Perugia is known for many things—The Umbra Institute’s innovative study abroad program, for one— but perhaps foremost among them are chocolate and jazz. The city hosts two yearly festivals to celebrate the two, and chocolate lovers herald from the world over to ring in Eurochocolate in October. In July, however, it’s music on display. And the Umbria Jazz Festival brings in the best of the best, as well as a whole host of international visitors that fill the streets with noise and merriment.
Since 1973, Umbria Jazz has brought some of the world’s best jazz musicians to Perugia; past greats have included Van Morrison, James Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis. This year, Gary Peacock and Keith Jarrett made a sensation, and they weren’t the only ones. In addition to the ticketed concerts, free music overflowed from the Giardini Carducci and Piazza IV Novembre every afternoon and evening, and these venues featured the likes of Ellis Hooks, the Good Fellas, Toni Green, and the Ohio State University Band. With a Peroni in hand, festival goers could grab a seat overlooking Perugia’s beautiful panorama of the surrounding Umbrian countryside and tap their feet to a little soulful jazz before dinner. And in the evening hours, Corso Vannucci was packed with all kinds of people and displays and vendors. The city was lit up long after its usual bedtime, with stores and restaurants staying open well into the night. And the streets came culturally alive with a mix of all kinds of languages, as Umbria Jazz draws people from all over the globe.
To those of us who have come to know Perugia as a quiet, off-the-beaten-track Italian secret, Umbria Jazz showed another side to this paradox of a city. For two weeks, the city swelled with rhythm and commotion and rollicking good fun. Now Perugia has a good month or so to simmer down and recuperate before the next grand arrival: Umbra students, Fall 2007. Let the games begin.