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Articles by: Enzo Capua

  • Art & Culture

    Jazz and the Value of Immigration

    Every major artistic form of universal worth is born from migration. These cultural shifts become unstoppable thanks to their communicative force, and are therefore also physical transformations, in the broadest sense, moving from one place to another. It may be the subject of a lot of debate, but today it is generally accepted, even held up as an example of the brotherhood between different countries, where borders are nothing more than lines drawn on a map. They don’t exist in nature. Often they’re the outcome of wars and deals struck under (clearly non-peaceful) pressure. Jazz is no exception; indeed, it’s a prime example of a cultural phenomenon regarded as among the most beautiful and visionary of the twentieth century and the present moment. No doubt it will be in the future too. Jazz music was born over a hundred years ago in the slums of New Orleans thanks to the melting pot of races, ethnicities, lifestyles, styles of talking that Louisiana’s great port city represented. It’s as if at that time and in that place—more than any other place—there was a confluence of major talents and personalities from all around the world. Especially Italians, French, Irish, Creoles and, naturally, Africans—who came bearing various kinds of music that had emerged out of other melting pots. 
     
    The rhythm gained importance because, given its steady cadence, it was easy to dance to. The melodies, on the other hand, took on various shades: the Creoles with their blend of sensuality and melancholy; the Irish with their spectacular dancing; the French with their more sophisticated harmonies; the Italians with the drama of opera and the dances of the South. The Africans, enslaved at the time yet proud of their roots, bore complex rhythms and songs of suffering that would become the Blues. Out of this human carousel, jazz was born. And it developed in places that nowadays we’d consider the least likely to produce noble art: whorehouses. The first great maestros got their start there, trying to pluck a joyful note to entertain both johns and prostitutes. 
     
    Like a grand tour crossing cultures, continents and moods. So, what would become the most representative and sophisticated music of our times was born spontaneously and—as they say—“from the bottom up.” From the outset, the Italians were fundamental to boosting the birth of jazz, first in New Orleans and later in Chicago and New York, until arriving—we might say “returning”—to Italy itself, the bel paese in the middle of the Mediterranean. American troops were the ones to bring jazz to Italy, when the first World War broke out and Americans decided to intervene. And where did those soldiers come from? From the Port of New Orleans, where they’d been stationed and where they’d heard the first notes of “Jass,” which later became Jazz, a name many believe comes from the local slang for having sex. As you see, the major movements start with the little things, even the most intimate. It took time for Jazz to become a “noble” art form, because racists were always labeling the music lowbrow, only good for dancing. But real, genuine culture always wins the day. Let’s hope those who would bar free movement remember that; they fail to realize that one day their children and grandchildren might enjoy something they disdain: the pleasure of self-improvement gained by beauty and art. A border never gave us that kind of joy.  
     
     
     
    Every major artistic form of universal worth is born from migration. These cultural shifts become unstoppable thanks to their communicative force, and are therefore also physical transformations, in the broadest sense, moving from one place to another. It may be the subject of a lot of debate, but today it is generally accepted, even held up as an example of the brotherhood between different countries, where borders are nothing more than lines drawn on a map. They don’t exist in nature. Often they’re the outcome of wars and deals struck under (clearly non-peaceful) pressure. Jazz is no exception; indeed, it’s a prime example of a cultural phenomenon regarded as among the most beautiful and visionary of the twentieth century and the present moment. No doubt it will be in the future too. Jazz music was born over a hundred years ago in the slums of New Orleans thanks to the melting pot of races, ethnicities, lifestyles, styles of talking that Louisiana’s great port city represented. It’s as if at that time and in that place—more than any other place—there was a confluence of major talents and personalities from all around the world. Especially Italians, French, Irish, Creoles and, naturally, Africans—who came bearing various kinds of music that had emerged out of other melting pots. 
     
    The rhythm gained importance because, given its steady cadence, it was easy to dance to. The melodies, on the other hand, took on various shades: the Creoles with their blend of sensuality and melancholy; the Irish with their spectacular dancing; the French with their more sophisticated harmonies; the Italians with the drama of opera and the dances of the South. The Africans, enslaved at the time yet proud of their roots, bore complex rhythms and songs of suffering that would become the Blues. Out of this human carousel, jazz was born. And it developed in places that nowadays we’d consider the least likely to produce noble art: whorehouses. The first great maestros got their start there, trying to pluck a joyful note to entertain both johns and prostitutes. 
     
