One of the best Jazz Festivals in the world, this music festival in Perugia isn’t just for jazz fans. There’s music for many, like pop, rock, blues, and gospel along with more traditional jazz musicians. And in 2023 Umbria Jazz Festival celebrated 50 years.
Where is the Umbria Jazz Festival held?
Umbria is a region in the middle of Italy which is about 2 hours by train from Rome or Florence.
The main festival in the summer is held in the capital of Umbria, Perugia. It’s a ten day festival held in the historic centre of Perugia, and the biggest city in the region.
There are multiple venues around the city. The main head liners are just below the bus depot in Arena Santa Giuliana. The theatre below the main piazza, Teatro Morlacchi, has concerts at 5pm every day. And in the main piazza, Piazza IV Novembre, and at the view point Giardini Carducci, there are free concerts all afternoon and evening from 3pm until after midnight.
There’s also a winter Umbria Jazz Festival held in Orvieto, just an hour north of Rome by train, at the end of December that covers New Years Eve.
When is the Umbria Jazz Festival?
The dates change every year. But the summer addition is held at the beginning of July on a Friday and ending on a Sunday a week later. In 2023 Umbria Jazz the dates were July 7th-16th
Winter Umbria Jazz in Orvieto in 2023 will be Dec 28th till January 1st.
So what is the Umbria Jazz Festival?
Of all the festivals that happen throughout the year in Perugia, like EuroChocolate, Umbria Jazz Festival is my favourite. A close second is the Journalism festival in April.
There are buskers on every corner, marching bands playing in alleyways, and a stadium arena filled for jazz greats. The city of Perugia puts its heart and soul into this festival.
Perugia comes alive. I love wandering through the medieval arches, hearing the different musicians, and how the city becomes full of late-night treats.
While it isn’t unusual for a city to host a jazz festival, I’ve never seen one envelope a city the way Umbria Jazz takes over Perugia.
For ten days in early to mid-July, the festival wraps Perugia up in a celebration of music.
The Essentials for Enjoying Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia
- Before deciding what days to come for check out Umbria Jazz’s website. It’s in English, lists the program, tickets and all sorts of other information.
- Comfortable shoes you can walk in. I like my
birkenstocksfor all the stairs, cobblestones, and steep climbs that make up Perugia.
- A Bag. Make sure you have something for storing the program, camera, and light cardigan.
- Small bills. Italy is a
cash basedsociety. While credit and debit cards are fine for buying concert tickets, pizza by the slice hole in the wall spots opentill 4 am won’t be taking them. Or the guy selling beer out of his apartment.
- Stay away from white (or light
coloured) skirts, shorts, and trousers. You’ll want to sit down at some point and with the streets crowded it could well be on some stairs/entranceway.
- Thinking of going to an indoor concert? Best to bring a paper fan, air conditioning is standard and isn’t in the Teatro Morlacchi.
My favorite Musical Acts During Umbria Jazz
Umbria Jazz has now been going on for 50 years.
Many musicians play here regularly. In the past, Miles Davis came two or three times. In the last 4 years Diana Krall has come twice, Herbi Hancock multiple times and Samara Joy had her first concert in Europe, and proceed to return 2 years in a row.
Local groups play every year, like Funk Off, from nearby Tuscany. They have a street parade and a stage performance that is a hit with kids and parents alike. With choreographed dance numbers while playing brass instruments in the heat of an Italian summer, it a crowd pleaser!
Other fun regulars are Ray Gelato & the Giants who come from England every few years. Great for the classic Frank Sinatra feel and they attract big crowds.
And from the USA multiple high school brass bands, jazz bands, and gospel choirs take part, something not found in Italy. There’s also the Berklee Summer school/Jazz Clinics for young musicians that come from all over. It’s two weeks long, starting the week before Umbria Jazz.
The Venues of Umbria Jazz Festival
Umbria Jazz has multiple venues in Perugia that are all walking distance within the city.
The main venues vary from free outdoor stages, the city’s main theater, and a huge arena. Which means there’s always a concert to check out that you’ll enjoy.
On top of those four locations, there are concerts in the National Art Gallery and at several churches, with jam sessions held in small restaurants and bars as after-hour jam locations.
I strongly recommend mixing up which locations you head to. I try and see at least one performance at the Morlacchi theater, usually up in the nose bleed section. It does get hot, bring a fan or use a program!
We’ll head to the center with friends and family throughout the week to check out different free concerts and cool off with gelato (from Ciarnuri).
