In this episode of The Italian American Podcast, we focus on the Italian American connection to Jazz music. We speak to singer Vanessa Racci about how her grandfather inspired her to embark upon a journey that has allowed her to connect with her heritage deeply through becoming Italian American Jazz performer.
In our Stories Segment, I talk to Bill Dal Cerro and David Anthony Witter authors of the book Bebop, Swing, and Bella Musica: Jazz and the Italian American Experience. They talk about how Jazz has been influenced Italians and Italian Americans.
“If this is just the beginning, My life is gonna be beautiful” – Dean Martin
- “What shaped me as I grew up, was my grandfather.” – Vanessa Racci
- “The experience with my grandfather is what inspired me to record an album of Italian American songs.” – Vanessa Racci
- “As millennials, there isn’t anything stable, you have to create your own career.” – Vanessa Racci
- “Italians are so in love with their heritage and families, and where they come from.” – Dolores Alfieri
- “As we get older, we start realizing that our parents have suffered and worked hard so that we wouldn’t have to.”- Dolores Alfieri
- “You act from your experience and your history.” – Vanessa Racci
- “If you are a singer, you just wake up and you sing.” – Vanessa Racci
- “Jazz Music has definite roots going into the Italian history.” – Anthony Fasano
About our Guest…
Italian American Jazz Singer Vanessa Racci’s 2017 debut CD, Italiana Fresca, heralded the breakthrough of a fresh sound in jazz: a sweet-and-sour, wide-ranging alto with a passion and sex appeal born of her Italian-American heritage. On the album, she puts a jazzy spin on the Italian songs she heard as a child; many are updated with her own English lyrics. The album’s producer, the renowned bassist David Finck, has raved about her “natural sense of rhythm and flow, and her wonderful ability to communicate both musical and poetic language.”
Vanessa was born of a working-class Italian family in Thornwood, New York. She began singing when she was four. At age 12 she started showing interest in theater, performing in summer stock shows and even Westchester’s Broadway Dinner Theater. By 18, she won a prestigious Helen Hayes Award for her role as Christine in Phantom of the Opera. But when it came time for college, her family urged her to pursue something seemingly more stable, and she went to school for business. But her musical dreams kept tugging at her. “I said to myself, I have to pursue this because if I don’t I’m gonna regret it for the rest of my life. That’s when I discovered jazz. Those were the songs I found most authentic to my voice.” For more information on Vanessa Racci, visit www.vanessaracci.com
David Anthony Witter
David Anthony Witter is a Chicago-based freelance writer, photographer, blues musician, and teacher. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Living Blues, New City, the Chicago Reader, Bay Area Music Magazine, Primo, Ambassador Magazine, The Italic Way, Fra Noi and the Italian-American Experience, an Encyclopedia.
Witter holds degrees in Writing from Columbia College, Chicago, and Secondary Education in English from Northeastern Illinois University. He currently teaches at the Chicago Public Schools. Other upcoming works include Oldest Chicago from Lake Claremont Press and The Best of the Chicago Blues Annual from the University of Illinois Press.
Bill Dal Cerro
A native of the Grand and Ogden neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side, Bill Dal Cerro is a teacher, writer, and researcher who has been extensively involved in the local and national Italian-American community over the past 15 years.
Dal Cerro is President of The Italic Institute of America, a national educational non-profit, and was an Associate Producer of “And They Came to Chicago: The Italian American Legacy,” a PBS documentary which he initiated and supervised.
The New Neighborhood
The National Italian American Foundation
Vanessa Racci’s Twitter Account
Vanessa Racci’s Website
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Italians in Jazz