Roberta Gambarini’s May 13 show at Scullers Jazz Club is in some way a homecoming. Boston was in fact the city where the two-time Grammy Award nominee first moved to in 1998, when she received a scholarship from the New England Conservatory. Her stay wasn’t long, though, as she quickly moved from musical obscurity to jazz stardom. We asked her about her past, present and future:
Can you tell us about how you came to the United States?
“It was 1998 and I moved to Boston at the end of August, after receiving a scholarship at the New England Conservatory. But my stay was brief, because the school had signed me up for the national “Thelonius Monk” jazz competition in Washington D.C., which took place just after I arrived in the United States. I came in third place and was noticed by many in the business. I started working right away, and after several months of back and forth between Boston and New York I decided I needed to insert myself fully into the New York musical scene, leaving behind the scholarship.”
What attracted you to the United States?
“It was a professional choice first of all. If I had stayed in Italy I probably would never have been able to work as much as I have done here. It’s not easy being a woman in jazz in Italy. In the United States my position changed radically, as I was thrust into a world much more equal as far as opportunities for women. In the United States you can make a difference, let’s put it that way. Another great thing about this country is the musicians’ accessibility.”
Who did you meet?
“Many great artists. Billy Higgins, Benny Carter, James Moody, who I regarded as a mentor with whom I worked a lot before he passed away last year. What I really love is the chance to collaborate with these artists. Sometimes they just happen by chance, like the time I got through to Dave Brubeck. He had been one of my favorites as I was growing up, ever since my father came home with an album of Carmen McRae and Brubeck. After a show at the Litchfield Jazz Festival in Connecticut, I managed to give him a demo record I made at home and I mentioned the McRae recordings. “You know those tunes!” he said, surprised. That’s how our collaboration started.”
You mentioned your father. How instrumental were your parents in your jazz upbringing?
“If it weren’t for my parents I wouldn’t be singing jazz. Although they weren’t professional musicians, they loved jazz and would always bring home great records that we played on and on. They always supported me in my choices, like when I decided to try to take my career to the next level by moving to Milan, where there was a more active scene. Unfortunately, I moved there in the ’80s, when politics and many other things were starting to take a bad turn.”
Love is a central theme in your songs and your last album, the 2009 “So in Love,” is a testament to that. Will we be hearing more “love” in the near future, as in a new recording?
Love is what makes everything move, and it is a central theme in a lot of music, not just mine. I am working on something new, but I can’t reveal any details yet. The only revelation I can make is that it will feature a big orchestra, with a lot of strings. Some of the music in the new record will be performed during the spring and summer shows and tour. Before spending most of the summer touring Europe, I’ll be at the Blue Note in New York, as well as a festival in Burlington, Vermont. Of course, I’ll also be performing some of the new songs at Scullers. That will be one of the first places where they will be performed. I can’t wait to be back in Boston!”
Roberta Gambarini’s upcoming Boston show:
When Friday, May 13, 2011 – 8 p.m. to 12 a.m.