    Like a grand tour crossing cultures, continents and moods. So, what would become the most representative and sophisticated music of our times was born spontaneously and—as they say—“from the bottom up.” From the outset, the Italians were fundamental to boosting the birth of jazz, first in New Orleans and later in Chicago and New York, until arriving—we might say “returning”—to Italy itself, the bel paese in the middle of the Mediterranean. American troops were the ones to bring jazz to Italy, when the first World War broke out and Americans decided to intervene. And where did those soldiers come from? From the Port of New Orleans, where they’d been stationed and where they’d heard the first notes of “Jass,” which later became Jazz, a name many believe comes from the local slang for having sex. As you see, the major movements start with the little things, even the most intimate. It took time for Jazz to become a “noble” art form, because racists were always labeling the music lowbrow, only good for dancing. But real, genuine culture always wins the day. Let’s hope those who would bar free movement remember that; they fail to realize that one day their children and grandchildren might enjoy something they disdain: the pleasure of self-improvement gained by beauty and art. A border never gave us that kind of joy.  
  • The double bass
    Art & Culture

    The Grouchy Member of Jazz: the Double Bass!

    If there’s one instrument that is often mistreated or forgotten by those who don’t follow jazz closely, it’s the double bass. Many people see it as the chubby, awkward, and grouchy member of the group who brings everyone down with negativity.

    During a recent concert, a friend of mine said to me, “I don’t understand the point of that gigantic violin, the double bass as you call it. What’s it doing there with the other instruments? How does it contribute to the music?” Well, the double bass has a noble origin, and it’s essential to the sound of a jazz band; it’s the music’s beating heart and the cornerstone of all the other instruments. It’s the one that creates the rhythm of a song, perhaps more so than the blaring drums.

    The Relevance of the Double Bass

    Although the “chubby grouch” may be seen as an intrusive instrument, it’s actually the one that gives a song its feeling.

    Without the double bass as a point of reference, the other instruments would be lost, and the music would sound empty, even cold. Furthermore, given the double bass’s importance in classical orchestras, students in music conservatories have studied it for centuries, and many jazz musicians that play it have conducted detailed academic studies about it. This means they are competent and well trained, especially in composition, which is perhaps the most challenging aspect of music. Generally, the double bass is played with a bow, but as the spectator of any jazz concert will realize, it’s usually (but not always) played by hand in order to give the music more rhythm. Perhaps this is where the perception originates that the double bass is cumbersome; those who don’t know it well see musicians nestling it with varying degrees of exertion.

    The Double Bass in Jazz 

    The double bass has undergone a truly unique evolution in the history of jazz. In old-time New Orleans jazz bands the tuba-bass, an enormous wind instrument that practically enveloped the musicians, originally occupied the role that the double bass occupies today. Due to its greater versatility, our beloved string instrument was subsequently chosen to replace the tuba-bass. Jazz history is full of double bass players who have had an important role in stylistic developments: Jimmy Blanton–the brilliant double bassist who was discovered by Duke Ellington, Oscar Pettiford, Ray Brown, Scott La Faro, and the great Charles Mingus who was one of the most important jazz composers ever.

    More recently we’ve seen Americans Charlie Haden, Ron Carter, Christian McBride, and John Patitucci–who, along with La Faro, is of Italian descent! Eastern European double bassists such as George Mraz and Miroslav Vitous have also made important contributions. And we mustn’t forget the many prominent Italians. Giovanni Tommaso is one of the greatest double bassists, and he is still very active. Some “middle generation” bassists include Paolino Dalla Porta, Enzo Pietropaoli, and Ares Tavolazzi. Among the younger musicians Gabriele Evangelista and Silvia Bolognesi stand out. Bolognesi is part of a small group of women instrumentalists who are distinguished for their inventiveness. We also can’t forget the younger brother of the double bass, the electric bass, which has its own unique history.

    We’ll discuss that another time though. For now here’s some advice for anyone who wants to better understand jazz or perhaps even fall in love with it; pay attention to the double bass! You’ll refine your ear, your culture, and ultimately your ability to take pleasure from the music.

  • Il contrabbasso
    Arte e Cultura

    Il paffuto brontolone del jazz: il contrabbasso!

