Thursday, July 8, 2010

Italian Jazz (Essay) (by Francesco Martinelli)

Italy and Jazz go a long way back together. Around 1895 Joe Alexander (Alessandra) was already playing syncopated music in New Orleans. The first jazz record included Nick La Rocca, leader of the ODJB, the first band to record "Tiger Rag," and Tony Sbarbaro; Louis Armstrong took inspiration from Caruso's records for the projection of his trumpet sound.

At the end of the First World War General Pershing's orchestra played in Italy ragtimes and foxtrots. With his musicians played another Italian, guitarist Vittorio Spina, who met a 5-year-old Django Reinhardt when around 1915 the gypsy caravan wandered until Rome.

The 20's in Italy saw the introduction of the trap set - called "jazz" - while dance bands switched from violins to trumpets and saxophones. In 1932 Elio Levi, a Jew, praised Ellington in print; in 1935 Armstrong played his first Italian concert. Futurist musicians praised Jazz, but by the end of the 30's Fascism began to cut down on the "foreign" rhythms and the "degraded" music. Racial laws prevented black and white musicians to play together; little did the Duce know that his own son would become a jazz pianist of sorts….

During the II world war both the German and the Allied Armies relied on big bands for their propaganda broadcast, providing precious experience to musicians. In 1948 Gilberto Cuppini's Bebop Sextet recorded Night In Tunisia/Salt Peanuts: Italian modern Jazz was born. In 1949 pianist Armando Trovajoli's trio played the Paris Festival, and in the same Salle Pleyel in 1952 trumpetist Nunzio Rotondo with his cool style à la Miles Davis had a great success.

In 1957 Giorgio Gaslini presented at the Sanremo Festival his Tempo and Relazione op. 12, possibly the first attempt to combine jazz and dodecaphonic music in Europe. Accomplished classical pianist and composer, Gaslini's presence is crucial to the Italian scene, he's the first to bring jazz to the Conservatory. Another pianist took the road from his small village in the Alps and wandered all over Europe: Guido Manusardi will form an extraordinary partnership with Red Mitchell, and his compositions inspired by Rumanian airs remain among the most successful experiments of this kind. Tenorman Gianni Basso took advantage of his family's immigration to Belgium to learn from Toots Thielemans and Jacques Peltzer, and back in Italy founded with Oscar Valdambrini on trumpet a popular sextet, inspired by the relaxed approach of Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. Chet Baker and Gato Barbieri lived in Italy, famously playing for movie soundtrack and bringing up the standard of musicianship.

In the mid-sixties Giorgio Gaslini is again at the forefront of Free Jazz in Italy together with Mario Schiano and the Gruppo Romano Free Jazz. Other pioneers of free music in Italy are Guido Mazzon, Giancarlo Schiaffini, Marcello Melis: Schiano's Controindicazioni festival in Rome is still a major forum for European free improvisation.

Meanwhile Enrico Rava brought Italian Jazz out of the country: his 1965 Sanremo concert with Lacy, Moholo and Dyani shocks the audience, but after a long stay in New York his groups with Massimo Urbani and his European quartet will charm the whole continent, establishing the first truly international Italian jazz star.

During the musical and social turmoils of the Sixties Jazz gathered popularity, with festivals and schools blooming all over the country. Jazz-rock group were born: Area featured the multiphonics vocals of Demetrio Stratos, Perigeo launched the careers of major jazzmen Claudio Fasoli and Franco D'Andrea. In the 70's and 80's a new crop of talents appeared: pianists Enrico Pierannunzi, Rita Marcotulli and Piero Bassini, bassists Bruno Tommaso and Paolo Damiani, saxmen Eugenio Colombo, Gianluigi Trovesi, Pietro Tonolo, Carlo Actis Dato all gave their personal contribution to the creation of a recognizably Italian sound. Tiziana Ghiglioni pioneered a freewheeling style of vocal jazz inspired by Jeanne Lee and Betty Carter, opening the way for a number of other singers, notably Maria Pia De Vito. Another trumpeter, Paolo Fresu, followed Rava establishing an European career: he partly lives in France but keeps a strong relationship with his home town, Berchidda in Sardinia, where he created an internationally renowned Jazz festival. After Fresu, a number of younger, talented players has found its way on the French scene: among them, Riccardo Dal Fra (Fresu's bass partner), trumpeters Fabrizio Bosso and Fabio Boltro, saxmen Emanuele Cisi and Stefano Di Battista. Pianist Salvatore Bonafede and saxist Rosario Giuliani play a hard bop with a new twist.

Founded by Apulian trumpeter Pino Minafra in 1990 the Instabile Orchestra became the most durable and arguably the most renowned internationally of all Italian Jazz bands. From opera arias to brass bands, from contemporary composition to Mediterranean suggestions, the Italian musical traditions creating a fascinating sound through Jazz's improvisational practice. The Instabile also promotes yearly in Pisa its own festival.

A whole new generation came in the 80's from Apulia and Sicily: Roberto Ottaviano, Stefano Maltese, Gianni Gebbia, Sebi Tramontana, Giorgio Occhipinti. From Milan, Nexus' Daniele Cavallanti and Tiziano Tononi keep working at their swinging brand of free jazz, Tononi's monumental three-Cd tribute to Roland Kirk receiving world-wide recognition; Rome's answers are pianist Danilo Rea and his Doctor Three with Enzo Pietropaoli and Roberto Gatto. Riccardo Fassi's Tankio Band and Roberto Spadoni's Urkestra are fresh takes on the big band traditions. Dazzling pianist Stefano Battaglia played the modern jazz book with trio partners Paolino Della Porta and Fabrizio Sferra, lead Theatrum, an improvisation workshop band, and produced a series of brilliant piano solos. At Siena's Summer Jazz Seminars since 1978 young musicians meet the established Italian jazz stars, while from all over Italy new talents keep appearing: the Parma Jazz Frontiere orchestra led by bassist Roberto Bonati, the Apulian Dolmen Orchestra led by saxist Daniele Pisani, from Umbria clarinetist Gabriele Mirabassi's groups. Alongside Umbria and Rome Jazz Festivals, mammoth Italian versions of Montreux and North Sea, smaller festivals are promoted in many towns - among them Clusone, Parma, Bergamo, Vicenza, S. Anna Arresi, Tivoli, Barga, Roccella, Reggio Emilia - letting visitors discover less-known places and a wealth of exciting music.

 Francesco Martinelli


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