There are two free venues for Umbria Jazz. While free, there are designated entrances and exits with security checking bags. Don’t bother bringing a water bottle with you, sadly they’ll confiscate it. Well the lid anyway. Acts go from 3pm till midnight with short breaks in between.
The first free stage is found in the main piazza, Piazza IV Novembre.
Full of medieval architecture, sit on the steps and enjoy a view of the stage, fountain, and cathedral.
The other free stage is in the Giardini Carducci.
Straight down the main street, above the fortress Rocca Paolina, there’s a garden with a view of Assisi. This spot has more than just music, there are items for sale like t-shirts, food, and drinks. With park benches to sit on, you can chill out a bit in between acts taking in the panorama.
Venues During Umbria Jazz That Require Tickets
The theater, Teatro Morlacchi isn’t free (in 2019 tickets are priced from 18 to 33 euros) but hosts bigger names than the free stage.
Worth a visit just because the theater is so pretty, I’ve seen the Japanese pianist Hiromi, Dianne Reeves, and Samara Joy.
Escape the afternoon heat and be a tourist at the National Art Gallery of Umbria.
There are daily concerts in one room of the Gallery, usually at noon and at 15.30. Tickets include entrance to the gallery so you can wander through the medieval art collection before or after some listening to some jazz.
Below the bus station is the main stage, Arena Santa Giuliana, for big names like Diana Krall and ones that aren’t always jazz based like Kraftwerk, Thom Yorke, and Brian Wilson.
If there’s something I’m really excited about I’ll buy tickets for the arena. The cheap seats are on cement bleachers so be sure to bring a cushion and also a fan if it’s really hot. Drinks and food can be purchased inside but there aren’t great options and it’s all very expensive. We usually have dinner first. Surprisingly acts normally start on time, 9pm, and it usually ends late, around midnight or after.
The good news is even if you can’t afford the tickets, or aren’t sure if you’ll enjoy the concert, this is an outdoor venue. There are always people above in the bus depot, in Piazza Partigiani. Enjoy the concert for free, and maybe next time pay to enter the venue.
Even on the street behind the stage, via Cacciatori delle Apli you can hear the concert. In 2019 we heard the great Italian Paolo Conte by hanging out above the arena.
How to get to Perugia for Umbria Jazz
The easiest way to enjoy the Umbria Jazz is to stay in the historic center of Perugia. But hotels and apartments get booked up fast. So if you’re staying outside of the city and driving the best thing to do is to park at Pian Massiano and take the MiniMetro up to the center. Parking is free and the mini metro costs less than €2 each direction. During Umbria Jazz it runs until 1.45am, which for most people is long enough.
The History of The Perugia Jazz Festival
Umbria Jazz started in 1973, had a pause from 1979 to 1981, and ever since has been going strong.
Its history is full of performances by the jazz greats, including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bill Evans.
Even better? There are so many free concerts of up-and-coming musicians.
Why I Love the Jazz Festival in Perugia
I love pouring over the program and planning out which concerts we’ll go to, who’ll go out for dinner with us before heading to a late night gig, and how late I can stay up while still managing to work the next day.
Ten days is a marathon of concert going, the risk of burn out is high if we taken in a few late night jam sessions.
July is the best time weather-wise to host outdoor concerts. It’s usually hot and dry throughout the festival.
Even after midnight, wearing shorts and a t-shirt or a summer dress is
Umbria Jazz is a great way to discover musicians from around the world.
Groups that come and play the free stages, like the Shake Em’ Up Jazz band from New Orleans, we’ll return to see multiple times throughout the week.
My first summer in Perugia, my now husband bought tickets for us to see the pianist Hiromi from Japan- an amazing live performer. And all the brass bands from the US, which even though I’m Canadian, make me feel at home.
Why not visit Perugia in July for Umbria Jazz?!
Umbria Jazz lasts for ten days, arguably the best ten days of the year in Perugia. While there’s always a chance of a thunderstorm or two the weather should be hot, perfect for summer dresses in the evening. And midnight gelato.
Umbria Jazz provides a quality and a quantity of musicians featuring all styles of music.
The best part is how much music there is to discover. Through the Umbria Jazz Festival, I always end up with one new favourite musician and a new CD every year. And knowledge of new (to me at least) music that I can’t imagine being without.
What I love the most about Umbria Jazz? It’s my summer holiday in Perugia. A staycation where the world comes to us. People come from all over to listen or take part in Umbria Jazz, and we’re the richer for it.
Visiting Perugia for the first time? I have a post all about visiting Perugia any time of year.