Massimo Urbani (1957 – 1993)

Massimo Urbani was one of the most brilliant Italian saxophonists. Every night he could astonish his enthusiastic audience with the peerless voice of his instrument.
When, on 24th June 1993, Massimo Urbani tragically passes away in Rome, the Italian jazz world is deeply shocked. All his colleagues realize that the saxophonist’s death leaves a gap which will never be filled. They know the voice of his instrument is unique and irreplaceable, passionate and overpowering. They know they will miss his overwhelming talent as well as his capability of being original even in playing always the same repertoire. Indeed Urbani was a master of surprise: thanks to his uncommon talent for improvisation and his unerring instinct for music he played standards in an absolutely personal way, following the footsteps of the greatest jazz musicians of the past and especially those of his hero par excellence, Charlie Parker.

The analogies between Parker’s and Urbani’s lives are indeed remarkable. Bird dies at the age of 35, the Italian saxophonist at the age of 36. They both pay the high price of excess and dissolute living. They both end up to self-marginalization and find in music and in the saxophone the only spurs to get ahead. The photomontage on the cover of Urbani’s last album, “The Blessing”, recorded for Red Records in February 1993, shows how deep and heartfelt the relationship between the young musician and his American idol was. There are two pictures: a big one of Charlie Parker and a smaller one of Urbani playing for him. The collection also includes a song called Blues for Bird explicitly dedicated to the master of Kansas City. Urbani makes a yearning declaration of affection while highlighting the depth of a bond which goes beyond the mere artistic descent.

Born on 8th May 1957 in Primavalle quarter in Rome, Massimo Urbani begins to study clarinet at the age of 11. At the age of 14, after starting playing saxophone, he is discovered by Mario Schiano and Marcello Melis who listened to his performance in a small club in the suburbs. Soon afterwards he makes his debut in one of the main clubs in Rome in terms of singer-songwriter and protest songs, Folkstudio, where Schiano organizes a jazz festival every year. Urbani stands out for his soloism which is still immature but extraordinarily lively and impetuous , meeting the jumbled energy of free jazz. Urbani can show his brightness while sharing the stage with well-known artists such as Bruno Tommaso, Franco D’Andrea, Marcello Rosa and Gianni Basso. He enters for the first time a recording studio in January 1973, together with Schiano, to participate in the recording of the album “Sud”. He plays with two other young saxophonists, Maurizio Giammarco and Tommaso Vittorini, who with Urbani will dominate the Roman jazz scene.

n the early 1970s jazz finally becomes one of the favorite music styles of Italian’s youth. A generation which has discovered the value of the protest and is involved in the libertarian instances of rock music, is now interested in jazz and in its deep social message and origin in a subordinate world, that of black Americans, to be redeemed through the fight. As such, jazz music starts spreading out: in this period important festivals such as Umbria Jazz, inaugurated in 1973, are organized. At the same time this music style enters conservatories where it is studied and taught. A particularly important course is held by composer and pianist Giorgio Gaslini at Santa Cecilia conservatory. Urbani follows him and participates in some episodes of the TV program “Jazz al conservatorio”. Gaslini realizes the extraordinary talent of his pupil and invites him to take part in his quartet and perform a remarkably successful concert at Bergamo festival in 1973. In the same year Urbani records with Gaslini two albums, “Message” and “Favola Pop”, both characterized by the libertarian spirit of that time. During the recording of “Message”, Urbani plays for the first time with trumpeter Enrico Rava with whom he builds a strong relationship made of music and friendship. Rava wants him in his band, a quartet composed of double bass player Calvin Hill and drummer Nestor Astarita. Urbani first records with Rava; he then records his first album as soloist accompanied only by the rhythm section: the two sessions are released as volume 14 and 13 of “Jazz a confronto” respectively, for the Roman label Horo directed by Aldo Sinesio, which is very active in this period. In both albums Urbani plays only the alto saxophone, the instrument of his idol Charlie Parker, and doesn’t alternate it with soprano or tenor saxophones anymore. In the recording with Rava as well as in that with the trio, Urbani is now a mature soloist, a 17-year-old improviser able to run at full speed and show all his authoritativeness.