    Se c’è uno strumento che spesso viene bistrattato o poco considerato fra chi non segue con attenzione il jazz, questo è il contrabbasso. Molti lo vedono come un personaggio ingombrante, un paffuto brontolone che sta lì in mezzo agli altri musicisti a dire le sue pesanti lamentele.

    Recentemente una mia amica durante un concerto mi ha detto: “Non capisco quel grosso violino, quel contrabbasso come lo chiami tu, cosa ci sta a fare con gli altri strumenti. Che senso dà alla musica?”. Ora, il contrabbasso, che ha origini nobili e antiche, è un componente fondamentale, quasi indispensabile nel sound di una jazz band. E’ il cuore pulsante, il perno su cui girano le altre voci strumentali, colui che dà senso al ritmo di base di ogni brano, forse più dell’eclatante batteria.

    L'importanza del contrabbasso

    Quindi, il “paffuto brontolone” pur essendo a volte invadente è quello che dona ad ogni song (canzone) il suo senso. Senza di lui gli altri si sentirebbero spaesati, senza un vero punto di riferimento e il suono apparirebbe anonimo, freddo, senza calore. Inoltre, essendo uno strumento che viene studiato regolarmente da secoli nei conservatori di musica - vista la sua importanza nelle orchestre del repertorio classico - molti jazzisti che lo suonano hanno sulle spalle degli studi accademici approfonditi. Il che li pone in primo piano nell’abilità tecnica e soprattutto nella composizione, forse la componente più difficile di ogni parte di cui è composta la musica.

    Generalmente il contrabbasso si suona con l’archetto, ma come ogni spettatore di un concerto jazz si sarà accorto, in questa musica lo strumento viene di solito (ma non sempre) usato a mani nude, proprio per dare un maggiore impulso ritmico. Da qui forse il senso d’ingombro che percepisce chi non lo conosce bene e lo vede abbracciato con vari sforzi dai musicisti.

    Il contrabbaso e il jazz

    Nella storia del jazz il contrabbasso ha avuto un’evoluzione del tutto particolare: in origine il suo ruolo era svolto dal basso-tuba, cioè quell’enorme strumento a fiato che avvolge il musicista nelle vecchie jazz band di New Orleans. Poi, anche per la sua maggiore duttilità, si è fatto strada lo strumento a corde per rendere lo stesso impatto nelle band. La storia del jazz è piena di contrabbassisti che hanno svolto un ruolo fondamentale nei vari sviluppi stilistici: Jimmy Blanton, il contrabbassista geniale scoperto da Duke Ellington, ma anche Oscar Pettiford, Ray Brown, Scott La Faro e il grande Charles Mingus, che è stato anche uno dei più importanti compositori che il jazz abbia mai avuto. 

    E poi, in tempi più recenti, gli americani Charlie Haden, Ron Carter, Christian McBride, John Patitucci (di discendenze italiane, come La Faro). Un contributo importante lo hanno dato anche alcuni contrabbassisti originari dell’Est Europa, come George Mraz e Miroslav Vitous.

    Gli italiani non sono da meno: Giovanni Tommaso è uno dei grandi ancora in piena attività, poi Paolino Dalla Porta, Enzo Pietropaoli e Ares Tavolazzi fra quelli della generazione “di mezzo”. Fra i giovanissimi spiccano Gabriele Evangelista e una ragazza, Silvia Bolognesi, che fra le rare strumentiste si distingue per una grande inventività.

    E poi c’è anche il “fratello più giovane” del contrabbasso - cioè il basso elettrico - che ha una storia a sé stante e parallela a quella del maggiore. Ma di lui parleremo la prossima volta. Per ora un consiglio a chi vuol capire di più il jazz e magari innamorarsene: prestare orecchio al contrabbasso! Ne gioverà l’ascolto, la cultura, il piacere di sentire fino in fondo la musica.

     

  • Thelonious Monk, Minton's Playhouse, New York, ca. September 1947. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb
    Art & Culture

    Italian Jazz: Overcoming the Fear of Freedom

    Nowadays almost everyone knows that to play jazz you must know how to improvise. Over time this thing called improvi- sation has not only drawn an impassable line in the sand between classical music – where improvisation is essentially unacceptable – and popular music like jazz, where improvisation is not only useful but also beneficial.

