Jazz Clubs in the Neighborhoods of Rome

In the early 1970s, the Music Inn was the first venue in Rome to play the difficult yet essential role of “incubator” of Rome’s jazz ferment, characterized by the meeting between big names in American jazz who had landed in Italy and the nascent movement of young Italian jazz musicians.

The club was opened in 1973 by Pepito Pignatelli, a descendant of a noble family, drummer and jazz enthusiast, in a basement in Largo dei Fiorentini in the Rione Ponte, behind Via Giulia.

Numerous jazz musicians have performed in the Roman cave over the years-Ornette Coleman, McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans, Dexter Gordon, Woody Shaw, Jackie McLean, Max Roach, Chet Baker, Carmen McRae, Charles Mingus, to name but a few.

In most cases, the foreign musicians hosted by the jazz club were accompanied by young local instrumentalists, including Enrico Pieranunzi, Roberto Gatto, Giovanni Tommaso, Maurizio Giammarco, Enzo Pietropaoli, Danilo Rea, Massimo Urbani, and Fabrizio Sferra. After Pepito Pignatelli’s death in 1981, the Music Inn was run by his wife Picchi Gallarati; it would close in 1993 due to the latter’s death in tragic circumstances.

From the opposite bank of the Tiber, in the Borgo Pio area, near the church of Sant’Anna, another club animated the nights of that unrepeatable jazz season, the Mississippi, founded in 1978 by Luigi Toth, Dixieland trumpeter and leader of the Old Time Jazz Band.

In the Trastevere district, Purgatorio, a jazz club housed in an underground room of the well-known restaurant “Meo Patacca,” opened in 1959. In the first half of the 1960s it became the regular hangout for the group composed of Gato Barbieri, an Argentine saxophonist who arrived in Rome in those years, Enrico Rava, Gianni Foccià, Giovanni Tommaso, Bruno Tommaso, and Gegè Munari.

In the Roman neighborhood, the Murales cooperative on Via dei Fienaroli, the Billie Holiday and the Folkstudio were opened in the following years. Run since 1967 by Giancarlo Cesaroni, a chemist with a passion for the blues, Folkstudio rises to prominence as the go-to venue for Rome’s turbulent yet creative music scene, particularly of an underground bent.

The venue’s musical offerings range from gospel to singer-songwriter “committed” by musicians such as Antonello Venditti, Francesco De Gregori, Rino Gaetano, to South American music to jazz, with concerts by Massimo Urbani, Tommaso Vittorini, Enzo Pietropaoli, Enrico Pieranunzi, and Franco D’Andrea, Mario Schiano, Maurizio Giammarco, Carla Marcotulli, Franco Cerri, Steve Lacy and the experimental orchestras of Giancarlo Schiaffini, Roberto Laneri, Giancarlo Gazzani, Antenore Tecardi.

Another haunt at that time for enthusiasts or just the curious, drawn by the lure of a genre, jazz, that had emerged from anonymity and quickly became the preserve of the new generation of musicians and enthusiasts, was the St. Louis, located on Via del Cardello in the Monti district; it is opened by a group of young musicians “Who play in a basement and attend the Music Inn“, among them Mario Ciampa, who within months of opening became its sole owner.

Saint Louis differs from other clubs in its refined style and in being in its early years both a club and a music school, with classes taught in the mornings.

Paolo Marra

Note 1: Before the Music Inn, Pepito Pignatelli had opened the Blue Note on Via dei Cappellari in Rome in 1970. In just one season of operation, the jazz club hosts numerous jazz musicians. These include Lou Bennett, Kenny Clarke, Dexter Gordon, Art Farmer, Mal Waldron, Phil Woods, Don Byas, and Lucky Thompson

Note 2: Inside the Mississippi jazz club, Rai journalist Raffaele Cascone conducted an interview with American trumpeter Chet Baker in 1980 entitled “No to Drugs Yes to Jazz.”

Note 3: Folkstudio’s headquarters were later moved to Via Sacchi, also in the Trastevere neighborhood, and finally, in its last years of operation, to Via Frangipane near the Colosseum

In the photo (contribution shared by Enzo Pietroapoli), from left, Enzo Pietropaoli, Tommaso Vittorini and Roberto Gatto in concert at Folkstudio in Rome