At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Pippo Barzizza - band leader

Musician was an Italian pioneer of jazz and swing 


Pippo Barzizza became known in Italy as the 'king of jazz' in the 1930s
Pippo Barzizza became known in Italy as the
'king of jazz' in the 1930s
The musician and bandleader Giuseppe ‘Pippo’ Barzizza, who helped popularise jazz and swing music in Italy during a long and successful career, was born on this day in 1902 in Genoa.

Barzizza was active in music for eight decades but was probably at the peak of his popularity in the 1930s and 40s, when he led the Blue Star and Cetra orchestras.

He continued to be a major figure in popular music until the 1960s and thereafter regularly came out of retirement to show that his talents had not waned.  He died at his home in Sanremo in 1994, just a few weeks before his 93rd birthday.

As well as arranging the music of others, Barzizza wrote more than 200 songs of his own in his lifetime, and helped advance the careers of such singers as Alberto Rabagliati, Otello Boccaccini, Norma Bruni, Maria Jottini and Silvana Fioresi among others.

In addition to his skills as a writer, conductor and orchestra leader, Barzizza was an accomplished player of a range of instruments, including violin, piano, saxophone, banjo and accordion.

A child prodigy on the violin, Barzizza was able to play a Mozart symphony almost before he could read. He listened to his father’s records - in those days phonographic cylinders - and had an enthusiasm for classical music and opera.

Barzizza, third from the right, with members of his famous Blue Star orchestra
Barzizza, third from the right, with members of his
famous Blue Star orchestra
He continued to study music through secondary school and college, while at the same time obtaining high level qualifications as an engineer. By then he had acquired an increasing fund of musical knowledge and was at home on the piano or in the brass section as on the violin. While not studying, he was lead violinist at the Teatro Politeama in Genoa and played music to accompany the silent movies at the cinema near his home.

Living in Genoa meant there were opportunities to play not only in theatres but on cruise ships and ocean liners and it was when he sailed to New York that he first heard jazz and swing music.

In 1922 he joined the orchestra of Armando di Piramo, a famous conductor and arranger of the day, and though his career was immediately interrupted by national service he put his time in the Italian Army to good use by founding a military orchestra. After he was demobbed, he settled in Milan.

There he made his first recording, on the saxophone, and began to write music both for Di Piramo and others. In 1925 came the foundation of the Blue Star orchestra, which was to make him famous. Composed of musicians Barzizza had hand picked, applying exacting standards for their musical proficiency, Blue Star made their debut at the Sempioncino variety theatre in Milan in July 1925.

Alberto Rabagliati, the singer Barzizza turned into a major star
Alberto Rabagliati, the singer Barzizza
turned into a major star
By the early 1930s, Barzizza was already considered the "king of Italian jazz", his arrangements combining American swing with the traditions of Italian popular songs. He and Rabagliati, a young vocalist who was his discovery, were in the vanguard of a surging revival in Italian music in the 1930s and 40s.

Their fame accelerated by the popularity of radio in Italy, Blue Star toured in France and Switzerland and even Constantinople, generating financial rewards for Barzizza that enabled him to buy an apartment in the upmarket Pegli neighbourhood of Genoa for his parents and a smart Fiat car for himself.

After Blue Star broke up, Barzizza spent several years mainly in the recording studios. Then, in 1936, came an invitation from the state radio broadcaster EIAR - forerunner of RAI - to conduct the Cetra Orchestra, based in Turin, which soon became known as the best Italian jazz orchestra.

EIAR headquarters suffered serious damage during bombing in the Second World War, forcing the orchestra to move to Florence, but they were back in Turin by the end of 1943, although EIAR had been commandeered by the Germans.

After the war, Cetra’s activity continued and Barzizza began also to compose film soundtracks, working with great comic actor Totò among others. In 1948 he composed the soundtrack for Fifa e Arena, starring Totò and his own actress daughter, Isa Barzizza. The song Paquito Lindo, taken from the film, set a sales record for 78 rpm recordings.

Barzizza with his daughter, Isa, who would become a movie actress, and son Renzo, a future director and producer
Barzizza with his daughter, Isa, who would become a movie
actress, and son Renzo, a future director and producer
In 1951 he moved to Rome, the Cetra Orchestra ended and until 1954 he conducted The Modern Orchestra, with 50 musicians, whose number included a young Ennio Morricone.

Over the next few years Barzizza worked in London and Paris as well as Rome, while spending more time with his wife, Tatina, in Sanremo, where they had settled.

He continued to enjoy success. Indeed, while working with a line-up of 36 musicians in Rome in the 1960s he felt he produced some of the best work of his career, helping him overcome two losses in his personal life when the death of his father in December 1959 was followed only a few months later by a road accident that killed his son-in-law, Isa's husband, the screenwriter and director Carlo Alberto Chiesa. 

As the years began to take their toll on his own health, Barzizza nonetheless continued to work in a studio he built at his home, doing some recording but largely teaching.  He died at the age of 92 in 1994.

The resort of Sanremo, with the harbour in the foreground
The resort of Sanremo, with the harbour in the foreground
Travel tip:

Sanremo in Liguria, the Italian Riviera resort that is famous as the home of the Sanremo Festival, is a historic Italian holiday destination that was one of the first to benefit when the phenomenon of tourism began to take hold in the mid-18th century, albeit primarily among the wealthy. Several grand hotels were established and the Emperor Nicholas II of Russia was among the European royals who took holidays there. The Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize, made it his permanent home.

The promenade at Pegli, an upmarket area of Genoa
The promenade at Pegli, an upmarket area of Genoa
Travel tip:

Pegli is still a mainly residential area of Genoa but boasts a lively seafront promenade and a number of hotels. There are good links by road, rail and boat to the central area of Genoa, a bustling commercial city built around its busy port, but which offers many historic attractions, the most notable of which is probably the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, with its striking black slate and white marble exterior, originally built in the sixth century.

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