All Kinds of Music: 1.18 – 1.24

January 18, 2017


Everybody plays (See Peter & the Wolf listing, below)

Everybody plays (See Peter & the Wolf listing, below)

It’s a good time, and the Twin Cities is a good place, for folks who enjoy live music. In the coming week, we’ve got performances from some outstanding visiting artists and a few nationally known resident artists. Additionally, we have a couple of fundraisers, each featuring a variety of artists, and two chances to hear chamber music: a production of Peter and the Wolf, and a chamber music quartet interpreting A Love Supreme. Music lifts the Spirit.


Wednesday, January 18

Pete Whitman Group @ Jazz Central, Minneapolis. 8:30pm ($10, $5 W/Student ID) Saxophonist Pete Whitman brings another group to the basement club, this time with: Adam Rossmiller, trumpet; Chris Olsen, guitar; Jay Young, bass; and Dave Schmalenberger, drums.

Wednesday, Thursday, January 18, 19

Roy Hargrove With Roberta Gambarini @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 7pm ($35, $45), 9pm ($25, $35) What great possibilities lie in this show. Hargrove is among the best trumpet players of his generation, and has won two Grammys, one with his Cuban-based bans Crisol; and another with Herbie Hancock and Michael Brecker. He’s recorded over twenty albums, including an album of ballads with strings, and a hip-hop album, in addition to recordings with his quintet. Italian-born and NYC-based Roberta Gambarini is a magnificent vocalist with a supple, multi-octave range. You can read an interview I did with her in 2011 here. Here are the two artists with a big band doing a Latin number.

Thursday, January 19

Nichola Miller & The Wolverines Trio @ Crooner’s Lounge and Supper Club, Fridley. 7:30pm (No Cover) Ms Miller has been taken up with raising a little boy these past few years, which has cut down on her gigging, so get out and see her while you can. She has pipes galore, an unerring sense of time, clear enunciation, and swings like mad, helped along by the Wolverines Trio. Her style is classic – in fact, listening to her may inspire you to order a classic cocktail like a Martini or Manhattan.

Thursday Night Jazz @ The Reverie, Minneapolis. 9pm (Tip Jar) Peter Vircks is a fine saxophonist, whose improvisational skills add to any group, whether he’s playing for The Rhythmic Circus dance troupe or as a sideman. Tonight he’ll be joined by Brian Ziemniak, keys; Ron Evaniuk, bass; and Kevin Washington, drums.

Feathermucker @ Khyber Pass Cafe, Saint Paul. 9pm ($5) The weekly series at Khyber Pass always features adventurous music to go with its small plates and drinks. Tonight’s group will be performing The Dream Project, with music by Ted Moore  and text by Timothy Otte, featuring Alyssa Anderson, voice; Joe Spoelstra, guitars; and Ted Moore on electronics.

Friday, January 20

Adam Meckler & Cory Grossman @ Jazz Central, Minneapolis. ($10, $5 w/Student ID) Trumpeter Adam Meckler and Cellist Cory Grossman have shown how the sonically different instruments can work together in Lulu’s Playground and other groups. Tonight, they explore the possibilities of the instruments with an evening of duets.

Saturday, Jantuary 21

Bryan Nichols: The Art of Solo Piano @ Studio Z, Saint Paul. 6pm workshop ($10), 7pm concert ($15) Nichols is a pianist, composer, and educator often found playing jazz and improvised music, but at home in a variety of musical worlds. He leads and composes for his own trio, quintet, and nonet in addition to performing, recording, and touring with forward-thinking artists like Nicole Mitchell, Ron Miles, and Olga Bell, and groups like the Gang Font, Dead Man Winter, and Halloween, Alaska. Tonight, however, he’ll be playing solo, with songs from his release of last May, Looking North, as well as some other originals.


Saturday Night Jazz @ The Black Dog, Saint Paul. 7pm (Tip Jar) Things start off at 7pm with the JazzINK Youth Showcase, which features  the Simon Petrick Group, a quartet of young musicians ranging from HS seniors to college juniors: Petrick, drums; Adam Astrup, guitar; Sam Worthington, bass; Levi Schwartzberg, Vibes. Headlining at 8:30pm is Chris Bates’ Red 5, a group that doesn’t play out much, since all of its members are busy in other groups as well. With Chris Bates  bass; JT Bates, drums; Thomas Nordlund, guitar; Jake Baldwin, trumpet; Brandon Woznicak, tenor; JC Sanford, trombone.

