VAIL — Roberta Gambarini has the unique ability to play her vocal chords the way other musicians might play the piano or saxophone. Much like the pianist’s or saxophonist’s fingers dance up and down the keys, going from high to low in fast, magical harmony, the Italian singer skillfully leaps from one lovely chorus or elongated, sustained word to a series of “bebop, debop, debops” without so much as taking a breath.
Hailing from Turin, Italy, Gambarini’s super human vocal talent has been embraced across the globe. It all started shortly after she could crawl, her parents introducing her to jazz music at an early age, when her father was a tenor saxophonist.
“My parents are big jazz fans,” Gambarini said in a recent radio interview. “They used to take me with them to jazz concerts when I was very little — Dexter Gordon, Eddy Davis, Sweets Edison, James Moody. I saw Dizzy, Ella, Sarah. … That was the soundtrack of my childhood.”
‘THE BEST NEW VOCALIST’
Gambarini’s explorations of her own musical prowess started at age 12 when she took up the clarinet. By the age of 17, she was singing in jazz clubs throughout northern Italy. She moved to Milan and began recording. She moved to the U.S. after winning a scholarship from the New Conservatory of Music in Boston. She went on to take third place in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition, capturing the attention of the U.S. jazz world.
In 2004, Gambarini began performing with some of the jazz heroes of her childhood — James Moody, Jimmy Heath, Herbie Hancock and many more and launched into a tour with none other than Dizzy Gillespie. In 2006, she raised even more admiring eyebrows with the release of her album “Easy to Love,” which received a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Album and Gambarini a nomination for Best Jazz Singer at the Italian Jazz Awards. Renowned pianist Hank Jones proclaimed her “the best new vocalist to come along in 50 years.” She was nominated for another Grammy in 2010 for her album “So In Love” and has been hypnotizing live audiences with her energetic, one-of-a-kind renditions of favorites from the Great American Songbook.
Her voice has been likened to those of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae, but the Italian’s style is distinctly her own, each song and each performance rife with fresh trills and spontaneous twists. Spontaneity, she said, is the core ingredient of her performance.
“That’s the nature of this type of music that we call jazz. You have to strive to be in the moment. And the moment is really all there is,” Gambarini said.
Shauna Farnell is a freelance writer contracted by the Vail Jazz Foundation to write this story. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.