Jazz and Italian cinema

The spread of Italian cinema to audiences around the world owes much to the close relationship between image and music. An aspect that is particularly evident from the 1960s onward, however much it finds its expressive peak in the 1970s and 1980s, when the soundtrack unties itself from the mere role of didactic commentary to become an indispensable part of the film’s logical-narrative thread.

The musical theme takes on a decisive role in influencing the viewer on a subconscious level in this context. As early as the first two decades of the last century, composers Igor Stravinsky(The Firebird, The Rite of Spring), Claude Debussy(Jeux, <<Poème Dansé>>), and Béla Bartòk(The Wonderful Mandarin) used the ballet form to present avant-garde musical ideas to the public.

The viewer’s attention is in an illusory way drawn to the stage construction while in an unconscious way listening and assimilating new and alternative sound parameters. In fact, the music becomes an additional and integrative element to what takes place on stage and, at the same time, a narrative voice in its own right so much so that it does not lose its value even when separated from the choreographic construction.

Composer and conductor Ennio Morricone, for example, achieves the same result through the soundtrack form in the cinematic sphere by promoting twelve-tone, serial, absolute and concrete music forms.

Since the 1960s, illustrious masters have used instrumentalists in several cases active in the Italian jazz scene to create themes for film.

The marriage of cinema and jazz was taking shape in those years as a result of specific factors: several composers and conductors called upon to compose musical commentaries for films, such as Giorgio Gaslini, Piero Umiliani, Piero Piccioni, and Armando Trovajoli, had jazz backgrounds. While these require the presence in orchestral ensembles of musicians with solid technical-instrumental training, the jazzman finds himself in the situation of landing in the film industry to earn a living, given the scarcity of engagements in the restricted circuit of concerts in the various clubs or festivals scattered in a handful of Italian cities.

Working in the capacity of session man in the studio recording of soundtracks, with masters such as Ennio Morricone, allows jazz musicians to become more aware of their expressive gifts, put at the service of a new cinematic aesthetic, and to reflexively broaden their background in the field of applied music.

Not only that, musicians from the jazz scene, in which there is a certain inhibited propensity for the creative and expressive freedom inherent in solo and collective improvisation, derive from the experience in film studios a composure given by more rigorous recording times and greater attention to the music noted and the timbral and expressive dynamics.

Translated later into the language of jazz, the notions learned in the field of film became for several of them a vehicle for a diversified approach to song composition and performance.

Musical themes were made for different types of film genres: the “modern cinema” strand of directors such as Michelangelo Antonioni, of social and civil commitment, big productions, crime, spaghetti-western and Italian-style sexy comedy.

The discovery and utilization since the 1990s of the musical themes of Italian cinema by Italian and international Italian provides us with another clear indication: the cross-sectional contribution made by instrumentalists and composers, let us reiterate often linked to the jazz area, to the birth and dissemination to the public of musical genres and subgenres that have had a significant weight in Italian social and customary change.

Paolo Marra

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