Benny Weinbeck Trio @ Parma 8200, Bloomington. 7:30pm (No Cover) Benny Weinbeck  piano; Gordon Johnson, bass; and Phil Hey, drums, are consummate veterans who produce piano jazz of the highest order.

Sunday, January 22

Parisota Hot Club @ The Aster Cafe, Minneapolis. 8pm ($5) Guitarist Robb Henry started the Parisota Hot Club as a quartet back in 2002. Since then, he’s developed a collective of musicians that he can call upon, depending on the needs of the venue. Tonight he brings a trio, with a violin (likely Gary Schulte) and bass to the Aster.

Monday, January 23

Turtle Island String Quartet Plays A Love Supreme @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 7pm ($35, $45) 9pm ($25, $35) This classical chamber quartet  as won multiple Grammys for Best Classical Crossover Album. They are able to take the esthetic of classic chamber music and apply it to contemporary styles, breaking tradition, and finding new audiences. Tonight they tackle John Coltrane’s iconic music on meditation and spirituality: A Love Supreme. Here they are doing another song that’s often associated with Coltrane.

Brian Handeland @ Jazz Central, Minneapolis. 8:30pm ($10, $5 w/Student ID)  Brian Handeland doubles on sax and woodwinds. He’s attended UW-Eau Claire, and went to grad school at the well known University of North Texas. Between both schools, he played in a number of DownBeat award winning ensembles. He was part of a 7-month tour with Flashdance, the musical, and performs around town with a number of jazz, rock, and ska groups.

Tuesday, January 24

Sean Turner Trio @ Crooners’ Dunsmore Room, Fridley. 7pm (No Cover) The folks at Crooners are taking an unusual step to ensure that people have a chance to discover the music of pianist Sean Turner by having no cover charge for the quiet listening experience of the Dunsmore Room. Turner heads the Keyboard Department at McNally Smith and composes music for films and commercials. He studied with famed pianist JoAnn Brackeen, thanks to a Study Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and currently plays around town in various groups. Tonight, he heads a trio with the always reliable veterans Gary Raynor on bass; and Jay Epstein on drums.

For more listings, KBEM provides a calendar of jazz and roots music.   For further commentary on Twin Cities jazz, check out the blogs, Jazz Ink, and Bebopified

Blues, Roots, Other…

Wednesday, January 18

Munson & Beckmen Go To IBC on KFAI and @ The 331 Club, Minneapolis. 5pm (90.3 & 106.7FM), 7pm (331 Club – Tip Jar) Bluesman and slide guitarist Mike Munson teamed up with percussionist about town Mikkel Beckmen to win the contest to represent Minnesota in the solo/duo category at the International Blues Challenge. Now they have to raise money to get there, and this is one of a number of events toward that end. Tune in to Harold’s House party about 5pm and then head over to the 331 Club to hear and support this winning duo.

Thursday, January 19

Celebrating 20 Years of the Dakota Dave Hull Show @ The Hook & Ladder, Minneapolis. 6:30 – 11pm ($15 Suggested Donation) Dakota Dave Hull  has been doing his ultra rootsy show on KFAI for 20 years, and is handing in his headphones and going out in style by bringing along some friends to celebrate and raise funds for KFAI. Dale Connelly will host the event, which features special guests Lonnie Knight, Jack Klatt, Patty Harison, Adam Kiesling, Jay Peterson, Papa John Kolstad & Bill Smith and more! There’ll be a “meet and greet” at 6:30 and the music will get going about 7:30. Suggested donation of at least $15, though nobody will be turned away, with all proceeds going to KFAI Fresh Air Community Radio. Tune in to KFAI from 10am to Noon for the last show, and show up for an evening of great folk/Americana. Here’s Dave on A Prairie Home Companion.

