Franco Ambrosetti Leads All-Star Group on New Album
One of the most revered figures on the European jazz scene, Swiss trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti has maintained a strong affinity for the music since debuting as a leader in 1965 with A Jazz Portrait of Franco Ambrosetti. Now approaching his 78th birthday in December, Ambrosetti is still swinging after all these years, which is very much in evidence by his latest recording, Long Waves. An all-star session recorded in January, 2019 in New York City, Ambrosetti's 28th as a leader overall and second for the Swiss-based Unit Records features celebrated guitarist John Scofield, pianist Uri Caine, bassist Scott Colley and legendary drummer Jack DeJohnette.Together they interact on an intimate level, displaying remarkable chemistry on seven tracks. "It was like a constant dialogue," said Ambrosetti of the empathetic session. "After one rehearsal, I felt like I had played with this group every night for the last five years."
From their relaxed, conversational interpretation of the poignant ballad "Old Folks" to their swinging treatment of "On Green Dolphin Street" to new Ambrosetti originals like his buoyantly swinging "Silli's Waltz" and the burning "Silli's Long Wave" (both named for his wife of 22 years) and his tango-flavored "Milonga," Long Waves stands as a crowning achievement in the long and storied career of the esteemed trumpeter-flugelhornist-composer.
Jazz has been a part of Ambrosetti's DNA since he was a child. Born in Lugano on December 10, 1941, he inherited a love of swinging music from his father Flavio Ambrosetti, an accomplished jazz saxophonist who founded the first jazz club in his hometown, organized the first jazz festival in Lugano and also played opposite Charlie Parker at the 1949 Paris Jazz Festival.
Though he studied classical piano from age nine, Ambrosetti eventually picked up trumpet at age 17. And while he may have patterned himself after Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan in his early years, the single biggest influence on his now signature singing quality on the trumpet and flugelhorn was Miles Davis. "Miles sometimes was playing just three notes but with so much intensity, and especially when he was playing a ballad," he noted. "So from listening to Miles I learned about stretching a note when you play a melody. Instead of playing the notes shorter or staccato, you stretch the notes out like you're really singing. And I think I can express my feelings more if I really cry that note."
In 1966, at age 24, Ambrosetti won a prestigious international jazz competition in Vienna directed by pianist Friedrich Gulda. With a jury consisting of Cannonball Adderley, Art Farmer, Jay Jay Johnson, Joe Zawinul, Ron Carter and Mel Lewis, Franco ended up outranking fellow trumpeters Randy Brecker, Claudio Roditi and Tomas Stanko for the first prize. The following year, he played his first concert in the United States, performing in his father's quintet, the Flavio Ambrosetti All-Stars, at the 1967 Monterey Jazz Festival. Through the '70s, he led his own groups and also toured with the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band. During the '80s and '90s, he performed concerts and made TV appearances throughout Europe while recording most of his projects in New York City with such esteemed sidemen as pianists Hal Galper, Tommy Flanagan, Geri Allen and Kenny Kirkland, saxophonists Phil Woods, Michael Brecker, Steve Coleman and Greg Osby, bassists Dave Holland, Buster Williams and Michael Formanek, drummers Billy Hart and Billy Drummond. His 1993 album, Live at the Blue Note, featured tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Ira Coleman and drummer Victor Lewis.
Ambrosetti's 2001 album, Grazie Italia, was a collection of beloved Italian folk and popular tunes, from "Volare" to "Roma Non Fa Stupida" to Bruno Martino's "Estate." As he said of that beloved project, "Italy is my culture but I'm Swiss, so I was thanking Italy for giving me this kind of gift." In 2008, he appeared at Quincy Jones' 75th birthday celebration at the Montreux Jazz Festival, performing a sublime rendition of "My Ship" (recreating the Gil Evans arrangement from 1957's Miles Ahead) and a soulful muted trumpet reading of "Summertime" (recreating the Evans-Davis collaboration from 1959's Porgy And Bess). His 2015 Enja release, After the Rain, was a heartfelt tribute to John Coltrane that featured alto saxophonist Greg Osby, pianist Dado Maroni, bassist Buster Williams, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and his son Gianluca on soprano sax. In 2017, Ambrosetti marked the milestone of his 75th birthday by inviting an all-star cast of friends and colleagues to record Cheers. Pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Williams, drummers DeJohnette and Carrington, pianists Caine, Maroni and Antonio Faraòi, saxophonist Osby, guitarist Scofield and fellow trumpeter and longtime friend Randy Brecker were among the participants in that gala New York session.
Ambrosetti's debut on Unit Records was 2018's lavish orchestral project, The Nearness of You, with strings conducted by Massimo Nunzi and brass and woodwinds conducted by Tonino Battista. That album, which included gorgeous renditions of Kurt Weill's "My Ship," Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Luiza" and Hoagy Carmichael's title track, also featured Franco's son Gianluca on soprano sax. That same year, the trumpeter received the Swiss Jazz Award presented at the Jazz Ascona Festival in Switzerland. In his autobiography, Two Roads, Both Taken, Ambrosetti addressed the issue of juggling careers as jazz trumpeter and industrialist. "Music won me over right away," he wrote, "whereas, the business activity took a few decades to seduce me."
While Ambrosetti decided to pursue his family's multi-million-dollar business for decades, he never put his trumpet on the shelf. "I would practice every day through the years and I still practice every day," he said. "Trumpet is an instrument that you have to practice every day, at least half an hour, or you lose your chops. So I do manage to play every day of my life." He pours a lifetime of experience into every note on Long Waves, pushed to some dramatic heights by his stellar crew of seasoned veterans in Scofield, Caine, Colley and DeJohnette.
Try Again [07:10]
Silli's Long Wave [08:44]
One For The Kids [07:16]
Old Folks [08:36]
Silli's Waltz [05:24]
On Green Dolphin Street [09:05]
Producer: Jeff Levenson
Executive Producer: Harald Haerter
Executive Producer: Silli Ambrosetti
Recorded at Sear Sound Studios, NY, January 30-31, 2019
Mastered by Greg Calbi, Sterling Sound
Photo Credit: John Abbott