Showing posts with label Jazz. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jazz. Show all posts

4 January 2020

Pino Daniele - guitarist and songwriter

Naples mourned star with flags at half-mast

Pino Daniele on stage in 1982 in the early part of his career, when he was already becoming a star
Pino Daniele on stage in 1982 in the early part of his
career, when he was already becoming a star
The Neapolitan singer-songwriter and guitarist Pino Daniele died on this day in 2015 in hospital in Rome.

Daniele, whose gift was to fuse his city’s traditional music with blues and jazz, suffered a heart attack after being admitted with breathing difficulties. Because of a history of heart problems, he had been taken to a specialist hospital in Rome after falling ill at his holiday home in Tuscany.

On learning of his death at only 59, the Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris ordered that flags on municipal buildings in the city be flown at half-mast.

Born in 1955, Daniele grew up in a working class family in the Sanità neighborhood of Naples, once a notorious hotbed of crime. His father worked at the docks.

As a musician, he was self-taught, mastering the guitar with no formal lessons and developing a unique voice, alternately soaring and soft, and gravelly to the point of sounding almost hoarse.  He named the great American jazz musicians Louis Armstrong and George Benson as his major influences but also drew deeply on the life, culture and traditions of his home city, which he loved.

Daniele taught himself how to play  the guitar
Daniele taught himself how to play
the guitar
His songs sometimes combined Italian, English and Naples dialect.  One of his best known songs was Napule E, which he wrote as a tribute to the city and its contradictions.

Daniele coined the term "tarumbò" to define his music, which he described as a blend of tarantella, blues and rumba. His lyrics often railed against what he perceived as the social injustices of Naples and broader Italian society.

He released his first album, Terra mia - "My Land" - in 1977 and his popularity grew quickly.  Only four years later, he staged an outdoor concert in Naples that attracted 200,000 fans.  His reputation was further enhanced when he was asked to be the opening act at a Bob Marley concert in Milan.

Terra mia was the first of 24 studio albums, one of the most successful of which was the 1980 release Nero a metà - "Half-black". He also recorded seven live albums and 23 singles. His last recording - Nero a metà Live - captured his performance on stage in Milan only a couple of weeks before he died. It was released after his death.

Daniele’s total record sales have been conservatively estimated at in excess of five million. He was at his peak in the mid-1990s. His 1995 album Non calpestare i fiori nel deserto - “Don’t Step on the Flowers in the Desert” - sold more than 800,000 copies, while Dimmi cosa succede sulla Terra - “Tell me What Happens on Earth” (1997) - topped one million.

He also wrote the lyrics and music, including the hit Quando - "When", for three films directed by his fellow-Neapolitan, the actor-director and comic Massimo Troisi.

Daniele in 2010, at around the time he was performing in concerts with the legendary Eric Clapton
Daniele in 2010, at around the time he was performing
in concerts with the legendary Eric Clapton
In 2010, Daniele was invited by his friend Eric Clapton to play at the Crossroads Guitar Festival at Toyota Park in Chicago, and the following year reciprocated by performing in a concert with former Cream lead guitarist Clapton at Cava de' Tirreni stadium.

Daniele was hailed by the great and good after his death. As well as receiving countless tributes from fellow musicians, including his close friend Eros Ramazzotti, the then-prime minister Matteo Renzi spoke of “an incredible voice...precious guitar-playing…” and “a rare sensitivity that was tinged with passion and melancholy that will continue to tell the story of our country to the whole world."

A service for Daniele took place at Rome's Sanctuary of Our Lady of Divine Love before his remains were taken back to Naples, where the funeral had to be moved from the Basilica di San Francesco Di Paola to the Piazza del Plebiscito to accommodate tens of thousands of fans.

Daniele grew up in the working class  neighbourhood of Rione Sanità, at the foot of Capodimonte hill
Daniele grew up in the working class neighbourhood of
Rione Sanità, at the foot of Capodimonte hill
Travel tip:

The Rione Sanità district of Naples, where Daniele was born and grew up, is situated at the foot of the Capodimonte hill and was once home to some of the richest families in Naples, as the presence of some fine palaces is a reminder. It then fell into disrepair, becoming a notorious slum area, with high unemployment and a dominant Camorra presence.  However, its air of faded grandeur attracted a number of writers and film directors to use it as a backdrop and it has seen something of a revival in recent years, with shops, artistic studios and workshops springing up, and a growing number of bars and restaurants turning into a popular area after dark. Sanità was also the birthplace of the brilliant comic actor Totò.

Porticoes line the historic main street through the centre of Cava
Porticoes line the historic main
street through the centre of Cava
Travel tip:

Cava de’ Tirreni is a fascinating historical town just a few kilometres inland from Vietri sul Mare, the seaside resort at the southern end of the famed Amalfi Coast, occupying the valley between the cities of Salerno and Nocera Inferiore.  It takes its name from its first inhabitants, the Tyrrhenians, who were descendant from the Etruscans. The focal point of the town is the long, porticoed Corso Umberto, which runs from one end of the centre to the other, eventually turning into the narrow, winding Borgo Scacciaventi, which was Cava’s 15th century shopping centre. With its nearby Benedictine Abbey, the Abbazia della Santissima Trinità, Cava de' Tirreni has been an important destination for travellers since the 17th century and was popular with poets and Grand Tourists in the 19th century.

