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Jazz With A Purpose: Franco Nannucci

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Once you start doing something good it gets under your skin, you don’t go back, and it’s the greatest pleasure you can feel.
—Franco Nannucci
Sometimes it takes someone from the outside to shake up an industry. The case could be made that Franco Nannucci is just that sort of person who could shake up the jazz business. With his background as a successful textile entrepreneur, he's somehow made his way into the music business rubbing shoulders with top musicians, producers, and executives. A self- described "Mr. Nobody," he's still been able to release albums and produce concerts that blend genres and styles that would be deemed too risky by most in the business. Although not a musician himself, he is driven by two things, his love of music and his desire to give back. All of these efforts are not to enrich himself but, instead, to bring philanthropy to various causes around the globe. He started his Music For Love foundation, a non-profit organization which produces charity concerts and donates all proceeds to people in need. Mr. Nannucci exudes passion and drive which has clearly helped him in his business pursuits but also serves him well in a business that is not always keen on outsiders.

About Franco Nannucci

Born in 1966 in Prato Italy, Franco Nannucci is a product of his surroundings. He comes from a textile town and he joined the business just like those before him. He spent thirty-eight years of his working career with fiber producers, yarns producers and spinners (commodities and novelties) in Italy and other European countries. He also did garment design and production (knitwear), developing and producing apparel, upholstery and drapery fabrics, dyeing and finishing.

But, among other interests, he is a lover of music. And, starting with a birthday party and a concert in 2016, he was put on a path of music and charity that has only taken off since. He started Music For Love, a foundation that does fundraising through recordings and concerts that are entirely organized and funded by Nannucci himself and often produced with collaborator Paola Troise Mangoni, President of Music for Love Italia.

What really sets Music for Love apart is that the entire revenue from the sale of the tickets is devolved to charity and no money is spent to cover the organizational and logistical expenses. This allows them to maximize the impact of their supporters and the artists who generously collaborate with them. They've been able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for schools and hospitals around the globe.

All About Jazz: Your background is in textile. How did you end up getting into the music business?

Franco Nannucci: I was born in Prato Italy which was, and still is essentially, a textile town. My father was producing yarn and my father-in-law was producing upholstery. I was in the fashion industry side and then, later, the interior decorating side of it and eventually, I moved to the U.S. in 2002 to start my own sales agency for North America.

But, the way I got into music, which was not planned, all started with my 50th birthday party. One of my best friends has always been an inspiration. He was a champion of the Dakar Rally car race but started building schools in Africa, Senegal to be precise. I decided that I'm going to have a party, but, instead of gifts, I'm just going to do some fundraising to support his foundation.

This was just in my hometown and I told everyone that I don't want gifts, just donations. A lot of friends, customers, and suppliers donated and we raised about 70,000 Euros. Considering that it was done with no effort I would have been happy if we had raised ten or fifteen grand. This was the catalyst and has just grown from that one party.

I was born on the same day as Stevie Wonder and he's always been one of my few real idols that I've had since I was ten or eleven years old. So, it was a music party and, when this party finished, I said to the person that helped me to organize it, "Ok, I'm happy. We did fantastic." She said to me, "That's it? You are crazy. Do you realize what you just did without any plan?" I said, "Well, I'm sure other people do that." She replied, "Franco, you're wrong. You need to keep going."

She asked me what I wanted to do and I told her that my dream would be to produce a concert the way I want. I'd want a jazz quartet but with some art, and strings, and special guest singers. So, we started to plan our first concert for 2017 in Prato. I believed this was a piece of art. It was produced at the highest level and we raised around 100,000 Euros. In between, I was working to fundraise because this foundation has built eight schools around Africa: Senegal; Burkina Faso; Ivory Coast; Sierra Leone; and South Sudan.

This really got into my skin. It was like being addicted to giving back. I'm a competitive person and when I do something I always try my best. It doesn't matter if I end up first or last [laughs] but I really give everything.

So, I started Music For Love. I said to myself, why not also help a few musicians. Although I've discovered over the years that the industry is complex but, In Italian, I would use words that are not very polite.

We did the first event in Greensboro North Carolina with the Fabrizio Bosso Quartet, while he was in the U.S, in support of the school system because a tornado destroyed three schools. We raised $25,000 plus we were able to get them another $20,000.

