Articles by: Enzo Capua

  • Art & Culture

    Italian Jazz "Play the sax, Pal"

    If we were to ask someone who knew even just a little bit of jazz what instrument he most associated the genre with, which instrument made jazz stand out from other musical genres, he or she would almost inevitably say the saxophone or trumpet. Wind instruments. Extensions of the voice, practically, extensions of the most direct, human form of communication. Breath externalizes our soul, gives us our identity, sets us apart. It begs the question: why is jazz generally associated with the emission of air from our lungs? 

    Those heavily involved in the genre know that many other instruments have dominated the history of jazz and shaped its style over the years: the piano or guitar, for example, or even the drums and bass. And yet deep down, everyone, aficionados and amateurs alike, harbor a love for the saxophonist, the trumpet player, even the trombonist. Saying why is difficult, but we can hazard a guess; what most captivates people about this music is the spontaneous communication between the musicians, their ability to improvise on a theme, the heat a particular interpretation gives off. 

    The musicians are practically conversing with one another and at the same time communicating a condition of their soul without saying a word, unless of course there’s a singer among them, but that’s another side of the question that we’ve already covered in this column. Whatever the answer, the concept makes jazz an especially humane music. It can make us happy or sad. It can make us think about the present or forget it entirely. Unless it’s second-rate, it’s unlikely to make us feel like we’re just part of the crowd. Next time we’ll talk about saxophones, then move on to trumpets, clarinets, etc., and begin comparing the Italian musicians who have made a name for themselves playing these instruments and their relationship to the American greats. But I’d like to conclude with an anecdote that has been circulating the jazz world for many years and adds a playful—but not too frivolous—twist to the topic. 

    The great Lester Young, one of the most important saxophonists in the history of jazz, a man who left an indelible mark on the style of the tenor sax in the ’40s and ’50s, actually got his start playing the drums. He loved the varied and often lumbering rhythm of the drums. But he quickly decided to abandon it for the saxophone, an instrument he embraced so fully that he became one with it. When asked why he swapped instruments, he said something to the effect of: “Well, I realized that at the end of a gig, while I was still breaking down my drum set, the other guys in the group were heading out with their instruments and their arms around girls who had come to hear us. So I said to myself, ‘Play the sax, pal, and you’ll have more girls hounding you after!” This story, which Young himself told, may have been fabricated, and yet perhaps our saxophonist—a sensible guy with a kind soul but not the most handsome physique—made the right choice—for his happiness and ours.

  • Arte e Cultura

    Italian Jazz: Voce, “first instrument”

    Pare che la prima forma di comunicazione verbale fra esseri umani sia stata molto vicina a ciò che noi possiamo definire come “canto”. Cioè l’emissione dalla bocca di suoni legati tra loro secondo una struttura comunicativa in senso emotivo. I nostri primi antenati per parlarsi, insomma, usavano dei suoni formati con una logica dettata dai sentimenti o dalle urgenze del momento. Se potessimo ascoltare alcuni di questi “dialoghi” forse ci metteremmo le mani ai capelli, o sulle orecchie,  eppure prima ancora del linguaggio c’era qualcosa di musicale tra noi.

    Forse chi ascolta oggi certi brani di hip-hop avrebbe potuto facilmente capire i nostri antenati…Comunque la voce non a caso viene definita come “first instrument”: il primo mezzo per emettere suoni articolati e gradevoli (o sgradevoli, secondo i casi).

    Nel jazz la voce ha avuto un ruolo di primo piano a ondate storiche: negli anni ’20 e ’30, ad esempio, cioè in quel periodo che viene comunemente definito “The Jazz Age” dove la popolarità di questa musica ha raggiunto il suo primo apice e dove sono nate tante di quelle canzoni che chiamiamo standard, o se vogliamo evergreen. Cioè talmente belle che hanno una vita eterna. La voce come strumento di grande attrazione nel jazz ha avuto una sua rinascita anche in tempi recenti, diciamo dagli anni ’90 in poi. Tanto che oggi persino cantanti che col jazz non hanno mai avuto a che fare cercano di cimentarsi con quel repertorio, da Rod Stewart a Lady Gaga.