Twilight Hours @ The Aster Cafe, Minneapolis. 8pm ($20) The Twilight Hours are the brainchild of John Munson, bass & vocals; and Matt Wilson, guitar, drums, & vocals, who played together in Trip Shakespeare some twenty odd years ago and have played together off and on since then. Twilight Hours is a rock band, but one they describe as “thoughtful, sometimes introspective, sometimes full of rejoicing.” Sounds a bit like folk-rock to me. I don’t know who else they’ve rounded up for this gig, but Steve Roehm, Munsons band-mate in The New Standards, has been known to take part in their musical proceedings.

Friday, January 20

Tribute Night @ The Eagles Club #34, Minneapolis. 8pm ($5) It’s another night of dancing at the Eagles Club with three bands doing three different types of music: The Saddle Sores, with Clay Williams on guitar, will be doing Country Duets; Hornucopia will be digging into the past to perform the songs of rock-era horn bands; and Looking Bacharach, a group described as “doing songs by Burt what’s-his-name.”

ACLU Benefit @ The Black Dog, Saint Paul. 6pm ($20, $10 Student/Hardship) Here’s a benefit for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is featuring a host of terrific players each doing a 20-30 minute set:  Dakota Dave Hull, The Beavers, Greg Herriges, Matt Sowell, Siama Matuzungidi, Leslie Rich, Charley Dush. 100% of the cover goes to ACLU.

Boom Boom Stevie V & The Knockouts @ Shaw’s, NE Minneapolis. 9pm (Tip Jar) Steve Vonderhaar is a knockout harpist with an appropriately named blues band. Back in 2012, he and guitarist Kit Kildahl represented Minnesota in the International Blues Challenge.

Nicolas David & Vic Volare @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 7pm, 9pm ($30, $40)  Before he began his storied run to become a finalist on The Voice in 2012, Nicolas David gained fans around town as Nick the Feelin’. Of course, he had already released five well-recieved albums and received national airplay for his alternative soul music before his appearance on the show. His dynamic vocals and insightful songwriting have only improved since then, and tonight, he’s teaming up with crooner and retro swingster Vic Volare for a unique evening of music.

Saturday, January 21

Peter and The Wolf @ MacPhail Center for Music, Minneapolis. 10AM, 11AM (Free) This is part of MacPhail’s Free Family Music Series, and is a chamber music version of “Peter and the Wolf,” the symphonic tale for children by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev. It’s a one-movement narrated story with each character being represented by a different instrument of the orchestra. This arrangement is based on the original one-piano arrangement made by the composer. Performers all come from MacPhail’s faculty, and include: Daniel Abdon, Narrator; Stella Anderson, Violin (Peter); Julie Johnson, Flute (The Bird); Carrie Vecchione, Oboe (The Duck); Greg Kajiwara, Clarinet (The Cat); Thea Groth, Bassoon (Grandpa); and Pinar Başgöze and Susana Pinto Piano Duo (The Wolf, Hunters

New Riverside Rambler Trio @ Como Dockside, Saint Paul. Noon- 2pm (No Cover)  Cajun music for brunch, performed by a trio from one of the busier Cajun bands in town.


Jeff Ray & the Stakes and Paul Mayasich’s RAMM Band @ The Hook & Ladder, Minneapolis. 8pm ($10 Advance, $12 Door) It’s an evening of roots and R&B at The Hook. Jeff Ray and the Stakes are driven by Ray’s slide guitar and vocals, and propelled forward by Mikkel Beckmen’s foot stomping and percussion; Nick Salisbury’s bass and home made foot-shaker contraption, and Harold Tremblay’s gritty harp playing. The RAMM band, led by guitar master Paul Mayasich, plays American Music, from Motown to R&B, rock n’ roll, and the blues. Here’s 3/4 of Jeff & the Stakes

Big George Jackson @ Schooner’s Tavern, Minneapolis. 9pm (Tip Jar) Big George Jackson has a voice that rumbles with the authority of an oncoming train. It’s well suited to the blues and boogie that he plays on harp, ably accompanied by Jeremy Johnson on guitar, and others.

Last Waltz Tribute @ The Cabooze, Minneapolis. 9pm ($12, $15) The Last Waltz is a Martin Scorsese movie documenting the last concert at The Band in 1976. Scores of top acts performed, from Dylan and Muddy Waters, to Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, The Staple Singers, and more. Over twenty of the area’s musicians are gathering to honor the film by presenting the songs featured in the film.

