Hot Italian singer Roberta Gambarini plays Carmel this Thursday.
Thursday, September 19, 2002
Photo: New American--Roberta Gambarini''s career has taken off since she moved to New York.
It''s a truism that American jazz musicians receive far more respect (and money) in Europe than on their home turf. But there''s an often overlooked corollary: European musicians who gain recognition in the US also seem to prosper more than their colleagues who remain based on the continent.
That''s certainly been the case for Roberta Gambarini. A tremendously talented jazz singer who grew up in Torino, Italy, she spent almost 15 years performing on the European circuit before resettling in the US in 1998. She soon found herself keeping musical company with some of jazz''s most revered figures, including tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath, pianists Hank Jones and John Hicks, bassist Ron Carter and drummers Billy Higgins and Ben Riley. Her stateside success has echoed across the Atlantic, and in the past few years she has performed in many of Europe''s most prestigious festivals.
"I get more work in Europe now that I live in the US--way more," Gambarini, 33, said in a telephone interview from her midtown Manhattan apartment. "It''s kind of ironic, but nobody''s a prophet in their own country, isn''t that the saying? I think it''s the same for Americans playing in Europe."
Gambarini performs at the Jazz and Blues Company on Thursday with veteran pianist Eric Gunnison (best known as Carmen McRae''s longtime accompanist), bassist Jimmy Woode and drummer Willie Jones III, one of the busiest drummers in New York. She''s already won a loyal contingent of fans in the area with her tour de force performance at last year''s Monterey Jazz Festival, highlighted by a stunning version of Rodgers and Hart''s "It Never Entered My Mind."
With her lithe, crystal clear soprano and dazzling scat singing, Gambarini knows how to make a vivid impression. In a conversation several months ago, jazz legend Dee Dee Bridgewater mentioned Gambarini as one of the best young singers she had heard. "The girl has a voice," Bridgewater said. "She can do just about anything."
The initial impetus behind Gambarini''s move to the US was a scholarship to attend an artist-in-residency program offered by the New England Conservatory in Boston. But her third-place finish at the 1998 Thelonious Monk Jazz Vocal Competition opened doors for her in New York. (She was edged out by Teri Thornton, a sentimental favorite for her triumph over substance abuse and cancer, and Jane Monheit, who has parlayed her second-place finish into a thriving career.) Since settling in Manhattan in 1999, Gambarini has worked with many of the musicians that she idolized as a young singer.
"I really feel that moving to America was important," says Gambarini, a self taught singer. "I had a chance to really talk with a lot of these great masters and it''s been so inspiring for me. They''re much more accessible here. If you really want to touch the tradition and learn from it, you''ve got to spend time around the masters."
One reason that Gambarini is so fluent in the jazz idiom is that it was her first musical language. Her father was an amateur tenor saxophonist who often took her to gigs--most memorably a concert by the Duke Ellington Orchestra shortly before the Maestro''s death in 1974. She was weaned on Ella Fitzgerald, and absorbed the sounds of all the great vocalists, from Louis Armstrong and Joe Williams to Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae.
"I also love to hear instrumentalists sing, like Clark Terry, even Dizzy Gillespie," Gambarini said. "But the musician who''s the biggest love of my life is Duke Ellington, both as a pianist and a composer. That remains my favorite music of all."
In recent months Gambarini has continued to forge new relationships with jazz luminaries, performing several dates with Directions in Music--the Miles Davis and John Coltrane tribute band formed by Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker and Roy Hargrove. Even as she immerses herself in the US scene, she maintains strong ties to Europe.
"There are a lot of good musicians in Europe," Gambarini said. "It doesn''t matter where you are or where you come from. What matters is what''s in your heart and that you try to find your destiny."
Gambarini seems to have found hers on the bandstand, where she is rapidly developing into one of jazz''s most exciting young singers.
Roberta Gambarini plays at the Jazz and Blues Company on Thursday, September 19, at 7:30pm. Call 624-6432.