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Last year’s Umbria Jazz Winter was a special edition, as the festival celebrated its twenty-fifth year, making it one of the oldest Italian music festivals. This year’s edition – the twenty-sixth – might not coincide with a special anniversary, but the quality of the music on offer makes it no less special. Reading through the programme you will find the finest names of Italian jazz (including Italy’s most important trumpeters: Rava, Fresu, Bosso and Boltro) plus major American artists spanning different generations such as Ethan Iverson and Barry Harris. It is an edition that also stands out for the large number of interesting original projects, some of which have been created especially for Umbria Jazz.

Many of the artists appearing in Orvieto this year will be exploring particular aspects of the diverse universe of jazz, from its history up to its current state, and among the areas they will be examining are: the music of Italian cinema; the art of Bud Powell and bebop; a tribute to the legend of New Orleans, the cradle of jazz; and a celebration of the work of Italian singer-songwriter Fabrizio De Andrea to mark the twentieth anniversary of his death, with a show featuring not only live music but also readings and recordings.

The programme is confirmation that the festival is “cultured” – but not elitist! – in that it encourages a deeper, highly-motivated approach to the music. However, in keeping with the philosophy of Umbria Jazz, the programme also includes more “popular” forms of music that will also appeal to non-experts and to those from outside the world of jazz, but which meet the criteria of quality that has always been an essential feature of Umbria Jazz.

Almost all of this year’s musicians are resident artists and can be heard on several occasions during the five days of the festival, and some of them will be appearing with different groups and projects.

The festival formula has been perfected over the years and has enjoyed great success with festival audiences, and this year it remains unchanged. The music venues are the Mancinelli Theatre, the Emilio Greco Museum, and the rooms of the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, all of which are in the heart of historic Orvieto.

There is non-stop music at the Palazzo dei Sette and Jazz Lunches and Dinners at “Il Malandrino Bistrot” and at the “Ristorante al San Francesco”. Here, fine food and wine (for which Umbria is justly renowned) combine with jazz to create an irresistible harmony. As always, Funk Off will be performing daily in the streets of the old town. This Tuscan street band and their joyful and spectacular mix of funk and the musical traditions of New Orleans (interpreted with a modern touch) have become the official soundtrack to Umbria Jazz. And for those who want to stay up into the wee small hours, there is nothing better than the late-night jam sessions. The music starts at midnight with the resident band (Piero Odorici and Daniele Scannapieco on saxes, Andrea Pozza on piano, Aldo Zunino on bass and Antony Pinciotti on drums) and goes until who knows when.

A day spent following the programme of Umbria Jazz Winter #26 is like a guided tour through the history of one of Umbria’s most beautiful cities.

Two events continue to lie at the heart of the festival.

The first is the gospel concert at the end of the New Year’s Day Mass in the Cathedral. The religious songs of the African American tradition (this year performed by the New Direction Gospel Choir from Tennessee) have always been an integral part of the festival’s programmes.

The second is when Umbria Jazz welcomes the New Year. New Year’s Eve Parties are held at three different venues and there are concerts before and after the bells at midnight and well into the early hours of the morning.

And finally, once again Umbria Jazz will be providing an important showcase for two groups of young musicians: the winners of the 2018 Conad Jazz Contest, and the Berklee/Umbria Jazz Clinics 2018 Award Group, which is made up of the most promising students who attended the summer courses held in Perugia last July by Boston’s Berklee College of Music.