In summer 1974 Urbani participates in the second edition of Umbria Jazz. Among the audience listening to his performance at St. Andrews club in Perugia there is also the great American saxophonist Sonny Stitt who at the end of the concert warmly congratulates Urbani. In this period, the first symptoms of his existential discomfort, which will slowly lead him to self-destruction, start showing. In November he does not show up at Bologna Jazz Festival, where he is supposed to play with his trio. He becomes hot-tempered and unreliable. Even Rava, who little time before invited him to play together in the United States, realizes that. One day Massimo, being guest at Rava’s, accidentally broke a precious recorder that Rava had borrowed from a friend. Massimo then disappeared. “When he turned up again”, the trumpeter said later on, “he looked like a tramp: his cloths falling in pieces, an awful cough, high fever, pain everywhere in his body. He slept two nights in the cold on a bench in Central Park. This was Massimo at the age of 17 and he would have never changed”. However Rava is proud of the musical success of Urbani in New York. The best saxophonists of that time, from David Schnitter to Bob Mover, were dazzled by Urbani’s talent.

Urbani plays in Rava’s quartet until 1978. At the same time he collaborates with other important Italian bands such as the avant-garde rock band Area or the Sardinian musical ensemble Cadme, where pianist and accordionist Antonello Salis plays, too. In this period the Italian jazz tends towards free patterns. However Urbani, who is against the stream, tends towards a traditional sound model. In the meantime his existential discomfort increases. He often does not respect important commitments for example in 1978 in Rome he doesn’t show up to the second day of work of “Laboratorio della Quercia”, which is held near the Quercia del Tasso on the Janiculum hill. “Laboratorio della Quercia” is a project where musicians coming from different countries meet. Even saxophonist Steve Lacy, trombonist Roswell Rudd, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, percussionist Paul Lytton and saxophonist Evan Parker participate in it with the purpose of improvising all together by using a language free of jazz conventions. This is in contrast with the orientations of Urbani who respects the tradition.

Full of swing and passion, Urbani’s music originates at dead of night in the most popular clubs in Rome. The clubs where he likes to play most are the same clubs where he goes and listens to American jazz players. He is particularly interested in Johnny Griffin, Dexter Gordon, Lee Konitz and Sonny Stitt, who perform in Rome very often. One of the most popular clubs of the city is Music Inn in Largo dei Fiorentini, run by expert drummer Pepito Pignatelli. On the wave of this club success other clubs are set up: St. Louis in via del Cardello, Murales in Trastevere and Mississipi Jazz Club in Prati. Accompanied by a rhythm section, sometimes set up under the wire, Massimo Urbani performs whirling solos and revitalizes longing ballads, taking the audience into a journey full of emotions. Sometimes he is involved in unexpected jam sessions. Many fans gladly remember him playing with Chet Baker, Art Farmer, Lester Bowie and Red Rodney. Unfortunately none of these performances is recorded. Perhaps the only trace of them is in some amateur recording kept in the archives of his most faithful fans.

In 1979 Urbani goes back as a leader to recording studios. In Milan he records the album “360° Aeutopìa” for Red Records label. He is accompanied by three prestigious American soloists: pianist Ron Burton, double bass player Cameron Brown, drummer Beaver Harris, who give a wonderful rhythm base to the evolutions of his saxophone in a traditional style album. The same style characterizes the following albums, many of which will be recorded with Enrico Pieranunzi. The following year the saxophonist records “Dedication to A.A. & J. C.-Max’s Mood”. The album, much appreciated by the specialized critics, is an obvious tribute to his main idols, Albert Ayler, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. During an interview, Urbani adds also Jimi Hendrix. What Urbani loves of Hendrix is his wild energy and the very tight bond he has with his guitar. Urbani spreads out his music in every city where he plays and builds strong professional relations whit other young soloists, especially with double bass player Giovanni Tommaso with whom he records “Via GT” (Red Records, 1986), and Florentine pianist Luca Flores with whom he records, among others, the beautiful album “Easy to Love” (Red Records, 1987). With American pianist Mike Melillo he records “Duet Improvisation for Yardbird”, another album dedicated to Parker which is released by Philology of Paolo Piangiarelli. This producer was one of the closest friends of the Roman saxophonist: thanks to him, and to Sergio Veschi from Red Records, Urbani produced his best works.
A faithful portrait of the musician is made by director Paolo Colangeli in his documentary “Massimo Urbani nella fabbrica abbandonata” (Massimo Urbani in the abandoned fabric). The first sequences, where the saxophonist plays alone in an old factory shed, highlight his strong individuality which characterizes his idea of music. Then he starts talking about himself, his life, his choices and his troubles with drugs. The following sequences are set at night, in a car driving through the streets of Rome. Massimo plays his instrument and answers the questions asked by the interviewer. The city outside the windows looks dark, difficult, not much hospitable. At times Urbani rediscovers his smile, a lightning in his eyes, the joy and the energy that re-eco in his music.