    Behind this idea, which in time became the practice, i.e., the style, hides a tremendous and psychologically distressing ghost: the fear of being wrong. It’s like saying that when everything is perfectly correct and in order, then music is beautiful art. All of this is simply a big misunderstanding from the beginning to the end. Why? For starters, in the past musicians and composers of so-called “cultured” (or classical) music did, in fact, improvise. Improvisation was actually common practice among the public, almost considered a demonstration of bravura.

    Today we try to distinguish one musician from another by examining differences in interpretation instead: that is, we see if one’s way of playing is more or less similar to the ideas that Mozart or Beethoven had in mind when they composed their music. It is also wrong to say that jazz without improvisation isn’t authentic but “academic” jazz.

    To dismantle this common belief, we need only look at the roots of the genre, where we find many songwriters writing and performing jazz based on well-defined forms that left very little room for the freedom of improvi- sation. I realize that I just used an important word, a word that I had previ- ously omitted from this discussion, but one that is fundamental: freedom. Now, let’s return to the beginning and say that everything is based on the fear of freedom, which is, unfortunately, very serious and difficult to treat. It’s like the fear of being wrong, isn’t it? At least it’s a mirage—that oasis of fresh water we see in the desert that really isn’t there, that is farther and farther away.

    Two jazz giants, the geniuses Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, turned this idea on its head with their method of composing and playing. The former was an extraordinarily inventive and versatile trumpet player who used to say to his musicians: “If you think you are wrong, continue on the same path and another possibility will appear to you. Don’t stop; don’t turn back!” The latter, a pianist who revolutionized the same fundamental principles of jazz, loved to play notes that sounded “wrong.”

    He would even pause in the middle of a song, which to many listeners seemed inconceiv- able, so much so that they said Monk didn’t know how to play well! To which he’d respond: “Mess up! Intentionally play a note or a chord that doesn’t belong and go from there.”These two brilliant artists used to say the same thing only from different perspectives, like two sides of the same coin. So, what is the coin? The awakening to freedom, an important obligation we all need to uphold in our lives, even if we’re not artists or creative types. It’s a philosophical lesson that great jazz music has taught us and continues to teach us. The next time someone tells you he’s improvising something, regard him with admiration. He’s teaching you a lesson about life. 

  • Art & Culture

    The Clarinet Was Invented by the Devil



    That pinnacle of fame for the genre – which has perhaps never been reached again since – was known as the “Swing Era,” drawing a link between these two historical periods, a little like the zipper of a dress, was a dramatic event in American history: the Great Depression.


    Yet, miraculously, jazz music seemed at rst – during the Jazz Era – to represent a new desire for crazy, unbridled joy after the gloom of World War I, while after – in the Swing Era – it became a wild, uninhibited reaction to the sadness of hunger, and the absence of work.


    All this came before another tragedy that would affect the entire world: World War II. Thus we can say that jazz, together with other art forms (though for different reasons), represented in the rst half of the 20th century an exuberant, imaginative and unifying bond between the people who wanted to react with vital force to the tragedies currently happening or threatening the future.

    The symbolic instrument of those decades was certainly the clarinet: so strongly symbolic that jazz itself can be identi ed with its sound. There were two absolute protagonists of the clarinet in jazz: Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. Both men were white, with very different personalities, though equally capable and extraordinarily talented.


    Of course before them there were other ingenious clarinetists, for example Jimmie Noone from New Orleans, and then Pee Wee Russell and Eric Dolphy, but the great popularity of both jazz music and the clarinet is owed to those two players.

    And what about Italians? Well, there were at least three great Ital- ian players of American jazz, extraordinary clarinetists and all sons of immigrants: Jimmy Giuffre, Buddy De Franco and Tony Scott (whose real name was Anthony Joseph Sciacca).


    So Italians evidently had a particular fondness for the clarinet, as evidenced by a famous show- man of today, a certain Renzo Arbore, so dedicated to his music that his business card reads “Jazz Clarinetist”. One of the greats among Ital- ians in the modern age, Baldo Maestri, who unfortunately has long disappeared, said to me once, “the clarinet was invented by the devil!” referring to the countless dif culties of playing it, especially with regard to intonation.