    Il fatto è che la voce se ha un timbro gradevole, se è bella e persuasiva, se è capace di toccare le corde più intime del nostro animo, ha un potere che a nessun altro strumento è concesso. Perché? Semplice: tra noi e il canto non ci sono intermediari, oggetti materiali come una tromba, un pianoforte o una batteria. C’è solo l’aria che trasmette le vibrazioni, e queste si traducono in sentimenti dentro. Immediatamente. Quante volte nell’ascoltare un cantante o una cantante ci siamo detti subito: “Questo è Frank Sinatra! Questa è Barbra Streisand! Ella Fitzgerald!”.

    Il tono delle loro voci è così comunicativo e riconoscibile che ci è diventato familiare come quello dei nostri genitori o amici. Anzi, le andiamo a cercare queste voci quando ne abbiamo bisogno, quando nel segreto della nostra anima sentiamo la necessità di qualcuno che ci possa riconciliare con la vita se siamo depressi o tirare ancora più su quando siamo felici. Cantare ci appartiene, non ne potremo fare mai a meno. Per fortuna! Nel jazz italiano, però, a differenza della grande tradizione dell’Opera, non abbiamo quasi mai avuto grandi cantanti. Spesso degli umili imitatori degli americani, ma mai delle vere star. Sarà la barriera della lingua, perché la tradizione del jazz è di natura anglosassone e quindi molto differente dalla scansione delle lingue latine, o sarà altro, comunque oggi possiamo ritenerci fortunati ad avere una grandissima cantante italiana di jazz in America che si chiama Roberta Gambarini. Giustamente molto acclamata. E ne abbiamo almeno un’altra di straordinaria bravura in Italia: Maria Pia De Vito. E gli uomini? Purtroppo molto pochi.

    Accontentimoci di aver avuto il grande Frank Sinatra che italiano di famiglia lo era, così come possiamo ancora essere orgogliosi di Anthony Dominick Benedetto, che ci delizia tuttora alla bella età di 88 anni col nome d’arte di Tony Bennett, nato anche lui da immigrati italiani. Il canto, comunque, ce lo abbiamo nel sangue!

  • Art & Culture

    Italian Jazz: The Primacy of the Voice

    In jazz, the primacy of vocals has come in waves, such as the ’20s and ’30s, the period commonly known as “The Jazz Age,” when the genre reached its popular peak and so many songs that we now call standards, or evergreens, were born—songs so beautiful that they’ll last forever. 

    The strong appeal to use the voice as an instrument in jazz music has enjoyed a recent revival, ever since the ’90s, roughly. Even singers who previously had nothing to do with jazz, from Rod Stewart to Lady Gaga, are now looking to build upon that repertoire. The fact is, if it has a pleasant timber, if it’s beautiful and persuasive, if it’s capable of touching the most intimate cords of our souls, the voice wields a power unlike any other instrument. 

    Why? It’s simple: there is no intermediary between the song and us; no physical object is needed. Not a trumpet nor a piano nor a set of drums. There’s only the air that transmits vibrations, and vibrations translate into inner feelings. Immediately. 

    How many times, listening to a singer, have we suddenly shouted, “That’s Frank Sinatra! That’s Barbara Streisand! That’s Ella Fitzgerald!” The tone of their voices is so expressive and recognizable that it becomes as familiar to us as the voice of our parents or friends. Indeed, we hunt them down when we need them, when, deep down in our soul, we need someone who can reconcile us to life when we’re depressed or raise our spirits even further when we’re happy. Singing is a part of us; we can’t live without it. And thank God!

    However, unlike the grand tradition of opera, Italian jazz has produced next to no major singers. Often there have been pale imitators of American singers, but rarely have there been any stars. It may be a language barrier; jazz is Anglo-Saxon at heart, and therefore differs vastly from the scansion of Latinate languages. Or maybe it’s something else. 

