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Leading Italian improviserCopyright © 2008Francesco Martinelli
Saxophonist Mario Schiano, one of the initiators of the Italian Free Jazz scene and one of the most influential figures in European Improvised music, passed away after a long illness in his house in Rome.
Born on July 22, 1933, in Naples, he was attracted to the music very early. He taught himself to play accordion, and he was already able to earn money as a singers' accompanist soon after the war. His curiosity was then stimulated by the shining saxophone played by US Navy Bands stationed in Naples after the war. After a period of using borrowed instruments, he received his own as a gift from his father. The year was 1957, and it was an Italian military band alto, used. But it was a saxophone, and finally Schiano could try it at leisure, to understand "how saxophonists can make so many notes with so few keys."
In the late '50s, developing what he heard in the music of Charlie Parker and especially in his beloved "Lover Man," he started to improvise outside of fixed harmonies and regular rhythms. After moving to Rome around 1960 he untiringly organized jazz events, including all different styles of the music; his Gruppo Romano Free Jazz with Bruno Tommaso and Franco Pecori recorded in 1970 the manifesto of Italian Free Jazz with If Not Ecstatic We Refund one of the many memorable titles in his career.
His own groups ranged from the hilarious duo collaborations with Tommaso Vittorini to the big band he assembled for Sud; his "Controindicazioni" festival was for many years the only regular forum for free improvisation in Rome, and there he cooperated with countless Italian musicians, from Giorgio Gaslini to Enrico Rava, with many luminaries of the music, from Evan Parker to Joelle Leandre, from Peter Kowald to Vyacheslav Ganelin, from Sam Rivers to Bill Dixon, but also with classical composer Domenico Guaccero. His European Proposal with Paul Rutherford, Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink was another manifesto, on the continental scale. He was an essential presence of the Italian Instabile Orchestra concerts. Thanks to John Corbett his long unavailable On The Waiting List was re-discovered after publication in the Unheard Music Series. Many in Italy know him as actor in movies by Nanni Moretti. Mario Schiano systematically invited younger musicians in his groups, and his no-nonsense, hands-on approach based on total artistic integrity served as a great inspiration to new generations, especially in Southern Italy.
The funniest of the saloon singers with his cheesy keyboards, he was a master of humor, and we sorely miss his comments: he'd make us double up with laughter, scorching with his unique humor and lilting Neapolitan accent, the neo-swingers, the classicists, the cloned crooners and the newly formed official nomenklatura of Italian "jazz."