    Woody Allen knows something about that, insisting on performing in public despite having many problems with tone, instead of dedicating himself completely to the thing that he knows how to do better by far, directing lms. Nevertheless, this beautiful instrument of ebony and reed, so dif cult to play yet with such a soothing sound, is not currently going through a period of great popularity.


    The famous jazz musicians who still play it are somewhat scarce. In Italy however we have four of them that we could place at the top of the list of the best on the world: Gabriele Mirabassi, Daniele D’Agaro, Mauro Negri and Nico Gori. All excellent musicians who have raised the ag of Italian jazz music. Because of them, the sound of the clarinet has undergone a magni cent rebirth, completely Italian, fascinating and inviting. It wouldn’t be otherwise, would it? 

  • Art & Culture

    A Tribute To Those Who Want It


    Yet I’d like to pause for a brief interlude to pay homage to all the lesser musicians, the minor enthusiasts who will never reach the heights of the major talents. I’m not talking about dilettantes or those who get their kicks playing for friends on the weekends. No, instead this is an ode to mediocrity.


    I will try to explain what may seem like an awkward tribute. Journalists, critics, and music industry professionals often receive an absurd number of CDs, links to download albums, and other materials that pile up—often in the corners of our homes. “What are you whining about?” someone might say, a little irritated, “at least you don’t have to buy that stuff!” And s/he would be right, in part, since a small slice of this music is really worth the trouble of being looked after. 

     

    But then there’s the rest, the vast majority, which consists of (sometimes) unlistenable noise, unoriginal music, poor performances, superficial and pointless songs. Occasionally it angers us and we start thinking about how much time we’ve wasted and the inexorable accumulation of stuff, when what we should take into consideration—something important, something I dare call fundamental—is the very thing that makes those unbeautiful albums precious: they were almost always made with the passion and daily devotion of unskilled musicians hoping to be heard, praised, loved. For them, music is a means of conveying great emotion, even if it seems small to others.



    That is why these musicians, who will never become famous, deserve to be supported, listened to, and advised with the kind of affection reserved for those who know that every day there are other people who, because they don’t listen to music or only put it on in the background, are quite willing to say such minor artists are wasting their time. That they’re losers, good for nothings. They’re not; playing music with heart and passion is never a waste of time. Never, even for the talentless. Because that is how you give society—so desperate for success stories—a blast of awareness, levity, sounds that caress our faces hardened from chasing after power. 

     

    For years—decades—Italian jazz has always been considered a younger sibling, composed of musicians of the kind I just described. And yet all of these musicians not only fed the idea that jazz is a genre of music that has nobility, a heart Italians can appreciate; they also laid the foundation for what was to come, encouraging and helping develop hidden talents. They are partly responsible for Italian jazz’s current importance, its roster of major performers, some of who are true geniuses.


    This is not the space to name either the mediocre stars of music past or the major talents of music present. Yet it’s important to say, once and for all, that without those past performers we wouldn’t have today’s leading lights. This is a tribute to those who want it, who want to continue to play and make music, who provide us with the gift of their passion and are unafraid of being misunderstood. We really need them.

  • Art & Culture

    Italian Jazz: Trumpet the Queen


    A few articles ago, we took a look at the birth of the sax and its use in jazz; were we to build a hierarchy we might dub it the king of jazz instruments. No doubt the trumpet would be queen. With its imperious timber that demands your immediate attention and absolute devotion, the trumpet has been fundamental to jazz since the genre got going.


    Back in the 1920s, Louis Armstrong took it to unthinkable levels of refinement; since then, its reputation for grandiosity in the world of popular music has remained unaltered. Alongside the trumpet there are two similar instruments that should be considered which amateurs often get mixed up.


    The first is the cornet, which has a sharper timber and a more compact shape than its big sister; the other is the flugelhorn, which is more unwieldy and carries a sound that is more somber, darker, melancholic. If the cornet had its heyday in the ‘20s and ‘30s (Armstrong made ample use of it), today it’s the flugelhorn that is more ubiquitous in contemporary jazz.


    In fact, it’s easy to see trumpet players alternate between the two in big bands and small. It’s impossible to cover the history and evolution of the jazz trumpet in such a small space; suffice it to say that its role in the development of musical styles has been utterly fundamental. Besides Armstrong, the list of names of people who’ve played it would be familiar to even the greenest of jazz fans. Just think of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Wynton Marsalis.