    Whatever the case, today we can count ourselves lucky to have a major Italian jazz singer in America, Roberta Gambarini, who has earned her just deserts. And we have at least one other extraordinarily talented residing in Italy: Maria Pia De Vito

    As for the men? Unfortunately, there haven’t been many. We must content ourselves with Frank Sinatra, who came from Italian stock, and Anthony Dominick Benedetto, who continues to send a shiver down our spines at the ripe old age of 88. The son of Italian immigrants, he also goes by the name Tony Bennett. Whatever the case may be, song is in our blood!

  • Art & Culture

    Italian Jazz: Scat Is Fundamental

    Forget the lyrics, even if you know them by heart. For those who, on the other hand, usually sing in the bathroom, try singing a little louder— but again, without the words. Don’t be shy, it doesn’t matter if you’re tone deaf.

    In the span of a few minutes you’ll notice your relationship to your body changing: the emission
    of pure sound, conducted by your sense of melody (however on or off it may be), will lead you to create a symphony between body and spirit.

    What you’re doing, in musical terms, is singing a capella, i.e., without the accompaniment of an instrument. 

    And you might also say that you are attempting what jazz musicians call scat, singing without words, riffing on a melody. The voice was called the first instrument for good reason. It is the primordial mode of communicating emotions with the body. Our ancestors may have tried to find a link between the sounds of our voice to communicate.

    So it’s not incorrect to think that maybe they were singing (in their crude and guttural way) before learning how to define what we now know as words. At heart, it’s possible they were doing scat without even knowing it! If you try this experiment every day, I guarantee that your relationship with your body will be improved decisively.

    You will move more harmonically. Why? The voice is a physical vibration that expresses feelings. So this experiment is really serious. You’ll realize in no time that you can access and communicate your inner desires, or your frustrations, in a more direct mode, without constrictions. Sometimes you’ll even succeed in dispersing the shadows clouding your life. 

    But let’s get back to scat. In the jazz world, they say the first musician to scat was Louis Armstrong, on February 26, 1926, during the historic recording of “Heebie Jeebies.” Supposedly, while Armstrong was singing, his sheet music fell to the ground. So as not to lose the rhythm, Armstrong continued to improvise with apparently meaningless, inarticulate words.

    This may be more legend than history. Many people say that Don Redman and the Fletcher Henderson orchestra invented scat two years prior. But what’s important for us is to understand why that simple invention later became so important to jazz and why song is so closely related to the expression of our emotions.

    In Italy, we know it well, thanks to opera, the peak of passion in music. But it’s no less so in jazz. That’s why scat is fundamental. It’s jazz musicians’ way of giving a more intimate, more physical sense to what words can only caress. We’ll investigate this topic further in one of the next issues. In the meantime, get under the shower and sing. Please. It’ll only do you good. 

  • Arte e Cultura

    ITALIAN JAZZ - Saxophone Closssus

    Poco tempo fa sono andato a trovare un amico musicista a casa. Detto così può non essere niente di speciale: tutti noi andiamo a trovare degli amici. Se poi non sono stati bene in salute e sono in via di ripresa, allora la nostra visita diventa per loro – e per noi – un piacere in più che arricchisce l’emozione del rivedersi, di parlarsi. Però questo mio amico ha qualcosa in più: è una persona davvero speciale, diciamo pure che è uno dei grandi musicisti della storia del jazz.