Sunday, January 22

Road to Memphis Fundraiser @ Minnesota Music Cafe, Saint Paul. 1pm ($10 Suggested Donation) It’s another fundraiser to help send Minnesota musicians to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Featuring The Mark Cameron Band, and Mike Munson & Mikkel Beckmen, this year’s Minnesota entries in the group and duo categories, along with Colin Campbell  the Shackletons, and past winners of the Road to Memphis in an all-star jam.

Hot Club of Cowtown @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 7pm ($25, $30) Here we have three excellent musicians from Texas who integrate the acoustic jazz of Django Rheinhardt with the Western Swing of Bob Wills. With talent galore, the trio bring joy and excitement to the music, and have gained worldwide fans through tours with Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan and tours to Europe, the UK, and State Department sponsored tours to places like Armena, Azerbijan, and the Sultanate of Oman.

For a more comprehensive listing of blues (and some roots) events, see the MN Blues Society calendar. For a comprehensive listing of Cajun and Zydeco events, see the Krewe de Walleye calendar.


Happy New Year. Music: 1.1 – 1.7

January 1, 2014

UnknownAnother day, another year. We have some fun things to look forward to as we start a new year. Maybe we can even carry out a resolution or two. An easy one would be to get out and see more music, supporting the musicians and venues that add so much to the vitality of our area. Remember that music lifts your spirits. Have a healthy, happy, and prosperous new year.


Wednesday, January 1

UnknownDebbie Duncan @ Hell’s Kitchen, Minneapolis. 6pm – 9pm (No Cover) If you’re one of those folks who didn’t stay out late to celebrate the New Year, you can welcome it in style with the inimitable Ms Duncan. No one is quite like Debbie. She can sing a lovely ballad, scat a jazz standard, and sass up a risque blues. Be sure to ask for a table close to the stage, as it can get noisy at the Kitchen.

Friday, January 3

Fuzzy Math @ The Red Stag, Minneapolis. 10:30pm (No Cover) Imaginative contemporary jazz. Leader/composer Mark Vanderhyden shows a bit of Latin and world music influences in his compositions, swinging things quite nicely.

Saturday, January 4

Joel Shapira Trio @ Loring Pasta Bar, Minneapolis. 6pm (No Cover) The quiet, unassuming guitar player can show off classical chops when the occasion calls for it, but it’s with acoustic jazz that he’s make his mark in town. This is another place where you’ll want to be close to the stage.

John Devine @ The Red Stag, Minneapolis. 10:30pm (No Cover) Saxophonist Devine has been active in the Twin Cities since the early 80s. Along with cellist Michelle Kinny, he formed Imp Ork in 1986. A large ensemble with anywhere from 10 to 30 members, they worked with guest artists like Butch Morris, Julius Hemphill, and Don Cherry. Devine has won awards, fellowships, and commissions from foundations, and has played with R&B bands and classical ensembles, but it’s as a jazz player that he shines. He’s well known for his twice weekly solo gigs at the Loring Pasta Bar, but you can never tell who will show up to play with Devine.

Sunday, January 5

UnknownLarry Coryell Power Trio @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 7pm ($30), 9pm ($22) Coryell’s resume includes founding the jazz fusion group 11th House as well as working with Gary Burton and Jack Bruce and sessions with Charles Mingus, Gary Burton, Billy Cobham, Chick Corea, and John McLaughlin. Tonight, he brings his considerable chops to town with the help of Paul Wertico on drums and Larry Gray on bass.

Monday, Tuesday January 6,7

Roberta Gambarini @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 7pm ($35) Italian born, Ms Gambarini has been thrilling audiences with her singing since arriving in New York in 1998. She was befriended by artists like James Moody and Hank Jones, who called her the best singer to come along in 60 years. Gambarini has a supple voice, which she uses to scat with ease and swing like crazy. I didn an interview with her when she was last here almost three years ago. You can read it here. Here she is scattin’ away with the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band and Roy Hargrove.