Also on this day:

1710: The birth of ‘opera buffa’ composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

1881: The birth of Gaetano Merola, founder of the San Francisco Opera

1952: The birth of Mafia executioner Giuseppe ‘Pino’ Greco

1975: The death of Carlo Levi, author of Christ Stopped at Eboli


22 July 2019

Gorni Kramer - jazz musician

Multi-talented composer of more than 1,000 songs

Gorni Kramer was a popular performer for many decades
Gorni Kramer was a popular performer
for many decades
The songwriter, musician and band leader Gorni Kramer was born on this day in 1913 in the village of Rivarolo Mantovano, near Mantua.

An accomplished accordion and double bass player, Kramer later became a record producer, arranger and television writer.  His embrace of the jazz and swing genres developed in spite of them banned from being played on Italian state radio during the Fascist era.

He was a prolific composer thought to have written more than 1,000 songs during a career that spanned 60 years.

Kramer’s non-Italian sounding name led to a popular misconception that he was born in another country, yet it was his real name - reversed.

He was born Francesco Kramer Gorni, so named because his father was a fan of the American cycling world champion Frank Kramer.

It was from his father that Gorni inherited his passion for music, having played the accordion in his father’s band.

Gorni studied double bass at the Conservatory in Parma and obtained his diploma in 1930. He began to work as a musician for dance bands, then in 1933, aged 20, formed his own jazz group.

Kramer (centre) with the comedy duo Garinei &
Giovanni, with whom they worked for many years
Despite the American genre being forbidden to be played on state radio by the Fascist party, Gorni developed a knowledge through mixing with musicians who worked on the liners connecting Europe and North America.

In the mid-1930s, by which time he was using Kramer as his professional name, his career as a songwriter took off. He composed the music for Alberto Rabagliati’s 1936 hit Crapa pelada, and in 1939 he wrote Pippo non lo sa, one of Trio Lescano's most famous songs.

During World War II, he wrote  he worked with Natalino Otto, a singer also banned by the state radio station EIAR because of swing. Gorni wrote Ho un sassolino nella scarpa, one of Otto's greatest hits.

It was around the same time that he began a collaboration with Franco Cerri and the Quartetto Cetra.

In 1949 he met humorist duo Garinei e Giovanni and began to compose for their worldwide stage performances.  This was his main activity for the next ten years.

Gorni made his television debut in 1957 on Il Musichiere, a music show hosted by Mario Riva. He composed the show's theme song Domenica è sempre domenica. Other shows followed, such as Buone vacanze, Giardino d'inverno, L'amico del giaguaro and Leggerissimo.

By the mid-60s, he had gradually reduced his public performances, but he continued to work as a music publisher and a TV author.  He died of a heart attack, in Milan in 1995. He was survived by his daughters Teresa and Laura.

One of the three gateways into the  historic village of Rivarolo Mantovano
One of the three gateways into the
historic village of Rivarolo Mantovano
Travel tip:

Rivarolo Mantovano, Gorni Kramer’s birthplace, is an historic  village in Lombardy in the province of Mantua, the city of Mantua being some 30km (19 miles) to the northwest. It was known as Rivarolo di Fuori until 1907.  The village with a squared plan and perpendicular roads as established by duke Vespasiano I Gonzaga in the late 16th century.  The perimeter walls, interrupted by three gates, enclose the entire village in a rectangular shape. Along the village streets it is rare to find buildings that stand out from the others, with the exception of the main square, once called Piazza Grande (now Piazza Finzi), around which most of the important buildings are clustered.

The Conservatory of Parma was named after Arrigo Boito, who was the author of several libretti for Verdi operas
The Conservatory of Parma was named after Arrigo Boito,
who was the author of several libretti for Verdi operas
Travel tip:

Parma, where Gorni Kramer attended the Conservatory, is an historic city in the Emilia-Romagna region, famous for its Prosciutto di Parma ham and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, the true ‘parmesan’. In 1545 the city was given as a duchy to the illegitimate son of Pope Paul III, whose descendants ruled Parma till 1731. The composer, Verdi, was born near Parma at Bussetto and the city has a prestigious opera house, the Teatro Regio. The Conservatory, named in honour of Arrigo Boito, who wrote the libretti for many of Verdi’s operas, is on Strada Conservatorio.

More reading:

Pippo Barzizza, pioneer of Italian jazz and swing

The short life of 50s jazz club sensation Fred Buscaglione

Renato Carosone, writer of classic Italian songs

Also on this day:

1559: The birth of St Lawrence of Brindisi

1943: Palermo falls to the Allies

2001: The death of the great 20th century journalist Indro Montanelli


5 January 2019

Severino Gazzelloni - flautist

Lead player with RAI orchestra considered a great of Italian music

Severino Gazzelloni was regarded as one of Italy's finest flautist
Severino Gazzelloni was regarded as one of
Italy's finest flautist
The flautist Severino Gazzelloni, who for 30 years was the principal player of his instrument in the prestigious RAI National Symphony Orchestra but who had a repertoire that extended well beyond orchestral classical music, was born on this day in 1919 in Roccasecca, a town perched on a hillside in southern Lazio, about 130km (81 miles) south of Rome.

