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At last – Confirmation! No, not the Charlie Parker tune. Confirmation that songstress Roberta Gambarini is truly a devotee of Anita O'Day. This new singer continues to dazzle as she tours the country this summer and did so again at the Berkshire Jazz Festival on Aug. 25 and 26 in Great Barrington, Mass., with two strong sets that had audiences howling. She was a sheer delight at George Wein's Friehofer Jazz Festival in Saratoga Springs, NY, back in June. Splashes of Ella and Sarah, yet with such a strong flavor of Anita. Caught at the Berkshire festival after her first set, she admitted being a huge fan of O'Day, and divulged her desire to one day meet her idol.
The Italian-born singer said she picked up jazz from an extensive record collection belonging to her father, which included all the greats, not just singers, but instrumentalists as well. That's where her tour-de-force scat version of "On the Sunny Side of the Street" comes from. On the first day of the festival she sang it, explaining it comes from a record featuring Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt. She scats each one's solos, based on what was on the recording, and it is enticing.
She was backed by Richie Hart, an engaging guitarist, and veterans Rick Petrone on bass and Joe Corsello on drums. She'd never played with them before, but you'd never know it. She would turn toward the group to name the tune, give a few directions about what the feel and tempo should be, and then jump right in. The set went smooth as butter. "Squeeze Me," she sang ... and you wanted to. Sometimes one syllable became four or five notes, like Ms. Vaughan. Other times, simplicity reigned. She's developing a great sense of style. She can swing, like the up-tempo version of "Lover Man," or croon, like on Strayhorn's "Day Dream." "Good Morning Heartache," was endearing. She doesn’t sing it with Billie's sense of pathos. That was Lady Day's thing. Gambarini's voice puts forth a succulent charm.
She isn't just a singer, said Hart; she's special. "She has a true knowledge of the jazz repertoire," he said before introducing her on Day 2 of the festival for another successful set. She did Jobim. Even Randy Weston's "Berkshire Blues," ("I thought that sounded familiar," chuckled Weston when she announced the song after she completed it. The pianist, having played the day before, was strolling through the crowd and stopped to hear the music. Gambarini then gracefully pointed him out in the audience.)
Her enchanting "Everything Happens to Me" includes a solo where she improvises sounding exactly like a trumpet, swinging softly and executing the changes like Art Farmer might.
Gambarini is a woman of considerable talent, as well as charm, and should be on her way. It may take some time, but it will be worth the wait – for her and us.