(tratta da Musica Jazz Ottobre 1995)
a cura di Luciano Viotto

Sono qui raccolte per la prima volta tutte le registrazioni dei compianto altosassofonista pubblicate a tutt’oggi, compresi gli inediti dei Cd Philology.

MARIO SCHIANO: “Sud” (Cd Splasc(h) Records CD H 501-2)
Maurizio Giammarco (sop.), Mario Schiano, Massimo Urbani (alto), Tommaso Vittorini (ten.), Toni Formichella (bar.), Bruno Tommaso (cb.), Mandrake (Ivanir Do Nascimento) (tumbadora), Afonso Alcantara Vieira (batt.). Roma, 8-1-73.
Sa Bruscia.
Come sopra, Mario Schiano (alto, fl.). Roma, 8-1-73.
Massimo Bartoletti, Roberto Antinolfi, Gaetano Delfini (tr.), Guido Anelli, Ruggero Pastore (trne.), Mario Schiano, Massimo Urbani (alto), Eugenio Colombo (alto, fl.), Tommaso Vittorini (ten., fl., clb., arr., dir.), Maurizio Giammarco (ten., fl.), Toni Formichella (bar.), Bruno Tommaso, Roberto Della Grotta (cb.), Mandrake (tumbadora), Afonso Vieira (batt.). Roma, 17-1-73.
Sud (To Renzo Margonari).
Nota: in altri brani Urbani non è presente.

GIORGIO GASLINI: “Message” (Lp Basf X 23312)
Formazione 1: Enrico Rava (tr.), Paul Rutherford (trne.), Massimo Urbani (alto), Gianni Bedori (ten., fl. basso), Giorgio Gaslini (p., dir.), Bruno Tommaso (cb.), Filippo Monico (batt.). Formazione 2: Guido Mazzon (tr.), Danilo Terenzi (trne.), Vincenzo Caroli (fl.), Maurizio Giammarco (sop.), Tommaso Vittorini (ten.), Patrizia Scascitelli (p.), Roberto Della Grotta (cb.), Franco Tonani (batt.), Nicola Raffone (perc.). Milano, 10-3-73.

GIORGIO GASLINI: “Favola Pop” (Lp Produttori Associati PA/LP 48)
Gaetano Delfini (tr.), Danilo Terenzi (trne.), Marianne Eckstein (fl. dolce), Massimo Urbani (alto, sop.), Eugenio Colombo (alto, fl.), Maurizio Giammarco (ten., sop.), Patrizia Scascitelli (p.), Roberto Della Grotta, Bruno Tommaso (cb.), Nicola Raffone, Bruno Biriaco (batt.), Guido Mozzato (viol.) e altri archi, Joan Logue (voc.), Simona Caucia (recitante), Giorgio Gaslini (recitante, dir.). Roma, 25 e 26-6-1973.
Reportage da l’Isola di Utopia.