He was known for his versatility. In addition to his proficiency in classical flute pieces, Gazzelloni also excelled in jazz and 20th century avant-garde music. As such, many musicians and aficionados regard him as one of the finest flute players of all time.

Gazzelloni also taught others to master the flute. His notable pupils included the American jazz saxophonist Eric Dolphy and the Dutch classical flautist Abbie de Quant.

The son of a tailor in Roccasecca, Gazzelloni grew up in modest circumstances yet had music around him from a young age as his father played in a local band.  He taught himself music and became fascinated with the flute as an instrument, acquiring the technique to play it simply by practising for endless hours on his own.

Severino Gazzelloni's golden flute was made for him by a craftsman in Germany
Severino Gazzelloni's golden flute was made for him
by a craftsman in Germany
By the age of seven, his father considered him good enough to sit alongside him in the band, whose conductor and musical director, Giambattista Creati, recognised him as a musician of natural talent and great potential.

With Creati’s encouragement, Gazzelloni developed as a performer over the next few years and in 1934, at the age of 15, obtained a place at Italy’s premier conservatory, the National Academy of Santa Cecilia in Rome, where he graduated in 1942 under the guidance of the accomplished flautist Arrigo Tassinari.

During the war years he stayed in Rome, finding work in the orchestra at a variety theatre, where he met Alberto Semprini, who would go on to become director of the RAI National Symphony Orchestra.

When Gazzelloni played with that orchestra for the first time in 1944, it was called the Radio Roma Orchestra, led by Fernando Previtali. His debut appearance began an association that would last until the mid 1970s.

Gazzelloni was as comfortable playing jazz as he was with classical music
Gazzelloni was as comfortable playing jazz as he
was with classical music
He began to give solo recitals in 1945, launching his solo career with a tour of Belgium. His debut as a soloist in an Italian venue did not come until 1947, when Italy was beginning to get back on its feet after the devastation of the Second World War, and Gazzelloni gave a performance at the Teatro Eliseo in Rome.

His interest in avant-garde music developed after he had met the Venetian-born composer Bruno Maderna, through whom he was introduced to the Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik - a summer school for ‘new music’ - that was held each year in Darmstadt, near Frankfurt.

Gazzelloni went to Darmstadt for the first time in 1952 and taught there continuously from 1956 to 1966.

In those years he developed friendships and professional relationships with some of the leading lights of the 20th century avant-garde movement, including Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luigi Nono, Franco Donatoni, Olivier Messiaen, John Cage, Luciano Berio and Sylvano Bussotti.

The composer Igor Stravinsky composed music for Gazzelloni
The composer Igor Stravinsky composed
music for Gazzelloni
Berio, the experimental composer who was a pioneer of electronic music, Boulez, Maderna and Igor Stravinsky - the Russian-born pianist considered one of the most important composers of the 20th century - all wrote pieces specifically for Gazzelloni, who was nicknamed “the Golden Flute” - in part in recognition of his virtuosity but also because he did actually own a gold-plated flute, made for him by a German craftsman in 1956.

Gazzelloni is said to have enjoyed the informality of the jazz scene and one of his most successful tours came in 1976, when he was accompanied by the eminent classical pianist Bruno Canino and a jazz combo that comprised some of Italy’s top names, including the jazz piano player Enrico Intra, the saxophonist Giancarlo Barigozzi, bass guitarist Pino Presti, drummer Tullio De Piscopo and lead guitarist Sergio Farina.

At his peak as a soloist, Gazzelloni played as many as 250 concerts a year, as well as teaching at the Academy of Santa Cecilia and at the Chigiana Academy in Siena.

He died in Cassino, not far from Roccasecca, in 1992 in a clinic where he had been undergoing treatment for a brain tumour.

Two years after his death, the municipality of Roccasecca launched a musical festival in his honour and the event, the International Festival Severino Gazzelloni, is today an annual month-long event staged in August and September, supported by the Licinio Refice Conservatory of Frosinone and the University of Cassino and Southern Lazio, with sponsorship from businesses in the area.

The remains of the castle at Roccasecca
The remains of the castle at Roccasecca
Travel tip:

The town of Roccasecca occupies a strategic position at the entrance to two narrow gorges that provide access to the Valle di Comino below the slopes of Monte Asprano. It has a castle built in the 10th century at the behest of the Abbot of Montecassino. The abbot later put the castle in the control of the D’Aquino family and it was there that Tommaso D’Aquino, the Dominican friar who was canonized as Saint Thomas Aquinas fifty years after his death, was supposedly born in 1225. The castle fell into disrepair in the 17th century.