    Un gigante che si staglia in rilievo come se fosse anche lui scolpito nella roccia del Monte Rushmore, lì dove ci sono quattro Presidenti degli Stati Uniti. Potremmo dire che il nostro gigante non sfigurerebbe accanto a Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt e Jefferson se ci fosse un Rushmore della musica americana. Infatti, pur avendo oggi ben ottantatré anni, il mio caro amico si porta dietro ancora il soprannome che gli diedero sessanta anni fa, e che è legato allo strumento che lui suona con grazia e perizia inarrivabili: Saxophone Closssus.
    Anche chi conosce un pochino il jazz sa che quel mio amico si chiama Sonny Rollins. Oggi il nostro Colosso abita fuori New York, dalle parti di Woodstock, in una bella villetta immersa nel verde. Sonny ha perso l’amata moglie, che gli faceva anche da manager, una diecina di anni fa. Lucille, si chiamava: uno dei due amori della sua vita. L’altro, ovviamente, è più etereo ma altrettanto forte, se non di più: la Musica. E nel suo caso è davvero appropriato scrivere quest’arte con la M maiuscola. Sonny è parte integrante della storia d’America. Ha avuto tutti i riconoscimenti possibili nella sua lunga e gloriosa carriera: persino la National Medal of Arts dal Presidente Obama nel 2010. E’ quindi una vera e propria “Living Legend”, anche perché il suo apporto alla storia del jazz è così enorme da essere incalcolabile. Fra 200 anni si parlerà ancora di lui e si ascolteranno i suoi dischi. E’ ovvio, dunque, che per me essere amico di Sonny è un punto d’onore, e poterlo andare a trovare nel suo semi-ritiro in campagna, passando delle ore a parlare di musica e vita, è semplicemente una gioia da conservare perennemente.
    Sonny ha avuto alti e bassi fortissimi nel corso dell’esistenza: ha rischiato di morire per droga, ha vissuto in solitudine monacale suonando da solo il suo sassofono sotto il ponte di Brooklyn per degli anni senza veder nessuno, ha però visto soddisfatte tutte le richieste che un’artista può ottenere dalla vita. Una cosa comunque colpisce chiunque lo conosca: la grande umiltà che si somma sorprendentemente con un forte orgoglio e amore di sé. Quindi senza alcuna ipocrisia. Una lezione di vita da non perdere.
    Sonny ama molto l’Italia e da noi chi ama il jazz non può che adorarlo. Fra i tanti bravi sassofonisti che abbiamo in Italia nessuno potrà mai dire che non ha sentito dentro la grande lezione artistica di Rollins. Molti lo hanno imitato, pochi sono riusciti a arrivare al suo livello tecnico, nessuno ad eguagliarlo. Però lo scorso anno, quando è stato invitato a suonare ancora una volta a Perugia, durante Umbria Jazz, Sonny aveva deciso di chiamare due nostri grandi trombettisti ad affiancarlo sul palco del festival: Enrico Rava e Paolo Fresu. Un onore che mai nessun musicista europeo ha avuto. Peccato che poi si è dovuto cancellare quel concerto per le condizioni di salute di Sonny. Ma lui sta recuperando le forze: a 84 anni, quanti ne avrà il prossimo anno, vuol tornare a suonare dal vivo. “I need to play, to blow my horn again on stage” mi ha detto. Amare ciò che si fa e amarsi senza nascondere le proprie debolezze. Questa sì che è una lezione di vita!

  • Life & People

    ITALIAN JAZZ Sonny’s Life Lesson

    A short while ago I traveled to see a friend of mine. That might sound like nothing special; we all travel to see friends. But if they haven’t been unwell lately and are on the mend, then paying a visit becomes for them—and for us—a little more thrilling. It enriches the feeling of seeing one another again and catching up. But there’s something else about my friend that makes seeing him even more special: he happens to be a truly extraordinary person, one of the great musicians in the history of jazz, a giant who breaks the mold, as if he too were carved into the side of Mount Rushmore beside the four presidents of the United States. And he wouldn’t look the fool next to Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Jefferson. In fact, even at eighty-three, my dear friend still answers to the nickname given him sixty years ago, a name that corresponds to the instrument he plays with such insurmountable grace and skill: Saxophone Colossus. Even people who only know a little about jazz know I’m talking about Sonny Rollins.

