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The Pucciarelli Group
Italian Uplift

by Howard Lawes




Giuseppe Pucciarelli

Giuseppe Pucciarelli


On Bethnal Green Road in London stands a highly regarded cafe called E Pellici, founded in 1900 and run by the same Italian family ever since.  A 2016 film, Influx, directed by Luca Vallo, an Italian living in London, documents how the flow of Italians to London continues to this day and despite the Brexit vote the city seems to be as popular as ever, referred to by one of the interviewees in Vallo's film as "the dream Nick La Roccafactory" (click here for the trailer for the film). Apart from language, food and cinema, Italians have also brought their music and although opera is perhaps the most famous genre, many Italian jazz musicians, attracted by the vibrant scene,  have also made a home in London.


Italians who travelled to America early last century soon became involved in jazz - Italian TV personality, musician and past director of the Umbria Jazz Festival, Renzo Arbore, produced a documentary film with the director Riccardo Di Blasi, entitled Da Palermo a New Orleans (From Palermo to New Orleans). The film is dedicated to Nick La Rocca, the son of a Sicilian immigrant to New Orleans who was the composer of Tiger Rag and leader of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band - the band that recorded Livery Stable Blues in 1917, and which has been considered to be the first ever jazz record. La Rocca is only one among many Italian names associated with the early history of jazz in America, others include clarinettist Leon Roppolo; singer and trumpeter Louis Prima and, of course, violinist Joe Venuti.


Nick La Rocca





Here is an extract from Da Palermo a New Orleans




It was a few more years before Italian jazz bands such as  Arturo Agazzi and his Syncopated Orchestra and Pippo Barzizza and his Blue Star Orchestra established themselves in Italy, but as elsewhere in Europe, dance and swing bands proved very popular. Cetra Records (the name stands for "Compagnia per edizioni, teatro, registrazioni ed affini") was an Italian record company established in Turin and in 1936 Pippo Barzizza (known as the 'King of Jazz') was appointed conductor of the CETRA Orchestra.  The CETRA Orchestra continued to perform on radio throughout and after World War 2 but in 1954 Pippo Barzizza became perhaps one of the first Italian jazz musicians to move to London. Sadly the whole archive of sheet music and recordings of Barzizza's music from before and during the war were destroyed during bombing raids, but Italian jazz has continued to grow with great musicians and wonderful festivals.


Giuseppe Pucciarelli came to London from Italy around the time of the London 2012 Olympic Games, he had studied guitar at home but not at college level and was looking forward to being part of the rock music scene. Talking to him via Zoom he described how the jazz scene in Giuseppe PuciarelliItaly has similarities with that in the UK; there are a lot of very good musicians but it is the capital city that provides the most opportunities to hear, play and study jazz, whereas outside of Roma, jazz musicians tend to meet in each other's houses rather than in clubs. One of the best things about jazz in Italy is the proliferation of festivals, with Umbria perhaps the most famous, "blossoming like summer flowers" says Giuseppe. It was when he arrived in London that he realised that a career in jazz was a possibility; whereas in Italy music is very much seen as a part-time occupation. Enrolling at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama he achieved a Masters degree in jazz guitar.  He had learned to play Italian folk music on guitar with the encouragement of his father but it was Pat Metheny who most inspired him.  At Guildhall Giuseppe Pucciarelli spent a lot of time with the jazz guitarist and founding member of Loose Tubes, John Parricelli, other tutors included Malcolm Edmonstone, Stuart Hall and Mike Outram and he was able to study the music of jazz heroes such as Bill Frisell, John Schofield, Michael Brecker, Keith Jarrett and Kenny Wheeler as well as Pat Metheny.  Having left Guildhall he now spends much of his time in London teaching but returns to Italy most weeks.  

All composers, to a greater or lesser extent, sometimes subconsciously, will be influenced by the music that they have heard and played during their lifetimes. For Giuseppe Pucciarelli this includes the songs and melodies of Italian folk and popular music that he played with his father, the rock songs of teenage years and the inspirational jazz of Pat Metheny, Kenny Wheeler and others.  The album, UPLIFT, by the Pucciarelli Group, on Ubuntu Music, is Giuseppe Pucciarelli's fourth recording and follows Shall We Say It Is Worth It (2017), Feel Free to Feel Free (2019) and Tunes We Like (2020).  He says about the album: "Although I like the complex harmonies, chord progressions and rhythm used in jazz music, I like writing and playing melodies that can be memorable and singable". Years ago Pippo Barzizza said: "for me there's no pop music or serious music, for me there's only good music!" and today Giuseppe Pucciarelli echoes those views "For me, music goes beyond classifications and names, it is just music".  The all Italian Pucciarelli Group have Guiseppe Pucciarelli on guitar, Ergio Valente on piano and synth, Aldo Capasso on double and electric bass and Marco Gagliano on drums.  The name for the album was prompted by someone who described Pucciarelli's music as 'uplifting'.


A video of the title track.






The Pucciarelli Group Uplif album



The album has seven tracks, the first being the title track which sets the tone with a rather wistful melody played on guitar but which progresses into a much happier space as piano and guitar enjoy a lively and uplifting conversation. The next track, Kenny's Time, pays homage to the great composer and trumpeter, Kenny Wheeler, whose 1983 album, Double, Double You included the track Mark Time. The Pucciarelli Group do a great job with a vibrant, energetic and yet lyrical piece that certainly does justice to the original including rhythm changes.  Next comes a track inspired by the ancient yet normally vibrant Italian city of Bologna where Giuseppe Pucciarelli spent time during the lockdown caused by the covid pandemic, once again melody is to the fore but there is an equal helping of spirited improvisation from both guitar and piano, sometimes separately, sometimes together.  What I've Seen is a thoughtful, musical picture of some of the elements in the life of a young man, his upbringing, his travels and the people he loves, it is a lovely tune to dance to.  The next two tracks have bass player and long term colleague Aldo Capasso as the common theme, either highlighting the double bass which he plays or Aldo himself, although What I've Seen is the only track with a bass solo. The last track, Did You Know? concludes with trading fours highlighting drummer Marco Gagliano.




Listen to What I've Seen.




Music from the album was performed at the very intimate venue, Morocco Bound, a bookshop in Bermondsey, London on 24th March. On this occasion, Giuseppe Pucciarelli was joined by Sam Leak on piano, Andrea di Biase on double bass and Jay Davis on drums and despite little time to rehearse the band did a wonderful job.  The best recommendation for any album is the reaction of a live audience and on this occasion they were hugely enthusiastic.  The music on UPLIFT combining haunting melodies and lively improvisation should appeal to a wide audience and provide the Pucciarelli Group with a substantial following.  Like most musicians Giuseppe Pucciarelli loves to perform live and he has further gigs in London at the Pizza Express Jazz Club on 30th April, Hampstead Jazz Club on 20th May and Jazz Sanctuary, Twickenham on 23rd June.  He hopes to also play in Italy where he and his band live most of the time.

Click here for details and samples of UPLIFT. Click here for Giuseppe's website.


The Pucciarelli Group


The Pucciarelli Group



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