And then I did other events. The year after we did a tour. We did three concerts with a different format, a little bit of variety with some jazz, some funk, and R&B. Last year, in May, we had a concert for an Italian hospital that cures kids with leukemia and tumors. We raised, with just our event, 125,000 Euros from this jazz quartet event and we donated it all to this hospital.

In between, I found the music producer, Stefano DeDonato, and I said to him, as a joke, "Why don't you do something for me.? I would like to hear the piano of Michel Petrucciani with the trumpet of Fabrizio Bosso." This guy looked at me like I was an alien and said, "You're crazy," but he decided to do it. That's how the first album, Music for Love, Vol. 1 (Music For Love, 2021) was started. It was originally supposed to be one song. Then it was supposed to be three songs. Then it became a fourteen track album.

We did a song where the Petrucciani family gave us a co-publishing deal. That was "Cantabile," but we called it "Cantabile 2.0." Then, we did a remake of Damian Marley's "Speak Life." He, and Universal, gave us a mechanical license to monetize such that we're splitting the revenue between the foundation owned by the Marleys and our foundation. So, there was a partnership with the Marley family.

The third song, that's actually our own original song and a pillar of the album, was "Dreaming Miles." I wanted my producers to do a song that would concentrate on part of the history of Miles Davis. Of course, it's very ambitious and only a guy who is not in the music business could think about doing it because it's risky. That song was blessed by Vince Wilburn Jr., a nephew of Miles Davis who I've come to know.

So, we did this album in 2021. We got a lot of visibility and there were a lot of people who started to take us seriously. It's helpful when you have the Marley family, the Petrucciani family, and the family of Miles Davis embracing you and supporting you. Vincent said to me, "Our industry needs more people like you to think outside the box because there is no risk taking at all. We just do what's fashionable and we don't experiment. You love music so much and are so passionate about it as well as the charity that you need to keep going."

AAJ: How does someone with your background, that's not in the music business, find all these contacts and producers to help you?

FN: I was lucky. The people that are around me say that I have charisma and good vibes. I have a love and sense of music that even some musicians don't have. I hear things. Fabrizio Bosso is one of the best trumpet players in all of Europe. When we were making Music For Love I went to the studio for three days, for the very first time in my life, and he said to me, "your presence is so positive. You're always very quiet but when you say something it makes sense."

So, I'm not sure what the answer is but I'm extremely passionate and they're telling me that I have a very wide range in terms of musical styles. I'm not stuck in just one genre, I actually love blending them. I don't like the word "mashing." I like to blend genres and sounds because I believe that diversity is a major strength in many different situations. Music For Love was twenty-nine musicians from eight different countries. Every song was my idea whether it was an original or a remake. And, each song needed to represent a different part of the globe but without being branded as that part of the globe.

So, in my opinion, diversity within a human being would be a fantastic strength of humanity but, unfortunately, we just look to fragment ourselves. Individually, we are nothing. It's like if you have just a double bass or just a guitar. Yes, you can do a lot of cool stuff but you can never go beyond that instrument. But, with diversity, you can go much further.

Maybe that's why I loved Miles. He was always experimenting with something whether it was right or wrong. When I met Vincent (Wilburn) I was on a plane and was listening to this new Columbia recording of Miles reworked with a DJ and some other cool people dressed in some of my Music For Love gear. He came up to me and said, "oh man, you're grooving." I said, "Yes, I'm listening to this new release with Miles. I was listening to the original recording a year before this was released. This is super cool and you should listen to it." He said to me, "hey man, I'm Vince!" So, I turned my head and said, "No way! You know, I have pictures of Miles in my house." That's how our friendship really started.

I've been lucky to a certain point. You have to be lucky to find people that will support, not just the music, but the bridge towards doing a better job in helping people who really need it. I met with a very important music producer once. We had a conversation and I said, "You are Afro-American and I haven't seen one of the big artists investing and giving back into the continent. Most people even get paid for charity events and that's something I totally dislike." At first, he was defensive but then he was obliged to tell me that I'm right. With limited funds I've built schools in Africa and have given a better life to, maybe, ten thousand kids.

