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Italian Jazz in New York

By Published: March 11, 2005

Jazz had its start in Italy right after the turn of the 19th century and it has marched slowly but constantly to where it is today.

By Laura Caparrotti

This month past, present and future generations of Italian jazz will parade throughout Manhattan. Besides having some of the most famous jazz festivals such as Umbria, Pescara, Roccella, and Rome's Villa Celimontana - many Italian towns and cities host smaller jazz festivals and celebrate the music in coffee houses and pubs, a phenomenon of only the past decade or so. Two decades ago this music was primarily for lovers and experts even though Italian jazz musicians were already considered among the best in Europe.

Jazz had its start in Italy right after the turn of the 19th century and it has marched slowly but constantly to where it is today. From the '20s to the '40s, Italians were applauding numerous jazz bands called Orchestra Jazz, Jazz Sinfonico or simply titled with the name of their leader. In 1931, a 12 piece orchestra, Orchestra Jazz Columbia, was created in order to record the American and European jazz productions invading the market. The Angelini Orchestra began in 1930 when it was called to play dance music at the Sala Gay in Turin, the most famous dance hall of the time where concerts were broadcast live by the Italian National Radio. Maestro Angelini introduced for the first time in Italy the presence of a permanent singer in the makeup of the orchestra in the style of the great American orchestras from which he also took his repertoire. Pippo Barzizza, a friend though musical rival, and great conductor as well as composer, brought swing into Italian blood. Although Benito Mussolini had prohibited jazz, many artists continued to play foreign music, and some young Italian musicians even decided to record "pure jazz.

In '37, Natalino Otto (nicknamed "King of Rhythm ) presented an innovative repertoire strongly influenced by the American music of that era, as he was coming from a recent stay in New York where he worked for Italian-American radio. He had to face the Italian fascist regime censorship that banned anything foreign and was forced to translate song titles and lyrics into Italian. The Italian radio company (EIAR) didn't broadcast his songs, labeling them "barbaric negro antimusic . Banned from the radio, Otto, instead worked for recording companies with two great Italian bandleaders: Gorni Kramer and Pippo Barzizza. It was between '42-'43, when northern Italy was still undergoing World War II bombings, that brave young artists recorded many jazz standards which were given Italian titles so as to disguise the true origin.

After World War II, and the falling of the fascism, the music from the States changed the face of the nation forever. One of the main jazz singers of that time (and of today, competing in this year's Festival di Sanremo) is Nicola Arigliano. Known as the "King of the Swing , Arigliano has played jazz since he was 11, primarily involved with the same band of Giampaolo Ascolese (drums/percussion), Antonello Vannucchi (piano) and Elio Tatti (bass).

Pianist Giorgio Gaslini, one of the first followers of bebop in Italy, experimented with several different styles, including free improvisation; pianists Franco D'Andrea and Enrico Pieranunzi are grounded in an eclectic hard bop between tradition and innovation. In the late '60s and '70s a new generation of musicians were born, each coming from different experiences: trumpeter Enrico Rava, saxophonists Gianluigi Trovesi and Eraldo Volonté, trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini, and pianists Enrico Intra, Sante Palumbo, Gaetano Liguori and Armando Trovajoli, drummer Gilberto Cuppini, bassist Bruno Tommaso and accordionist Gianni Coscia.

The latest generation includes Paolo Fresu (trumpet), Stefano Battaglia (piano) and Roberto Gatto (drums) and this March invasion will offer a remarkable panorama of what is going on in Italian jazz today. JazzItaliano - organized by Giampero Rubei and Regione Lazio - will present seven groups in seven locations. Italy's most prominent jazz drummer, Roberto Gatto, will head his quintet born in '97, featuring some of the most successful musicians of the Italian and European jazz scenes. Gatto's professional debut was in '75 with the Trio di Roma, and since then he has worked with his own groups as well as with many international artists. Trumpeter Fabio Morgera, already well-established in New York, will lead a quintet with the Italo-American pianist Pete Malinverni and renowned saxophonist and professor George Garzone, whom he first met in the late '80s as a student at Berklee. Turin trumpeters Flavio Boltro and Fabrizio Bosso will co-lead a Freddie Hubbard/ Lee Morgan tribute ensemble called Le Trombe del Re. One of the best Italian alto saxophonists, Rosario Giuliani, will bring his own highly acclaimed near-decade old group with its repertory of original compositions and rearranged standards. Pianist Riccardo Biseo and clarinetist Gianni Sanjust will feature special guest Marcello Rosa. Bassist Pippo Matino (from Napoli) and guitarist Andrea Braido (from Trento) are performing in their year-old duo with repertoire comprised of material by Jaco Pastorius and Wes Montgomery, as well as originals. To end the list of the first historic Italian jazz week is the trio of Fabrizio Sotti (a 12-year U.S. resident).

And though March 6th is the end of JazzItaliano, it is also the date of the debut of the young pianist/composer/virtuoso Giovanni Allevi at the Blue Note. Allevi will perform his soon to be released album for solo piano that is presently being recorded.

At Symphony Space on March 22nd, Enzo Capua (representative of Umbria Jazz in the States) presents Italian Women in Jazz with four internationally acclaimed female groups: Chiara Civello, Ada Rovatti, Patrizia Scascitelli and Elle in Tones. Called "the best jazz singer of her generation by Tony Bennett, Chiara Civello (from Rome) began singing professionally at the age of 16 and won a scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College in Boston. Ada Rovatti (born in Pavia) in '92 was awarded a scholarship at Umbria Jazz with a "Special Recognition for Outstanding Musicianship from Berklee College where she, too, studied for several years. In '97 she moved to New York and leads two groups. Patrizia Scascitelli (from Rome) is widely considered the best female jazz pianist since the '70s in Italy and the world. To conclude this jazz marathon is the U.S. debut of a new group from Turin, Elle in Tones, which will perform Ellington tunes in their own distinct way, featuring the polyphonic vocal quartet of Chiara Curtoni, Erika Sollo, Irene Rotondale and Valeria Benigni.

The month of March is a month to celebrate Italian jazz in New York!

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