Monday, January 6

Dave Karr, Courageous Endeavors @ The Icehouse, Minneapolis. 9:30pm ($8) On Monday nights, the exuberant Icehouse quiets down somewhat, as (mostly youngish) jazz fans gather to hear the acts curated by drummer JT Bates. The first Monday of the month always features elder saxman Dave Karr, though you wouldn’t guess his age from the vitality of his playing or the beauty of his tone. Tonight he’s playing with JT and bassman Adam Linz. They’ll be followed by Brian Courage, who has become an in-demand bassist since arriving in town, and his group of young players, including Miguel Hurtado, drums; Joe Strachan, piano; and Nelson Devereaux on sax. It’s a late night hang, but definitely worth it.

Tuesday, January 7

Bill Simonsen Big Band @ Jazz Central, Minneapolis. 8:30pm (Donation) Trumpeter Simonsen has had a long career playing in all kinds of bands, backing visiting artists, composing, and collaborating with artists from around the world.  He’ll be bringing 17 musicians to the underground confines of Jazz Central to play his music and his arrangements. It’s exciting stuff.

For a comprehensive listing of Jazz, go to the Twin Cities Live Jazz Calendar. For further commentary on Twin Cities jazz, check out the blogs Jazz PoliceBebopified, and Jazz Ink.

Blues, Roots, Other…

Wednesday, January 1

Eddies on KFAI and @ the 331 Club, Minneapolis. 5pm (KFAI), 7pm (331 – Tip Jar) The wags of the Eddies are calling it the “hair of the dog” show, which is appropriate. If you didn’t get enough frivolity last night, or perhaps want to recover from too much frivolity, then the almost-acapella quintet might be just what you need. Tune in to Harold’s House party at 90.3 or 106.7FM during the five o’clock hour to get a taste, then head to the 331 Club for a full serving of sea chanties, old folk songs, and occasional offerings of almost ancient rock n’ roll.

Curtiss A does Hank Williams @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 7pm ($10) Today marks 60 years since Hank Williams died in a car accident on the way to a gig. Curtiss A first did a Hank Williams tribute back in May. It was so well received he’s reprising it to commemorate the anniversary, bringing in a number of musician friends that he’s accumulated over thirty-odd year career in Twin Cities rock n’ roll.

Thursday, January 2

The Droppers @ The Icehouse, Minnapolis. 9pm ($5) R&B instrumentals (both originals and covers of Booker T, the Meters, etc.) from Chris Beaty, guitar; Tommy Barbarella, keys; Jim Anton, bass; and noah Levy on drums.

Mr. Rowles @ The Eagles Club #34, Minneapolis. 7:30pm ($5?) Swamp poppy, N’orleansy, cajunny music that will have you wishing you’re wearing dancing shoes instead of winter galoshes.

Friday, January 3

Hotpants East @ The Amsterdam, Saint Paul. 9pm (No Cover) It’s the East Metro version of the rare soul & funk 45 rpm dance party, held in the front bar of the Amsterdam, with fewer people, but the same joyous vibe.

imagesBarton’s Hallow @ The Aster Cafe, Minneapolis. 9pm ($10) A young six-piece bluegrass, gospel, and acoustic music group. Though young is the operative word here (16 – 20 years old), they won the talent show at the 2011 MBOTMA music festival. Reservations are recommended, as the intimate room can fill up fast.

Stoked beyond Boredom w/The 99ers and The 221s @ The Hat Trick, Saint Paul. 9pm (No Cover) A night of pop punk, power rockabilly, surf and more in the “Iron Range bar” in the heart of downtown Saint Paul. Listen to Godzilla’s a Punk, by the 99ers, which gives you an insight into their humor.

Friday, Saturday, January 3,4

Nachito Herrera Orchestra @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 8pm ($25) This is not your usual Nachito gig, as he’ll reportedly be bringing anywhere from ten to thirty musicians to the Dakota stage over the course of the evening. He’s been touring with the National Symphony of Cuba, and will be playing some classical pieces as well as the Cuban and Latin Jazz that’s made him such a favorite both here and throughout the country. Here’s a clip of Nachito with the symphony performing Rhapsody in Blue.

