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Artist Profiles

Ada Rovatti: Under the Hat

By Published: March 4, 2004
Every now and then you come across a new voice that commands your attention. It may be the clarity of tone or the honest arrangements that catches your ear. All you know is that you’re captivated, moved, changed and inspired. Such moments are few in our current climate of mass marketing and musical homogenization. But, then again . . . you’ve probably never met Italian saxophonist Ada Rovatti.

Formal music programs were limited and instruments weren’t readily available in the small town of Pavia, Italy, where Rovatti grew up. However, artistic roots ran deep in the Rovatti household. “I grew up in a musical family. My grandmother was a pretty good pianist, my brother played the guitar, my father played the piano and my great-grandfather was the director of an orchestra,” said Rovatti of her musical heritage.

Under the direction of her grandmother, Rovatti would begin her piano studies at the tender age of four. For the next thirteen years, Rovatti would intently study the classical tradition. Jazz wasn’t a stylistic option. “We only had Bing Crosby’s Christmas tunes and Dean Martin records in our home. There were only two jazz albums in the house,” reflected Rovatti.

However, once her brother started bringing home blues records, she was hooked. Her musical tastes would grow to include jazz and funk. Inspired by this music, she would pick up the saxophone at the age of eighteen. Almost immediately, she began playing the local circuit. The fit was natural and Rovatti was an eager student.

Her studies led her to G. Comeglio, where she would play with the “Jazz Company Big Band” and the “Jazz Class Orchestra.” This was a great training ground for an up and coming jazz artist. Rovatti would be exposed to great players like Phil Woods, Jerry Bergonzi, Randy Brecker, Lee Konitz, Bob Mintzer, Bob Malach, Antonia Bennett, Mike Richmond, Herb Pomeroy and Franco Ambrosetti. She would go on to win a scholarship to the prestigious Berklee University in Boston. There, she honed her talents in group arrangements and composition.

Rovatti chose to move to Paris after Berklee with only her saxophone and one bag in her procession. While holding down several jobs, Rovatti would play gigs and in the streets of this romantic city. She never regretted one moment of this bold career move. Saying, “I needed to be shaped into who I am. I have a lot to say because I live intensely and passionately. That’s the beauty of life.”

Living in Paris would lead Rovatti to tour Europe with the jazz-funk band, “Chance Orchestra.” After returning to Italy for a short time, Rovatti decided to relocate once again. Only this time, she chose New York. Although she feels, “coming from a foreign country was a bit of a culture shock,” her talents flourished in the Big Apple. She would go on to play with the likes of Les Paul, Mike Stern, Randy Brecker, Freddie Bryant, Antonia Bennett and many others.

Rovatti currently plays in two different groups in New York and confesses to a “double personality.” While she writes fairly straight-ahead pieces for her own quartet/quintet, she also performs and composes for the Elephunk Band. By comparison, the Elephunk Band is a blend of fusion, jazz and funk in a nine-piece setting.

This split in styles can be best explained by how she actually writes music. “Sometimes I close my eyes and bang on the piano. Sometimes I hear a sound that intrigues me. I don’t go by chords, I go by sound,” Rovatti said. Writing songs is more of an expression of thought than anything else for Rovatti. Saying, “ The CD [ Under the Hat ] reflects my life until now and my vision . . . an audio diary. It tells what I’ve done until now. I hope every CD is going to be a diary of how I felt and in what way.”

The title cut from her debut album, Under the Hat, is a romantic tale of how she met her husband, trumpeter Randy Brecker. Laughing, “The first few times that I saw him, he was always wearing a hat. I wondered what was under there.” She admits they had a “chemistry at first sight.” After meeting him she “went home and wrote music all night long.” The arrangement she wrote that night would become Under the Hat. Brecker would eventually join Rovatti in the studio to record this song and several others for the album.

Each track the album has a unique story to tell. For instance, Rovatti’s experience of moving from a small town in Italy to the anonymous streets of New York is reflected in “Where is Home.” For Rovatti, the melody lines are a “lifetime moment of missing my home.” As you listen, you will not only hear loneliness, but also joy and wonderment. Perhaps the song, “Stuntman,” best describes the tenacity of this dynamic saxophonist. “In life, we all have to be a stuntman to fall in the right way and get back up right after,” shared Rovatti.

Touching on human qualities in music is important to this artist/arranger/composer. “The biggest achievement of an artist is to bring back emotion. I hope somebody can find my music and record that moment in time,” said Rovatti.

Rovatti recently contributed to the Grammy winning 34th N Lex by Randy Brecker. Her own work in Under the Hat has garnered the attention of jazz critics and enthusiasts alike. Before she heads out for an Italian tour in March, Elle magazine will be featuring her in the upcoming issue. Her second solo album under the Apria label is due out in mid-2004.

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