The entrance to the Conservatory of the Academy of Santa Cecilia
The entrance to the Conservatory
of the Academy of Santa Cecilia
Travel tip:

The National Academy of Santa Cecilia is one of the oldest musical academies in the world. It was founded in Rome by Pope Sixtus V in 1585 at the Church of Santa Maria ad Martires, better known as the Pantheon. Over the centuries, many famous composers and musicians have been members of the Academy, which lists opera singers Beniamino Gigli and Cecilia Bartoli among its alumni. Since 2005 the Academy’s headquarters have been at the Parco della Musica in Rome, which was designed by the architect Renzo Piano, but the historic conservatory in Via dei Greci remains, offering preparatory courses, and also houses the Italian Institute for Music History.

More reading:

How avant-garde composer Luigi Nono saw music as a form of political expression

Why Pino Presti is an important figure in Italian contemporary music

The brilliance of classical flute player Leonardo De Lorenzo

Also on this day:

1905: The birth of Michele Navarra - practising doctor and Mafia boss

1932: The birth of academic and novelist Umberto Eco

1948: The birth of anti-Mafia activist Giuseppe Impastato


23 November 2018

Fred Buscaglione - singer and actor

Fifties sensation who died tragically young

Fred Buscaglione sports the 'gangster' look for which he was famous in the film I ladri (1959)
Fred Buscaglione sports the 'gangster' look for
 which he was famous in the film I ladri (1959)
The singer and actor Fred Buscaglione, a nightclub singer who became huge star of the pop world in 1950s Italy, was born on this day in 1921 in Turin.

Buscaglione’s style - he portrayed himself tongue-in-cheek as a sharp-suited gangster with a taste for whiskey and women - caught the imagination of an Italian public desperate to be entertained after the austerity of Fascism, when all ‘foreign’ music was banned.

He formed a partnership with the writer Leo Chiosso after their first collaboration, on a song called Che bambola (What a Babe!), resulted in more than one million record sales, catapulting Buscaglione to fame.

They had several more hits, including Love in Portofino, which was covered by Andrea Bocelli in 2013 as the title track from an album.

Born Ferdinando Buscaglione, he was from a creative family. His father was a painter and his mother a piano teacher. They enrolled their son at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Turin at the age of 11 but by his teens Buscaglione had adopted jazz as his passion.

The songwriter Leo Chiosso collaborated with Fred Buscaglione in his musical and movie career
The songwriter Leo Chiosso collaborated with
Fred Buscaglione in his musical and movie career
His career as a singer and musician was going well and Chiosso was one of the friends he had made through his appearances in night clubs around Turin.  Their relationship was interrupted by the Second World War, which saw both taken prisoner. Chiosso was sent to Poland and Buscaglione to an American camp in Sardinia.

Although he was an enemy prisoner, his captors recognised his musical talent and he was allowed to play in the orchestra of an American radio station broadcasting from Cagliari. The experience gave him the chance to learn much about American music, particularly swing and the big band sound.

After the war, he made his way back to Turin, living in an apartment in Via Eusebio Bava in the Vanchiglia district a short distance from the centre of the city. He formed his own group, the Asternovas, and married a girl he met while on tour in Switzerland.

He and Chiosso became reacquainted, the latter having returned to Turin with memories of hearing Buscaglione performing on forces radio. It was Chiosso, an avid reader of American crime fiction, who encouraged him to develop his ‘gangster’ persona, for which he began sporting a Clark Gable mustache.

Buscaglione's wrecked Ford Thunderbird after the  collision in Rome that cost him his life
Buscaglione's wrecked Ford Thunderbird after the
collision in Rome that cost him his life
After Buscaglione became a popular nightclub performer, Chiosso arranged a date for them at a recording studio, after which Che bambola was released on a 78rpm shellac disc in 1956. With little publicity beyond word of mouth it sold more than one million copies.

Buscaglione made the most of his fame.  He had more hits from the pen of Leo Chiosso with such songs as Teresa non sparare (Theresa, Don't Shoot!), Love in Portofino and Whisky facile (Easy Whiskey), signed commercial advertising contracts and appeared in TV show and movies, including the 1960 comedy Noi duri (Tough Guys), which Chiosso scripted and which starred the Italian comic maestro Totò, as well as a beautiful young Italian actress, Scilla Gabel, with whom Buscaglione was romantically linked.

He appeared to have the world at his feet but tragedy struck in the early hours of February 3, 1960 when his lilac Ford Thunderbird convertible was in collection with a truck on a street in Rome, near the US Embassy.  He was taken to hospital but his injuries were so severe he could not be saved.

Only a few hours earlier, he had been out for dinner with friends and had met the upcoming star Mina Mazzini to discuss possible collaboration. Mina would go on to become Italy’s all-time biggest selling female artist.

Buscaglione’s funeral took place in Turin with tens of thousands of fans lining the streets. His body was buried at the Monumental Cemetery in the city.

The futuristic Luigi Einaudi Campus of the University of Turin dominates the Vanchiglia neighbourhood
The futuristic Luigi Einaudi Campus of the University of
Turin dominates the Vanchiglia neighbourhood
Travel tip:

The Vanchiglia neighbourhood of Turin, where Buscaglione lived immediately after his return from captivity in Sardinia, is an historic district a few streets away from the Palazzo Reale and the Mole Antonelliana. It is best known for the presence of the Luigi Einaudi Campus of the University of Turin and therefore has a high student population. With this has come an explosion in the number of bars and cafés and a growing music scene.

