When in Rome go to the Alexanderplatz! reads one of the numerous inscriptions that embellish the walls of the oldest jazz club in Italy. Its an invitation that countless musicians and aficionados have taken up over the past 20 years.
It was my fathers idea to get our guest musicians to sign the walls. Today hardly anyone passes through without leaving some sort of dedication, says 36-year-old proprietor Eugenio Rubei.
The first to sign was Enrico Pieranunzi, one of Italys greatest jazz pianists and a regular at the Platz, in the heart of Prati.
The lack of jazz clubs across Italy in the 1980s saw many musicians converging on the capital for a chance to perform and to meet other artists.
Rubei explains: When my father opened this place in 1982 there was no other club that had a different jazz concert every night. It was a success and before he knew it famous musicians were coming from all over the world.
These included Louis Petrucciani and Red Rodney, while Chet Baker played his last concert here shortly before his death in 1988.
One of the greatest innovations of this sophisticated club was to make jazz more widely available.
Jazz is not for the elite, but for everybody, says Tullio De Piscopo, a close friend of the proprietor. He added that before venues like the Platz existed, jazz concerts were held in theatres and the prices of the tickets were often exorbitant.
At the Platz, visitors can sit down and enjoy good music at a decent price; they can also enjoy a good meal, which is also something new.
Recently the Platz has also started to host small art exhibitions. Artists paint what Rubei defined as jazz interpretations, be it portraits of famous musicians or abstract subjects.
The atmosphere in the Platz is warm and slightly cave-like, with the dim glow of candles casting flickering shadows on the thick whitewashed walls and on the low ceilings. There are black-and-white prints of famous trumpeters and sax players and a photo-mural of Duke Ellington, his gaze directed towards the low stage.
It is clear that people come here to listen to music, not to have a pint and a chat with a group of friends talk is kept low and is non-existent during the solos.
Nonetheless, there are some performers who like the audience to become more involved, like Rome-based New York singer Joy Garrison, whose father Jimmy Garrison was John Coltranes bass player. Garrison jokes with the public, encouraging them to join in with choruses or to sigh rhythmically as she sings The Girl from Ipanema.
Like Garrison, many foreign musicians who play at the Platz come to live in Rome for a time. Ron Seguin, from Montreal, now playing with a new formation, the Ron Seguin Trio, says: I lived in Rome from 1989 to 1993. I had originally come over on tour. As a musician today you have to travel because there is not enough happening in one city to settle down. For this reason I have come to Rome again and I am thinking of staying on for a while.
During the summer, (this year from 5 June to 3 September), the Alexanderplatz closes down and all activities continue outdoors, in the splendour of Villa Celimontana, a park on the Celio hill between the Colosseum and the Baths of Caracalla.
The first time we tried organising a concert in the park we werent sure it was going to work, says Rubei. All we had were a handful of tables, a few kegs of beer and the music, naturally. We certainly werent expecting 2,500 people to turn up on the first night.
That was over 10 years ago but times have changed since then. Villa Celimontana has become a place where people do not only listen to music, but sell, buy or trade instruments, records and other vintage jazz paraphernalia.
The festival also provides the setting for an award presented annually to young musicians and up-and-coming bands. Moreover, the Villa Celimontana Association, together with the Lazio regional councils culture and performing arts commission, has run other initiatives over the past three summers, including Jazz on the Road and Jazz on the Beach.
Small jazz festivals are held in picturesque settings across Lazio, including Orte, Sabaudia and Sperlonga, and also on the Pontine Islands of Ponza and Ventotene. And as the Platz goes from strength to strength in the city, these concerts are helping to ensure that the jazz scene spreads its influence across the rest of Lazio.
Alexanderplatz Jazz Club, Via Ostia 9, tel. 0639742171- www.alexanderplatz.it
Villa Celimontana - www.villacelimontanajazz.com