    Colossus now lives outside New York, near Woodstock, in a beautiful house deep in the country. Ten years ago, Sonny lost his beloved wife, Lucille, who was also his manager. Lucille was one of the only two loves of Sonny’s life. The other, obviously, is more ethereal but every bit as powerful: Music. In his case it’s totally appropriate to write that word with a capital M; Sonny is an integral part of American history. He has received every recognition there is over the course of his long and glorious career, even the National Medal of Arts, which was awarded to him by President Obama in 2010. He’s a true living legend, and his contribution to jazz is immeasurable. In 200 years, people will still be talking about Sonny Rollins and listening to his records. It’s clear, then, why being a friend of Sonny’s is a point of pride for me, and going out to see him in semi-retirement in the country, spending hours talking about music and life, is a privilege I’ll cherish forever. Sonny’s life has had sharp highs and lows. He has nearly died from drug-use. He has lived in monastic solitude. He has played his saxophone alone under the Brooklyn Bridge. Yet he has still gotten everything an artist could want out of life, and if there’s one thing about him that makes an impression on anyone that comes across his path, it’s the deep humility that trumps any pride or vanity the man might possess. There’s not a hypocritical bone in his body. It’s a life lesson that shouldn’t be ignored.

    Sonny loves Italy, and anyone who loves jazz can’t help but adore him. Among the great Italian saxophonists, not one can say he hasn’t taken to heart Rollins’ great artistic lesson. Many have imitated him. Few have succeeded in achieving his technical mastery. No one can equal him. Last year, when he was invited to play once more in Perugia during the Umbria Jazz Festival, Sonny decided to call two brilliant trumpet players to accompany him onstage, Enrico Rava and Paolo Fresu. It was an unprecedented honor for a European musician. Unfortunately, the concert was cancelled on account of Sonny’s health. But, as I said, he’s on the mend. Next year, when he turns 84, he plans to return to the stage. “I need to play, to blow my horn again onstage,” he told me. Loving what you do and loving yourself without hiding your own weaknesses—now that’s a life lesson!

  • Arte e Cultura

    ITALIAN JAZZ: Basta con la "Macho Music"

    Per tanti anni, troppi davvero, il jazz ha avuto addosso l’emblema di musica “macho”: con questo sgradevole aggettivo s’intendeva dire che a comprendere, apprezzare e poi a suonare questa musica erano quasi esclusivamente gli uomini.

    Oh, sì, certo! C’erano le cantanti. Ma venivano considerate come un corollario, un’aggiunta – anche se in molti casi essenziale – al grande affresco del jazz creato dai maschi. Non importava che queste cantanti fossero anche delle grandi musiciste, come ad esempio Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday o Sarah Vaughan, e neppure che ci fossero delle straordinarie strumentiste e compositrici, come Mary Lou Williams o Carla Bley: no, il jazz era “affare di uomini”.

    Questo atteggiamento che è idealmente vicino alle “origini da bordello e da gangsters” del jazz, poi diffuso negli anni come il fumo incombente dei locali prosperando attraverso gli ettolitri di alcool consumati dai musicisti, è invece molto lontano dalla realtà. E’ vero che le donne hanno avuto spazio solo quando cantavano, ma quelle di genio – e ce ne sono state tante – sono emerse con forza rilucendo come brillanti di primo taglio fra la schiera di tanti mediocri maschietti. Il problema è purtroppo rimasto a lungo nel pubblico: ben poche erano le donne che seguivano questa musica, e molte lo facevano per accompagnare i loro uomini.

    In fondo la questione risiedeva solo nella possibilità di accostarsi sul serio al jazz, di capirlo e dunque di assimilarlo: le donne hanno poi avuto modo di risolvere nel migliore dei modi questo gap culturale, col passare del tempo e col cambiare dei costumi sociali. Oggi la situazione non solo è diversa, ma anzi si può dire che in molti casi le donne jazziste si esprimono con maggiore creatività degli uomini, influenzandone il corso e gli stili. Quel che si dice “voltare le pagine” della storia della musica. E volendo proprio fare almeno un nome fra tutte, possiamo citare Maria Schneider, che a mio parere e a quello di molti altri è la più grande compositrice e arrangiatrice che ci sia oggi al mondo. Maschi compresi, ovviamente.

