© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Jazz musicians are constantly looking for sources for inspiration. The Blues, folk songs, Tin Pan Alley; after all, you gotta improvise on something.
The Beboppers used songs from the Great American Songbook and altered them with new melodies; original compositions which, over time, became the Jazz Standards was another vehicle as were Greek Modes.
For awhile in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Broadway shows were all the rage as the basis for Jazz improvisation.
Movie themes and the mood music employed during movies to accent emotions and actions in films were another constant source for Jazz expression.
Italian Jazz pianist, composer and band leader Enrico Pieranunzi, not surprisingly, has often turned to two giants of Italian Movie Music for thematic points-of-departures: Ennio Morricone and Nino Rota.
Nino Rota wrote the scores to many of Federico Fellini’s notable movies and in 2003, Enrico put together an incredibly talented quintet made up of Kenny Wheeler on trumpet, Chris Potter on soprano and tenor saxophones, Charlie Haden on bass and Paul Motian od drums for exquisite renderings of seven of Rota’s themes for Fellini films.
He even went so far as to make Fellini and Jazz into one word - FelliniJazz [CamJazz 5002] - and it instantly became one of my favorite recordings.
Pianist Enrico Pieranunzi employed a stream of consciousness dialogue which is very analogous to Jazz improvisation as the framework for these insert notes to his recording.
Fellini, il Jazz e Roma [Fellini, Jazz and Rome] - Enrico Pieranunzi
“I am listening to the recording of "La Dolce Vita" and ...hmm, let's see ... who's that playing? ... oh yeah... it's that amazing, ironic, irreverent "sideways" drummer - Paul Motian ... Paul Motian?... isn't he the one who, along with Bill Evans and Scott La Faro radically changed the history of the jazz trio between the late 50s and early 60s? ... and who later went on to make incredible recordings with Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett?... and then discovered and made famous Bill Frisell and a lot of other talented jazz musicians?
... and who's that on trumpet playing the theme for "Amarcord" with a sound so full of melancholy and yearning like the dizzy clown of the Medrano Circus, who could it be? ... oh yeah, it's Kenny Wheeler, that great Canadian soloist/composer, now a naturalized British citizen, with so many beautiful recordings under his belt... but how can this be? ... Motian and Wheeler together?... ... and the bass player?... that powerful and inexorable timing would seem to be none other than Charlie Haden ... but there must be some kind of mistake... Haden playing the theme of "I Vitelloni"?
... this must be some kind of a joke... but then,of course, if it isn't him it's got to be somebody who's learned to imitate him perfectly ...but no! it IS him, only Haden could do a solo like that... and yet it's strange... Haden and Wheeler have never recorded together and so ... no, no it's him alright, no doubt about it: this is the great Haden of the "Liberation Music Orchestra" who also made historic recordings with Omette Coleman ... so, this CD is really something special, and something that has also never happened before ... what's more Motian and Haden haven't recorded together in such a long time, at least 75 years ... so what is this CD anyway? ...I must be dreaming ... wait a minute...
... who's that on the saxophone, that seductive voice so sweetly playing, no, acting out, the theme from "La Strada"? ... strange, though ... it's so modern, but every once in awhile I seem to hear traces ol great tenors of the past like Coleman Hawkins, Don Byas... and especially... there must be a new one among them ... maybe that talented young Chris Potter that everyone is talking about ... he'sa guy who. in the midst of a whole slew of
new sax players who seem mass-produced, is able to say some very personal things, a really strong personality ... he's only 31 and already capable of telling some truly deep stories with that sax of his... and so what does he have to do with the music from Fellini's films? ...let me see ... well, of course ... yes, it's him alright... At this point I don't Know what to say ... I don't get it... a combo with the likes of Paul Motian, Charlie Haden, Kenny Wheeler, Chris Potter ... how is this possible? ... a group like this could only exist in the imagination of some audacious producer or... right, in a dream.
Ok. Ok, alright, I'll stop there. I was just having a little fun improvising ...
But I guarantee you that when I re-listened to the selections on FELLINI Jazz everything seemed surreal and it was really tike slipping into a kind of dream; or, if you like, into a film that Fellini would gladly have made. Because a dream it was -or a film, if you prefer - the concept and realization of this CD. I don't think anyone could even have imagined a more variegated and stellar group of
musicians than this to pay homage to the genius of this great Master of Cinema: Haden, Motian, Wheeler, Potter... coordinated (and only so-to-speak. naturally, given the immense jazz personality of each of these musicians) by the author of these lines, who also had the very pleasant task of doing the arrangements for the musical themes of some of Fellini's most famous films.