AAJ: Have you been to these places to see what you've done? And, if so, how did that make you feel?

FN: Absolutely. I have been there. I can't be there all the time because I have to sell fabric to make money and produce music. But, I was there last year in January to give the four schools in Senegal money to build.

I am also mashing music and sports. I'm passionate about basketball. Again, I don't know why but I know some of the top people in the basketball world of Europe. Those people are helping me out.

In the music business, I believe that if some people listened to the two albums that a non-professional like myself has produced, with the intention of 100% of the revenue donated, they will surely be appreciated. Same for the live events.

Sometimes there are frustrations because I say to myself, is it really possible that none of these people or corporations that we've tried to connect with are curious why someone like me does what he does? Well, because I have the passion to do it. And, apparently, for what some professionals in the music industry are saying, it's not even that bad.

AAJ: What do you want to accomplish next with this?

FN: Next, I wish I could have the partnership of some corporation that could financially support these projects in Africa. Because it really is a battle to get enough funds to support and sustain those projects. I'm not a rich person. I'm not a millionaire. I just give a slice of my income to this.

In regards to the music, I would like to bring some more tracks to some nice venues and get it more visible because I believe it's quite good music. I'm actually working, as we speak, with two music producer/musicians to arrange an album that will be recorded live with a big band. I'm talking to the University of North Carolina Greensboro and its Miles Davis Jazz Studies program, to do a concert. They're very happy to do it because I want to make it a fundraiser to help African musicians enter the program who couldn't do it otherwise.

On top of that, I've asked Vincent [Wilburn] to be the Guest of Honor and play at the event. He's just released an album called That You Not Dare to Forget [Piccadilly Records, 2023) with everyone from Marcus Miller, and Lenny White, to Darryl Jones. Of course, I would love it if he could bring them to one of my concerts but, at the same time, I would be happy if he just said, "I'm coming by myself as your friend." It would be a gift to have him on the drums play "Dreaming Miles." That would be a fantastic gift to me.

AAJ: What have you found to be the biggest obstacles to what you're trying to accomplish?

FN: The biggest obstacle is that, today, music has become very independent. One singer/songwriter on Ovision is Roc Flowers who, unfortunately for him, is also my son. It's very difficult for him to get noticed. And, if you want to do different music it's even harder. He was a rapper when he was 16 and then realized that he didn't want to talk about sex, drugs, shooting, and all that kind of stuff.

The large market is untouchable. It's a club that a few people keep very tight and it's very complex for the rest because it's hard to find people who believe in what you do and the way you do it. I have to be honest, I've also encountered some jealousy because some people have said, "how have you had those ideas I haven't?" What can I say?

So, to build relationships with music industry people is important. Not the musicians because many of them are artists, and dreamers, and the fragile part of this industry that I believe, are sometimes even abused by everybody else. I'm giving them a platform and advocating for them but who am I? I'm Mr. Nobody.

Those are the frustrations. Even if you have a beautiful product it's extremely hard to get it noticed. I don't want to be rich and famous for music, I couldn't care less. But, if I could get $100,000, or $1,000,000, or $10,000,000, that I could put towards my project, that would make me extremely happy.

AAJ: Well, it sounds like you're doing great so far. You just might be able to make it happen.

FN: I hope so. People have told me the same thing. They say, "you need to keep going." I do keep going even though I know it is difficult. It's harder for me because I'm not part of the club. I don't know the game very well.

AAJ: Would you like this to become your full-time job?

FN: No, my job is to sell fabric [laughs]. So, if I have revenue from fabric I can invest in music. But, I also dedicate a lot of time. People sometimes ask me how I do it. I don't know, I just do it. That's it. I think if people want to, they can do more than they are doing. So, I try to use my time wisely.

I am fortunate that, in my business, I'm considered one of the best if I may say so. I can still accomplish a lot without having to work as many hours. So, I get to spend time with music, my charity project, and my three kids. One is a singer/songwriter. One plays division one basketball and one is a swimmer working with an Olympic coach so I'm busy even without the music.

AAJ: Is there anything else you want to mention before we finish?

FN: I would love to just ask people to check us out and maybe be a part of the Music for Love project because once you start doing something good it gets under your skin, you don't go back, and it's the greatest pleasure you can feel.

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