Gianni Basso: Italy’s Tubby Hayes (Il Corpulento Sassofono Tenore )

Not the Holy Grail RCA Italiana 1960 original, but a respectable Japanese vintage copy from 1994.

basso-valdambrini-walking-in-the-night-cover-1920-ljcSelection 1: Lotar (O. Valdambrini)


Selection 2: Walking in The Night (O. Valdambrini)



As these tracks are unconscionably short, two to three minutes only, I’ll throw in a third, a bonus track, in which Basso gets a little extra space.

Selection 3. Tea Time (H. Gefolge)



Gianni Basso (tenor saxophone) Oscar Valdambrini (trumpet ) Giorgio Azzolini ( bass) Gianni Cazzola (drums ) Renato Sellani  (piano) recorded May 25 and June 1, 1960

Artist Profile Gianni Basso, translation “Johnny Bass” (1931-2009)

Italian tenor Gianni was blessed with a longer innings than our British Tubby, both extraordinary talents, both left a legacy of outstanding recordings, frustratingly unobtainable today. Still, that’s what us collectors like, a challenge.

If you don’t know Gianni Basso, obituary here (Italian) Google Translate to the rescue:

‎”The musician Gianni Basso died at the Hospital of Asti, age 78 years. For half a century was involved in concerts in Italy and abroad. Recognized as one of the greatest exponents of Italian jazz, he was a member of bands such as the Kenny Clarke/Francis Boland Big Band, the Maynard Ferguson Band and the Thad Jones Big Chariot Band. He leaves his wife Luciana and Gerri’s sons, Roberto and Alex. ‎
‎ ‎
‎Born in Asti, his family moved shortly after to Belgium.  Basso began to study first the clarinet, then sax, entering young in the band of Raoul Falsan. He returned to Italy in ‘ 50’s joining with trumpeter Oscar to form the Valdambrini Basso-Valdambrini Quintet. He collaborated with artists such as with Dino Piana, Mario Pezzotta, Glauco Masetti, Attilio Donadio, Gianni Cazzola and Renato Sellani. A complete biography about him, ‘ A Life With Sax ‘, was written by his friend Armando Brignolo. ‎
‎ ‎
‎Basso-Valdambrini for years has been the national leader of jazz. In his long and successful career has also carried out countless radio and television performances, and concerts, and Director of Bass Big band Jazz School, and in the orchestra that bears his name.‎”

A string of Basso Valdambrini albums , quintet, sextet and octet, hit the Italian market in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Today, most are extraordinarily rare and expensive in their original release form, on Italian labels like Jolly, Fonit, and RCA Italiana, parallels here with Tubby’s Tempos, of which it seems many sold fewer than a thousand copies in their day.

Some titles were picked up by Verve for the odd release in the US,  but more reissued in recent years by the Giles Peterson DJ-type labels, Deja Vu, Juno and Rearward, who are hot for vintage Italian Modern Jazz from this exciting period. What their sources are – original tapes? – unknown, probably not. Got to love those covers, mostly.


It looks like Italian television work provided Basso with an income in much in the same way as the British jazz scene was supported by British television, exciting jazz scores, behind police car chases, so they somehow became… more exciting.

Basso and Valdambrini  were the sought-after  players to accompany American jazzmen and singers  touring Italy in the late ’50s and ’60s., and appeared with Billie Holiday, Lionel Hampton, Gerry Mulligan,  Chet Baker, and many others. In the mid ’70s Gianni took a stint with Kenny Clarke Francy Boland Big Band, along side the likes of Dusko Goykovic, and then the Thad Jones Big Band (instant segue from Thad, The Magnificent). Through 80’s and 90s he would be found on stage backing visiting US singers like Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra and Natalie Cole.

In his final years, in the best tradition of surviving jazz musicians, Basso took up academic tenure, in Turin, Milan, and Asti, passing jazz on to the next generation of players.


Gianni Basso is one of those outstanding tenor players, seconds into a solo you know. Forget influences, there are Rollins, Webster and Getz moments, but Gianni is no copycat, or pussycat.  The easy mixing of ultrafast linear runs with angular accents and rests, ideas flowing at the speed of fingers, in the manner of Tubby’s “cockney garrulous“, but “e pericoloso sporgersi”  when Gianni is on a roll: backflips and summersaults, triple speed bursts, irregular punctuation, never second-guess which direction next, an absolutely beautiful player, not so much under-rated as under-known.

If I had any musical complaint it would be the measly song-lengths that rarely allow anyone to build up a head of steam before trading fours or handing the batton to the next soloist. Twelve tracks is too many for an LP, since the only thing that is predictable is that nothing lasts any length of time.

The other half, Oscar Valdembrini, is a class trumpet in the mould of Art Farmer, with a warm tone and an immediately likeable turn of phrase.

All the tracks are a delight, showcasing Basso morphing between ballad and high-stepping bop. The title track wouldn’t be out of place on Blue Note, with its minor-tinged  unwinding melody, and city-by-night moodscape. It just needed twice the time to work all the ideas through, which by 1960 was more the norm. The selection Tea Time gives Gianni a little more freedom to explore.


BVJJ-2885 BMG/ Victor Japan (1994) reissue of RCA ‎– PML 10089 Serie Europa (1960) “New Orthophonic” High Fidelity Recording.

Issued by official RCA in Japan, most likely to have had access to copy tape from the original tapes held by RCA. The clang and reverberation of the cymbal-strikes feels like original source recording, not digital knock-off, but no-one knows for sure.

On the back cover photo (below), Valdembrini looks more turned out ready for the golf course, light pants, gilet and cheesecutter. Gianni looks like he might be using his tenor as a putter. Love Italian style, it’s so Italian.





