered past ... but it is a more than natural attitude, in any field the hero to emulate is always a generation away or at most two.

In reality, the audience for jazz concerts is increasingly agée. In your opinion, what should/could be done to bring young people closer to jazz?
Bringing jazz back to television, cinema, radio and now series. Before it is too late, replace the recorder and solfeggio in schools with jazz music, whose didactic approach is much better suited to groups of elementary and middle school students and contributes seriously to the development of musicality, far from solfeggio…

Stefano, what are the goals of the Saint Louis College of Music and its, so to speak, collateral activities?
To train and inform, disseminate and deepen, promote and support.

What is written in your diary as organizer-artistic director and teacher?
Opening of the fifth venue of the Saint Louis in Rome with attached Auditorium and related permanent concert season, inauguration of the Saint Louis venue in Milan in 2023, publication of a popular editorial series for large-scale Italian book distribution, but above all opening to the public of our marvelous Jazz Archive in Rome which receives contributions (documents, recordings and photographs) from many musicians, journalists, essayists such as Enrico Pieranunzi, Marco Molendini, Adriano Mazzoletti, Bruno Tommaso and dozens of other supporters, an endless work in progress documenting the history of jazz in Rome.

Alceste Ayroldi