Nicoletta was born in Sicily and moved to Urdine in Northern Italy about 13 years ago because her father comes from Fruili. She has loved music always and when I asked her about this she said, “When I was a child I used to listen pop music with my yellow walkman. Before dreaming of becoming a musician, I used to marvel at airplanes: I wanted to become a pilot. I applied to join the military academy but I didn’t get it in the end. However, deep down, part of me, in my heart, was happy with my rejected application, because I knew that I would be able to focus on music.”
So I asked her what made her realise she could sing. Nicoletta replied, “My first time singing live was when I was 14 years old, during a school play, when my teacher asked me to sing. At the time, I was really in love with Anastacia, who influenced my style a lot. As a matter of fact listening to Anastacia still brings back memories from my childhood. It was not until a few years later that my musical interests switched from pop to jazz. When I was 16 I started singing in the jazz band of my school, and from this moment Ella Fitzgerald become my teacher.” I happen to know from previous conversations that Nicoletta would make her way to the jazz band after her singing lessons, finding the route taking her past the rehearsals just by chance naturally. Nicoletta acknowledges the influence of music director Nevio Zaninotto, himself well known in jazz circles as he played in many festivals and with some of jazz’s great names including Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Norma Winston, Marc Abrams and many others. She comments, “I have to thank Nevio Zaninotto the director of this big group and big family. He’s a great saxophonist in the North of Italy and thanks to him I discovered jazz music and the artists that changed my life.”
Discovering jazz opened up the world for Nicoletta and she developed a wide ranging taste in music. “My favourites are Monk, Miriam Makeba, Richard Bona, Bill Evans, Miles, Amy Winehouse, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Michael Jackson, Ella, Carmen Mc Rae, Rachelle Ferrel, Dinah Washington. The list is very very long.” She says, and then adds, “Undoubtedly African music is on the top of the list”.
I asked Nicoletta about her studies. She said, “I’m studying at the Conservatory of Udine in the jazz department. I focus on “Canto Jazz” (jazz singing). In my study plan, there are factors of arrangement, drum, piano, the history of the music and improvisation. We are lucky, because in this class me and my classmates have the best professors in Italy. The leader of the department is the pianist Glauco Venier, who is accompanied by Michele Corcella (a great Italian composer). The teacher of improvisation is the pianist, saxophonist and drummer Alfonso Deidda. We are incredibly lucky.” (She is lucky as Glauco Venier, after graduating from Berklee, has played with Norma Winstone and led several bands, Michele Corcella is well known as a composer and Alfonso Deidda has played and collaborated with luminaries including Mike Stern, Billy Cobham, Peter Erskine, Mulgrew Miller and Michel Petrucciani.
So, I asked, who Nicoletta listened to these days? She responded, ” I want to nominate Richard Bona, as for me he represents the symbol of the complete artist. He’s the “one man orchestra”, a singer, a bass man, a pianist, a drummer and a modern composer who unites all the music styles in a very refined and spontaneous way. The sort of songs that I prefer are Dina Lam, Sen Sen Sen and Jokoh Jokoh. ”
So, I wondered, does Nicoletta, given her developing experiences have opinions about the future? Where did she see the future of jazz music and in say 5 years time where would she, ideally, like to see herself musically? Nicoletta replied,
“I hope to sing all around the world. I don’t want to become a big star but I’d like to sing in every jazz club, touching the footprints of my musas, idols, my inspirations”.
So what keeps a young musician, still getting her breaks playing and singing? Nicoletta reacted, “Music is the direct way to communicate something without filters. There are no barriers when I sing; I’m not scared of anything. Fear becomes my victim, my strength. Music is the reason for the fight. Every day, when I wake up, music is the first “person” I see, I touch… it is the thing that moves my body, my heart and instinct. It’s not only the art for me, it’s also a challenge, as I know that I’ve been learning a language for many years and this study will be accompany me all my life.”
So, what about away from music? I asked. Nicoletta replied, (with a grin) ” I love strolling in the nature and going to museums.”
What about projects – is there something you are working on at the moment? I asked. Nicoletta replied, “I’m writing new songs for my quintet. In August, we will play (in a trio with piano, voice and double bass) for a festival near Napoli (Brienza). I hope to record tracks with Alessio Zoratto, who plays the double bass. In June I will sing with a big choir, whose name is Compagnia Airali. I will play my song “Child”. I love children and I hate people who that ruin their life. This song is for the Syrian children that experience war every day. The main chorus of the song says, ‘in their eyes only the war, in their pocket only the hope’. I’m really excited. ”
Now Nicoletta spends her musical rehearsals with the bass player Alessio Zoratto and drummer Massimo Orselli and she is amazed at how much attention her music is getting, especially her songs. As far back as 2014, Nicoletta released an EP called ‘Blue Lucille’, which included a piece called “Giocolieri senza arte” and ‘White Oak’. She hopes to do more and is actively looking for a producer.
She mentioned earlier playing at the Blue Note in Milan and I wondered how that came about for someone so young and what it meant to her. Nicoletta told me the story.
“In October 2014 I went to Milan on my own to give my EP ‘Blue Lucille’ to all the record labels of the city. In the evenings, I went to The Blue Note. One of these evenings, I met the barman, a really kind man, and he wanted a copy of my EP. I remember also that night I had only 20 euro. When I went out of the Blue Note, it was too late to take the metro, so I called a taxi. I knew the money wasn’t enough to get back to my friend’s house. During the trip, I talked to the driver and he put my EP on his player. He was so happy that he gave me a discount for the ride! Then, a week later my telephone rang and the artistic director of Blue Note asked me,’Do you want to sing here?’ and of course, my answer was “Yeees!”
Moreover, this enthusiasm, this energy and the determination to get her music heard is what will, I feel, propel Nicoletta higher with her music. She is passionate, endearing, she is driven but above all, she has a talent, which is only just being explored. If I produced, music I would be very very tempted by this quirky, sublimely talented and very determined young jazz musician with a character which is special and very much her own.
Text: Sammy Stein
Main image: Edy Turcutti
Sidebar images: Nicoletta Tari