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Thread: adventures in Italian music

  1. #1

    Default adventures in Italian music

    My introduction to Italian music was through recordings that were collected by a friend of mine. He would periodically send my transfers of 78s that he had found, and I would typically cringe a little and then go back to the country blues and old-time music I was already comfortable with.

    Then, one day... he sent me transfers of recordings by two Sicilian singers - one by Paolo Citarella and another by Paolo Dones. From that point, I was basically doomed... I went back to the transfers he'd been sending me and discovered a whole parallel universe of music to explore. I started collecting Italian 78s, and learning to play and sing the music. All basically a kind of of folly, but I figured it's a better mid-life-crisis coping mechanism than buying a sports car (meh) or trying to hit on my daughter's friends (eeew eeeww EEW!).

    The first time I ever went out to hunt for records, I came across a copy of Aida / Calabrisella Mia. Not in great shape, but I was happy to have the record because I knew the tunes from the Rounder "Italian String Virtuosi" CD. It's a good record with solid, straightforward playing, and the record must have sold pretty well (relatively speaking), considering how frequently it seems to turn up.

    One thing you come to learn about the record only after holding a copy is that the recording was done under the direction of Ben J. D'Avella for "Una Serata A Napoli." That, it turns out, was the name of an Italian language radio show, run by D'Avella, from the 30s maybe until as late as the early 80s, moving from station to station in the NYC area, as times and tastes changed. A friend thinks the record probably sold well because of the relationship with the radio show. It's kind of odd that we still can't say who was playing which instrument in the duo on the record. Manello is given a composer credit on another tune (La Golondrina, from 1931), but does that mean he played mandolin or guitar? No idea. There is a tune by this title in Sheri's collection, but it's a waltz (composer credit to Narciso Serradell, arr. Don Flamingo), and the tune attributed to Manello is listed as a polka.

    In retrospect, after having collected for a few years, it seems like the real heyday of Italian instrumental music was past by the time this record was made in 1932, and that the presentation is kind of deliberately nostalgic. Granted, Vicari, Gioviale and Fazio are very accomplished, virtuoso players, but it's interesting that their recordings seem to taper off after 1929 and by the 30s, tastes have turned to singers with lush orchestral accompaniment. The exception becomes the occasional "folk" piece, accompanied by a single guitar or a combination of guitar and mandolin, and these recordings are basically nostalgic set-pieces, quite different in spirit to the fiery and adventurous performances recorded in the 20s. Vicari continued to record with larger groups in the 40s and into the 50s, but no longer on big labels - these recordings are found on niche labels like "Harmonia," that seem to target specific ethnic markets (e.g.: Italian, Polish, etc.)

    All that being said, I do have fun trying to play and sing this music, which is rewarding and challenging. Here are Aida and Calabrisella Mia. I decided to push the "nostalgic" feeling of the record into the instruments used, too. On Aida, I used a couple of modest instruments from teens, both probably built by Italian immigrants: an unlabelled ladder-braced parlor guitar and a canted-top, bowl back mandolin with a Ciani label:

    Something about polkas tends to make me think "banjo!" I admit that this may be a character flaw and personal failing. In any case, a Gibson GB-4 has been visiting with me, so that got pressed into service along with a banjo mandolin that was probably built by Gaetano Puntolillo (but also has attributes that are reminiscent of Rettberg & Lange):

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  3. #2
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Dec 2005
    Ann Arbor/Austin

    Default Re: adventures in Italian music

    Fun stuff, Paco. Thank you for sharing.

    I enjoy the split screen accompaniment.

    Both tunes I love and enjoy playing, particularly Aida. Your guitar really grounds it.

    I've got a Manjolin but it drives me a little crazy as do fast version of Calabrisella on it.

    Yours is a bit slower and mellower tone, a little space within the torrent of notes.

    Your music made me happy.

    Ever tried, ever failed? No matter. Try again, fail again. Fail better.--Samuel Beckett

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  5. #3

    Default Re: adventures in Italian music

    Thanks, Mick. I gotta take it at the pace I can... I'm an accompanist at heart, and pretty unused to being in charge of the melody instrument. I find that it takes exactly the right level of attention - too little and I lose it, too much... I lose it. The banjo-mandolin is an odd hybrid in any case. I've always thought of it as a musical hand grenade: they're best for clearing out a space!

  6. #4
    Pataphysician Joe Bartl's Avatar
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    Mar 2014
    Adamstown, MD

    Default Re: adventures in Italian music

    Really enjoyed your write up and the musical sunshine! Couldn't help but notice your inspiration on the shelf, poor Yorichino!

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    Registered User Jairo Ramos Parra's Avatar
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    Jul 2013
    Cali - Colombia

    Default Re: adventures in Italian music

    Beautiful, performed with good technique and taste, it sounds great! Thanks
    Music washes away from the soul the dust of every-day life. Auerbach.
    El sexo reduce el estrés, el amor lo aumenta.

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  10. #6

    Default Re: adventures in Italian music

    Thanks, Joe and Jairo. I'm not sure I can see myself as someone with good technique, but I suppose we're all somewhere on the 'good technique' bell curve.

    Quote Originally Posted by Joe Bartl View Post
    poor Yorichino!
    That's Zio Carmine. A little reminder to me to do what I can, while I can... the trip being basically one-way.

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