The give of Jazz


Over the decades, the female figure has carved out a top-level role in the context of the Italian jazz panorama. Musicians, composers, vocalists and passionate organizers have, with tenacity, quality and spirit of initiative, carried out their aspirations, not placing themselves in an antagonistic or lateral position to the male one but, also, as an integral part of the same expressive and communicative universe .

The first to initiate the long journey of the figure of the jazz musician in Italy was, in the mid-1940s, the pianist Dora Musumeci: with classical studies behind her (graduated from the Conservatory of San Pietro a Majella in Naples) he approaches jazz playing together with historical names of African-American music, such as Lionel Hampton e Dizzy Gillespie. He publishes several records with his own training and in 1968 he participates in a historic evening at the Piper in Rome (venue located in Via Tagliamento in Rome, a meeting place for the new beat and rock generation of the late 1960s) in honor of prestigious guest Lionel Hampton, accompanied by the Swinging Dance Band of Marcello Rosa and several Italian jazz musicians, including Romano Mussolini.

These are the years of an epochal transformation from a social, political and cultural point of view, in which the demands of a generation of young women who grew up in a male-dominated context, clinging to archaic ideological presumptions investing gender equality, are charged with a strong collective impulse. The artists want to express their own language, their own point of view on contingent reality, to tell their emotions, sensations and ideas in complete freedom and autonomy through music, cinema, literature, theater and so on. An impervious road to be undertaken with determination and strong-willed passion, propped up by numerous obstacles, but which brings with it an enrichment of the entire cultural vision in our country, broader and more transversal, detached from preconceptions and reaching out towards a radical renewal in form, but especially in content. This revolution will have its apogee between the end of the seventies and the following decade.

It was in that period that the first was born in Italy festival dedicated entirely to female musicians of the international jazz scene. To promote it, together with her friends, is Picchi Gallarati, wife of Pepito Pignatelli, historic founder of two legendary Roman jazz clubs, the Blue Note and the Music Inn. Always beside her husband in his daring entrepreneurial ventures, moved by an unreserved passion for jazz, Picchi moves in a context made up mainly of men as far as stage performances are concerned, but which sees in the crowded audience in the Music Inn room numerous passionate and young musicians like the sisters Carla and Rita Marcotulli. The review she organized in the park of the Garden of the lake of Villa Borghese has an emblematic title "Woman is a wonderful thing and prominent names from the avant-garde and traditional jazz take part, including pianists Joanne Brackeen, Amina Claudine Myers and Patrizia Scascitelli, singers Betty Carter, Jeanne Lee and Sheila Jordan, horn player and pianist Sharon Freeman and several others.

In that period it was Patrizia Scascitelli who cleared the female figure in the new Italian jazz panorama, made up of young musicians gravitating around the pianist and composer Giorgio Gaslini, in the jazz course he held at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome and later at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan. The pianist participates in various independent festivals organized in the capital and in Milan, records records with her group, appears in television broadcasts and leaves for the United States for a series of concerts.

Over the eighties the singer Tiziana Ghiglioni made her name internationally, an interpreter of great expressiveness and vocal technique, capable of approaching both traditional jazz material and that of free improvisation borrowed from the radical avant-garde of the free jazz statunitense. In the liner notes of his first album Lonely Woman (Dischi della Quercia – 1981) the well-known critic Arrigo Chicken wrote – “Tiziana Ghiglioni is the only true Italian jazz singer who has appeared on the scene in our country for several years now…”.

Altra figura di spicco del jazz italiano è Rita Marcotulli, pianista e compositrice capace di costruirsi un peculiare lessico jazzistico alimentato dalla instancabile curiosità di entrare in contatto e far propri gli elementi delle tradizioni della musica brasiliana, africana e indiana. Nel 1988 si trasferisce in Svezia, dove rimarrà fino al 1992; ulteriore esperienza che gli darà la possibilità di collaborare con musicisti della scena jazzistica nord-europea, Palle Danielsson, Jon Christensen, Marilyn Mazur, Tore Brunborg e, inoltre, suonare col batterista Billy Cobham e il sassofonista statunitense Dewey Redman. Queste e altre figure femminili di notevole spessore artistico, tra cui le nuove protagoniste della scena jazz italiana, continuano a portare avanti il proprio pensiero musicale con la voglia inarrestabile di scorgere all’orizzonte nuove e inaspettate strade.

Paolo Marra

Bibliographic source: Pepito. The Prince of Jazz by Marco Molendini (Minimum Fax – 2022)

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