Umbria Jazz (or UJ) is the most important Italian jazz festival, held annually in Perugia in July. For 10 days in July Perugia devotes itself to and embraces the best of Italian and international jazz (and not only), in the Arena Santa Giuliana, Teatro Pavone, the Oratorio Santa Cecilia, Piazza IV Novembre and the Carducci gardens. The Festival was officially initiated on 23 August 1973 at the natural theatre of Villalago, Piediluco (TR), with the concert of Aktuala and with the orchestra of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, whose ranks included a young Dee Dee Bridgewater.
The credit goes to the initiatives and efforts of Carlo Pagnotta, a merchant of Perugia and jazz fan.
The formula of the event of the early years was decidedly different from the current one: itinerant and free of charge, in some of the most beautiful places in the Green Heart of Italy such as Piazza del Popolo in Todi, Piazza IV Novembre in Perugia, the Roman theatre in Gubbio, the Albornoz fortress in Spoleto and Piazza San Francesco in Umbertide. Its success was enormous and immediate. Too huge and immediate, so much so that there began to be difficulty managing the logistical, organizational and security aspects. Umbria was bursting with people. For example, once Count Basie, engulfed in the crowd, was unable to reach the stage.
1976 was the darkest year, conditioned by the tensions of the “lead years (anni di piombo)”. In 1977 Umbria Jazz was not held. A new edition was attempted in 1978, but the problems had not been solved. And so a festival that had hosted artists like Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Art Blakey, Charles Mingus, Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Keith Jarrett and many others, for three years ground to a halt. In 1982, it began again. Umbria Jazz acquired its final format becoming stationary and settled in the historic center of Perugia and for the first time tickets had to be bought for admittance to the major concerts.
The programme was also amplified to include not only orthodox jazz but also black music with digressions into pop-rock, as evidenced by the appearances by Elton John, Carlos Santana and Eric Clapton.
The Association Umbria Jazz, whose president is currently Renzo Arbore, was created in 1985.
The heart of Perugia for 10 days becomes a global music village, where at any time you can hear the notes among its palaces and medieval squares. A real boon for fans of good music. And not only for them.