Holy Grail Collector’s Corner

Holy grail Italian Jazz doesn’t quite reach the dizzy heights of Blue Note’s rarest, but the problem is rarity – two to three copies a year, sometimes years only one. Popsike picks up the story


No original, LJC? Well, if you are feeling brave, there is one available on Discogs (cough – it’s not for me)


Got the message? 5 have, 59 want, (though clearly not at that price). Last sold? Never. Av rating 5/5,  this little beauty in the European jazz heritage ranks along side the French early Barney Wilen albums,  German Vogue Sahib Shihab, not to forget Tubby’s Tempos. Hey Americano’s! We Europeans got expensive jazz too!

Just to rub it in, a sadist uploaded this to Discogs:


Bastard, heartless bastard. A promo. Hey, what no test pressing?! Ha?!

If you know anything more about Italian jazz from the golden era, this might be a good time to share. There is precious little on-line, certainly in English. The Amazon customer CD reviews are mostly blank. It’s great music, and criminally under-appreciated. Especially in Italy itself. I’ve asked jazz record sellers there, and in stores – Basso Valdambrini? – met with blank looks. Valdambrini? You mean Lamborghini ? Questo cosa Inglesi?

Still, more people now may be asking the question.

14 thoughts on “Gianni Basso: Italy’s Tubby Hayes (Il Corpulento Sassofono Tenore )

  1. Thank you for this blog on Gianni Basso. Before I read this, I had never heard of or heard him play. Incredible musician! What a revelation! I love his arsenal of different sounds–from breathy to biting. By the time he made these recordings, he was already a master musician. The only jazz people I heard live in Italy was attending an event at a villa outside Rome where Romano Mussolini was playing. This was about 1964.

  2. it’s true that most Italian collectors do not pay particular attention to Italian musicians. in the 50’s and 60’s even less. I do not. there are great musicians here as everywhere but, no one of them is an originator. Jazz comes from USA, for its main part. all musicians, as Tubby or Basso, as good as they are, didn’t invent anything. that’s my reason for not being interested.

    • This “little story” of jazz paternity is old stuff, also the BAM’s musicians don’t mention it more… I say it clearly: for me all the choices must be respected, but this theme is curious, especially by an Italian fan (You live in Milan, right?).
      This suggests a kind of denial, because if it’s true that jazz played in Italy in the Fifties it was mostly imitative, it is also true that from the Seventies onwards, there has been an evolution and a language autonomy (and this applies to the whole world jazz) that I find really useless to talk about the American idiom.

      Just mention names like Giorgio Gaslini, Eraldo Volonté, Sandro Brugnolini, Mario Schiano, Giancarlo Schiaffini, Marcello Melis, Franco D’Andrea, Enrico Rava, Santucci & Scoppa but also Enrico Pieranunzi, Andrea Centazzo, Guido Mazzon, Paolo Fresu, Luigi Bonafede, Gaetano Liguori, Antonello Salis, Luca Flores, Francesco Bearzatti…

      In any case, I respect your musical choices!

    • the same attitude as yours prevailed also in other European countries. The home-made product was considered to be inferior to the “original” product from the US, and, with a limited budget, the potential buyers of jazz would prefer to buy the original product (and I must confess, I was amongst them). Consequently, national producers would press limited quantities of their national produce, whence the scarcity of Euro Jazz.
      I have only one example left of Italojazz (I sold my Cerri albums for good money): the Basso-Valdambrini Octet. It is a fine album, not derivative. Objectively, there were good musical, artistic reasons for Norman Granz to issue this one in the US.
      Also, if i may ask, how many US musicians did not invent anything and were just followers/imitators?

  3. THE ALBUM “NEW Sound FROM ITALY”, THE BASSO-VALDAMBRINI OCTET, the one with the prehistoric cover design, was re-issued by Norman Granz in his Verve series MGVS-6152 in the late fifties, This was a nice way of giving these great artists a platform outside of Italy. Granz retained the same cover art.

  4. Bravo! These tracks are amazing! Always great to hear something totally new, never heard of these players.

  5. what a nice write-up. always fun to learn about artists and records and even LABELS you previously knew nothing about.

  6. Giorgio Gaslini, who died in 2014, has a career stretching back to the 50s. I would like to find his soundtrack LA NOTTE, to the film of the same name. A wonderful cover, which you can see along with a treasure trove of other Italian jazz rarities over on the excellent Birka Jazz archives:

    • Film scores from italian-jazzist are amongs the best. I know mr Sandro Brugnolini (see to the Modern Jazz Gang also from 1959-1960 era ) his soundtracks like Arcangeli and l’uomo con gli occhiali a specchio or l’s like overground and underground are rarities much appreciates in Jazz countries oriented like Japan

  7. Nice article LJC. There are a lot of italian golden era jazz holy grails on Italian RCA. Most of these composers/players were deeply involved in the movie business as soundtrack composers. Playing jazz did not ensure enough income for a living and during the sixties/seventies italian film industry was second only to Hollywood, so this guys found a lot of space and attention recording film scores. As well as recording libraries. See gifted composers like Piero Umiliani (1962 “Smog” holy grail with Chet Baker on trumpet), Piero Piccioni (their records “Al cinema con…” on RCA SP 8000 series, printed in only 500 copies are monsters), Armando Trovajoli (AR manager during the RCA golden years), Sandro Brugnolini (check “Gli Arcangeli”), Amedeo Tommasi, etc. Just to name a few. Early works of Franco Cerri (guitar player from Milan, still doing gigs) on Columbia are also very much collectible and hard to find.

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