Saturday, January 4

Courtney Yasmineh @ the 318 Cafe, Wayzata. 8pm ($8) The talented, comely, and rockin’ Ms Yasmineh will be performing an evening of acoustic music featuring violin, mandolin, stripped-down percussion and Courtney herself on acoustic guitar.

Soul Tight Committee @ Bunker’s, Minneapolis. 9:30pm ($7) Old school R&B, Soul, n’ Funk, delivered by an eleven-piece band. Guaranteed to provide the kind of rhythms that will have you dancing, whether you’re in your chair or on the dance floor.

Sunday, January 5

Cactus Blossoms Brunch @ The Icehouse, Minneapolis. 11AM – 1pm (No Cover) Brotherly harmonies doing classic country tunes and originals that fit right along side them. This gig is just the two of them. Here they are performing a fan favorite.

For a more comprehensive listing of blues (and some roots) events, see the Minnesota Blues Society calendar. For a comprehensive listing of Cajun and Zydeco events, see the Krewe de Walleye calendar.

Vocalist Roberta Gambarini

February 7, 2011

Never Compromise


The late pianist Hank Jones, who was revered by many vocalists, called Roberta Gambarini “the best new jazz singer to come along in fifty years.” Many who have heard Ms Gambarini concur.  She easily navigates a multi-octave range, shows considerable skill and imagination in scatting, and has a great sense of swing.  She was born in Italy, and came to the United States in 1998,with a scholarship to the New England Conservatory. Once here, Gambarini immediately entered the Thelonious Monk competition and came in third that year. Since then, her career has steadily grown, with a grammy nomination for her 2006 American debut, Easy to Love, as well as a second Grammy nomination for her most recent album, So in Love, from 2009.

Gambarini recently performed at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant in Minneapolis, where she continually surprised the audience. She started with an accapella version of “Stardust,” then did a dozen or so standards, including “Estate,” in its original Italian. She would often sing the verse of a song (accompanied by pianist Eric Gunison), and sometimes would sing with just the drummer (Willie Jones III) or bass player (Neil Swainson). She scatted the solos of Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, and Sonny Stitt on “The Sunny Side of the Street,” from the album Sonny Side Up, played the mouth trombone on one number, caressed ballads, invigorated fast numbers, and used her supple voice to leap octaves without breaking a sweat. I interviewed Ms Gambarini in the lobby of her hotel on the day after her first performance at the Dakota.

LE: To start, I understand that your parents had a large record collection and liked jazz. Is that how you got into jazz?

RG: Yes

LE: You chose to become a vocalist, though you started out playing clarinet as a young girl. What made you decide to become a vocalist?

RG: I was already singing, always singing. Since I was very little. I took music lessons when I was about 12. I really wanted to play the saxophone, the tenor saxophone, because it was my father’s instrument, because he had it around the house and would play and practice. But he thought it wasn’t an appropriate instrument suited for a little girl, so he said, “You can study, but you’ll have to study clarinet.”

LE: At what point did you say jazz singing is something I want to do as a career?

RG: I was about seventeen. I started to have my first opportunities to sing around jazz clubs.

LE: This was in Torino, where you lived?

RG: It was in Torino and my first opportunities were all over Northern Italy.

LE: Would your parents take you to these places?

RG: Yeah, yeah. Well, my parents would take me to these places for a long time when I was little, to hear jazz music. They were also on the board of volunteers for one of the jazz clubs.

LE: So you were surrounded by jazz.

RG: Oh yeah.

LE: You mentioned that you started singing very early on. What singers caught your ear?

RG: The first one was Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald, of course. I’m talking about a very, very young age, like two, or even earlier.

LE: Then when did you start studying voice?

RG: Oh, studying voice. I used to sing naturally, and started to study around eighteen or nineteen years old, studying the vocal instrument.

LE: You have such command of your instrument. Was there any lesson that was particularly hard for you to learn about using your voice?

