In pop and jazz, devoted music fans understand the difference between festival performances and standalone concerts. If you say “I saw him/her/them live” and you’re referring to a festival performance, that phrase usually sits beside an asterisk, or two or three: The artist in question performed a truncated version of his or her full concert; the sound check was rushed and thus the live mix was inadequate; the crowd was distracted and disruptive, making focused listening a challenge or an impossibility.
Umbria Jazz, the 41-year-old festival in the central Italian capital city of Perugia, reaches toward the glories of the major-event standalone show with each of its ticketed performances. (The pop-, blues- and soul-heavy program booked on admission-free stages around town is another story.) If you purchase a ticket for a performance by an A-list American or Italian jazz performer at Umbria, the gig will last about 90 minutes, with or plus an encore; the sound will often boast a clarity that could be an anecdote among hi-fi enthusiasts; and the crowds will bring with them a patience and focus that can seem surreal to American festivalgoers-especially at the amphitheater-style Arena Santa Giuliana, where thousands of attendees homed in on acoustic jazz groups as if they were going to be quizzed on the gig later. (Mixing into the crowd at that sprawling but smartly arranged space puts Keith Jarrett’s antics last year into perspective, underscoring them as not only repugnant but absurd.)