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Montalcino Jazz & Wine 2012
Kurt Elling, Derrek Phillips and Charlie Hunter

It's a nightmare. Montalcino Jazz & Wine and Southern Tuscany's several summer festivals are passing over me like a road train. Living the life of a countryside bum in the Tuscan hinterland I'm used to ten months of the year during which nothing happens (and I mean nothing). And then, out of that cultural desert, here we are in mid July, when a whole bunch of world-class musicians are thrown at you in one single week.

And don't say I wasn't prepared. I've worked my agenda all around my list of summer festivals in Southern Tuscany, so as to avoid missing out on anything. It didn't help. Gearing up for the concert of Kurt Elling and Charlie Hunter we had a drink a couple of nights ago at Montalcino's bar Le Logge.

Sipping my wine I noticed a flyer announcing the concert of pianist Julius Drake and tenor Ian Bostridge at La Foce in Val d'Orcia, an easy drive from Montalcino. I immediately got a pen to note down the date of the concert: July 20. July 20? That was two days ago! I nearly had a heart attack. Drake's and Bostridge's interpretation of Schuhmann's Dichterliebe is one of my top 10 records ever. How did the two of them end up playing in my backyard and nobody bothered to tell me?!

But it didn't stop with Bostridge and Drake. The same week I also had to miss out on two great concerts at Montalcino's Jazz & Wine. On Thursday night I was stuck watching my Tuscan native playing football in our village's veteran tournament. I would have traded the footie anytime against the concert of American trumpeter Tom Harrell, but once I heard that our village priest was going to play in the game... No Grammy award winner could stop me from watching Don Antonio kicking the ball as a saintly incarnation of Juve's Alessandro Del Piero!

Village football in Tuscany
Don Antonio as Juve's number 10 - a truly heavenly affair. 

Luckily I was able to make it back to Jazz & Wine for Nicola Stilo, an Italian jazz musician (flute and piano) who started out playing at Chet Baker's side. Stilo's quintet gave a great concert at Montalcino's fortress, most of it centering around some lovely South American tunes which perfectly matched the warm summer night.

Nicola Stilo and band at Jazz & Wine 2012 in Montalcino's fortress
Nicola Stilo and band at Jazz & Wine in Montalcino's fortress
with a fun painting performance taking place during their concert.

The night after Stilo I had to skip Jazz & Wine again, even though I'd have been curious to hear more from Reggie Washington. But with the amazing Amiata Piano Festival taking place right in our Tuscan village I didn't have a choice. 

Amiata Piano Festival Tenuta Montecucco Poggi del Sasso Tuscany
Amiata Piano Festival at Tenuta di Montecucco's newly restored church

With classical music I sometimes get concert hall claustrophobia. Not so that night. Sitting in the grass in front of Montecucco's tiny church we listened to Silvia Chiesa's and Maurizio Baglini's wonderful interpretation of Brahms, Schubert and the first ever performance of Giorgio Angelo Lazzarini's delightful piece Sull'acqua. At some point the crickets shyly joined in. Add a glass of Collemassari's wine and the evening was pure bliss.

But whatever the festival frenzy in Southern Tuscany, I had it set in stone: no saintly football match or famous Stradivari player would get between me and my favorite gig at Montalcino's Jazz & Wine. To be honest I didn't even know that much about Kurt Elling and Charlie Hunter, but a bit of googling and an alert sixth sense told me: 'you better be there!'

I wasn't mistaken. 

The evening actually started out on the wrong foot. It was freezing. I've been going to Jazz
& Wine for the last 13 years and only on very rare occasions was the weather not playing along. The only other indoor gig I can remember was a grandiose evening with the Enrico Pieranunzi trio in what must have been 1999. However, I can also recall a couple of summer nights during which I've been sitting with clam fingers in Montalcino's medieval fortress wondering how the musicians managed to still move theirs. Luckily this time the organizers of Jazz & Wine arrived prepared and decided in advance to move musicians and wine bottles from fortress to theater. 

Kurt Elling and Charlie Hunter gave the closing concert of this year's Montalcino Jazz & Wine. Rightly so. It was the icing on the cake. The American jazz vocalist isn't just a great singer but also a great live performer and definitely has sense of humor; a trait he shared with the rest of the gang. Charlie Hunter played some weird instrument which must be a guitar and a bass in one. I don't have a clue how it works. I only know that it sounds great. Or rather, Charlie Hunter knows how to make it sound great! Together with talented drummer Derrek Phillips they created the type of rhythm machine that gets you to shuffle your feet right away. In fact all that shuffling meant that the first wine glass broke 10 minutes into the concert and one of my friends spent half an hour mopping up precious Brunello di Montalcino between our chairs. So much for Jazz & Wine in a tiny theater box. Banfi is right. Some events better take place outside. 

Apart of this little mishap the evening was stellar and I cursed myself for not bringing more friends. No, not the ones who love jazz. They were there of course - Montalcino's jewel of a theater was chock full with people who had the time of their life. But it would have been the perfect night for people who don't like jazz. For the ones who perceive jazz as far too intellectual, serious and self-referential; the type of music you can only listen to if you have a degree. Jazz may be an umbrella term for many different approaches, but Kurt Elling, Charlie Hunter and Derrek Phillips managed to put it straight: jazz is above all one thing - plenty of fun! 

Couldn't make it to the concert? Here's a sneak peak from the gig. I'll probably
be sued for showing these fine musicians in the shaky light and sound of my ramshackle camera phone. Yes, they deserve better. But hey, it's meant to be a teaser that will hopefully convince you to check out their tour dates. 
They are not coming through your town? Listen to and download their music directly from the websites of the great Kurt Elling, Derrek Phillip and Charlie Hunter. This is how I'll be getting through the eventlessness of Tuscany's next winter. 

Missed out on Montalcino Jazz & Wine? Yeap, life is tough. But you are still in time to book tickets for the next two cycles of the Amiata Piano Festival.   
Euterpe, Sala Musica Collemassari: August 2 to 5
Dionisus, Collemassari Wine Cellar: August 30 to September 2

If you can't come out or would like to listen to the concerts again, they are being registered and will be broadcasted by Italian national radio RAI 3. 

For further concerts this summer at la Foce and in the Val d'Orcia check out "Incontri in Terra di Siena": It's la Foce.

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