The Via Vittorio Veneto was one of Rome's most fashionable streets in its heyday
The Via Vittorio Veneto was one of Rome's most
fashionable streets in its heyday
Travel tip:

Rome's US Embassy is on Via Vittorio Veneto, commonly known as the Via Veneto, is one of the capital's most famous, elegant and expensive streets. The street is named after the 1918 Battle of Vittorio Veneto, a decisive Italian victory of World War I, and immortalised by Federico Fellini's 1960 film La Dolce Vita, which celebrated its heyday in the '50s and '60s when its bars and restaurants attracted Hollywood stars and jet set personalities.  Some of Rome's most renowned cafés and five star hotels, such as Café de Paris, Harry's Bar, the Regina Hotel Baglioni and the Westin Excelsior are located in Via Veneto.

More reading:

Leo Chiosso - the other half of the hit-creating 1950s partnership

The comedic genius of Totò

Italy's all-time biggest-selling female star

Also on this day:

1553: The birth of botanist Prospero Alpini

1941: The birth of actor Franco Nero

1955: The birth of composer Ludovico Einaudi


20 October 2018

Dado Moroni - jazz musician

Self-taught pianist recorded first album at 17

Dado Moroni has become a major figure in jazz music in Italy and internationally
Dado Moroni has become a major figure in jazz
music in Italy and internationally
The renowned jazz musician Edgardo ‘Dado’ Moroni was born on this day in 1962 in Genoa.

Moroni, who learned at the feet of some of the greats of American jazz music in Italian clubs in the 1980s and 90s, has recorded more than 25 albums, having released his first when he was only 17.

He has appeared as a guest on many more albums and built such a reputation as a pianist and composer that he was able to become part of the American jazz scene himself in the 1990s, when he lived in New York.

Moroni attributes his love of jazz music to his father’s passion for the genre, which meant that he grew up listening to the likes of Earl Hines, Fats Waller and Count Basie.

Using a piano his parents had bought for his sister, Monica, he taught himself to play many of the songs he heard on the record player, receiving his first informal tuition from his mother, who played the accordion.

Dado Moroni on stage with the guitarist Luigi Tessarollo
Dado Moroni on stage with the guitarist Luigi Tessarollo
Formal piano lessons were arranged for him with the Genoa jazz pianist Flavio Crivelli, who introduced him to the music of Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Dizzy Gillespie and contemporary pianists like Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal and Oscar Peterson.
Moroni progressed so rapidly he was able to play professionally in clubs from the age of 14.  The Italian jazz scene while he was growing up was popular but not wealthy.  Club owners were keen to hire famous artists but could not always afford to pay for support musicians.

This worked to the advantage of up-and-coming Italian musicians such as Moroni, who were more than happy to make up the numbers. Moroni found himself accompanying such internationally renowned names as Harry “Sweets” Edison, Freddie Hubbard, and even greats such as Peterson and Gillespie when they were on tour in Europe.

It was Gillespie, Moroni said, who persuaded him to back his own talent and pursue a career in music after doubts about his ability to make a living had led him to embark on studies for a law degree.

The cover of one of Moroni's early albums
The cover of one of Moroni's early albums
Moroni began a collaboration with two other Italian jazz musicians, Tullio de Piscopo and Franco Ambrosetti. At just 17 years old, he recorded an album with De Piscopo and the American bassist Julius Farmer and another with Ambrosetti and the Danish bass player Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen.

Through the 80s, he played at festivals and clubs across Europe, often with a trio led by Duke Ellington’s former bassist, Jimmy Woode.  In 1987, at the age of just 25, he was invited as the only European musician to be part of the jury of the Thelonious Monk international piano award held in Washington in 1987.

Moroni moved to the United States in 1991 and became part of the New York jazz scene, performing with several bands and contributing to the rich heritage of Italian musicians in America. He appeared at the most prestigious jazz clubs in the city, such as the Blue Note, Birdland, Bradley’s and the Village Vanguard.

In 1995 he returned to Italy to join the classical pianist Antonio Ballista in a project called “Two Pianos, One Soul”, which played some of Italy’s major theatres, among them the Teatro Comunale in Ferrara, the Teatro Regio in Turin, the Teatro Verdi in Florence and the Teatro Carlo Felice in his native Genoa. Moroni won the prestigious Umbria Jazz Award in the same year.

In 2007 he won the "Best Jazz Act" at the Italian Jazz Awards. He is now based permanently in Italy and continues to record and tour, while at the same time teaching jazz piano at the Como Conservatory of Music. 

The Palazzo Ducale in Genoa, taken from Piazza Matteotti
The Palazzo Ducale in Genoa, taken from Piazza Matteotti
Travel tip:

The port city of Genoa, where Moroni was born, is the capital of the Liguria region. It has a rich history as a powerful trading centre with considerable wealth built on its shipyards and steelworks, but also boasts many fine buildings, among them the 13th century Palazzo Ducale, the 16th century Royal Palace and the Romanesque-Renaissance style San Lorenzo Cathedral. The area around the restored harbour area offers a maze of fascinating alleys and squares, enhanced recently by the work of Genoa architect Renzo Piano, and a landmark aquarium, the largest in Italy.

