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Remembering Saxophonist Massimo Urbani

C. Michael Bailey By

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Massimo Urbani was born in Primavalle, Rome on May 8, 1957. He was the eldest of five sons from a lower middle class family. Urbani's interest in music emerged when he was six, when he attended concerts presented by local bands appearing in his neighborhood. The young Urbani was also amply exposed to a variety of music on frequent visits to his father's hometown of Camerata.

In 1968, Urbani took up his first musical instrument, the clarinet. He played in Monte Mario's band under the direction of Gino Tommassetti, who eventually suggested to Urbani that he should consider playing the alto saxophone. A year later, at age 14, a teenaged Urbani performed regularly in local R&B and pop groups. Saxophonist Tony Formichella invited him to his first jam sessions at the Folk Studio, where Urbani gained the attention of one Mario Schiano who helped broadened the young altoist's musical palette and professional opportunities.

The year 1972 saw a maturing Urbani studying jazz with Giorgio Gaslini at Santa Cecilia Conservatoire in Rome. Tony Formichella, Maurizio Giammarco, Tommaso Vittorini, and Bruno Tommaso were among his fellow students at the conservatoire. A year later, in 1973, Gaslini asks Urbani to join his quartet. This year would prove pivotal to the rapidly emerging Urbani. At age 16, Urbani was jettisoned in to the world of recording, taking part in no less than four recording sessions in 1973 alone. Gaslini took his new group on the road, appearing at the Bergamo Jazz Festival, where Urbani was enthusiastically received. Urbani filled the alto chair on Gaslini's recordings Message and Favola Pop and Schiano's Sud, as well as taking part in Giancarlo Schiaffini's Jazz a Confronto No. 5 (Jazz Comparisons No. 5). Shortly thereafter, Urbani moved to Parma joining the exploding jazz-rock movement occurring there. No recordings exist documenting this period in Urbani's professional career.

In early 1974, Urbani joined forces with trumpet Enrico Rava (with whom he would work through 1978). In the summer of 1974, Urbani appeared at the Second Annual Umbria Jazz Festival. In the Fall and Winter, Urbani went on the road with Rava, the resulting stint including a two-week stand and television appearance in New York City. It was also during this period that Urbani is thought to have acquired his dependence on heroin. While in New York with Rava, Urbani became progressively more moody and unreliable. Recording equipment loaned Rava came up missing while Urbani spent two freezing nights sleeping on a Central Park bench, sick with fever. He was 17 years old and this episode would gravely foretell the rest of Urbani's short life.

In late 1974, Urbani recorded his first session as a leader on Volume 13 of the Jazz a Confronto (Jazz Comparisons) series. He then moved to Milan in 1977 shortly after his mother's death; and the following year was busy playing in bands led by Larry Nocella, Luigi Bonafede, Furio Di Castri and Paolo Pellegatti. In 1979, Urbani released his second album as a leader, 360° Aeutopia. For the recording, Urbani used an American rhythm section and the recording won the 1979 Italian Critics' Referendum.

Later that year, Urbani performed with Chet Baker and Nicola Stilo, while in 1980 he joined Enrico Pieranunzi and Art Farmer for the recording of Isis. Following the Isis sessions, Urbani entered the studio for his next recording, Dedications to Albert Ayler and John Coltrane, with pianist Luigi Bonafede. This recording was a break out of sorts for Urbani, proving that he was greater than the sum of his Be Bop chops. On this album Urbani plays with the same freedom and spirituality as the dedicatees.

In 1983 Urbani won Top Jazz honors, the most important Italian jazz prize and in 1985 he received the Charlie Parker prize, which was also granted to Phil Woods in the same year. The following year, Urbani joined legendary bassist Giovanni Tommaso for his excellent Via G.T.. The recording also features Paolo Fresu on trumpet and the band is invited to perform in the United States the following year, when Urbani records Easy to Love, perhaps the most well-received of his albums. Urbani also recorded Duet Improvisations for Yardbird with pianist Michael Miello and Where Extremes Meet with Luca Flores.

Urbani's biographic material becomes sketchy in the end of the 1980s. In 1988 Urbani met one Valentina Amadori who bore him a child shortly before his death. He took part in four more recordings between 1988 and 1993: Lello Panico & Phenoix's Fronne, and his own Out Of Nowhere, Round About... Max With Strings, The Blessing. In 1992 Urbani took part in the Charlie Parker commemoration held in Paris, playing with the Danish bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen. Joining Urbani were Jackie McLean, Frank Morgan, and Clarence Sharp. In 1993, Urbani played in Rome for a week with trumpet player Red Rodney and on June 23 Massimo Urbani collapsed and died from a heroin overdose.

Reading between the lines of available scholarship. Massimo Urbani's life was a mess. He wore the threadbare coat of a junkie Werther well. Urbani was noted to possess a phenomenal talent and generosity of spirit while being perfectly capable of offending and frustrating with unreliable behavior, insensitivity, and moodiness. Like Charlie Parker and Art Pepper, with whom he shared heroin addiction, this is not what Massimo Urbani should be remembered for. The reader is encouraged to spin 360° Aeutopia cut one, "Cherokee" and appreciate a pristine articulation and time and passion for an artform that brings little fame much less personal stability.

However, the art that is produced is simply sublime.


Massimo Urbani Discography (subject to update)

MARIO SCHIANO: Sud (CD Splasc(h) Records CD H 501-2) Recorded Rome, January 8 & 17, 1973.



