Giovanni Tommaso is a man multifaceted in his creative pursuits. Best known for his legacy in the world of Italian jazz, Tommaso is the preeminent Italian jazz bassist. In 2000 he celebrated his 40-something anniversary as a jazz musician by playing his 300-year-old contra-bass made by Pierlorenzo Evangelisti in Florence in 1701, with his quartet at the New York City’s renowned Town Hall.

Born in the Tuscan town of Lucca in 1941, Tommaso began piano lessons with his brother and sister as a teenager. Keeping abreast of the latest happening across the Atlantic wasn’t such an easy thing to do in post war Italy.

“Records were expensive back then but we had a wealthy friend in Luca who would play us all the latest records,” says Tommaso, adding that it was his brother who initially decided to found a jazz group. “After a few years I joined the band,” he says, “they didn’t have a bass player and since someone had to do it, I gave it a try.”

The “Lucca Quartet” as this original group was known garnered its first exposure when they played the 1957 San Remo jazz festival. Shortly afterwards Giovanni had the chance to play with Chet Baker in Perugia. “This was right before Chet got busted for heroin in Luca,” he says, chuckling at the coincidence.

After this first bit of exposure in 1959, Tommaso took a job playing in an orchestra on a cruise ship running between New York City and the Caribbean Islands. “After every cruise I got the chance to go to the clubs in New York and see the greats, like Miles Davis, Coltrane and Horace Silver,” says Tommaso in his laid back East Coast Italian accent.

“When I got back to Italy, I moved to Rome,” which in 1967 was the capital of Italy’s burgeoning jazz scene he says. “I had the reputation of being this hip bassist, having heard the latest sounds during my trips to New York, so when Americans would come over to play in Italy, guys like Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, and Don Byas, they would call me up and ask me to play with them.”

Giovanni formed his own groups in the early ‘60s and began writing music for television as a side job. “I wrote the music for documentaries and the silent films of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton for RAI. Then for some extra bread I began playing as a ‘session man.’” This exposed him to the Italian pop music scene and he soon was working as a producer and arranger for RCA records. “I worked with such Italian pop stars like Mina, Lucia Dalla and Gino Paoli, but then I decided to go back on the road as a jazz musician.”

In 1971 he put together Perigeo, a rock jazz band that had a string of successful albums and toured with fusion stars The Mahivishnu Orchestra and Weather Report. “Jazz is always moving; jazz has always grabbed something from the music of the day. You live surrounded by sounds and scenes it’s so natural to be affected and influenced by that,” he says enthusiastically, “After about five years I broke up the band to return making acoustic music, which was my first love.”

In 1973 he would play the first edition of the Umbria Jazz Festival. “I’m very close to Umbria Jazz having know Carlo since playing with Chet Baker in Perugia in the late 50’s,” he says. In 1985 he was asked by Carlo to take control of his Umbria Jazz Festival Clinics. He went to Boston and met with the Berklee College of Music. “We said let’s give it a try and it went so well we’ve kept it up for 16 years.”

The Berklee Clinics take place at the Francesco Morlacchi Conservatory of Music in Perugia, from where Giovanni also holds a Doctorate and once taught music, during weeklong Umbria Jazz. More than 3,500 European and International musicians have attended the clinics over the years, which features instruction during the day and jamming late into the night. Renown for the Berklee faculty from Boston, often musicians playing the festival including Wynton Marsalis, Elvin Jones and Bobby McFerrin have dropped in on the clinics.

“I turned 60 last year,” he says, “and I did something very special, since after 15 years the people had gotten used to the clinics,” her says, “it was the anniversary of Miles Davis’ death, so we got all the students and teachers together and stated marching through the streets of Perugia playing “So What,” it was a big event and very special.”

Tommaso has also recently returned to an earlier theme of making cinematic music. His last two records, “La Dolce Vita” and this year’s release, “Second Tempo” have been comprised of songs from Italian films such as “The Godfather,” “Divorce Italian Style,” and his original soundtrack from the film, “La Prima Volta.”

“When I was a kid in the fifties, every day after lunch I would go to the Cinema Nazionale with my friend Pelo in Lucca,” he says adding that Pelo was the manager’s son, “So we would get in for free. I remember those first color films and some of the soundtracks deeply influenced my musical taste.”

Tommaso will be playing again at this year’s ninth annual winter edition of Umbria Jazz with his Quintet. The festival takes place in Orvietto from December 28th through January 1st, and features the experimental electric trio Medesk, Martin and Wood and cutting edge guitarists John Scofield and Marc Ribot.

“I saw Medeski, Martin and Wood last year while I was attending the International Association of Jazz Educators conference last year in New York. I will be going back this year, it’s fantastic one big hotel with about a dozen different concerts going on at once in the evening and workshops and panels during the day.”

As for the future Tommaso says he hopes to go to the Puerto Rico Jazz Festival and maybe tour Australia, all this after he does some teaching this summer in Perugia at the Umbria Clinics. “There is another thing I’ve been working on, a book,” he says happily, “I’m working with this woman and she comes to my house and I tell her stories and she puts them down on paper. It’s going to be called To Toto.”

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