The facade of Como's Gothic Duomo
The facade of Como's Gothic Duomo
Travel tip:

Como is a city with a population of just over 85,000 at the southern tip of Lake Como, a little under 60km (37 miles) north of Milan. It is notable for its Gothic Cathedral, the facade of which incorporates statues of the famous comaschi Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger. There is a spectacular scenic funicular railway linking Como with the village of Brunate and a number of museums, including the Museo Didattico della Seta, which traces the history of Como's silk industry, and the Tempio Voltiano, dedicated to Italian physicist Alessandro Volta. Just north of the city are the lakeside gardens of the palatial Villa Olmo, as well as other stately villas.

More reading:

Lucio Dalla - the jazz sax player and composer who wrote the haunting song Caruso

The band leader who became an Italian pioneer of jazz and swing

The wide-ranging talents of Tiziana 'Tosca' Donati

Also on this day:

1950: The birth of TV presenter Mara Venier

1951: The birth of football manager Claudio Ranieri


29 August 2018

Tiziana ‘Tosca’ Donati - singer

Versatile performer whose range spans musicals to sacred songs

The singer Tiziana Donati, known as Tosca, during one of her stage performances
The singer Tiziana Donati, known as Tosca, during
one of her stage performances
The singer Tiziana Donati, who performs under the stage name Tosca, was born on this day in 1967 in Rome.

Winner of the Sanremo Festival in 1996, Tosca has recorded 10 studio albums, released the same number of singles and has recorded duets with many other artists.

She has enjoyed a successful stage career, appearing in numerous theatrical productions, and has been invited to perform songs for several movies, including the title track for Franco Zeffirelli’s version of Jane Eyre in 1996. She also sang and spoke the part of Anastasia in the Italian dubbed version of the Disney cartoon of the same name.

At Christmas in 1999, she participated in concerts in churches in Italy where she performed Latin songs set to music by Vincenzo Zitello and Stefano Melone.

Following this she began a collaboration with the Vatican, taking part in several televised events to commemorate the Jubilee of 2000, and was chosen to sing the Mater Iubilaei, the Marian anthem of the Jubilee, in a ceremony led by Pope John Paul II.

Throughout 2000, she toured with Musica Caeli, a concert made up of never-before performed sacred chants, staged in some of the biggest churches and cathedrals around the world.

Tosca was spotted singing in a piano bar in Rome in the 1990s before winning the Sanremo Festival in 1996
Tosca was spotted singing in a piano bar in Rome in the
1990s before winning the Sanremo Festival in 1996
Tiziana said her love of singing began as a child when she suffered from acute articular rheumatism, a debilitating health condition affecting the joints that prevented her taking part in normal activities.  She did, however, accompany her grandmother to church almost every day and soon set her heart on becoming a member of the choir.

She went along to choir practice and was accepted and drew a sense of pride and self-worth from being asked to stand on a chair and sing at family occasions. Singing and later acting gave her a sense of purpose.

In her teens, Donati joined a theatre company in Rome and began singing in a piano bar in the city, where she was spotted by Renzo Arbore, a musician and television presenter, who invited to sing on the show Il caso Sanremo, a unique programme in which winning songs from different years of the Sanremo Festival were placed on “trial” in a set made to resemble a courtroom.

The exposure propelled her into the public eye. She adopted Tosca as a stage name and released her first album in 1992.

Tiziana Donati pictured during a studio recording session with fellow musician Chico Buarque
Tiziana Donati pictured during a studio recording
session with fellow musician Chico Buarque
Her big break, though, was winning Sanremo itself in 1996 with Vorrei incontrarti fra cent'anni - I Want To Meet You In One Hundred Years - a song written by Rosalino Cellamare, who performed under the stage name Ron, and who also provided backing vocals and guitar.

After another appearance at Sanremo the following year, she released an album, entitled Incontri e passaggi of songs written for her by artists such as Lucio Dalla, Chico Buarque de Holanda, Grazia Di Michele, Ennio Morricone and Mariella Nava, which won her the Targa Tenco prize as the year’s outstanding performer.

Since 2000, Donati has mixed concerts with stage shows and musicals and has recently worked as a section director at the Pasolini Workshop in Rome, a venture - named in honour of the film director Pier Paolo Pasolini - run in collaboration with the University of Rome and the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia to unearth and nurture new talent.

Still in demand today for high-profile roles, recently starring at the Teatro Argentina in Rome in the touring show Donne come noi - Women Like Us - based on a book of the same name about 100 Italian women who have changed their lives and those of others.

Last year, Tosca celebrated her life in music with a sell-out concert at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome in which she was joined on stage by artists including Nicola Piovani, Danilo Rea and Joe Barbieri, all of whom had become friends at different points of her career.