GIANCARLO SCHIAFFINI: “Jazz a Confronto n. 5″ (Lp Horo HLL 101-5)
Giancarlo Schiaffini (trne.), Maurizio Giammarco (sop.), Massimo Urbani (alto), Martin Joseph (p.), Bruno Tommaso (cb.), Michele Iannaccone (batt.). Roma, giugno 1973.
Ouverture / Chiaroscuro / Suoni a confronto.
Giancarlo Schiaffini (trne.), Massimo Urbani (sop.), Maurizio Giammarco (ten.), Martin Joseph (p.), Bruno Tommaso (cb.), Michele Iannaccone (batt.). Roma, giugno 1973.
Flip Flop.
Nota: in altri tre brani Urbani non è presente.

MARIO SCHIANO – GIORGIO GASLINI: “Jazz a Confronto n. 8″ (Lp Horo HLL 101-8)
Mario Schiano, Massimo Urbani (alto), Maurizio Giammarco, Toni Formichella (ten.), Bruno Tommaso (cb.), Michele Iannaccone (batt.). Roma, 12-2-74.
Life Saver / Leslie.
Nota: in altri tre brani Urbani non è presente.

ENRICO RAVA: “Jazz a Confronto n. 14″ (Lp Horo HLL 101-14)
Enrico Rava (tr.), Massimo Urbani (alto), Calvin Hill (cb.), Nestor Astarita (batt.). Roma, 11-12-1974.
Closer / Maranhão / Wrong Side / Un barco hasta el cielo / Vento rosso.
Nota: nel restante brano Urbani non è presente.

MASSIMO URBANI: “Jazz a Confronto n. 13″ (Lp Horo HLL 101-13)
Massimo Urbani (alto), Calvin Hill (cb.), Nestor Astarita (batt.). Roma, 11-12-1974.
Jorgelina / Encuentro / Creation.

GAETANO LIGUORI: “Collective Orchestra” (Lp PDU Pld.A 6051)
Guido Mazzon (tr.), Danilo Terenzi (trne.), Giancarlo Maurino (sop., “trombax”), Edoardo Ricci, Massimo Urbani (alto), Sandro Cesaroni (ten., fl.), Gaetano Liguori (p. dir.), Roberto Bellatalla (cb.), Roberto Del Piano (b. el.), Pasquale Liguori, Filippo Monico (batt.). Milano, 3 e 4-2-76.
Collective Suite / Nuova Resistenza.

CADMO: “Flying Over Ortobene Mount In July Seventy Seven” (Lp Edizioni dell’Isola EIJ 2026)
Massimo Urbani (alto), Antonello Salis (p.), Riccardo Lai (cb.), Mario Paliano (batt.). Roma, prob. settembre 1977.
Nota: negli altri brani Urbani non è presente. Sulla data, le fonti oscillano tra 1977 e 1978; quella indicata ci pare la più attendibile.

ARTISTI VARI: “Laboratorio della Quercia” (2 Lp Horo HDP 39-40)
Formazione complessiva: Enrico Rava, Kenny Wheeler, Alberto Corvini (tr.), Roswell Rudd, Danilo Terenzi (trne.), Steve Lacy (sop.), Steve Potts (alto, sop.), Massimo Urbani (alto), Eugenio Colombo (alto, bar., fl.), Evan Parker (ten., sop.), Maurizio Giammarco (ten., sop., sopranino, fl.), Tommaso Vittorini (bar.), Frederick Rzewski, Martin Joseph (p.), Tristan Honsinger, Irène Aebi (cello), Kent Carter, Roberto Bellatalla (cb.), Noel McGhee, Roberto Gatto (batt.), Paul Lytton (batt., perc.). Roma, 5 e 6-7-78.
Tromblues / Vortex Waltz / Nella casa delle papere / La legge è uguale per tutti / The Message From The Maine.
Nota: in altri due brani Urbani non suona, e la sua presenza in tutti i brani sopra elencati non è certa.

MASSIMO URBANI: “360° Aeutopia” (Cd Red Records VPA 146.2)
Massimo Urbani (alto), Rahn Burton (p.), Cameron Brown (cb.), Beaver Harris (batt.). Milano, 20-6-79.
Cherokee / Tender Song / Solar / Rip The Ripper / Ballad For A Child / Diddy For Biddy.

