Foreign jazz musicians in Europe – Part 2


The Roman jazz scene, in addition to breeding and growing musicians capable of gradually gaining international fame, has been able to welcome and assimilate the experiential baggage of prestigious figures in the history of jazz. Basically, especially since the 1970s, a process of exchange has been triggered between different generations of instrumentalists in which each party has been able to benefit from a technical, creative and human profile from stimuli, approaches, ideas and diversified visions that can be applied to the own jazz lexicon. In essence, Italian jazz can definitively evolve thanks to the cultural union that is gradually taking shape between European and American musicians.

This phenomenon that emerged in that period in Italy can be compared with what had happened in the period following the Second World War in France. In fact, several African-American musicians from overseas had found a second home in the Parisian art scene: Bud Powell, Sidney Bechet, Kenny Clarke just to name a few. The welcome given to them by the French cultural community was immediately warm as a result of the elective affinity between the tension towards the new in jazz expression and the language of the new literary and philosophical trends that were taking shape in Europe. The jazz musicians welcomed as true darlings find themselves faced with a reality that is the opposite of that experienced in their country, where racial prejudice has long relegated them to a congregation of marginalized musicians deprived of any offline artistic ambitions. with the figure of entertainer stitched onto him by the white man.

Between the end of the Sixties and the beginning of the Seventies in Rome there was an air of artistic ferment not dissimilar in its essential features to that of Paris after the Second World War, made up of desecrating, imaginative rituals, the search for alternative expressive methods in which the exotic background -archaic African-American music mixes with the avant-garde and Euro-cultured music. American jazz musicians travel for short and long periods in the Old Continent, holding concerts and making records; it is inevitable for them to come into contact and be fascinated by the rich and varied European cultural and artistic heritage, by contemporary and symphonic music, by popular traditions, melodrama and opera. Once again, African-American musicians find themselves immersed in a condition free from anthropological conditioning due to the contrast between black and white at the basis of the entire course of American jazz, with obvious ideological, political and social implications. Furthermore, the intrinsic characteristic of European culture of not placing a clear historical break between renewal and the past plays in favor of a freer approach; the urgent need of the musician of the last lever is expressed solely in the search for direct and personal communication that is as authentic as possible. Of course, Europe was also experiencing strong political tensions in those years; Italy will be negatively affected throughout the decade of the Seventies. An attitude of revolt towards the institutions that will find in free a vector of "desecrating" and "anarchic" artistic avant-gardes, as rich in intelligent and acute analysis and denunciation of the system as, in many cases, devoid of real authenticity in the underlying motivations .

The music critic Arrigo Chicken about the reasons behind the “cordial welcome given to jazz musicians in Europe", in the book “Jazz – The story and the protagonists of Afro-American music (Edizioni Oscar Mondadori) he writes – “Some concern all jazzmen, the young as well as the elderly, and have always existed: absence of racist attitudes in the public, atavistic respect for art in all its aspects, curiosity for a music that still retains, for many, the charm of things longed for from afar, exotic or otherwise unfamiliar."

Other motivations underlying the movement of American jazz musicians to Europe can be found in the search for new opportunities and stimuli and, beyond the racial motivations specifically concerning the African-American community, in several cases the forced removal from the homeland arises from desire to get away from the lethal vicious circle of drugs in which several of them are involved and which, in previous years, had deprived the American jazz scene of excellent and gifted instrumentalists. Engagements in city jazz clubs allow these musicians to find a certain economic stability (the fee is on average the same for everyone, around 100 dollars per evening), to carve out new slices of young audiences interested in their music and get in touch with the budding musicians who appear among the people attending the concerts. In fact, in the majority of cases the rhythm sections are formed by local musicians, often in their first experiences on stage. The Blue Note by Pepito Pignatelli (first jazz club to be inaugurated in Rome) in just one year of activity, between 1970 and 1971, hosted many of the jazz musicians who moved to Europe in those years: Kenny Clarke, Dexter Gordon, Lou Bennett, Art Farmer, Mal Waldron and Phil Woods. These are accompanied by young Italian musicians, such as Franco D'Andrea, Giovanni Tommaso, Marcello Melis, but also by instrumentalists from the European jazz scene: Gordon Beck, Daniel Humair, Henry Texier and others. In 1974, Pepito Pignatelli inaugurated, again in Rome in Largo dei Fiorentini, the Music Inn, a Roman cave frequented by a large group of foreign and Italian musicians.

The construction of an exchange-meeting network between foreign and Italian musicians involved other Italian jazz scenes in that period which were being defined and enriched with new names: the Capolinea and the Jazz Power of Milan and the Swing Club of Turin.

Paolo Marra

In the photo of Isio Saba (from left) Marco Molendini, Pepito Pignatelli and Mal Waldron (extracted from the book “Pepito. Il Principe del Jazz” by Marco Molendini – Minimum Fax)

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