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Spoleto Festival USA

Cyrus Chestnut

Alongside opera, theatre, dance and classical music, jazz has played an integral role in all 32 Spoleto Festivals since 1977, when Gian Carlo Menotti planted its New World offshoot in Charleston. The 17-day celebration has grown, in fact, to be the largest performing arts festival in the Americas, dwarfing its Old World parent, established by Menotti in Spoleto, Italy, in 1958. A who’s-who roster of jazz giants-from Dizzy and Ella through Chick and Wynton-has played a pivotal role in establishing Spoleto USA’s commanding prestige.

That’s not to ignore the stormy episodes in the long marriage between jazz and Spoleto. The prominence of jazz in the stateside Spoleto was often given as a reason for Menotti’s dissatisfaction with the festival and his ultimate dismissal from its artistic directorship in 1995, until it was revealed that the real sticking point was the founder’s wish that his adopted son, Francis Menotti, should succeed him in that post. Then there was an artists’ boycott of the Festival in 2000, led by Dianne Reeves, before the Confederate Flag was removed from the dome of the State Capitol.

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