The saxophonist Bobby Watson has performed at Gregory's in Rome
The saxophonist Bobby Watson has
performed at Gregory's in Rome
Travel tip:

One of Rome’s traditional music venues is the jazz club Gregory’s, which can be found in Via Gregoriana, a short walk from Piazza di Spagna and the Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti. The club has a ‘hall of fame’ that includes the likes of Bobby Durham, Victor Lewis, Steve Grossman, Gregory Hutchinson, Bobby Watson and Scott Hamilton, all of whom have performed at the venue.  The club hosts live sets almost every night, starting at around 9.30pm. A sister venue, Gregory’s By The River, stages live music during the summer months on the edge of the Tiber at Castel Sant’Angelo.

The Teatro Argentina in Rome is one of the city's  oldest opera houses, inaugurated in 1732
The Teatro Argentina in Rome is one of the city's
oldest opera houses, inaugurated in 1732
Travel tip:

The Teatro Argentina, where Tosca recently performed in the show Donne come noi, is a traditional opera venue in the square Largo di Torre Argentina. Built over the Curia of Pompey - the meeting hall in which Julius Caesar was murdered in 44BC - it is one of the oldest theatres in the city, commissioned by the Sforza-Cesarini family and inaugurated in 1732. Rossini's The Barber of Seville was given its premiere there in February 1816. It has staged drama productions as well as opera and music. In the mid-20th centuries, works by Luigi Pirandello, Henrik Ibsen and Maxim Gorky were performed there for the first time.

More reading:

How Enrico Caruso inspired Lucio Dalla

Why Sanremo winner Adriano Celentano is Italy's biggest-selling recording artist of all time

The Barber of Seville premieres at Teatro Argentina

Also on this day:

1875: The birth of flautist Lorenzo De Lorenzo

1991: Anti-Mafia hero Libero Grassi is murdered in Palermo


8 August 2018

Leo Chiosso – songwriter

Writer of lyrics and scripts was inspired by crime fiction

Leo Chiosso's hit Love in Portofino was the inspiration for an album by Andrea Bocelli
Leo Chiosso's hit Love in Portofino was the
inspiration for an album by Andrea Bocelli
Prolific songwriter Leo Chiosso was born on this day in 1920 in Chieri, a town to the south of Turin in Piedmont.

He became well known for the songs he wrote in partnership with Fred Buscaglione, a singer and musician, but Chiosso also wrote many scripts for television and cinema.

Chiosso met Buscaglione in 1938 in the nightclubs of Turin, where Buscaglione was working as a jazz singer. The formed a songwriting duo that went on to produce more than 40 songs.

However, their friendship was interrupted by the Second World War.  Chiosso was taken prisoner and deported to Poland, where he became friends with the writer Giovanni Guareschi, while Buscaglione was sent to a US internment camp in Sardinia.

It was only when Chiosso heard Buscaglione playing in a musical broadcast by the allied radio station in Cagliari that he knew his friend was still alive.

They were reunited in Turin after the war and continued to write songs together. Chiosso was an avid reader of American crime fiction, which inspired his lyrics and also suited Buscaglione’s amiable gangster image.

Chiosso's songwriting partner Fred Buscaglione used to favour an 'American gangster' look
Chiosso's songwriting partner Fred Buscaglione
used to favour an 'American gangster' look
Their first hit was Che bambola in 1956, which turned humorous tough guy Buscaglione into a celebrity.

A subsequent hit was Love in Portofino, recently recorded by Andrea Bocelli and also the inspiration for one of his albums.

The last time the pair worked together was on the 1960 film Noi duri, which featured Buscaglione and the famous Italian comic actor, Totò. Chiosso wrote both the story and the script for the film as well as the lyrics for the songs. But while they were making the film, Buscaglione was killed in a car crash.

Chiosso’s career continued to be successful without his friend and he wrote the lyrics for many famous songs. He was involved with the making of the popular television music show, Canzonissima and he wrote stories and scripts for cinema. He wrote his last song in 2003, Quando piove sulla spiaggia - When it rains on the beach.

After having lived for more than 30 years in Rome, Chiosso returned to his home town in the province of Turin.

Chiosso died in Chieri in 2006 at the age of 86. After his death, Mondadori published a book he had been working on towards the end of his life, which was entitled simply, Fred Buscaglione.

In 2008 the Leo Chiosso Festival della Canzone was initiated.

Chieri's Duomo, the church of Santa Maria della Scala
Chieri's Duomo, the church of Santa Maria della Scala
Travel tip:

Chieri, where Leo Chiosso was born and died, is a small town about 11km (7 miles) southeast of Turin. One of the main sights is the Gothic-style Duomo built in 1037 and reconstructed in 1405, which is the largest in Piedmont and has a 13th century octagonal Baptistery. In 2002 Chieri experienced Italy’s worst civilian gun massacre when an unemployed gun enthusiast with a history of mental illness killed seven people and then shot himself in Via Parini in the town.