RG: Well, for me, and I don’t know how standard is this type of path, but I used to sing naturally when I was little, and used to enjoy going up and down, and had no problems. And then the first teacher I had was at the Conservatorium of Genoa. At the time, the teaching was pretty rigid and it was considered academically correct, and jazz was like a, I’m not sure how to say it, a game, or something on the side. You have to learn the important things first. Important in quotes. But that was a type of academic study. It’s not even the way you really study opera. But this teacher was applying that academic method. It became disruptive and I started losing my freedom, and it became a constriction, where I was losing that facility I had. And it took many years to go back to that state, and so, in trying to go back to that state of natural freedom I then worked in completely different ways to with my voice

LE: Was that after you had come to the United States?

RG: No, no, no, it was way before that.

LE: When you came to the United States you managed to meet some significant people who gave you ideas on your repertoire and things like that.

RG: Soon as I got to the States, I entered in this Thelonious Monk competition. I had been in the States maybe two weeks. At the competition I met several great musicians and great people. The first one was Jimmy Heath, who also became one of the people that I’m so fortunate to have worked with. So I started right away meeting people that were so wonderful to give me a lot of suggestions and tips. How to improve musically, and almost right away I started working in New York. It was 1998, and my gig in New York was with Jimmy Heath, and right after that I got to work a lot with Billy Higgins at the Jazz Standard which was then a new club but is now one of the main clubs in New York. I worked with Curtis Fuller, Ronnie Matthews, James Spalding, I remember Harold Land.

LE: A number of folks from what I’d call the classic era of the 50s and 60s who were still around at the time. Talking about your repertoire, at last nights show, you did two dozen songs seemingly without a set list. How many songs do you have in your repertoire?

RG: We have a lot of songs. With the band, and this rhythm section, Neil Swainson and Willie Jones, we’ve played together all over the world.

LE: How do you choose your repertoire? What do you look for in a song?

RG: It’s got to have a good story, and of course, a good lyric. The way the melody, the lyric and the harmony interact to make a great song.

LE: After coming here in ’98, and entering the Monk competition and meeting all these musicians, was there any particular lesson that you learned, say from James Moody, Hank Jones…

RG: Benny Carter

LE: Benny Carter. Have there been any lessons that have stuck with you?

RG: Absolutely. Benny Carter was one of my idols and he befriended me, honored me with his friendship. He was a great encounter for me, and so was Hank Jones, and so was James Moody, who recently left us. Moody was like my second father, not only a great musician but a great, great human being, as were all of the musicians I mentioned. Moody was really special to me. Well, each one them, in fact all of them, I’ll try to synthesize.

Moody, for example, would tell me anecdotes about his time with Dizzy Gillespie, who was also a natural teacher, as was moody. He told me that when he was young, back in the 50s, it wasn’t that he was self-taught, but he didn’t have a regular academic path because of his life vicissitudes. He was born in Savannah and moved to New York. He’d say to Dizzy “Oh Man, I wish I had more of the theoretical preparation behind me so I could better understand things, I should have studied earlier, and got more academic training.” And Dizzy’s answer was, “Moody, you ain’t dead yet.”

Moody would always tell me that, because I’m self-taught too, in a way. Sometimes I would express some doubts, and he would tell me this episode. Moody was always concentrating on playing better than he was, if that was possible, since he was at the top, but… he was always striving and struggling to play better and know more and learn more from everybody. From young people for example, and that’s a great lesson. He’d go around and listen to some youngster play something that he would find interesting, and that he would incorporate in his own work. He wouldn’t hesitate to ask a young player “Can you hip me to what you just did?” Most of the time the younger player would say, “Moody, I got that from you!”

Hank Jones – the great lesson about Hank Jones was the way he operated and worked. The essential thing is to take a song and peel off layer after layer of unnecessary things. He would say, “Peel off all those things that are not necessary to express the emotional core of the song. “ That’s a very important thing, because we always do too much, even unconsciously. But he would say, “Do this conscious surgical work, until it becomes the emotional core, which is the reason why you want to do this song.”

Benny Carter taught me so many things about repertoire and also how to move about in the business, which is very difficult. How to be true to your self, and never compromise, try to never compromise. Which was true about him, because he is a synonym, another word for excellence. He would say to always associate yourself and keep yourself on a level as high as possible, and to never compromise for the sake of, I don’t know, success or money.

LE: Those are good lessons. Whenever I talk with older musicians or read about older musicians, they’re often saying they’re still trying to learn new things every day, and that’s what keeps them going. I think that’s what keeps them young.