ENRICO PIERANUNZI: “Isis” (Cd Soul Note 121021-2)
Art Farmer (flic.), Massimo Urbani (alto), Enrico Pieranunzi (p.), Furio Di Castri (cb.), Roberto Gatto (batt.). Roma, 9/11-2-80.
Isis / Blue’n’Boogie / Soul Dance.
Nota: negli altri brani Urbani non è presente.

MASSIMO URBANI: “Dedication To A.A. & J.C. – Max’s Mood” (Cd Red Records VPA 160.2)
Massimo Urbani (alto), Luigi Bonafede (p.), Furio Di Castri (cb.), Paolo Pellegatti (batt.).
Bologna, giugno 1980.
Dedication (To Albert Ayler & John Coltrane) / Naima / L’amore.
Max’s Mood / Scrapple From The Apple / Speak Low / Soul Eyes.

ARTISTI VARI: “Top Jazz in Italy” (Musica Jazz 2 MJP 1014)
Enrico Rava (tr.), Massimo Urbani (alto), Franco D’Andrea (p.), Giovanni Tommaso (cb.), Barry Altschul (batt.). Milano, 7-3-83.
Nota: album fuori commercio allegato a Musica Jazz n. 10/1983.

FIVE FOR JAZZ: “Live In Sanremo & In Pesaro” (Cd Splasc(h) Records CDHP 01.2).
Massimo Urbani (alto), Pietro Tonolo (ten.), Luigi Bonafede (p., leader), Piero Leveratto (cb.), Paolo Pellegatti (batt.). Casinò Muinicipale, Sanremo, 4-5-84.
Ca’ Nova / Marisa / Samba Swing / For Larry.
Gli stessi. Auditorium Pedrotti del Conservatorio “G. Rossini”, Pesaro, luglio 1984.
Lorella / Atmosfera / Locomotiva.

ENRICO PIERANUNZI: “Autumn Song” (Lp Enja 4094)
Massimo Urbani (alto), Enrico Pieranunzi (p.), Enzo Pietropaoli (cb.), Fabrizio Sferra (batt.). Philarmonie, Berlino, 11-11-84.
Nota: negli altri brani Urbani non è presente.

GIOVANNI TOMMASO: “Via G.T.” (Cd Red Records VPA 196.2)
Paolo Fresu (tr., flic.), Massimo Urbani (alto), Danielo Rea (p.), Giovanni Tommaso (cb.), Roberto Gatto (batt.). Roma, 15 e 16-4-86.
Meet You On The Way / Formiche / Amore, toujours l’amour / Take The Money And… Spend It / Femina Rufa / No Day After, No! / Sixteen Blues.

MASSIMO URBANI: “Easy To Love” (Cd Red Records NS 208)
Massimo Urbani (alto), Luca Flores (p.), Furio Di Castri (cb.), Roberto Gatto (batt.). Roma, 18-1-87.
A Trane From East / Easy To Love / Night Walk / I Got Rock / Star Eyes / Good Morning, Heartache / Three Little Words.

LUCA FLORES: “Where Extremes Meet” (Lp Splasc(h) Records H 123)
Massimo Urbani, Pietro Tonolo (alto), Maurizio Caldura (ten.), Alessandro Di Puccio (vib.), Luca Flores (p.), Marco Vaggi (cb.), Alfred Kramer (batt.). Roma, 28-2-87.
Land Of No Return.
Nota: negli altri brani Urbani non è presente.

MIKE MELILLO – MASSIMO URBANI: “Duet Improvisations For Yardbird” (Lp Philology W 214 4)
Massimo Urbani (alto), Mike Melillo (p.). Recanati, 23-3-87.
Everything Happens To Me / All The Things You Are / What Is This Thing Called Love / Fine And Dandy / Out Of Nowhere / Lover Man / I’ll Remember April / The Gypsy.

LELLO PANICO & PHOENIX: “Fronne” (Gala Records GLLP 91025)
Massimo Urbani (alto), Danilo Rea (tastiere), Lello Panico (chit.), Pippo Matino (b. el.), Alberto D’Anna (batt.), Gianfranco Salvatore (sintetizzatore, drum machine). Roma, aprile-settembre 1988.
Par hasard.
Nota: negli altri brani Urbani non è presente.

