Like a feast fit for a king is complemented by just the right wine, jazz festival organizers have long realized that pairing great music with an incomparable physical setting is a proven formula for creating festival magic. The recipe has been honed to perfection at fabled jazz fests from Montreux and Umbria to San Miguel de Allende and Monterey. Deep in the heart of Brazil's Mantiqueira mountain range, far from the distractions of Rio de Janeiro, a visionary annual event has been created that blends the region's distinctive colonial era culture with eclectic music programming that stretches the customary definition of jazz. It's an event that only Brazilians coutd have come up with, and its name says it all: Tudo é Jazz--literally, "It's All Jazz."
Over the course of four days and nights in mid September, the historic gold mining town of Ouro Preto hosts what has quickly become one of Latín America's most important music and culture festivals. Now in its eighth season, Tudo é Jazz is largely the brainchild of producer María Alice Martins, a tireless exponent of bringing European and North American jazz, Brazilian music and other global styles to a broad community of enthusiasts. Far from bustle of Brazil's major cities, Martins and her associates have spared few details in making Tudo é Jazz an event that virtually engulfs this mountain city of 80,000 in the inland state of Minas Gerais in the positive vibes of world class music.
Ouro Preto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a sea of red tile-capped whitewashed structures with brightly painted doors and window shutters. The spell-setting locale has changed little over the years and remains one of Brazil's most historically important destinations for cultural tourists. Meandering cobblestone streets link praqas of various sizes and shapes and a seemingly endless assortment of grandiose, Baroque era churches.
"People who travel here to attend this festival are really here for the music," pianist Aaron Goldberg told me as we shared a ride to Ouro Preto from the state capital of Belo Horizonte, an hour and a half away. "It's not like those festivals in the Caribbean where lots of beach time and piña coladas are a big part of the draw. This is ah adventure just getting here." The New York-based musician, a regular at the festival for several years, notes that it takes at least two days for most international visitors just to arrive, having to fly first to either Rio or Silo...