Jazz artist's Rosario Giuliani upcoming show to pay homage to Duke Ellington

The 53-year-old Italian saxophonist will play five shows here alongside compatriot pianist Dado Moroni

Rosario Giuliani (photo credit: PAOLO SORIANI)
Rosario Giuliani
(photo credit: PAOLO SORIANI)
When it comes to movers and shakers in the evolution of jazz in the 20th century, they don’t come any bigger than Duke Ellington. Rosario Giuliani certainly gets that, and will convey some of his love and appreciation of Duke’s vast transcendent oeuvre in the next installment of the current Hot Jazz series.
The 53-year-old Italian saxophonist will play five shows here, February 3-8, in Kfar Saba, Herzliya, Tel Aviv and Haifa, alongside compatriot pianist Dado Moroni. The core material of the gig repertoire comprises a slew of Ellington standards that have been performed live and recorded for decades, and have become stock-in-trade for numerous jazz musicians regardless of their cultural baggage or personal take on the art form.
Giuliani says he is delighted to be heading back this way – he has played here on three or four occasions over the past couple of decades – and, in particular, to showcase a man who is considered by many to be one of the greatest composers of the last century, genre notwithstanding.
“Ellington is a jazz genius,” the saxophonist exclaims. “And that’s not only for the jazz. I think that, together with Charlie Parker, they cut the music into two parts. Duke Ellington was a real guru of jazz. He had incredible respect from the musicians that he played with.”
Ellington, says the Italian, set the bar as high as he possibly could. “He never chose musicians because they were [just] good players. He chose the musicians because they always had a unique voice on their instrument. You have to look at the elements of the Duke Ellington Orchestra.”
During the course of his long career, which spanned over six decades, the peerless pianist-composer led some of the most acclaimed combos the jazz world has ever seen or heard.
Giuliani, naturally, has a particular soft spot for some of the reedmen who accompanied Ellington and even contributed popular scores that have stood the test of time. “I play saxophone, so I can talk about [alto saxophonist] Johnny Hodges. He was one of the most important voices on the alto saxophone in the whole of jazz.”
Hodges was an integral member of the Ellington combo for close to four decades, and Duke wrote several scores with Hodges’s unparalleled tone in mind.
There was another pillar of Ellington’s output.
“I think he found a perfect partner for his music when he found Billy Strayhorn,” Giuliani notes.
Strayhorn was a pianist, composer and arranger who served a long and influential tenure with Ellington, and wrote some of the orchestra’s best-loved numbers, such as “Take the A Train,” “Chelsea Bridge” and “Lush Life.”
“That’s the real character of Duke Ellington – choosing musicians around him that can make better music than he can.”
The Italian has been adding his pennyworth to keep the torch of the Ellington legacy burning brightly, for some time now. A late starter in jazz – he trained as a classical musician, branched out into soundtracks and eventually joined improvisational ranks in his late twenties – Giuliani put out a deftly crafted Ellington-based album called Duke’s Dream in 2016, together with Italian jazz community doyen pianist Enrico Pieranunzi.
“I played two concerts with Enrico, with the music of Duke Ellington, last week,” he adds.
In fact, there was talk of the now 70-year-old Pieranunzi coming over, together with Giuliani, for the forthcoming Hot Jazz circuit. That would have been welcome news for numerous Israeli jazz fans who have been impatiently waiting for another chance to catch Pieranunzi do his sumptuous thing here. The revered ivory tickler last played in Israel around two decades ago.
But 57-year-old Moroni is a pretty decent “replacement” and comes with some Ellingtonian credentials of his own, having played with former Ellington bassist Jimmy Woode.
Giuliani says he gets a lot out of the brace format. He feels there is no need to “compensate” for the lack of a bass and drums rhythm section.
“A duo is a duo,” he states. “We must use our imagination about the bass and drums. But, in any case, we are not playing with the bass and drums. We must play like a duo, with piano and saxophone, and create the sound of the duo. Sometimes you can hear a duo like it is playing like a quartet, but without a bass and drums. But that is not a good way. A duo is a duo.”
Giuliani and Moroni will entertain their Hot Jazz series audiences with Ellington staples such as “Take the A Train,” “Caravan,” “Cottontail” and “Isfahan” – the latter incorporates some Persian musical textures.
“We like to play the most famous, the most important pages in Duke Ellington’s music,” the saxophonist explains. “We want to make the people happy, and I think Israel is an amazing country, with beautiful people. I always come back from Israel with wonderful memories.”
The Italian twosome should leave us with our musical and emotional cockles duly warmed.
For tickets and more information: (03) 573-3001 and www.hotjazz.co.il