I recently had the opportunity to interview one of Italy’s most renowned musicians, saxophonist Gianni Vancini. Over the last two years Vancini, who has dedicated his entire life to music, has toured the world and released the solo albums Souls United and Get Your Groove On. He is also known for his incredible work with acclaimed singer-songwriter Andrea Mingardi, who has released over 22 albums over the past 30 years, as well as Umberto Tozzi whom Vancini has performed over 150 concerts with. Read our interview below to find out more about this incredible musician!
PL: Where are your from?
GV: I’m from Italy. My birthplace is Mirandola, it is a small town in the north of Italy very close to Maranello where the Ferrari is built.
PL: How and when did you first start playing music?
GV: The first time I’ve ever touched an instrument was when I was five years old. The one who introduced me to music was my dad. He plays piano and I remember there was always music flowing through our house. He used to take me with him to listen to concerts and attend rehearsals, and by the age of six I had already decided that I wanted to be a musician.
PL: Was the saxophone your first instrument? Do you play other instruments?
GV: I started with the piano, which I studied for something like 15 years, and I still play it today. During that time I also fell in love with the drums, I remember I wasn’t even able to reach the pedals with my feet when I started; but today it is something I just cannot stay away from, I have to play drums, and probably will until the day I die! I also play percussions, the flute and the clarinet.
PL: What time of music do you play?
GV: It’s very hard for me to say that I play a specific genre of music. I graduated at the conservatory Istituto Musicale O. Vecchi – A. Tonelli, where I studied all the classical repertoire of the saxophone, and in the meantime I also started to listen to and study jazz. I play what gives me the chance to share emotions, but my main fields are Pop, R&B, and Funk.
PL: What has been the best moment of your career so far?
GV: I’ve been touring with a very famous Italian singer, Umberto Tozzi, for the past 12 years, and with him I have played some of the most incredible stages in the world. I clearly remember the first time I played at the Olympia in Paris. The second before they opened the curtain the magnitude of where I was playing hit me, I couldn’t believe I was there playing my saxophone on that stage!! It was a great moment for me.
PL: Who were some of your mentors, and how did they affect your growth as a musician?
GV: Eric Marienthal takes the cake. We met in 2005, but of course I already knew him as an artist. He was recording for an Italian artist at the time, Umberto Tozzi, who I’ve been touring with since 2002. The approach he has with music and life is so inspiring to me. What I really like about him music wise is his preparation and the very high level of professionalism and the way he strives for perfection in everything he does. I’m so very happy to say that we became very good friends.
PL: Do you only play solo or do you play in a group? If you have played in more than one group, please list the names and how long you played with them.
GV: I use to play solo, my band backed me of course, and I also played as a sideman. I started to play professionally in 1997 so it is hard to mention all the artists that I’ve played with over the years. I definitely have to mention the Italian soul singer Andrea Mingardi, who I started to work with in 1997, and Umberto Tozzi who I’ve been playing with since 2002.
PL: What albums have you played on?
GV: I’ve played on a lot of Italian and international albums including Andrea Mingardi’s E’ La Musica, Marco Masini & Umberto Tozzi’s album Tozzi Masini, Andrea Mingardi Sings Ray Charles – Tribute To The Genius, Umberto Tozzi’s Non Solo Live, as well as his album Yesterday Today, and many more. I also released my slo albums Souls United and Get Your Groove On. Aside from my solo project, my main role on all the albums that I recorded was playing the saxophone, but I also did background vocals, keys, percussions and horn arrangements. I really like the studio setting, especially when you are not in a rush and you have the opportunity to look for the best option both for a solo and an arrangement.
PL: I noticed you’ve played at a lot of international festivals like Pavarotti International, the Festival di San Remo, Video Italia, Domenica In, Uno di Noi, Un Disco per L’Estate, Saint Vincent, Scalo 76 and Domenica. Can you tell me about those?
GV: In most of the shows I played alongside Umberto Tozzi. The “San Remo Festival”, is the most important music festival in Italy, millions of people follow it every year. I can’t describe to you what it felt like playing there!! The others were more like summer festivals except for the Pavarotti International, where I’ve played several times. I remember when I played there during the Pavarotti’s marriage I shared the stage with Bono (U2), Andrea Bocelli and Zucchero!!
PL: Have you ever done any charity events?
GV: I did a song for a benefit two years ago after a tremendous earthquake hit my birthplace in Mirandola, Italy. Together with a famous radio station, we decided to put together an all-star band to raise money for the territory. The song is called “Insieme” (“Together”) and it became a single CD for the association called Terre Mosse, which are taking care of all the major businesses that were damaged by the earthquake.
PL: From a music point of view, what are the differences between the music scenes in Italy and the United States?
GV: Well, because Italy is a very small country we are used to listening to what comes from overseas. All the new musical trends and sounds are coming from the US. There is space to always try something different. Nowadays things are a little bit different, thanks to the technology everything comes quicker and you can be in touch with everybody whenever and wherever you want. Also, from a touring stand point, if you have a great radio single to promote, it would take you less than a summer to bring it across all of Italy, but it may take two years to do the same thing in the US!!
PL: Why are you passionate about music?
GV: I think music is my DNA, I can’t live without music. It’s just something you feel inside you that you have to share. Music is life, freedom, and an international language.
PL: Why did you choose to become a musician?
GV: It was the only way to play almost 24/7 and get paid!!
PL: What kind of musical training have you done?
GV: I started to get serious about music at the age of 12. I went to study at the conservatory Istituto Musicale O. Vecchi – A. Tonelli, which means I had to go thru all the classical repertoire of the saxophone. I received my diploma after seven years (Yes, it takes that long!) and for a couple of years I was doing a classical career, playing at some of the main theaters in Italy. At the same time I started to explore the “other side of music”. The first time I fell in love with Jazz was in ’96 during a music exchange in Miami – Florida. Along the years, I had the honor of studying with great musicians such as Eric Marienthal and Bob Franceschini.