    Each has left an indelible notch on the jazz family tree. We should also point out a few Italian trumpet players who have no reason to envy today’s major players. Three in particular are highly active and extremely gifted: Enrico Rava, Paolo Fresu and Fabrizio Bosso.


    Each musician, from the oldest (Rava) to the youngest (Bosso), has a particular style that an attentive listener can pick out. The former, for example, has since the ‘60s distinguished himself for his endless appeal to seek out new sonorities, in time coming to prefer refined and melancholic tones, and earning a reputation as one of the greatest stylists in the world. Paolo Fresu has followed a path very similar to Miles Davis’ in the ‘50s and ‘60s; his sound is mellow, sweet, refined.


    He is also an absolute master of the flugelhorn, almost without parallel among contemporary musicians. Fabrizio Bosso, on the other hand, impresses for his technical abilities and improvisational skills. His approach to the trumpet is explosive and volatile—he’s a truly astonishing musician who can find his rhythm no matter the musical context.


    Italian jazz has plenty of reason to be proud of these three greats: they are creative, intelligent musicians who possess uncanny styles. Through them and a few others, our jazz has attained a high caliber of artistry and professionalism. They have definitely contributed to turning a page in the big book of jazz. 

  • Art & Culture

    Italian Jazz: Bebop, Swing, and Bella Musica


    In all of my articles, I have sought to trace a clear path. My readers must have certainly noticed that, and I hope they have appreciated my efforts. Recently, however, a happy surprise has caused me to slightly deviate from my usual path, and I must admit my happiness is tinged with a bit of envy. The surprise is a beautiful book from two Chicago scholars, Bill Dal Cerro and David Anthony Witter, called Bebop, Swing, and Bella Musica – Jazz and the Italian American Experience (available on italiansinjazz.com).



    Nothing could come closer to my own early intentions! As I read page after page, my envy grew. Envy of the friendly variety, of course, since the work of the two authors demands admiration. A book as well written and researched as this has been sorely missing from the

    jazz canon. Bebop, Swing, and Bella Musica details the lives of Italians who have played an important role in the centennial-plus history of jazz: from its origins in New Orleans, to the beginning of the twentieth century, to the present day.


    Those who don’t know this story, or rather, this combination of stories, will no doubt be fascinated to read about the contributions Italians have made to the development of the genre – Bella Musica! – over the years. But even those who know a bit more than the casual listener

    will still be surprised to learn just how many musicians actually had Italian roots. That Louis Prima, Frank Sinatra, and Tony Bennett – to cite the most famous names – came from Italian backgrounds is well known. But other fundamental musicians, like guitarist Eddie Lang, drummer Louie Bellson, and saxophonist Flip Phillips, were also descendants of Italian émigré parents. Note their birth names, in order: Salvatore Massaro, Luigi Paolino Francesco Balassoni, and Joseph Edward Filippelli.


    Their talents and contributions to jazz are indisputable. As I mentioned way back at the beginning of my column, so many random people have coincided to trace indelible grooves in the evolution of jazz. And many of those people have Italian roots, tying us ever tighter to the large cultural fabric of the American people. I plan on telling many more such tales in the pages of i-ItalyNY. In the meantime, good folks, Italians and Americans alike, if you want to know more about the art and passion that we share, read this book!

  • Art & Culture

    Jazz. Mr. Sax (ophone)


    The musician was Adolphe Sax, and the instrument he patented in 1846 would from then on be named the “Saxophone.” Sax could never have imagined the suc- cess his instrument would have during the following decades, nor its eventual status as the symbol of a genre of music that did not even exist during his time: jazz.

    What makes the sound of the saxophone so indispensable in jazz bands? One answer stands out above the rest: its sound most closely resembles the human voice. The trumpet, the clarinet, the flute, and other wind instruments also possess some of this resem- blance, but the saxophone has something much more. Maybe it’s the softness, or the lightness, or the sensuality of its sound.



    Or maybe it’s the sound of grittiness and ruggedness that more accurately encompasses all the diverse forms the human soul can take, be they more feminine or masculine in nature. These sensations can be experienced even by those who are not musically inclined. There is nothing more human, is there?



