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Emilia Vancini

Singing is a place where I feel safe

About Me

Some things are meant to be. In the case of Italian singer Emilia Vancini music runs through her veins and singing is woven into every part of her melodic make-up. Emilia’s story transcends 30 years and countless countries from Italy to her current home in The Hague. With each note and mile she has fallen deeper in love with jazz, via a story that doesn’t begin with finding her voice, but rather, tells how singing found her. “Singing is a place where I feel safe,” Emilia says. “The first time I sang to an audience it was like a miracle. To me it was home, and I sing because I cannot not do it. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t sing.”

Preparing to turn the page of her next exciting chapter, Emilia’s fourth album “And if you fall, you fall” is a compendium of improvised jazz standards between voice and piano with Sardinian pianist Augusto Pirodda. The pair have crafted an instinctive lingua franca across traditional songs they both know and love, culled from Emilia’s extensive repertoire of around 200 jazz standards. Its title - taken from Johnny Burke’s lyrics in Jimmy Van Heusen’s ‘But beautiful’ (“beautiful to take a chance / And if you fall, you fall / and I'm thinking I wouldn't mind at all”) - is a poignant reminder of challenges we all face and offers positivity and comfort from being yourself and living in the moment. “Improvising was stressful, but my teacher ask me: ‘what are you afraid of? What can happen? Will you die? Just let yourself go. The worst to happen is a mistake.’ ”

Recorded live in The Hague’s Happy Bird Studio, the album radiates with authenticity and embraces the opportunities presented by accepting one’s mistakes. Her vocals are expressive, like Joni Mitchell singing with the evocative tone of Helen Merrill in a smoky New York jazz joint in the ‘50s whilst her personality and adapted lyrics offer another refreshing twist. “The lyrics of ’If I Were A Bell’ were supposed to be: “that’s the way I’ve just got to behave” but I couldn’t bring myself to sing that, so I changed it. Some words don’t capture the right emotion for me. As a singer I feel very privileged to have lyrics, harmony and melody to convey meaning.”

For Emilia, music holds memories and traces every contour of her life. Growing up in Northern Italy’s cultured Cento, she would read poetry, novels like Moravia’s “Gli Indifferenti” and nurture her growing appreciation for languages. At age 7, like her mother and sister, Emilia played piano and developed a love of classical music whilst pop music from her older siblings’ record players would fill the house; ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s British and American pop, blues, rock and Italian cantautori, before experiencing a jazz epiphany in her teens. “I loved and kept singing Rickie Lee Jones’ rendition of ‘My Funny Valentine’ and was surprised to learn my mother shared my modern tastes; she told me ‘that’s jazz!’ and I fell in love; at that moment I knew music would play an essential role in my life.”

Whilst learning English in London, Emilia’s love of literature grew; between reading the works of Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, and Virginia Woolf, she sang with the Ripieno Society and Square Singers of St. James's before moving to Berlin to study German, perform with the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche and continue her jazz education by watching live performances in her local cafe. Back in Italy Emilia would study jazz singing with Martina Grosse Burlage and perform with Cento’s Prosecco Blues Band before eventually relocating to The Netherlands to pursue her jazz career. Here she would discover the complex improvised sounds of American jazz great Charles Mingus. After being told about him by American jazz bassoonist Michael Rabinowitz and her teacher Jeanne Lee, the magic of Mingus’ ‘Song With Orange’ led Emilia to Washington DC’s Library of Congress where she began delving into his manuscripts and started a 20-year obsession researching his music. “One day I hope to honour Mingus’ memory; he had a rare appreciation for singers, unlike many jazz musicians. Like many other performers, music was his most natural form of communication.”

Following: “In a sentimental mood” (2018), “Whatever Possessed Me” (2008), and “Canzoni e standards” (1999), Emilia’s latest release “And if you fall, you fall” continues to celebrate the music that inspires her. Launched with a live YouTube session from her living room in The Hague, it’s just the next part in a journey that has also seen Emilia perform with guitarist Peter Denissen, trumpet player Victor Borkent's octet “Vic's!” and Big Band “Straight Life”, saxophonist Gianluca Masetti, pianist Denis Biancucci and double-bass player Tiziano Zanotti.

When Emilia Vancini sings, you feel what she feels; emotion moves with each soar, dip and skip of her phrasing. There are no straight lines on the path to her safe place but only one destination; “the most important thing is to keep singing,” she affirms, “there is nothing else I want to do.”

My Jazz Story

I was first exposed to jazz when I lived in Berlin in 1988. There was a cafe' in Kantstrasse where a saxophone player performed solo in the daytime. I used to go to the cafe' to do my homework but I ended up listening to the music instead. That was the beginning of a love story that continues to this day.

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