Taken at face value, Fabio Morgera could easily be taken for a snob. But, the Italian-born, NYC resident, 45-year-old jazz trumpeter sincerely believes that members of the jazz fraternity have a special fix on life. "Jazz fans are not everyday people," he states simply. "They have a special sort of taste, and I think a jazz fan is above the average. They connect with feelings, but they also have an intellectual approach."
A few minutes into a chat with Morgera - who arrives this week to play five shows as part of the Hot Jazz series - and it becomes abundantly clear that the man is as much a mix of emotion and cerebral capacity as his audiences. Well, what else could you expect of a native of Naples who has been plying his musical wares around the globe for almost two decades and has experienced his fair share of challenges through the process?
Growing up with the great musical traditions of his hometown, Morgera was soon enchanted by the mysteries and energies of jazz. "I heard Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and, of course, Chet Baker lived in Italy for a long time. A friend gave me Miles Davis and Charlie Parker records when I was a kid. I also saw Miles play live nine times. He had such a special sound." Morgera's admiration for Davis will no doubt come through loud and clear at his gigs here, the repertoire of which will be based on Davis numbers from the fifties and sixties.
He started playing trumpet at the age of 15, after a period of trying to master bass guitar. The reason for the switch was, as Morgera recalls, "My teacher said I had taken guitar playing as far as I could, and was incapable of taking it to the next level." That wasn't because of any lack of seriousness of musical intent on Morgera's part but simply because, as the result of a childhood accident, his left arm ends at the elbow.
Having dealt with physical handicap almost all his life, Morgera wasn't about to give up his plans to become a musician. Inspired by Armstrong, Davis and Baker, he tried to get into a music conservatory in Florence.
"I wanted to learn composition, and all the serious stuff," he recalls, "but they saw my disability and turned me away. They said I'd never be able to play trumpet with only one hand." Undaunted, Morgera tried his lucked elsewhere. Over the years he studied with such trumpet masters as compatriot Enrico Rava, British Kenny Wheeler and American Terence Blanchard. Today, besides his many other gigs, Morgera is a member of Grammy nominated Contemporary Jazz group Groove Collective.
Morgera feels his physical handicap has spurred him on to master the instrument and keep on exploring as many musical avenues as possible. He also believes the challenges he has had to deal with have given him something of an added edge when it comes to expressing himself through the trumpet. "To play a ballad properly you have to bring out emotions from inside you. Yes, playing intonation on trumpet without a left hand is difficult, but challenges make me stronger, and I think when you've been hurt and have suffered you can play a ballad that really moves somebody."
Morgera also believes he has a lot to offer jazz as an Italian and, especially, as a Neapolitan. "Italians have a special love for the melodic aspect and, of course, we have opera and Neapolitan songs. We give that to jazz." In fact, Morgera's new album, due to be released later this year, will be based on jazzy readings of Neapolitan material.
At the end of the day Morgera just wants to share his music with his audiences, regardless of there stylistic preferences. "I love it when someone who has never heard jazz says to me, 'I never listen to jazz but when I heard your music I loved it.' The link is the melody and rhythm. It's like a great painting - even if you don't understand art, you can tell it's great."
Fabio Morgera performs with pianist Gil Zohar, saxophonist Hagai Amir, acoustic bass player Gilad Abro and drummer Shai Zelman at the Gerard Behar Center in Jerusalem on February 10 at 9 p.m.; the Zappa Club in Herzliya on February 11 (doors at 8:45 p.m., show at 10:15); Tel Aviv Museum of Art on February 12 at 9 p.m. and on February 13 at 9:30 p.m.; and, at Abba Hushi House. For more information visit hotjazz.co.il
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