    This tells us a lot about the defining features of jazz, a genre which brightly resonates with our everyday lives, even if we do not always recognize it. This is a viewpoint – my own viewpoint – that could possibly merit further analysis, though perhaps this view is the overarching theme of my articles here at i-Italy. At least I hope that this is the case!

     

    There are in fact several types of saxophone differing from one another in timbre and range. Four types are normally used in jazz: soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone. Each of these has been personi- fied by great musicians, several of them geniuses of their time, who have elevated the quality of their respective sound categories. They moved us, excited us, and in some instances made us cry, smile, or dream. Their music touched us.

     

    I would like to recall the names of some of the artists who morphed the sound of their instruments into unforgettable tunes; tenor saxo- phonists Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, altoists Charlie Parker and Paul Desmond, soprano artists Sidney Bechet, John Coltrane, and Steve Lacy, and baritone masters Gerry Mulligan and Serge Chaloff. Many other prominent saxophonists exist, of course, but the marks left by these legends in the history of jazz are truly unforgettable.

     

    And the Italians? We have many in both the past and present! Tenor players Max Ionata and Francesco Bearzetti, altoists Fran- cesco Cafiso and Rosario Giuliani, sopranos Stefano Di Battista and Emanuele Cisi and baritones Carlo Actis Dato and Beppe Scardino. In no way do these Italian saxophonists dwarf their American coun- terparts. Their musical language, filled with emotions and hues, represents the spirit that constitutes humankind’s most noble trait. In this respect, Italians are definitely second to none.

  • Arte e Cultura

    Italian Jazz "Suona il sax, Pal"


    Chi si occupa a fondo di questa musica sa bene che tanti altri strumenti hanno dominato la storia del jazz e ne hanno modellato stilisticamente il suo percorso negli anni: il pianoforte o la chitarra, ad esempio, persino la batteria e il contrabbasso. Eppure nel cuore di tutti, gli appassionati come gli ascoltatori occasionali, si cela sempre l’amore per un sassofonista, un trombettista, un trombonista anche.


    La risposta a quel perché è di difficile definizione, ma possiamo azzardarne una: ciò che colpisce di più in questa musica è la spontaneità nella comunicazione fra i musicisti, la loro capacità di improvvisare su un tema, il calore che emana da una particolare interpretazione. In pratica gli strumentisti stanno discorrendo fra loro e allo stesso tempo ci stanno comunicando una condizione del loro animo senza bisogno di parlare, a meno che fra loro non ci sia un cantante, ma questo è un altro aspetto della questione che abbiamo già affrontato la scorsa volta. Comunque tutto ciò rende il jazz una musica dalla speciale umanità: ci può rallegrare, rattristare, far pensare o dimenticare il presente. Difficilmente, a meno che non sia di fattura scadente, respingerà il confronto con noi che siamo il pubblico.


    La prossima volta cominceremo a parlare quindi di sassofoni, e poi di trombe, clarinetti, ecc.. facendo anche dei raffronti con i musicisti italiani che sono diventati dei protagonisti in questi strumenti e come si sono rapportati con i grandi maestri americani. Ma per chiudere vorrei raccontare un aneddoto che circola da tanti anni nel mondo del jazz e che può aggiungere una nota divertente, ma non tanto superficiale, a quanto abbiamo già detto a proposito degli strumenti a fiato. Il grande Lester Young, uno dei più importanti sassofonisti della storia del jazz, che è stato capace di dare un’impronta indelebile allo stile del sax tenore fra gli anni ’40 e ’50, aveva in realtà inziato a suonare come batterista. Amava quello strumento ritmico, variegato e spesso ingombrante. Però presto decise di abbandonarlo per abbracciare il sax, fino a diventare un tuttuno col suo strumento.


    Quando gli chiesero come mai avesse cambiato strumento lui rispose: “Bé, mi ero accorto che alla fine dei concerti, mentre io stavo ancora lì a smontare la batteria, gli altri del gruppo se ne andavano con i loro strumenti abbracciati alle ragazze che erano venute ad ascoltarci. Per cui mi sono detto: suona il sax, amico, che avrai qualche donna in più a seguirti dopo!”. Questa storia raccontata dallo stesso Lester Young potrà anche essere colorita, ma il nostro sassofonista che era un uomo estremamente sensibile, d’animo delicato e non certo dal fisico prestante, ha forse fatto la scelta giusta per la sua e soprattutto la nostra gioia.

     


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