Jazz players and Italian cinema


The diffusion of Italian cinema among audiences around the world owes much to the close link between the flow of images on film and music. This aspect is particularly evident starting from the Sixties, although it finds its expressive peak in the Seventies and Eighties, when the soundtrack disengages itself from the mere role of commentary on the set of shots to become an essential part of the logical-narrative thread put existing by the director and the way of interpreting it and doing it by the public. In short, the melodic-rhythmic fragment becomes the means for making a series of frames appearing on the small or large screen suddenly emerge in the viewer's mind. Illustrious composers and orchestra conductors, during their artistic career, have dedicated themselves to the painstaking work of stitching images and sounds together, making use of the contribution of excellent instrumentalists of the Italian and American jazz scene in this process. It is the case of Piero Umiliani: in 1958 he wrote and directed the soundtrack of the comedy by director Mario Monicelli "I soliti ignoti", in which the American trumpeter Chet Baker participates in the famous song "Gassman Blues" (later became a jazz standard). The collaboration between the two is repeated four years later in the film "Smog" by director Franco Rossi, to which is added the presence of the singer Helen Merril who, between the 1950s and 1960s, collaborated with exponents of the be-bop scene such as Charlie Parker and Clifford Brown and, in Italy, with Ennio Morricone, Romano Mussolini and Stan Getz.

Piero Umiliani before dedicating himself to the creation of soundtracks had collaborated in the fifties with Gianni Basso, Gil Cuppini and Oscar Valdambrini, to later form an octet in his name in Rome. In 1969 Umiliani, together with his wife, opened the Sound Work Shop in the Trionfale district of Rome, a recording studio equipped with avant-garde instruments and acoustics. For the creation of soundtracks and soundtracks, he makes use of prestigious musicians of the jazz scene, straddling jazz, psychedelia, pop and electronics: Giovanni Tommaso, Enrico Pieranunzi, Gegè Munari, Oscar Valdambrini and Marcello Boschi.

Another exponent of avant-garde jazz, as well as the first promoter of jazz teaching in Italy, the pianist Giorgio Gaslini, composed and recorded in Rome in 1961 the soundtrack of "La Notte", by Michelangelo Antonioni, a film with an innovative character and focused on the theme of incommunicability, interpreted by Marcello Mastroianni and Monica Vitti. In the formation directed by Giorgio Gaslini there are the jazz musicians Alceo Guatelli, Ettore Ulivelli and Eraldo Volontè. In 1972 it was the turn of the Argentine saxophonist Gato Barbieri called to write and record, in Rome, the soundtrack of the film "Last Tango in Paris", directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. In the recording sessions, which took place in the RCA Studios in Via Tiburtina, the following were present: Franco D'Andrea, Giovanni Tommaso, J.F Jenny-Clark and Piero Munari. Following the success of the disc containing the music from the film, Gato Barbieri acquired vast notoriety, even outside the purely jazz circuit, in Italy and in the rest of the world.

It is no coincidence that in those years this union between cinema and jazz materialized: if on the one hand the composer and conductor needed musicians with solid technical-instrumental training, on the other the jazzman he found himself in the situation of landing in the cinema to earn a living, given the scarcity of income deriving from the limited concert circuit in the various clubs or festivals scattered in a handful of Italian cities. The work as a session man in the studio for the recording of soundtracks will allow jazz musicians to acquire greater awareness of their expressive skills, placed at the service of a new cinematic aesthetic.

Even when it comes to writing and performing music for films considered "B" series - spaghetti westerns, detective stories and Italian sexy comedies - the musical work profuse will always remain of a high quality level. An example of this are the soundtracks written and directed by Maestro Ennio Moricone (in which the pianist Enrico Pieranunzi is present), such as “A genius, two cronies and a chicken” (1975) by Damiano Damiani, “The blue-eyed bandit” (1980) by Alfredo Giannetti and “Once upon a time in America” (1984) by Sergio Leone, just to name a few. In particular, the music for the film "The blue-eyed bandit" (starring the actor Franco Nero) presents a purely jazzy cut, obtained by Ennio Morricone thanks to the participation in the recording sessions of the trio formed by Enrico Pieranunzi, Riccardo del Fra and Roberto Gatto. With the group "Pulsar Music Ltd", formed with the guitarist Silvano Chimenti and the drummer Vincenzo Restuccia, Enrico Pieranunzi, in those years, wrote and recorded the soundtracks of the films "Violent Milan", "Taxi Girl" and "The girl au pair ” and “Free, armed, dangerous” (to which Maestro Gianfranco Plenizio also collaborates).

Starting from the nineties, several of these soundtracks, recorded between the seventies and eighties, will be rediscovered and used by famous Italian and international DJs in their recordings and live performances, obtaining new visibility among the listening public. A clear indication of the transversal contribution given by the musician contextualized in the Italian jazz sphere to the birth of genres and sub-genres, fashions, trends and social and custom changes. A cultural and artistic transformation of which, in large part, cinema has been and is the vehicle of collective identification par excellence.

Paolo Marra


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