    E in Italia? La situazione è stata in passato del tutto simile, con l’aggravante terribile dei venti anni di fascismo che hanno privato non solo le donne, ma anche tanti uomini della libertà di seguire il jazz “musica degenerata”, come si diceva allora. Per fortuna anche da noi le cose sono radicalmente cambiate, con le jazziste italiane di gran classe che fioriscono ogni giorno.

    A New York, per nostra fortuna, ce n’è un bel numero: intelligenti, creative, bravissime compositrici e interpreti. Ne faccio qui un breve elenco, scusandomi con le escluse per semplici ragioni di spazio: le pianiste Patrizia Scascitelli, Simona Premazzi e Daniela Schaechter (italianissima: siciliana); la sassofonista Ada Rovatti; la cantante Roberta Gambarini, che è sicuramente la nostra jazzista più riconosciuta al mondo, con una nomination ai Grammys. Cercatele nelle programmazioni dei locali di New York, andatele a sentire, ne vale davvero la pena. Sono donne di grande talento che si affiancano a quelle che sono emerse in Italia e che rendono più affascinante il linguaggio jazzistico, connotandolo di un’originalità e di una freschezza di cui si sentiva da tanto, tanto tempo un bisogno impellente. Alla faccia dei machos che stanno scomparendo come una retrograda specie in via di estinzione.

  • Art & Culture

    ITALIAN JAZZ: A Macho Music No More

    Little did it matter that female singers were also great musicians, like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan. It didn’t even matter if they were extraordinary players and composers, like Mary Lou Williams or Carla Bley. Nope, jazz was a “man’s business.” 

    And that attitude had its roots in jazz’s legendary “brothel and gangster” origins. Too often these legends were used as a smokescreen by bars looking to make money off of selling gallons of booze to male musicians.

    It is true that women had a place in jazz only when they were singing, but the geniuses – and there have been many – shone like diamonds amongst the many mediocre males. Sadly, for far too long the problem affected the makeup of jazz audiences, too; few women went to hear the music, and those who did were merely escorting their boyfriends or husbands.

    In the end it was only a matter of getting deeper into jazz, understanding it, assimilating it. With the passing of time and changing social norms, women ultimately took center stage. 

    You might even say that many of jazz’s women have been more creative, more influential and more trailblazing than the men. That’s what I would call “turning the page” of music history. Take Maria Schneider, for one. I believe, along with a lot of other people, that she is the greatest living composer and arranger in the world. Men included, obviously. 

    And in Italy? In the past the situation was much the same. Twenty horrible years of fascism deprived men and women the freedom to follow jazz. Degenerate music, they used to call it. 

    Things have changed radically – and for the better—even for Italians, and first-class female jazz musicians now flourish. In New York, we are extremely fortunate to have many intelligent, creative Italian female jazz composers and interpreters, some of whom I would like to name here. 

    I apologize in advance to those I could not include, but there was simply not enough space. Pianists Patrizia Scascitelli, Simona Premazzi and Daniela Schaechter (a bona fide Sicilian); saxophonist Ada Rovatti; and Grammy-nominated singer Roberta Gamberini, surely our most internationally-recognized jazz artist. Look ‘em up and give ‘em a listen. You won’t regret it. 

    These talented women are bringing an originality and freshness to the language of jazz that we have been waiting for for a long, long time. The lesser species of macho men, fortunately, is growing extinct.

  • Art & Culture

    ITALIAN JAZZ Forget Sanremo...

    In 1968 someone came up with the idea of inviting Louis Armstrong, one of the best and unquestionably most famous jazz musicians to the Sanremo Italian Song Festival. At the time the idea provoked wild reactions, some positive, others not so positive.

    Armstrong gained popularity for his uncanny ability to communicate the warmth and emotional fervor of original jazz to audiences. To be clear: Armstrong was playing New Orleans-style jazz. He was also a very good singer. He could make the most trivial songs unforgettable.

    At the same time, as a trumpeter and innovator of jazz lingo, Armstrong – known to friends and fans as “Pops” – was a genius. His extraordinary career has always been marked by these two strains. On the one hand, he was a virtuoso who invented new ways of doing jazz. On the other, he was a cheerful, charming entertainer beloved by those who knew nothing about jazz. This doubleness has won him both adoration and scorn.

