[Monday Note no. 123] Crapa pelada is a piece from 1936, when jazz was opposed by the fascist regime because it was foreign music. Gorni Kramer resolved the issue with humour, using a nursery rhyme in Milanese dialect to the tune of Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing.
The harmony and melody of Crapa Pelada pretty closely follow Duke Ellington’s famous tune, while the lyrics are humorous and at the very edge of nonsense.
The lyrics of Crapa Pelada
Crapa pelada la fà i turtei
Ghe nè dà minga ai soi fradei,
I so fradei fan la frittada
Ghe ne dà minga a Crapa pelada
Bald head makes tortelli,
he doesn’t give them to his brothers
His brothers make the omelette,
but they don’t give it to Bald head.
The first instrumental part is divided between accordion, tenor sax and trumpet. The second chorus is sung as is the third round in which we hear a scat-style vocal improvisation, while the choir responds with a riff on Duke Ellington’s original It Don’t Mean a Thing.
This recording bears witness to the early jazz activities of Gorni Kramer, a musician who would become one of the protagonists of the spread of jazz in Italy after the war.
The piece demonstrates that already in the 1930s there were musicians in Italy capable of playing good jazz music, and it is also an early example of the combination of jazz and cabaret that would be typical in Italy in the 1950s and 1960s.
The complete line-up of the band: Gorni Kramer (accordion and vocals), Armando Camera (guitar and vocals), Romero Alvaro (piano and vocals), Nino Impallomeni and Baldo Panfili (trumpet), Francesco Carbone (trombone), Libero Massara (tenor sax), Ubaldo Beduschi (double bass), Luigi Redaelli (drums).
With Crapa pelada, Gorni Kramer thus manages to play a well-known Duke Ellington piece while bypassing regime censorship, and at the same time mocking the leader of that same regime. The most famous ‘bald head’ of the 1930s was undoubtedly Benito Mussolini, and even if the lyrics of the song make no such allusion, it is not difficult to think that the song concealed a subtle mockery.
Until next Monday!