Fellini and jazz then. The unfettered imagination of some of the most extraordinary artists in the history of this music, here to invent anew, and in a completely original way, the soundtracks of the films of "a many-faceted artist with unlimited and inexhaustible imagination". Fellini's cinema: which restored to this art form its original sense of movement, and the representation of that which is visible and that which is not: and jazz improvisation in the most pregnant sense of the term: the "interior movement" of the musicians who continuously create new acoustic images in order to grasp and express that ever-shifting, mysterious "invisible human" inside them ... So then, Fellini and jazz, but also "Fellini, Jazz and Rome"... and tor various reasons. To begin with because, by a strange and marvelous twist of fate, it so happens that the writer of these notes - a native, in fact, of Home and yet every day more and more captive to her charms - has found himself mixing his own sounds with those of the above-mentioned living legends...
And, then, precisely lor the fact that the city of Rome - a city that Fellini loved and deeply understood, to the point of dedicating an entire, highly celebrated film to her alone - has provided the backdrop to this very special recording... "
Last but not least" because the irony of the... dream (and everybody knows that dreams, in their apparent inscrutability have a very rigorous logic) has seen to it that the Rome studio in which FELLINI Jazz was recorded happened to be located very nearby that same Via Veneto that Fellini had elevated, with his "La Dolce Vita", to a veritable universal icon.
Enrico Pieranunzi May 2003 (translated by Darragh Henegan)
Enrico Pieranunzi Fellini Jazz by Ira Gitler
“In the period following World War II there was a renaissance in the film industry of Italy. Roberto Rossellini’s Roma, citta - aperta (1945) and Paisa (1946) – known respectively, in the United States as Open City and Paisan – heralded the arrival of Italian neo-realism and were artistic and commercial successes on both sides of the Atlantic.
Federico Fellini, then in his mid-20’s, served as a screenwriter on the first of the two films and as an assistant director on the second. In the 1950’s he blossomed as his own as a director. I remember well the impact I Vitelloni had on me (and my friends) when I first saw it. I had been attending foreign films in my pre-teen years and was not intimidated by reading the subtitles. (This was far better than the later alternative of dubbing. I unequivocally boycotted all dubbed foreign films.) Although I was looking at images and simultaneously reading titles I was also hearing the actors. Even if, for the most part, I didn’t understand the language, the very sound of it and the expressiveness of the actors voices added to the total experience. The, of course, there was the universal language – music.
As I continued to view Fellini’s films I came to know the memorable themes which complemented the cinematic necromancy of the director and learn the name of his chief musical collaborator, Nino Rota.
While in the midst of writing these notes I happen to come across a documentary about Fellini on the Sundance television channel. In it there is a section devoted to the relationship between Fellini and Rota: the ambiguous requests to Rota (“Give me a happy song but make it sad” and so forth); and Fellini calling Rota “a magician … the melodies are already out there in the air and he finds them. He’s like those people who find water with a stick.
In one scene Rota is seated at the piano. Fellini has told him that he needs music for a new film. Rota begins playing a melody, expansively, its bittersweet nostalgia sweeping up and down the keyboard. “That’s it,” he says to Rota, and there he has the theme song [to the film] Amarcord.
Enrico Pieranunzi considers this project “one of the most exciting and challenging in my musical life, both for the musicians involved and for the music I was asked to arrange.” First of all, Pieranunzi pointed chose Chris Potter, Kenny Wheeler, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. He and producer Ermano Basso agreed, as Enrico explains it, that “these musicians were the best actors for such a difficult musical, film. “I tried to conceive these arrangements by relating them to the specific peculiarities of the players … when I heard them in the studio it was a dream coming true. “
Pieranunzi draws an analogy between how jazz musicians play and a director such as Fellini shaped his films. “There is in common the tendency to always look beyond, for what is under such things,” he says, “a constant, tireless effort to express the mysterious, hidden areas of ourselves that have their roots in the subconscious, human reality.”
You will notice that all the movies from which the music derives (save Amarcord and La Citta` Delle Donne/City of Women, both of the 1970s), are from the 1950s. These are Pieranunzi’s favorites. “I think that these movies bear a perfect balance between realism and the introspection of the characters: realism and imagination.”
“These movies remind me a lot of my childhood. Atmosphere – moods that these movies show are still inside me. Incidentally,” he continues, “I was three years old when I Vitelloni was made and at that point I had already been well-nourished with a lot of Charlie Parker, Django and Lennie Tristano whose music my father used to play on his 78s.”
It would be a hollow experience for me to attempt to describe the feeling that … [Pieranunzi and his colleagues] bring to these recordings, whether playing themes or improvising on them. I must, however, stress how everyone immersed themselves in the music, sonically and ‘wig-wise.’
As I implied earlier, after experiencing Fellini’s films not only the images but the music remained in my head; now these themes and the brilliant interpretations resonate in a new way as I sit in the darkened theater/illuminated screen of my mind.” – Ira Gitler 2004
The following video montage features Wheeler, Potter, Pieranunzi, Haden and Motian on the theme Nino Rota developed for Fellini’s I Vitellino.