GIORGIO GASLINI: Message (LP Basf X 23312) Recorded Milan, March 3, 1973.



GIORGIO GASLINI: Favola Pop (LP Produttori Associati PA/LP 48) Recorded Rome, June 25 & 26, 1973.



GIANCARLO SCHIAFFINI: Jazz a Confronto No. 5 (Jazz Comparisons No. 5) (LP Horo HLL 101-5) Recorded Rome, June 1973.



MARIO SCHIANO - GIORGIO GASLINI: Jazz a Confronto No. 8 (Jazz Comparisons No. 8) (LP Horo HLL 101-8) Recorded Rome, December 2, 1974.



ENRICO RAVA: Jazz a Confronto No. 14 (Jazz Comparisons No. 14) (LP Horo HLL 101-14) Recorded Rome, November 12, 1974.



MASSIMO URBANI: Jazz a Confronto No. 13 (Jazz Comparisons No. 13) (LP Horo HLL 101-13) Rome, December 11, 1974.



GAETANO LIGUORI: Collective Orchestra (LP PDU Pld.A 6051) Recorded Milan, February 3 & 4, 1976.



CADMO: Flying Over Ortobene Mount In July Seventy Seven (LP Edizioni dell'Isola EIJ 2026) Recorded Rome, September 1977.



VARIOUS ARTISTS: Laboratorio della Quercia (2 LP Horo HDP 39-40) Recorded Rome, July 5 & 6 1978.



GAETANO LIGOURI: Idea 3/20/79 Live (CD Philology W 145.2) Recorded March 20, 1979.

MASSIMO URBANI: 360° Aeutopia (CD Red Records VPA 146.2) Recorded Milan, June 20, 1979.



ENRICO PIERANUNZI: Isis (CD Soul Note 121021-2) Rome, February 9-11, 1980.

MASSIMO URBANI: Dedication To A.A. & J.C. - Max's Mood (Red Records VPA 160.2) Recorded June 1980.

MASSIMO URBANI: Go Max Go (CD Philology W187.2) Recorded S.Giuliano a Mare (RN), August 8, 1981.

GIANNA NANNINI: Sconerto Rock (Cinevox 10 LP) Recorded 1982.

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Top Jazz in Italy (Musica Jazz 2 MJP 1014) Recorded Milan, March 3, 1983.

MASSIMO URBANI: Max Leaps In (CD Philology W181.2) Recorded Civitanova Marche, Teatro Rossini, September 26, 1983.

MASSIMO URBANI-JAZZ STUDIO ORCHESTRA: 15 Years (PG 10002 CD) recorded 1983.



FIVE FOR JAZZ: Live In Sanremo & In Pesaro (CD Splasc(h) Records CDHP 01.2) Recorded Sanremo, May 4, 1984.

ENRICO PIERANUNZI: Autumn Song (LP Enja 4094) Recorded Berlin, November 11, 1984.

MASSIMO URBANI: The Urbisaglia Concert (CD Philology W 70.2) Recorded 1984.

MASSIMO URBANI: Invitation (CD Philology W58.2) Recorded Various Locations, July 1977 to November 1984.

MASSIMO URBANI: Live in Ancona '84 (CD Philology W 221.2) Recorded 1984.

GIOVANNI TOMMASO: Via G.T. (CD Red Records VPA 196.2) Recorded Rome, April 15 & 16, 1986.

MASSIMO URBANI: Easy To Love (CD Red Records NS 208) Recorded Rome, January 18, 1987.

LUCA FLORES: Where Extremes Meet (LP Splasc(h) Records H 123) Recorded Rome, February 28, 1987.

MIKE MELILLO - MASSIMO URBANI: Duet Improvisations For Yardbird (LP Philology W 214 4) Recorded Recanati, March 23, 1987.

MASSIMO URBANI: Live at Supino Jazz Fest 8/87 (CD Philology W 228.2) Recorded 8/87

CHET BAKER: Chet in Italy (CD Philology W 81.2) Recorded 1988.

LELLO PANICO & PHOENIX: Fronne (Gala Records GLLP 91025) Recorded Rome, April - September 1988.

MASSIMO URBANI: Out Of Nowhere (CD Splasc(h) Records CD H 336) Recorded 1988.

MASSIMO URBANI: Live at Larry's (CD CMCD.04) Recorded Larry's, 1988.

MASSIMO URBANI: Urlo (Elicona 3343-2) Recorded Catania, April 1990.

MAURO ANDREONI: Bon Voyage Recorded Rome, July 1990.

MASSIMO URBANI: Round About... Max With Strings (CD Sentemo SNT 30392) Recorded Matera, November 28, 1991.

MASSIMO URBANI: The Blessing (CD Red Records 257.2) Recorded Rome, February 21 & 22, 1993.

Red Rodney Quintet: Live at Alexander Platz (CD) Recorded 1993.

MASSIMO URBANI: Live at Belzebu (CD Philology W 58.2) Recording Date Unknown.

MASSIMO URBANI: Unissued (CD Philology W 238.2) Recording Date Unknown.

SERGIO COPPOTELLI: 55 Years Young (CD Splasch 530) Recording Date Unknown.

The writer acknowledges with great gratitude Sergio Veschi and Daniele Cecchini for their aid in biographical information and translation.

Related Article
Maximum City: The Music of Massimo Urbani

Photo Credit
Damiano Bianca

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