PREVIEW: Filomena Campus' Theatralia Festival (Pizza Express, Italian Cultural Inst, Italian Bookshop, Nov. 9th, 10th and 11th)

Writer Stefano Benni and Filomena Campus

Sardinian singer and theatre director Filomena Campus is about to host the third Theatralia Festival (formerly the My Jazz Islands Festival.) It brings together Italian and British jazz with theatre and features performances by renowned writers and musicians. Alison Bentley interviewed her by email.

London Jazz News: First, on Mon. 9th Nov., you’ll be singing with an all-woman band, with the unusual line up of harp, piano and bass. How did you meet, and what kind of music will you be playing?

Filomena Campus: The opening of the festival will be a brand new project with female musicians and composers called 4 Njanas with Laura Cole (piano), Tori Handsley (harp) and Ruth Goller (bass). They are all band leaders themselves. The idea started more than a year ago together with Laura Cole, after I'd seen her performing at the Vortex. We got the idea of celebrating women's art and music. We often feel under-represented as women in the worlds of jazz and art, and in this project all compositions are inspired by a female artist (such as Frida Kahlo, Niki de Saint Phalle, Gertrude Stein, Franca Rame and many more) or written by a woman composer. The name Njanas is an encounter between the gigantic sculptures called Nanas, created by painter and sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle, and Janas- ancient legendary female figures and fairies/witches that relate to the myth of the Sardinian Goddess-Mother.The first set of the night will be our original compositions, plus a tune written by New York-based Greek composer and musician Nana Simopoulos, and ‘Goccia’ written by Italian singer Cristina Dona' - a tune that is part of Robert Wyatt's last album 'Different Every Time’. It is also a homage to Wyatt himself, who has given his blessing to our Njanas project- something we are extremely proud of. The project is called ‘4 Njanas; because the whole Njanas ensemble is actually made of ten musicians. A flexible ensemble that will be different every time! The whole ensemble will premiere at the Vortex on Oct 29th featuring composer Nana Simopoulos on sitar/guitar and vocals and Italian drums master Ettore Fioravanti, who is also part of the legendary Sardinian trumpeter Paolo Fresu’s Quintet.

Paolo Fresu

LJN: Also on the 9th of Nov. Paolo Fresu and British tuba-player Oren Marshall will be duetting?

FC: It will be premiere of two international stars in an unusual duo: trumpet and tuba. They played together with other musicians in the past during Paolo Fresu's festivals and events in Sardinia, and they will play their own compositions on this occasion, all enriched with some beautiful electronic atmospheres. Something I'm really looking forward to. Paolo is such a famous star in Italy and the rest of Europe- he tours around the world non-top and I hope this will be an occasion for the London jazz audience to discover his unique sound. Oren Marshall is a phenomenal musician and he's been so enthusiastic about being part of the festival.

LJN: Tues 10th Nov. is your ‘England versus Italy’ evening, bringing together texts by Italian writer Stefano Benni with music by the UK pianist Steve Lodder and bassist Dudley Philips. How did Italian poetry and British jazz come together?

FC: ‘England versus Italy’ plays ironically with the concept of a competition between the two countries It started two years ago with the first 'match': Italy vs England. Shakespeare, Beckett and the Beatles will playfully compete with Fabrizio De Andre', Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo and Franca Rame... two different cultures meet through jazz and Stefano Benni's unique writing:

"God save the queen/all the poets and their dreams/ Byron, Lennon and Ozzy Osborne/ All the comedians on the scene/Prince Charles and mister Bean/The colonial empire and the rugby team/Beckett Beckham Molly Bloom/(and the yellow submarine)/God save the gracious queen."

Benni is one of the most important writers in Italy- his books have been translated into many languages. He is also an amazingly entertaining performer with an incredible sensitivity for jazz music and rhythms, so that he becomes another jazz instrument on stage with us, performing his texts in Italian and in English. There will be some new poems written for this occasion, including a totally crazy duet for myself and Cleveland Watkiss. All the music has been composed by Steve Lodder and Dudley Phillips, who have written some mesmerising compositions to Benni's words. I'm actually thinking of recording some of these compositions for our new Quartet album soon.

LJN:Wed. 11th Nov. sees a rare performance of Benni’s play ‘Misterioso: A Journey into the Silence of Thelonious Monk’, with a UK band, including Cleveland Watkiss as the voice of Monk. How does Monk’s music fit into the play?

FC: Misterioso is a theatre monologue that Stefano Benni wrote years ago about Thelonious Monk. That text is the reason why I met him- I fell in love with that monologue because it represents the perfect fusion of jazz and theatre, so important in my work. Misterioso explores in particular the mystery of the last seven years of Monk's life, when he totally isolated himself from the rest of the world and stopped playing and talking. I translated, adapted and directed Misterioso with my theatre company Theatralia at the Riverside Studios in 2009, featuring some of the best jazz musicians in the UK. We also toured in Edinburgh, England and Italy. In recent years I have received so many requests about doing Misterioso again, not only from the audience but also from the musicians themselves. That's the reason why I decided to approach this beautiful poem again, with Benni himself on stage with us, sharing Monk's voice with Cleveland Watkiss, and seeing how we all feel about doing the whole production again. The band on Nov 11th will be Robert Mitchell on piano, Jean Toussaint on sax, Orphy Robinson on vibes, Dudley Phillips on double bass and Cleveland Watkiss on vocals. Special guest Italian actress Monica Nappo Kelly (who featured in a Woody Allen film) will be performing Nellie Monk in the poem Benni has written for Monk's wife Nellie, inspired by the tune Crepuscule with Nellie. You can hear Monk's tunes such as Well You Needn't, Misterioso, Round Midnight, Epistrophy and many others, and something about his life, his music, his piano and his final silence.

The Italian Cultural Institute

LJN: The Theatralia Festival seems to be growing! What other events have you added this year?

FC: There will be three extra events at the Italian Cultural Institute in Belgrave Square, and at the Italian Bookshop. On November 4th at the Italian Cultural Institute there will be a vocal workshop (already sold out) with myself and Cleveland Watkiss, where we'll create an ensemble vocal piece inspired by Monk's music that we'll perform on Nov 6th at the Theatralia Interlude. This will be at the Italian Cultural Institute to present the third edition of the festival to the Italian and British media. It will be an evening of live music, theatre, screenings and drinks ahead of the Theatralia Jazz Festival at PizzaExpress Jazz Club. And on November 7th Mr Stefano Benni will present his new book 'Cari Mostri' (Dear Monsters) at the Italian Bookshop.

Alison Bentley is a singer and teaches singing. Her music is on Soundcloud

LINK:  Theatralia Festival website
Event Calendar at the Italian Cultural Institute

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