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Jazz

The first time I set foot in Friuli was in 2009, and it was my first and only experience as a correspondent for a music magazine. But for me it was more of a reward holiday, and I found it inconceivable that someone would be paid to attend a festival, even though I knew that for professionals this is the norm. When I saw the village where the event was taking place, Gradisca d’Isonzo, it looked fake, a perfect life-size reproduction of a Hapsburg town before 1914. Instead, it was real, although suspended in the immobility of time and the triple spatial border between Italy, Slovenia and Austria. I remember the dizzying sensation of meeting in person musicians with a long history, and fellow journalists much more experienced than myself; an orgy of dinner and chat that contrasted with the subsequent solitude of my hotel room.

A singer from Bologna, Cristina Zavalloni, was performing at the festival, as were many international artists. There was Tim Hodgkinson, in contact with Siberian shamanism as embodied by the traditional Tuva voice of Gendos Chamzyryn. There was Fred Frith, there was Keith Tippett, there was Han Bennink and Terrie Ex and many others. But of all of them, the only one I really stuck with was the double bass player Joelle Leandre. Born in 1951 in Aix-en-Provence, she has been hyperactive since the 1970s in the borderland between free jazz and classical music (collaborating with greats like Pierre Boulez, John Cage, Giacinto Scelsi, Merce Cunningham). The list of her fellow travellers in the field of jazz, like that of her records and the bibliography dedicated to her, is apparently endless. Another correspondent at the Gradisca d’Isonzo festival, Francesco Martinelli, wrote this long piece dwelling in particular on her. Among the many academic articles, there is one from 2009 entitled Freedom, responsibility & transformation in jazz and society from Buddy Bolden to Joelle Léandre, which makes us reflect more generally on the meaning of improvisation.

Those who improvise – in music, in theatre, in dance, in writing – are doing the most difficult and fascinating thing of all. In this, he is getting closer through art to what we constantly do in life: we breathe, and we improvise.

Wynton Marsalis says that ‘jazz is the art of the here and now. Musicians anticipate the future to organise the present as it becomes memory’.

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