RG: Right, that’s true. Certainly all of them said that, Jimmy Heath, Frank Wess,

LE: You do a wonderful job of scatting, and I have to admit I’ve not heard many singers scat on slower songs. Did you teach yourself how to scat?

RG: Yes, but I taught myself how to scat by letting the records teach me. Then, Moody was a great help in that, because Moody was one of those who wrote the book about scatting, so just standing next to him was great. Listening to instrumentalists, listening to records

LE: From a distance, at least, it seems you have led somewhat of a charmed life, even before you got to New York, in terms of your ability to absorb different kinds of music and to meet all of these wonderful musicians, and becoming a wonderful musician yourself. What kinds of things have slowed you down, or worried you, and so Moody said, “You’re not dead yet.”

RG: Well, everything, because in spite of what it might look like, it wasn’t a charmed life. As a matter of fact it was a very difficult condition… (pauses) I don’t talk too often about these things, but maybe now’s the time, because it’s not a fairy tale. The years in Italy, the years of my apprenticeship, so to speak, were done in Italy, and the situation is very difficult. It used to be difficult, it’s even more difficult now.

In Italy, there is a system… At the time there was no jazz education in place… There is a system, as we can see in the recent political developments, and I won’t comment on that, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (Ed Note: there is a scandal involving Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi). There’s a system in place that does not reward merit. It’s an anti-meritocracy. It’s a system that pushes people down, to thinking that they will never, ever succeed. I was told that when I was nineteen. I was told by a music journalist, “You’re very talented, but not even if you would be as good as Sarah Vaughn, you won’t go anywhere here.” This is because the system that places personal relationships over talent and hard work. We saw that exactly… (pauses)

It’s a hard thing to talk about, especially to Americans because everything is based on meritocracy and there’s so much respect for talent here, it’s hard to believe. Now that you see current events, you see that in every level of political and artistic life it’s a matter of exchange of favors. Merit, talent, or being able to make money or stir up things, has no influence. So in that situation it’s very easy to get discouraged or be depressed. I was strong enough to always stay on my path, but it was very difficult.

When I came here I didn’t have the background that kids have here, where everything is positive and you’re given props and respect. I had that from my parents, which is the greatest thing. Without them I wouldn’t be doing this, but nothing from the outside world, and that slows you down in the end. A lot. A lot. It makes you more vulnerable. I think that maybe some of these greats, who had a certain age saw something in me or perceived that there was a certain type of struggle, and they wanted to help. It’s mostly mental.

LE: No wonder you jumped at a chance to come to the United States.

Gambarini when she isn't singing

RG: Absolutely. In a way, I wish I could have done it before, but it was not possible, financially and everything, but I’m glad I did it anyway.

LE: We all are happy you came here.

RG: This is the greatest country in the world. I’m telling you.

LE: You’re continuing to grow, continuing to gain respect. You’ve had a couple of Grammy nominations already. You’ve released three albums in the U.S. and have had two nominations. You’re doing really well. What is it you hope to do now, as you move forward.

RG: I want to do more writing, arranging, and conducting. I know they seem like big things. Back in Italy I studied composition, classical composition, and I always loved arranging. I would like to get the opportunity to play with a larger ensemble, and do some writing. That, and I’d like also to work on the next recording with a big orchestral ensemble, and with a great arranger.

LE: In each of your sets last night you did an Italian song. It was a little hard for me to tell, but it seemed you didn’t do too much embellishment of the melody.

RG: There are many many great songs, and I hope I can introduce them, little by little, to American audiences.

LE: You have a website?

RG: I do have a Myspace page and I’m active on Facebook. I’m going to be setting up a new website pretty soon. But for now it’s Myspace.

LE: Is that where people can find out about your tour schedule?

RG: Yes.

LE: And on this particular tour are you heading back to the snow of New York?

RG: I’m heading back to the snow for about a week, and then going to Europe to work with a larger ensemble, the Metropole Orchestra, and I’m really looking forward to that. Then I’ll go to Spain and then to Indonesia. Then back to Europe and back to the US.

LE: Well, thank you so much for your time.

RG: Thank you so very much.

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