The band that reveres the Italian classics and plays them with gusto and amore has a new CD called “Back in the Swing of Things.” Originally slated for release on Valentine’s Day, the delay is now timed with the re-opening of Pizza Express Soho. The album is comprised of eleven colorful and dynamic tracks like the catchy “Angelino,” the danceable “Quando, Quando, Quando” and the bouncy “At Dawn.” The strong, clear melodies sung by front woman Hetty Loxston, visceral rhythms and excellent, technically impressive musicianship (from vocals to clarinet to sax to percussion and more) provide a very polished and hearty experience.
Talk about how you became interested in Italian jazz; and as a subgenre, what are the particular characteristics of it?
I studied and worked in Italy for six years. While living there I fell in love with the music, language and culture of the country. I returned to London in 2015 and I wanted to explore some of the lesser-known gems of Italian jazz with fresh arrangements from an era of “La Dolce Vita.” I believe this music deserves to be re-visited by an older generation and discovered for the first time by new generations.
When we refer to Italian jazz we mainly mean Italian music after the Second World War that was influenced by jazz from the US. Italy in the ’50s-’60s lived a second renaissance lead by cinema.
American swing elements blend well with Italian folk rhythms in many cases, and American jazz harmony fits the rich and sophisticated Italian classical tradition. The melodic approach of most Italian pop and folk music makes Italian jazz very melodic – which is probably a heritage of the Italian operatic tradition.
The Italian passion for elegance, poetry and its own philosophy of life provides Italian jazz with a particular lyrical flavor, which reflects also in the lyrics used by authors and composers, even when Italian music is fused and blended with South American Latin rhythms. In addition, thanks to its history and geography, Italian folk music is rich in various influences, from Arabian and northern African to Slavic and Balkan music. These elements contribute to make Italian jazz very unique.
How long had you been planning your debut album?
We released our first EP in 2018 and we were pleasantly surprised by the positive feedback we received. It was always our plan to produce an album but it was delayed due to a busy performance schedule. When our live performances were put on hold in March 2020 due to the pandemic, we decided that it was the perfect opportunity to produce an album. We worked on some new arrangements as a six-piece band and we managed to record the album in a couple of studio sessions.
What are you doing to keep audiences engaged?
We have been using our YouTube and social media platforms to perform and interact with our fans. We held a livestream performance for charity and raised £1600 for cancer research. Livestreaming and recording videos remotely have been a very positive experience. Our audience is very international (about 100, 000 followers in six continents and 137 countries). Performing this way allows us to reach a huge audience and we love to interact with our listeners directly during the performance.
The vision of Italians singing from their balconies is very iconic. How do you feel your music embodies the joy and the love of life?
We love to see people enjoying our live performances. We had many comments during our livestreams that people were dancing around their kitchen tables, and that the songs brought back memories of happier times, memories of Italian family members, and even memories of holidays in Italy. We focused particularly on joyful, uplifting music to encourage our listeners to move their feet and bring smiles to our listeners during difficult times.
How did you choose these songs?
Joy in performing has always been at the heart of our band. We felt it was important to choose uplifting songs that connect us to our audience and evoke the joy and fun of a live performance. We made sure to include a good variety of styles gypsy jazz, swing, jive, samba, bossa nova, salsa and Italian folk. We have a wide repertoire. The songs we have chosen are fresh arrangements of popular Italian songs we have been performing at live events and festivals that have proved to be the favorites of our listeners. We have also included a couple of original songs composed by our guitarist Fabrizio Bonacci.
Talk about one of the tracks in terms of the musical part of the journey. What went into composing it?
[Response from Fabrizio Bonacci, lead guitarist and composer of the two original songs “At Dawn” and “Southern Impressions”]
Despite being very different from one another, I must say that the writing process of both compositions, along with the lyrics, was entirely driven by emotions. When it comes to melody, lyricism for me is the key factor: in order to speak to me, and to be convincing, a melody has to be lyrical. As a result, the composition of both of these tunes is based on lyricism. “At Dawn” refers to the deep feeling of rebirth and renaissance we all feel during these dark and challenging times. It’s a sort of musical effort to represent the idea that, despite the hard challenges, a new beginning is always possible. In fact, I do believe that ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ are nothing more than the two sides of the same coin, as neither can manifest itself without the other.
“Southern Impressions” is instead a more personal account of my “Mediterranean feelings.” Its melody represents a sort of musical journey into the lands of southern Italy, where I grew up and where everything started for me.
Both tunes describe an emotional journey, so I hope they will be able to make you feel something… hopefully, something deep, strong, and emotional!
What was the most surprising or gratifying aspect of producing this CD?
The ability to record the songs we have enjoyed performing together live and to raise people’s spirits with our music in a difficult time.
How do you play to everybody’s strengths?
As a band, we decided to take a collaborative approach to our original arrangements of songs, each player bringing something different to the album whether it be adding melody, alternative harmony, improvisation, or rhythm. We felt that it was important to give every player a voice in all aspects of the creative process so that we could each be proud of our part in the album’s making.
I generally come up with a strong initial idea, outlining the arrangement, the structure, and feel I want to explore with the band. Guitarist Fabrizio adds a new harmonic dimension to the songs with interesting jazzy harmonies. Stephanie Legg creates stunning, mini big-band-style horn arrangements and Richard Muscat provides fabulous jazzy solos. Double bassist Alessandro and drummer Riccardo ground everything by providing a solid rhythmic base in keeping with the Italian style.
Double bassist Alessandro says, “I think that one of the best aspects of the band is that Hetty who came across this repertoire whilst living in Italy, got together a rhythmic section of Italians who are very familiar with it and horn players (Charly first, and then Richard and Stephanie) who had no exposure to it before. This to me proved to be an explosive mix.”
When will you launch the CD?
We chose Valentine’s day to release the album. We will hold the live launch at Pizza Express Soho. This has had to be rescheduled due to the Coronavirus, with a date to be determined when the venue re-opens.
For more information visit https://www.hettyandthejazzatoband.com.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.
(c) 2021 Debbie Burke