    The “someone” who invited Armstrong to Sanremo also had the idea to make him compete in the festival with trivial ditty called “I feel like singing.” The festival judged him harshly; despite his acclaim, Armstrong placed thirteenth. Yet those who saw him on TV (and you can still find the video on YouTube) remember Armstrong’s swing, his warmth and communicativeness, and they still muster a smile at his strong American accent singing the uninspired, improbable Italian lyrics.

    But such was Italy in those years, and even musicians who supported the jazz giant were reduced to superficiality and dressed as minstrels. Luckily, these musicians – who were Italian – not only didn’t paint their faces but also played well, happy to be next to their all-time idol. Among them was the great clarinetist Hengel Gualdi, one of the select few who could keep up with the American masters. At the end of the song, Armstrong and Gualdi performed a duet, the trumpet and clarinet adding wonderful color to a dreary number. Gualdi carried the honor in his heart for the rest of his life, even when he was forced to waste his time on bad pop music just to earn a few bucks.

    If you had the chance to catch this year’s Sanremo Festival, you probably realized that things haven’t changed much. Even those with mediocre ears for music would have noticed that, from a strictly artistic and musical point of view, the festival was a disaster. It was without a doubt one of the worst years ever. If we were to measure Italian songs by watching Sanremo, the results would be discouraging.

    Fortunately, jazz is alive and well in Italy, animated and sparkling, something to be proud of. Were there any good jazz players at the Sanremo Festival? Yes, we noticed at least two: pianist Danilo Rea and saxophonist Stefano di Battista. Both are excellent musicians, just not on that stage. They belong somewhere else, perhaps even beyond Italy, just like the great Hengel Gualdi belonged elsewhere in the Sixties.

  • Art & Culture

    Italian Jazz: In the Footsteps of Miles Davis

    In the world of art, and jazz in particular, there are many examples of such people. I’d go so far as to say that the presence of a magnetic personality is indispensable to the development of art.

     Without a doubt, a musician like Miles Davis possessed all of these quali- ties (and their
    corresponding defects). “Divine” Miles, as many called him, was not only a trumpeter of extraordinary bravura. He was also a versatile, protean artist who redefined the language of jazz.

    From the 1950s to the 1990s—i.e., up until his death—Davis dominated the jazz scene like no other. Just when everyone said he was peerless, he changed styles.
    Just when his musicians were beginning to feel at home with him, he changed bands. He spawned countless imitators who continue to revere him to this day and will surely continue to in the future.

    He even revolutionized his look and the look of jazz musicians in general. He cycled through women and cars faster than a daredevil, only remaining faithful to one: his beauti- ful blue Lamborghini. At least until the calamitous car crash that left him with two broken legs and would dog him for years.

    Davis was one of a kind. He didn’t lead an especially long life (from 1926 to 1991) but he enjoyed a prestige like no other in the twentieth century. Many people wonder whether there’s a Miles among us in today’s jazz world, whether there’s someone who bears a resemblance to the sublime artist who pointed the way forward in music.

    The answer is almost always a resounding and speedy “No.” But there are many talented followers of the “Divine” Davis, exceptionally gifted trumpet players and bandlead- ers who convey a strong personality, creativity and technical bravura, even if they don’t have the same mad genius, that “curse” to reinvent oneself no matter the cost, as Davis himself liked to describe his attitude toward music.

    In Italy we have been very fortunate; we have many extraordinary trumpet players who, in one way or another, while having learned from Davis, are their own artists. Without intending to offend anyone, I’ll name just three: Fabrizio Bosso, Paolo Fresu and Enrico Rava. These three artists have few rivals in the jazz world, including the American scene.

    All three have an uncanny quality that makes them extremely alluring on stage. And their music, obviously, is extraordinary. They also have charisma. They may not change partners every year, they may not race Lamborghinis or indulge in particular substances, yet still, as I said before, while there was only one Miles Davis, we can at least claim three major artists of our own.