Piazza Castello is at the heart of 'royal' Turin
Piazza Castello is at the heart of 'royal' Turin
Travel tip:

Turin, the capital city of the region of Piedmont, has some fine architecture that illustrates its rich history as the home of the Savoy kings of Italy. The beautiful square Piazza Castello, with the royal palace, royal library and Palazzo Madama, which used to house the Italian senate, is at the heart of ‘royal’ Turin.

More reading:

How Andrea Bocelli conquered the worlds of opera and pop

The enduring talent of Adriano Celentano

Domenico Modugno - writer of the iconic hit Volare

Also on this day:

1173: Work begins on what would become the Leaning Tower of Pisa

1988: The birth of NBA basketball player Danilo Gallinari


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.


4 March 2017

Lucio Dalla - musician

Cantautore inspired by the great Caruso

Lucio Dalla was inspired by stay in Sorrento
Lucio Dalla was inspired by stay in Sorrento
The singer/songwriter Lucio Dalla was born on this day in 1943 in Bologna.

Dalla is most famous for composing the song, Caruso, in 1986 after staying in the suite the great tenor used to occupy overlooking the sea at the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria in Sorrento.

Dalla started playing the clarinet when he was young and joined the Rheno Dixieland Band in Bologna along with the future film director, Pupi Avati.

Avati was later to say that his film Ma quando arrivano le ragazze? was inspired by his friendship with Dalla.

In the 1960s the band won first prize in the traditional jazz band category at a festival in Antibes. After hearing Dalla’s voice, his fellow cantautore - the Italian word for singer/songwriter - Gino Paoli suggested he try for a solo career as a soul singer, but his first single was a failure.

Dalla had a hit with 4 Marzo 1943, originally entitled Gesu Bambino, but the title was changed to the singer’s birth date so as not to cause offence.

In the 1970s Dalla started a collaboration with the Bolognese poet Roberto Roversi, who wrote the lyrics for three of his albums.

Watch Pavarotti and Lucio Dalla on stage at Modena in 1992

When the association ended, Dalla decided to write the lyrics for his songs himself and his subsequent Banana Republic album was a success in 1979.

The song, Caruso, released in 1986, was his most famous composition. It has been covered by many other artists since, including Luciano Pavarotti and Julio Iglesias.

Dalla played various instruments,  including saxaphone, as well as singing
Dalla played various instruments,
including saxaphone, as well as singing
In the book Caruso the Song - Lucio Dalla e Sorrento, Raffaele Lauro, a writer from Sorrento, recalls that Dalla booked the very suite at the Excelsior Vittoria that Caruso had occupied during the final weeks of his life in 1921. While staying there Dalla composed the song, inspired by his love for Sorrento, his respect for the great tenor and his fondness for classic Neapolitan songs. The Fiorentino family, who owned the Excelsior Vittoria, were later to dedicate a suite to Dalla.

The version of Caruso sung by Pavarotti sold more than nine million copies and Dalla was invited to sing Caruso in a duet with Pavarotti in a 'Pavarotti and Friends' concert in Modena in 1992.

Andrea Bocelli included his version of the song on his first international album, Romanza, which sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.

Dalla was made a Commander and subsequently a Grand Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic and was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Bologna.

The singer songwriter died three days before his 69th birthday in 2012, after suffering a heart attack in a hotel in Montreux in Switzerland, where he had been performing the night before.

About 50,000 people attended his funeral in Bologna and his hit song, Caruso, entered the Italian singles chart after his death, peaking at number two for two consecutive weeks.

The single was also certified platinum by the Federation of the Italian Music Industry.

The bronze sculpture on Lucio Dalla near his home in Bologna
The bronze sculpture on Lucio Dalla near his home in Bologna
Travel tip:

Dalla was awarded an honorary degree by the University in his home town of Bologna, which had been the first in the world when it was established in 1088. The University attracted popes and kings, as well as students of the calibre of Dante, Copernicus and Boccaccio. You can visit the university’s former anatomy theatre in the oldest surviving building, the Archiginnasio, in Piazza Galvani, which is open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 1pm, admission free. A short distance from the Archiginnasio, in Piazza dei Celestini, a bronze sculpture of Dalla sitting on a bench was unveiled in 2016 close to the house where he lived.

Hotels in Bologna from

The Excelsior Vittoria is one of  Sorrento's oldest and most  famous hotels and was a favourite of Caruso
The Excelsior Vittoria is one of  Sorrento's oldest and most
famous hotels and was a favourite of Caruso
Travel tip:

The Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria is a familiar landmark for visitors who approach Sorrento by sea. The three 19th century buildings that comprise the hotel sit high on the cliff above the port of Marina Piccola, where boats arrive from Naples and the islands. The Excelsior Vittoria is probably Sorrento’s most famous hotel and it has now achieved global recognition as part of the Leading Hotels of the World group. From the imposing wrought-iron entrance gates in Piazza Tasso, a long driveway lined with orange trees leads to the entrance and reception area. At the back of the hotel, the terrace has panoramic views over the bay of Naples and of Vesuvius across the water. Tenor Enrico Caruso was famously photographed in front of those views during his final stay in 1921. The Excelsior Vittoria had been opened as a hotel by the Fiorentino family in 1834 and is still, to this day, run by their descendants.