Torino, Jazz, and the Torino Jazz Festival: History in the Making

Torino and jazz: a nearly century-old fatal attraction. It was here that the country’s first jazz club opened in 1933; Louis Armstrong made his Italian debut in Torino in 1935; that same year, musicologist Massimo Mila published his essay “Jazz Hot”, one of the first high-brow reflections on what was then an all-new musical archetype.

The Torino Jazz Festival kicked off in 2012, an effort to consolidate a musical genre whose roots dig deep into a lively local tradition. Since then, the festival has hosted performances by thousands of musicians. By now, audiences consider this a classic event on their springtime cultural calendars.

The 2018 edition of the TJF marked a sea change for the festival. Artistic director Giorgio Li Calzi and his assistant Diego Borotti oversaw new developments, beginning with all-new graphics – a refreshing, revolutionary approach to usher in a whole new contextual approach. Most importantly, the focus turned to experimentation, with the spotlight on artists that have kept jazz alive and well in Torino for years, with performances at local jazz clubs. In recent years they have opened up their doors and paved the way for a flourishing jazz scene. For the first time, the TJF, while still highlighting grand jazz traditions, was fired up by the insight of its new innovative co-directors, and played host to some very unexpected contaminations. The Mole Antonelliana, architectonic symbol of the city of Torino, was illuminated with the festival’s new logo, and was the site of the festival’s opening concert, featuring the experimental group Radian from Austria. Afternoon concerts featured the likes of Ivo Papasov, Melanie De Biasio, Terje Rypdal, and Franco D’Andrea. The new venue OGR-Officine Grandi Riparazioni proved to be the perfect setting for “double-headers” with performances by Torino-based jazz musicians and contemporary stars on the Italian and international scenes. Featured artists: Federico Marchesano and Louis Sclavis, Riccardo Ruggieri and Gary Bartz, Aljazzera and Frankie Hi-Nrg MC, Fabrizio Bosso and the Banda Osiris. Evening shows at OGR by Archie Shepp, Marc Ribot, Nils Petter Molvær, and Fred Hersch were all sold out.

Progress has been made, and how, since the TJF’s first edition directed by music critic and radio personality Dario Salvatori. Ahmad Jamal played one afternoon in Piazzale Valdo Fusi. The main stage in Piazza Castello played host to greats like Dionne Warwick, Carla Bley, Billy Cobham and Stefano Bollani, along with his trio during one particularly stormy night. Call it a kind of baptism in rejuvenating springtime rains! Then there was the Concerto sulla Zattera (“Concert on a Raft”) floating down the Po River, a concept developed by the festival’s Fringe Jazz head Furio Di Castri, which went on to be repeated in several successive editions. In 2013 Stefano Zenni took over as the TJF’s artistic director. Afternoon performances featured the Mingus Dynasty band, Roy Paci and Abdullah Ibrahim; with evening shows by Mulatu Astatke, Enrico Rava and the Teatro Regio Orchestra (together they went on to record the album “Rava on the Road”), McCoy Tyner, Roy Haynes, and Simone Cristicchi with Funk Off. In 2014 the TJF celebrated April 25 (marking the end of World War II in Italy in 1945) with the theme Jazz della Liberazione. That year artists included Gianluigi Trovesi, Diane Schuur, Daniele Sepe, Manu Dibango, Caetano Veloso, and Elio e le Storie Tese. In 2015 Anthony Braxton played at Torino’s famed Egyptian Museum, along with Sonic Genome. Afternoon concerts downtown featured high-caliber talent that included Ron Carter and David Murray. Evening shows in Piazza San Carlo featured musical powerhouses like Hugh Masekela, Shibusa Shirazu, Omar Sosa, and The Blues Brothers Band.

Stefano Zenni, the 2016 TJF artistic director, served up a reading of Julio Cortazar’s short story entitled “The Pursuer” by Francesco Cafiso and Vinicio Marchioni; “Pulse!”, a project by Max Casacci, Vaghe Stelle and Emanuele Cisi, was performed in Piazza San Carlo. Other featured artists included Tim Berne and Antonio Sanchez, who played selections from the soundtrack of the film “Birdman”, with a closing performance by the band Incognito.