MASSIMO URBANI: “Out Of Nowhere” (Cd Splasc(h) Records CD H 336)
Massimo Urbani (lato), Giuseppe Emmanuele (p.), Nello Toscano (cb.), Pucci Nicosia (batt.). Catania, aprile 1990.
I’ll Remember April / Alfie / There Is No Greater Love / Out Of Nowhere / Autumn In New York / Yesterdays.
Gli stessi, più Paul Rodberg (trne.). Catania, aprile 1990.
Invitation / Tenor Madness.

MASSIMO URBANI: “Round About… Max With Strings” (Cd Sentemo SNT 30392)
Massimo Urbani (alto), Gianni Lenoci (p.), Pasquale Gadaleta (cb.), Antonio Di Lorenzo (batt.), Marzia Mazzoccoli, Anna Tenore (viol.), Vincenzo Longo (vla.), Davide Viterbo (cello). Matera, 28-11-91.
The Summer Knows / The Shadow Of Your Smile / I Cover The Waterfront / Star Eyes / Invitation / A Time For Love / The Days Of Wine And Roses.

MASSIMO URBANI: “The Blessing” (Cd Red Records 257.2)
Massimo Urbani (alto), Danilo Rea (p.), Giovanni Tommaso (cb.), Roberto Gatto (batt.). Roma, 21 e 22-2-93.
Opposites Attract / Drop In / What’s New / Train To Trane / Everything Happens To Me / My Little Suede Shoes / The Way You Look Tonight / Blues For Bird / What’s New (alt. take) / The Way You Look Tonight (alt. take).
u Look Tonight / Blues For Bird / What’s New (alt. take) / The Way You Look Tonight (alt. take).


Alcune incisioni postume:

MASSIMO URBANI: «Live at Larry’s» (Cd CMCD.04)
Massimo Urbani (alto), Furio Di Castri (cb.), Manhu Roche (batt.). Larry’s, 1988.
A Trane From East / Invitation / Everything Happens To Me / Theme For A Symphony / You Don’t Know What Love Is / Cherokee.
Nota: disco allegato al libro di Carola De Scipio: “L’avanguardia e’ nei sentimenti – Vita, musica e morte di Massimo Urbani”.

MASSIMO URBANI: «Max Leaps In» (Cd Philology W181.2)
Massimo Urbani (alto), Mike Melillo (p.), Massimo Moriconi (cb.), Tullio De Piscopo (batt.). Civitanova Marche, Teatro Rossini, 26-9-83.
Lester Leaps In / Sophisticated Lady / Scrapple From The Apple / Light Blue / I Love You / Blue Monk / Night In Tunisia / Cherokee.

MASSIMO URBANI: «Go Max Go» (Cd Philology W187.2)
Massimo Urbani (alto), Riccardo Zegna (p.), Luciano Milanese (cb.), Gianni Cazzola (batt.). S.Giuliano a Mare (RN), 7-8-81.
Tenor Madness / Blue Bossa / What’s New / Solar / My Little Suede Shoes / Rhythm-a-ning / There Is No Greater Love.

Massimo Urbani (alto), Giovanni Imparato (perc.), Umberto Vitiello (vocal, perc.), Walter Martino (batt.), Stefano Cesare (cb.), Enrico Guarino (ten.), Piero Quarta (bar.), Claudio Corvini (tr.), Mario Corvini (trne), Mauro Andreoni (p., tast.) Roma, luglio 1990.
Bon Voyage.
Massimo Urbani (alto), Giovanni Imparato (voc., perc.), Walter Martino (batt.), Stefano Cesare (cb.), Enrico Guarino (ten.), Paolo Cerrone (ten.), Piero Quarta (bar.), Claudio Corvini (tr.), Mario Corvini (trne), Mauro Andreoni (p., tast.) Roma, luglio 1990.
Nota: negli altri brani Urbani non è presente.