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Before & After with Ambrose Akinmusire

At 30, a lifetime of knowledge

Ambrose Akinmusire and Ashley Kahn at Umbria Jazz Festival, July 2012

At medieval chamber built from stone and located a hundred feet or so below street level may not seem like the ideal place to discuss jazz recordings in front of an audience. But Umbria Jazz, one of Europe’s leading summer festivals, has never been shy about repurposing the historic sites of Perugia, Italy. On a mid-festival afternoon, while the midday sun blazed overhead, about 40 jazz enthusiasts took an escalator down to the cool, lower level of the Rocca Paolina-a fortress erected on Papal order in 1540 with an incredible, bloody story all its own-to hear Ambrose Akinmusire participate in his first Before & After. In many ways, the exercise seemed tailor-made for him. “If I hadn’t played an instrument I would be a music nerd,” the trumpeter confessed while noshing on organic Umbrian food at the public reception held after.

No kidding. Akinmusire correctly identified 10 out of 11 tracks, most within a few seconds. His ear for pianists is particularly impressive, and his commentary revealed the respectable extent of experiences that the 30-year-old has already accrued. Later that evening in Perugia’s Teatro Morlacchi, Akinmusire headlined a well-attended midnight concert with his current quintet: saxophonist Walter Smith III, pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Justin Brown.

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